The Yin and Yang of Junior Officer Learning: The Historical Development of the Army’s Institutional Education Program for Captains

October 7, 2004

Writing in 1897, Captain James S. Pettit observed that officers of his grade needed an education that would develop their ability to think and not merely fill their heads with volumes of information. If one equates Pettitís filling ìheads with volumes of informationî to training, his observation excellently highlights the relationship between education and training in the Army officer education system throughout the ensuing 105 years. Within this context, the demands of education and training have been the yin and yang of the Armyís school system since 1776. As the Army continues its dramatic transformation of the past half-century, it should ensure that its institutional education and training is appropriate to prepare captains for the tasks they will face in the interval between their career course and their intermediatelevel education.

The concept of yin and yang is particularly useful when examining the relationship between education and training because it reflects both the tension between the two components of learning and their complementary natures. Taoist beliefs hold that the natural forces of this world are the product of tension between yin and yang and that nothing in the world is seen as strictly yin or strictly yang, though one force may be dominant in a given place and time. In addition, Taoists observe that things that do not embody both forces relatively evenly do not endure; out of their imbalance and lack of flexibility in their surroundings, they perish.This type of connection between education and training has become even more pronounced for captains as they face more complex tasks in an increasingly ambiguous environment. Indeed, when considering the Armyís education program for captains over the past 50 years, and especially since the end of the Vietnam War, what stands out is a constant search for the correct balance between education and training. Past experiences illustrate rather conclusively that as the Army requires its junior leaders, especially captains, to perform more complex tasks, the balance should increasingly tilt toward education in the captainsí institutional experience.