Lifelong Learning is enshrined in the professional practice of librarians through the American Library Association’s “Core Values of Librarianship” (2004). As a Core Value, the term is extremely vague. What do we mean by lifelong learning, and why does the term have such a powerful hold on the imaginations of educators? This paper works to understand the term by looking at one of the earliest conflicts in American educational history and philosophy: the choice between student-centered schools and employment-centered schools. During the first decades of the twentieth century, America was struggling to define its national core values. Educational theory was seen as a key way to articulate and pass on these values. One pedagogical approach involved developing schools to educate individuals to become thinking and informed citizens; another administrative approach involved creating schools as vocational institutions to educate individuals to become skilled employees. After a brief debate, employment-centered schools emerged as the clear winner. Since that time American schools have been viewed almost exclusively through a vocational lens. The implications of this decision for libraries, schools, and learning are explored.