We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
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Sunday, February 20. 2011
Stanley Fish, who we just happen to have linked last week with an older essay, asked that question in the NYT this weekend. (h/t, Dr X's The Death of the Humanities in University Education).
Being old-school folks with an appreciation for the variety of interests and talents that exist in different people, we view education as having three components:
1. What everybody needs to know to function as a citizen in a free republic
#3 is, of course, what the original Liberal Arts college education was designed for. It was assumed that #1 was accomplished already, and #2 for most non-professional jobs.
Prof. Fish is not happy with the invasion of the marketplace into academia, but I think it is inevitable; inevitable because employment demands are requiring college degrees, whatever they might be and however silly such requirements might be. It's about monopoly credentialization, like education degrees.
We all know people with good IQs but without degrees who know more and are more interested in life than most of the folks we know with fancy degrees. I need not refer to George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Bob Dylan, or Bill Gates: I need only refer to our appliance repairman who is an impressive Shakespeare scholar (about whom I have posted here in the past).
The identity of the "college" has changed enormously over time, as has the amount of stuff to learn about. In 1700, many barbers doubled as dentists and surgeons, and our few colleges were as much about producing educated and literate Congregationalist ministers as anything else. Things have changed. A "college degree" can mean almost anything now.
A quote from Fish's piece:
Yes, it's a downscale, mass-market Kollege-Mart now. Read Fish's brief, poignant NYT essay, The Last Professor.
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I've been against Fish ever since he went on a jihad against Wayne Booth's Rhetoric of Irony, in the 70s, as a rude young Turk.
I go by how you treat people.
Some one please tell Stanley the Liberal Arts education was created in the 19th Century to prepare young minds for working in the government bureaucracy.
The Fish got his reputation as a deconstructionist, if I recall correctly from my past reading.
He's grown past that. He's always interesting, even when you disagree with him.
The essay is certainly interesting, but he misses half the story. The era in which I graduated from a small private, liberal arts college, the late '60s, was the "end times" for the classical liberal education. In fact, the next year saw the termination of the "X College Plan of Education" in which the core elements of a classical, historically grounded liberal arts education were mandated. How can a current, or recently, pimply-faced adolescent map out a coherent plan of "higher learning," as Fish calls it, by him or herself? After all, the transmission of an open-ended love of learning does not appear to be a goal of the public secondary school system today? Thus, to make a long story short, non-ideological, scholarly, informed classical liberal arts university education ended decades ago. It ended from the double dagger of make-it-up-as-you-go-along course selection and the ideologization (sic) of the universities humanities departments. Thus, such an education was on its death bed long before for-profit, utilitarian "higher education" was a gleam in John Sperling's eye. Fish is guilty here, to a large extent, of mixing cause and effect. Phoenix University is, among other reasons, the effect of a devaluation already well underway of scholarly classical liberal arts education, not the principal cause. Thanks.
Actually, the ideal liberal arts teacher was Socrates, who was training the children of slave masters to enjoy their leisure.
Stop it. I don't think Maggie's Farm has ever said one nice thing about education in this country. How about posting something that IS good about our huge college/university systems?
You want to know where a love of learning comes from? It comes from your parents. Can't afford college? Get a class and accompanying books and the teaching disk and learn it yourself. How many of you learned it all in college? None of you. You learned it as the years passed on and experienced put ideas to use.
BD - Are your daughters getting a lousy education? Barrister - did your children get a lousy education? Did you do anything to help your children learn in spite of an entire nation of bad schools and rotten teachers?
I loved all of my formal education, Meta. However, in my view, everybody is ultimately self-taught and self-eddicated. The rigorous foundation helps a lot though.
Thanks, Meta, for the swift kick. Our kids went to the local high school (which had a top national ranking) and obtained a wonderful education, particularly in math and science, but also in history. True to stereotype they can't write particularly well, however. They then went to small, private New England colleges where they majored in science and math, and they both are successful business people.
Fish attacks the non-profit/for-profit issue when he should really be discussing the distinction between trade schools and colleges.
Mr. Sperling may or may not run a trade school. The Univ. of Phoenix has 220,000 students and has 2nd tier regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association. It also has over 1,500 full-time and over 20,000 part-time faculty and campuses or "learning centers" in 40 states. It is regarded by some as a "degree mill", but it caters to "non-standard" students: the average undergraduate age is 33, and 2/3rds are women, and most are seeking degrees because their employers require one for promotion. Perhaps at that age Sperling's statement scorning value systems or mind expansion may be appropriate.
However, the real issue is academic accreditation. When we were young, trade schools could call themselves anything they wanted, but would never have received academic accreditation.
Who opened the door to an organization like The North Central Association to grant accreditation to an institution which practically cannot create and maintain standards for its 20,000 faculty, its 220,000 students or their work? The short answer is that the U.S. Dept. of Education did, and, according to Wikipedia, the school was the top recipient in the U.S. of federal assistance for the 2008 fiscal year, receiving over $2.8 billion in federal money to fund student financial aid programs.
There is the problem -- it comes from the very top. The government wants it that way, and there ainít one thing Mr. Fish or you or I can do about it.
There have been plenty of times I would gladly have traded my BA for a plumber's license.
I still thirst for the knowledge but it did nothing towards me earning a living.
North Central Accreditation Board is one of the MOST corrupt institutions in this country today. Not so long ago (10 years +/-) it gave full accreditation to an office suite of two rooms. You know the kind you can rent in any sleazy strip mall. Let's be generous and give it about 600 sq ft. It also had a room with several computers in it. Because, these computers were linked to a major university library system North Central issued the accreditation for the "owners" to issue a B.A degree.
Sorry Meta, it does not appear that you have been paying attention: the people who write MF are successful in business and law--their children attended "privileged" schools in upper class communities and then went on to Pass through universities. The vast majority of children white and black do not go to higher end community schools. They attend schools owned/operated by the union (AFL/CIO--Chicago). The leadership of the unions are smart enough to practice first on those kids attending poor schools, inner city schools, etc. Then when they get an idea (non grading systems) then they go to the wealthier communities and say "see everybody's doing it--you cannot hold onto the old ways of doing things without looking like the racist pigs you are"
It's been a long, long time since a teacher anywhere in this country was free to stand up and say, "I will not teach like that because it does not work--it is not ethical." Meta, Bd, et al., here is a project for you today: call your local schools dept and ask if they are using a grading system (A+-F).
I beg your pardon, AP, but I taught secondary and college in Virginia. Virginia ranks 6th in education and has 4 of the top high schools in the nation. Virginia does not give "P" for a grade. My daughter just graduated from a large university here in Virginia and her GPA is not "P".
You can gripe all you want about at home classes through The Future Scholar or through the industries of Phoenix, but it matters not. What does matter is what you put into it and what you got out of it. A lousy union or a lousy teacher are peripherals to learning because if you really want to learn, you will learn. It's out there for the taking. As far as the NEA goes, it works with our schools - not against them.
And allow me to say: A teacher can make all the difference in the world - so much so that you spend the rest of your life checking out courses for free from the library just because you want to learn something. Good teachers inspire despite snots and elites and whiners and complainers. They can even inspire when the parents cannot be bothered. Elite ivy league or plain old college - you've got the wizards and the wanting teaching in both places, and ultimately, it is all left up to you if you are inspired to learn.
I have no idea where you live, but I'm betting it's out west.
Maybe it's the teaching, but sometimes it seems the major entrance requirement for Ivy League business schools was a criminal mind (or equivalent).
Hmmm... first link is wonky (at 2:02 PM Weds.) leads to "Serendipity Administration Suite"
Thought you should know...
At a distance of almost 60 years from my college graduation, I can say that the most valuable thing I gained from it was learning how to find out things -- things I needed to know for my job, things I wanted to know to feed my spirit, and things I wanted/needed to know just for the hell of it. In my four years of baccalaureate study, I was introduced to a fascinating and at times bewildering array of subjects in the Humanities, science, history and art. But they all taught me one overriding thing -- how to research a subject or a theory so that when my recollection of a fact became dim, I knew how to take steps to find it again.
That's the glory of a good education. Not the ability to spew out facts on many things, but the skills to find forgotten facts again and re-evaluate them once more
in the light of your life experience.
Don't you think so, Meta?
Nicely spoken, Marianne. It's that desire to reinvestigate after life changes your viewpoint every now and then that I like. And having it all at the touch of my fingers is pure delight - and addicting. Computers have made us all smarter.
I also think one of the great things about education is that you are forced to study subjects you might otherwise not bother to study. Open up your mind and think. Think....that's all we ask.
Interesting to read posts from '09 in light of the last two years. So, I think one of the purposes of any education is to help you ask better questions so you can make better decisions:
My father has been practicing family medicine in South Carolina since the mid-60's. He's been head of the S.C. branch of the AMA and the Academy of Family Physicians. He didn't get a college degree until, I think it was in 2000, when the University of South Carolina gave out honorary degrees to a bunch of doctors who attended USC but didn't graduate.
Back in the 50's, (in South Carolina, at least) you applied to medical school only when you had taken and passed the courses required by the medical school. So, Dad and a lot of other aspiring doctors would dedicate all of their electives to what the med school required -- math, biology, chemistry etc. Dad got accepted to medical school sometime during the end of his Junior year; he made plans to attend med school in the fall and did. Without a college degree. He was in Navy ROTC, and they agreed to pay for his med school in return for a bout of service as a Navy Doc. He finished med school in three years and was No. 3 in his class; the doc who was No. 1 once told me that he was seriously convinced Dad intentionally blew a few questions on his finals so he wouldn't have to give a speech at graduation like Nos. 1 and 2 did.
Then he was immediately commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Navy and served in California, Japan, and the Philippines, getting out as a 1st Lieutenant. And returned to S.C. and has been practicing there since.
I never realized that he hadn't actually gotten his degree from U.S.C. until he told me about getting the honorary. It boggled my mind that it had ever been possible to do that. You wouldn't be allowed near a med school without one today, and you certainly wouldn't get commissioned as an officer in any of the armed services.
We have come to put too much faith in the resume; by and large credentials are bunk. It's what you've actually done and done well that matters.
It wasn't that long ago that in most states all you had to do was pass the bar, no law school required. Then the law schools felt they were missing out on some cash so they got the state bars to stop that practice.
BTW, the Navy doesn't have 1st or 2nd LTs and the Marine Corps doesn't have a medical corps. The ranks would be Ensign, Lieutenant(junior grade) and Lieutenant (O-3). Now I suspect as a doctor he could have been initially commissioned as a LT(jg) and made LT, but even those ranks are a bit junior for incoming physicians these days.
Fish: The for-profit university is the logical end of a shift from a model of education centered in an individual professor who delivers insight and inspiration to a model that begins and ends with the imperative to deliver the information and skills necessary to gain employment.
He's got that completely wrong. The for-profits were set up to milk the federal financial aid system. Full stop.
I have cynical things to say about the typical not-for-profit college too.
I would like to point you all to a series of posts on what Steve Randy Waldman call the asymmetric information industries. Start with this Arnold Kling post and read backwards.
Fascinating stuff. At least for this nerd. Applies to the mess that is higher education.
As Robin Hanson would say: college is not about education.
I recently went back to school. I had 100 hours in the 60's and 70's around life cataclysms I'll spare you the details of.
I am a competent carpenter (non-union) of thirty plus years standing. I decided to study substance abuse counseling as there's plenty of jacked up folks.
I began at Grand Canyon University, once a small Christian college, now a for pay school. It was in my opinion very close to a criminal enterprise , scamming both students and the Feds. Now I'm in a community college and it's better. I like the Public Library for a place to learn.
So I'll state again: education is learning to ask better questions so you make better decisions regardless of craft or profession. Then you become a "master craftsperson" or "professional" though the knowledge can come from many different fronts.
The government getting involved? Politics? Power? Greed? You name it... I don't see it's benefits for the average person who has a basic knowledge of decision-making. For those who choose to spend their dollars on potato chips vs. yams, there's not too mucn I can do. Didn't see many stupid decisions made by the poor people when I was growing up in the 50's.
Being educated is a fine thing. It just isn't worth $50 or 100 thousand in debt. For that money, you need something that will get you a job.
Fish says schools do not ‚Äúhire the most experienced teachers, but rather the cheapest teachers.‚ÄĚ That smells like union talk to me.
Universities traditionally hired people whose competence at instruction (whether of the technical or thrilling sort) was beside the point. Tenure-track professors were hired for their research abilities and the chance that they would reflect credit and prestige on the institution. Teaching was a chore they had to fit in on the side, which some did grudgingly and some with real enthusiasm and flair.
When a market developed for colleges that were more like trade schools, the focus shifted to hiring people who could transmit the skills that the customers wanted. Schools of that kind can do a great job of training students for particular jobs, but they're usually passing on knowledge that someone else developed. Their teachers do not spend their careers expanding the human knowledge of an academic field. If they are expanding the field of knowledge at all, they do it in their paid professional lives, then take a break at some point to teach what they've learned or developed.
Unions like to insist that pay-scales should track tenure rather than results. What we're often arguing about in this area is what kind of results students are willing to pay for, and sometimes what kind of results they should be willing to pay for in an ideal world.
Tenure-track professors, by the way, were not traditionally paid a great deal. If you ran into a rich one, he probably was skilled at getting grants for research. University teaching paid a modest living wage that made possible a life of scholarship that was relatively cushioned from the pressure of the marketplace. If a research university kept up its reputation, it managed to secure grants from alumni and philanthropists and taxpayers, and that was how it stayed in business.
It's a half-formed idea, which perhaps others can help me out with here.
Any industry which regulates itself moves to a protectionism of the persons and values of its own elite.
Any industry regulated by the government moves to protect the persons and values of a different elite, sometimes overlapping, sometimes competitive.
Any industry regulated entirely by commercial concerns coarsens and adulterates its product, but is also the source for all innovation.
Regulation by church seems more varied and mixed, but includes a propensity to devoting enormous resources to wild geese that do not create the improvements hoped for.
There is considerable interpenetration of these in any complex society, and corruption or exploitation can come from many directions.
I frankly don't know what the proper balance of these is.