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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Wednesday, March 4. 2009
The President wants more college grads. As VDH noted in Triumph of Banality:
Actually, Obama's goal is easily accomplished: just lower the bar. I happen to believe we need fewer college grads, and to make the High School diploma meaningful again. America needs more plumbers, electricians, handymen, mechanics, gunsmiths - and fewer Women's Studies majors.
Ferguson addresses Obama's Diploma Mill in The Weekly Standard. One quote:
On re-reading my post the other day, and a few of our recent posts on education, I am beginning to think that our American "system" of "higher ed" is obsolete.
A Liberal Arts education was designed for gentlemen-scholars, the few who were driven by curiosity, towards careers in the clergy, or to produce new teaching professionals. Good citizenship, and the practical tools to function in the world were taught in the lower years. The basic furnishings of the mind, as reader MM would term it.
A Liberal Arts degree was never meant to be practical, yet 30% of Americans have Bachelor Degrees: degrees that could mean anything, or nothing at all.
The democratization of higher ed, via things like the GI Bill, turned higher ed into a job credential. These days, I seem many young people who enjoy and are inspired by college in the old-fashioned way - but a very large many who "just need the piece of paper" and who cheat, screw, and drink their way through it while avoiding anything difficult or challenging.
The social consequence is having masses of non-scholars living extended childhoods at a ridiculous cost to their parents. While enjoying the luxury to some extent, many are also frustrated by a yearning for independence and adulthood, and the desire to do something real. Famous college drop-outs like Bill Gates, Winston Churchill, Mark Twain, Noel Coward, Woody Allen, Warren Buffet, Charles Dickens (grammar school drop-out), Albert Einstein (high school drop-out), Robert Frost, J. Paul Getty, Horace Greeley (high school drop out), and Bob Dylan are among them.
This site lists many of the rich or famous who either dropped out of high school or college. In some cases, grammar school - when you used to be allowed to do that.
I'd like to see more of our high school grads out there working, and getting night course education in areas of expertise they might like to pursue. I'd like to see more apprenticeships too.
A relevant post at Phi Beta Cons asks "How does the military manage it?"
If I had the time and brains, I'd redesign the entire thing with high school as the core, with a core mission. I'd expect each school board to decide what kids need to know to get a HS diploma. I'd also consider reducing high school to 3 years and liberal arts degrees to 3 years. Do our readers have any ideas?
Degrees to Nowhere
Education is like torture. Or, the opposite of torture, in the way popular culture regards it. We are all proud to hear that the United States does not torture, but we do not have a sound, common definition of what constitutes torture. Torture is vague,
Weblog: Negative Railroad
Tracked: Mar 04, 13:29
Friday morning links
Strange how many people are reconsidering joining Obama's cabinet. The acclaimed Dr. Gupta just changed his mind, and two Treasury folks did too. What's that all about? It's possible that they aren't sure they can get with the program. See Nobody wants to
Weblog: Maggie's Farm
Tracked: Mar 06, 05:28
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Certainly just increasing the number of college graduates solves nothing.
It would be like giving the medal to the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard Of Oz.
In fact many of our BA degrees are like that already. No skill is acquired but the graduate feels good. This is a four-year extension of the self-esteem ritual of public education;
i.e. what matters is how you feel about yourself.
But all liberal arts education is not wasted. Graduates have a better grasp of history, art, and social issues. This may please them but it has little economic value. Few will make a living from their ideas about modern art or music or the role of women in colonial times.
I think Obama reasons thus: If several million more were in college they would not be in the work force. The unemployment rate would fall. Superficially economic and social conditions would seem better.
In reality the economy would worsen as government taxed or borrowed from the productive to support the students directly with loans or grants, and less directly by enlarging the universities.
When 25% of the high school graduates are functionally illiterate, a high school diploma is practically worthless. All it indicates is you spent 12 years in school. A college diploma will also be worthless if everybody has one.
Mom, a high school teacher used to repeat a quote "When all your students are forced to be philosophy majors then neither your philosophy nor your plumbing will hold water".
She advocated a system much like the German which divides high school into two systems; one vocational (where students apprentice in a trade and classes stress day-to-day application) and one academic (where students are prepped for college).
Problem is, is that all of these 'colleges' have a vested interest in continuing at a minimum and ideally growing. They want more customers, er, I mean students and can spin an enticing tale to the gullible of why more college for more people is better. Now these colleges are all facing budget crisis'. I've got a fix for these budget woes, fire all the 'fill in the blank' studies programs. The only liberal arts classes left should be the traditional lit, history, philosophy, languages types of courses if anyone can actually teach these anymore. Also what the hell are all these massive student center, rec centers, lounges facilities all about? The customers, err, I mean students should be there to study their asses off versus frolic in a country club/spa.
This is the logical extension of the silly 'no child left behind' non sense. If 'no child left behind' means more accountability of teachers and schools, than it should be the 'teacher/school accountability act'. If indeed it means 'no child left behind' then they need to define exactly what 'left behind' actually means. Does that mean no child should be left behind to do laborer, clerical, manual type jobs that don't need a college degree? If so, who will empty our trash, fix our toilets, cook our food, wait on our table, pick our produce, stock our grocery shelves, fix our car, roof our house, pave our roads, etc., etc. If no one is supposed to do this work, what are the large pool of people to do who were not blessed with an IQ over 110?
This liberal nonsense is so idiotic I just want to scream right freakin now!!!!
The larger problem is a seemingly greater social stratification that denigrates the value of manual or "non-professional" labor. We have middle class Boomers in their BMWs here in Seattle who practically need a Mexican day laborer to change their light bulbs, let alone to install a new light switch. It will probably take some major upheaval to reverse this. We are a long way from valuing a plumber as much as a doctor. But the less well off and less comfortable we become and the more we are forced to fend for ourselves, the greater the chance of a correction - which should lead to a revamping of our educational system. About time, too.
Having taught for universities and a community college, I can happily agree with this post and have held the same sentiment for several years.
College has become nothing more than getting a piece of paper as a work permit of sorts. I suppose one might argue that even those who cheat, screw, etc. their way through it do accumulate some useful knowledge, via osmosis if nothing else -- but ultimately at what cost?
We totally need to re-work our secondary ed and trade schools and make a high school diploma mean something, again. My grandmother, who went to HS in some little town in rural IL had Latin in HS. Years after my grandfather's death, my grandmother passed along his book collection to me. He had been a miner and some of the study books for an HS educated miner involved knowledge of chemistry which is beyond nearly everyone I know with a BA.
Actually...this brings to mind a conversation that I had with an ex-girlfriend of mine. She was a bright girl, studying education and English at a major university. After watching "October Sky," she decried the hard life of coal miners, etc. I don't think she had ever actually met a coal miner, to be honest. It's not an easy work and it definitely has its hazards, but I can't count how many miners I've ran into that talk about underground "getting in their blood."
Perhaps it's nostalgia for them, but to the point, it seems that many of the affluent look down on mining and trades as if these people are unfortunates of some kind. If I were one of them (I'm not, but most of my family are), I would be outright insulted.
Oh...and I don't know if you've already linked to it, but Mike Rowe from the Discovery Channel show "Dirty Jobs" has a great online talk about the "war on work." He's spot on.
The point of a college education is to make it easier for HR departments to weed through resumes. If you don't have a BA, they can throw your resume out. Colleges also have a vested interest in keeping you in school as long as possible. That is why it now takes 5-6 years to get a 4 year degree. They can't schedule your needed classes, because they have too many unnecessary ones taking up time on the schedule.
I would like to see the AA degree mean something. I'd like to see less emphasis on a BA which means absolutely nothing. And lets start the whole thing by getting rid of MA degrees for teachers. People used to be taught by kids just out of school themselves. We need people who know how to think creatively, not just folks with the ability to take tests.
While I agree with much of this, rattling off the names of famous dropouts is a mixed bag:
We can certainly find MANY examples of "successful" dropouts. How many of those have created any value. We can also find MANY more examples of non-famous dropouts who have done just fine and been good and productive citizens. And, of course, we can find many examples of dropouts who are bums and such.
All the same is, BTW, true of people with college degrees, even advanced ones. Let's not blame the very idea of advanced education for the fact that "liberal arts" degrees have become a joke. The point of them is to learn to learn and build habits of rational analysis.
Just a word of caution re: making too much of the "German Style". First off that system is weakening for all the same reasons that voc-tech vs. "college prep" has largely fallen apart here in the US. Sweden had a similar system that is all but gone - obsolete as far as those societies are concerned. In fact, there are MANY technical jobs that are held here in the US by people with BS degrees (or even just HS degrees and tech training) that are held, in Germany, by people with PhDs. The reason, at least that cited by some I have spoken to, is that Germans often stay in school until they are 25 or 26 or even older because they can't get jobs when they are younger. The jobs certainly don't require PhDs.
A tough nut to crack, this one. Who will be the first to refuse to try and get their kids college degrees because society overvalues college degrees?
Who will be the first to refuse to try and get their kids college degrees because society overvalues college degrees?
Ah, yes - that's why it will take an upheaval to change things.
The internet has made it possible for people to acquire information much more quickly, widely and deeply than ever. Opportunities for self-education should not be ignored. There should be GED tests for college diplomas, for the self-taught.
I note that the link to famous educational drop-outs did not include Heinrich Schliemann, the German school drop-out who worked as a grocery clerk and then figured out where the ancient city of Troy was and went and found it, to much acclaim. He also spoke seven languages and was self-taught. Proving once again that schooling is not the measure of a man, only a measure of how effective the school is.
When this subject comes up, I usually trot out a list of sample questions (ht: Harry Stein) from the 1885 examination FOR ADMISSION to Jersey City HIGH SCHOOL. Here's a few of the questions:
1. Define a polynomial. Make a literal trinomial.
2. Write a homogeneous quadrinomial of the third degree. Express the cube root of 10ax in two ways.
3. Name the states on the west bank of the Mississippi, and the capital of each.
4. What event do you connect with 1565, 1607, 1620, 1664, 1775?
5. Write a sentence containing a noun used as an attribute, a verb in the perfect tense potential mood, and a proper adjective.
Time's up. Put down your pencils.
Final question. What is the definition of "dumbed down?"
Hahaha... then I would have been a blacksmith's apprentice for sure. I could..have.. lived with that.
I know most of #3 from N to S: Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, not sure about all of those capitals though:
Iowa = Des Moines?
Arkansas = Little Rock of course
Louisiana = Baton Rouge
Bonus points: Lake Itasca is the head waters of the Mississippi
Coming next week: Upheaval - How to Get Our Children to Leave Home.
Do our readers have any ideas?
Just a thought about how the military does it. I learned computer programming (MOS 4063) in the Marines, in 1989. Before that I spent four years as a Rifleman (MOS 0311).
The Marine Corps taught the very bare minimum one needed to know for those two occupational specialties: the expectation was that you would learn the finer points of your occupation from senior Marines in your new unit - guys who want to mentor and bring everyone up to speed as fast as possible.
But, yes: the military runs a great big vo-tech system and it works. I dunno if it would work for civilians, but something like it should.
OJT. A good thing.
Did you leave after eight? How come?
Did you leave after eight? How come?
Yes, Luther, I did. Why? That's a long, sad story.
- It was the early 90s and they were trying to scale back the number of enlisted Marines.
- It was the early 90s and I looked at how much $$$ the guys who had the same exact job as mine, and knew less, were making on the outside.
- I had not yet learned that 'money' is a poor reason to take a job.
- The year prior to my EAS I missed a morning formation and was reduced in rank to Lance Corporal. Looking at my years of service (8) and my paygrade (E3) I became convinced that the Marine Corps and I were not compatible.**
- My commanding officer - also the guy who had busted me the year before - agreed with my self-assessment.
People familiar with the service might sense that a) my chain of command was composed of pissants and b) there is more to the story. They're right.
Thanks for the answer, Brian. I was just curious. And yes, I'm quite familiar and experienced with the pissants of which you speak. My own short career of E-1 to E-4 to E-1 back to E-4 was assisted by a few of them.
I know when I went in it was common to see slick sleeves with 3 or 4 hash marks. That's no longer the case for sure.
Please note that the bolding was accidental - an artifact of using asterisks to denote footnotes.
I know when I went in it was common to see slick sleeves with 3 or 4 hash marks. That's no longer the case for sure.
Yeah, it was rare then, too. I joined the Marines thinking it would be like 'From Here to Eternity'. Sadly I was about fifty years too late for that.
I suspect if I'd been anywhere else but that paper palace headquarters unit I would have made it through my second enlistment and retired at 20. But I copped a bad attitude at some of their habits and practices which did not help things at all.
I figured the bold wasn't on purpose. Not to worry.
Heh... "From Here to Eternity". Well that's more lofty than the dress blues I was so impressed by when I was sixteen. There was still some old Corps around when I was in... and it showed. Hell, I worked with an old salt E-9 who was a POW from Bataan. He was pretty quiet though.
I did admin my first two years of four. Regimental, Division and MAF level. I think I know exactly what you mean about paper palaces, habits and practices. A much different world than the grunt side of the house in which I served my last two years.
And lest I sound too cynical I agree with what you say below; that 99% of the folks were outstanding individuals. That 1% could sure be a pain in the ass though.
Got to be president of the UW because the unions hired him to come into MT and close down all the two room schools in rural areas--which he did. He was also charged with bringing 5 independent campuses under the umbrella of 2 very liberal campuses--which he did. Destroying a tradition of having smaller campuses in isolated rural areas--this breaks the hold of conservatives over local education. Then as his reward he got to be president of UW--total time on the academic ladder doing real classroom work--3 years. Where was he before that you might ask---inside the beltway, but holding paid "administrative" positions at other schools.
I have an AAS and became a Medical Laboratory Technician. After ten years, I pegged out on the pay scale and went back to school for my Bachelor's in Medical Technology. Other than a management course, statistics and lab genetic testing, I learned nothing new and nothing helpful but received a four dollar an hour raise for the same job. Even in the Clinical Laboratory Science program, I had two quarters of pure Liberal BS assignments. I would have gladly paid the same amount not to spend it writing papers how evil businessmen were responsible for destroying New Orleans and how minorities are prevented from receiving medical care because they don't speak English. Requiring courses that aren't pertinent (but generate income) is one way to encourage cynicism in a student. If it is a bogus course, why should the instructor get any respect for teaching it and the institution for requiring it?
A Liberal Arts degree from Columbia University in 1951 has been useful to me in a lifetime of work as an editor and writer. But I consider it as job training, a training in techniques for finding out specific information, for me at least, not as "education for a gentleman."
Someone said above that this kind of degree is "useless" for job training, but it does provide a general knowledge of world history, economics, languages, and a sense of what areas of information one might want to explore after acquisition of the degree.
The problem, as I see it, is that many folks who acquire college degrees consider them as job training for everything they need to know, instead of a method of conditioning their minds to learn later about how to gain knowledge in specific areas. They want it to be specialization training, rather than attitude training. Like an instruction manual on using a piece of equipment. Doesn't work that way.
I never spent any time on the inside of the military, but I did play Army in ROTC for 2 years. I had the good fortune of being at a University where the cadre were very practical, engaged, and helpful. Although they didn't say it as such, the overall impression is that in peace time, a platoon leader's job is more-or-less managing the development and education of the soldiers in the platoon.
One of my favorite books, The Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson, has an interesting paragraph or so about one of the characters being an ex-Navy seal and constantly, and unconsciously, educating the people around him on specific technical artifacts, etc.
I'm sorry Brian for the bad experience you had with some of the officers in the Marines. In my limited experience, I've known a couple that were completely incompetent and one that had a serious power complex, but overall I found both the commissioned officers and NCOs to be profoundly fair, honest, and competent.
I'm sorry Brian for the bad experience you had with some of the officers in the Marines.
Dont' be: 99% of the people I worked for in the Marines were awesome - I may not have always liked them but as leaders and Marines they were fine people.
I have a college degree - a dual degree. I went on to get an Master's in Econometrics. As my father said, "you go to college to get an education, you go to grad school to get a job."
It may be true that a liberal arts degree is useful in finding a job. Actually, I prefer hiring liberal arts majors for entry level positions. But generally, I don't find the degree to be very useful today. Most of the libarts majors I've hired RECENTLY are barely literate. None read. Not one. Seriously.
I come to work with a new book each week, reading on the train. They look at it, sniff, and ask if I watched such and such movie. I love movies, and usually have seen whatever they've watched. I then ask if they've read something. Never.
The state of education today is pathetic. We bemoan the "fact" that we won't be able to afford college for our kids. Well, who says they need college? For one thing, when I cleaned out my grandmother's closets 20 years ago, we found old Readers' Digests from the 30's which asked the same question. Some from the 50's asked it. So it's an old question and yet there are more people in college today than ever today.
Still, do we have to have so many people in college? I'd say no. Some college courses are more trade school oriented than college oriented. One of my dual degrees is from TV Production. This was a great degree to get. But seriously - from a college? There was no reason to have it at a college. Film direction or production could be a class - but as a major, it's a waste of time and money.
As for the concept that people who do blue collar work are "put upon" - I used to work a variety of blue collar jobs prior to leaving college. I'd have to say they were all very enjoyable. When I hear Democrats talk about the lifestyles of the blue collar groups, I laugh. Most of my high school friends are blue collar workers and live very well and are very happy. The ONLY blue collar workers who are unhappy are:
1. Unemployed - for obvious reasons
2. Union executives - for obvious reasons
3. Spokespeople for blue collar people (like democrats) - for obvious reasons
Most of the blue collar types I'm familiar with are sympathetic to the Republican Party and agree that work may suck, but it's necessary and noble. Though they would agree to an extent with Democrats that executives are overpaid (hell, I agree with that to a degree....but I wouldn't pass laws against it).
Democrats fear the recession for one reason - they won the White House on the back of activist college nitwits. Obama won the under 34 vote by a huge margin, and lost the over 34 vote by a slight margin. It's clear that the under 34's are the crap of the crop that our incapable college systems are producing. The Ivory Towers are collapsing, and they are doing what they can to prevent the collapse. Even as they point to Wall Street as "the problem", truth is the problem started in the ivy covered walls of academia by feeding garbage to our kids.
I spend too much of each day explaining to my kids why what they are learning in school is wrong. I keep explaining that questioning their teachers is a good thing - and they should push their teachers to improve their methods, that a questioning student is NOT a threat, but a joy.
The references here to the German educational system are interesting. I'm an American who came to Germany some years back as a soldier, stayed on to get my PhD, and now have 4 children in German schools and universities. For the interested, here's a short user's guide to the German educational system.
Bear in mind that Germany has 16 states, and that there really is no single German educational system, but rather a general German attitude towards education that is administered differently in each of the 16 states. As a rule, the southern conservatively-ruled states have very good systems; the northern socialist-leaning states spend more per pupil and get markedly poorer results.
In Bavaria, where we live, the government spends $6500 per pupil. After the 4th grade, the pupils are divided into 3 groups: Hauptschule, Realschule and Gymnasium. The Gymnasium is the university-prep route, the Realschule prepares for the mid-level clerical jobs, and the Hauptschule is for all the rest.
In principle, the pupils can transfer from one school type to the next higher or lower type. In practice, almost all transfer activity is downwards, because the Gymnasium is too difficult for many. For example, my son was one of 125 pupils who began the 5th grade of the local Gymnasium in the late 1990s. In his 2007 Abitur class (the graduating class of the Gymnasium), there were only 27 pupils.
The remainder had transferred to the Realschule, whence some had transferred once again to the Hauptschule. That was an extreme case, but on the average, fewer than 30% of Bavarian pupils complete the Abitur.
At the Gymnasium a pupil (if he chooses the science/language route) will typically take 9 years of English and 5-7 years of Latin or French. He will become proficient enough to, say, translate verses from Ovid's Metamorphoses into English, and to read Macbeth and Hamlet. Try to imagine American pupils who could read Goethe's Faust (in its original language, of course), or translate Latin verse into German. The pupil will also have 9 years of mathematics, 7 years of physics, and 5 of chemistry, depending on his specialization in his last two years. Additionally, he can expect to have 5 years of religious instruction, which is not intended to convert the pupil but to enable him to visit the Uffizi or study European history with some understanding. Of course, he will also have geography, German literature, physical education, music and art, biology, etc.
Parallel to the Hauptschule/Realschule/Gymnasium axis, there are also vocational schools. They receive their pupils from the Hauptschulen, from which the children graduate after the 9th or 10th grade, and from the Realschulen, which take a year or two longer. These vocational schools are one of the pillars of German industrial success: they are serious institutions with highly-trained and well-respected teachers. Electricians, carpenters, plumbers, auto-mechanics, bank tellers, assistant tax consultants, foreign language correspondents, etc. - they all go through a two or three year training phase at a vocational school,
during which time they will also gain on-the-job experience at a local business or factory.
Most of the successful Gymnasium graduates (Abiturienten) will go to the university. During their university years, the prospective schoolteachers, at least those aiming at the Gymnasium level, are expected to visit many of the same classes as their non-teacher-prep peers. I studied mathematics and computer science, and during the first two or three years many of my classmates were Lehramtskandidaten (teacher candidates). The tests they are expected to pass at the end of their studies are serious mathematics, and one usually finds numerous PhDs (not educational study doctorates, but chemists, mathematicians, physicists, etc.) among the Gymnasium teaching staff.
It is true that German university students are older than their American counterparts. This is because it takes 13 years to graduate from the Gymnasium (most German states have recently reduced this to 12 years), and many freshly graduated pupils spend a year in the military or in a public service position before going off to the university. Most German students do not get a Bachelor's degree; they obtain a Diplom, which is equivalent to a Master's degree.
Also, the university is "free", or pretty much so, with the result that there is not a great deal of financial pressure on
the student to get through it as quickly as possible.
One correspondent mentioned that "MANY technical jobs that are held here in the US by people with BS degrees (or even just HS degrees and tech training) are held, in Germany, by people with PhDs." That is true (the BS degree part, not the HS degree/tech training part), but that's also one of the big differences between, say, BMW and GM. I work for a high-tech company that is headquartered in Germany, and that has subsidiaries around the world, including several in the US. The US workers are primarily technicians who service products that are designed and developed in Munich. Our US branches do have a handful of high-quality engineering and scientific people: they all have PhDs, too, and they're all Chinese.
Without question, the German secondary educational system, at least in Bavaria, is superior to the American model: it's cheaper and it produces a more competent and better educated citizenry. Could the US introduce the German system, or any system that could compete with it? Such a system would, I think, have to separate the children by abilities at an early age, and it would have to take the teaching profession seriously. Once in place, it would be cheaper and more effective than the current American system.
But it would require a great deal of political willpower to implement, and constant vigilance to maintain. It's not going to happen, is it?