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 25. 2009
We have often opined here that the real purpose of a liberal arts education is life enrichment rather than to enhance one's future in commerce.
As usual, my views are hopelessly old-fashioned. Tim Black at Spiked discusses the subject in The Modern University: You Get What You Pay For. It's the UK, but it applies in the US too. One quote:
How Chaucer helps a nation compete in international business is beyond me, but I would not want to live in a world without him. Tim Black, like me, wonders what this is all about. Another quote from his piece:
Bring me up to date, please. What is college for these days? Life enrichment? Creating an informed citizenry? Nurturing of scholars? Work certification? Job training?
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It's all those things plus some. You did post-graduate work for a job, correct?
I don't think anyone can make a collective determination on what college is for as students go for so many different reasons. With the amount of information coming at us at warp speed, I have sympathy for colleges because they have to keep up with it and provide the courses to pass on all the new information.
I agree with you about the liberal arts, by the way. I don't think anyone is 'educated' who does not have at least two years of liberal arts. But I'm afraid that's a losing 'think'.
It seems to me that lately much of the purpose is to provide jobs for students that major in totally useless "studies".
Ah, yes, Roy ... The "studies syndrome" in the educational stakes. As far as I can see, any course which is designated "studies," doesn't involve very much real study at all, being primarily a platform on which the course instructor can build on his own assumptions and prejudices. Women's Studies, or Gender Studies courses often turn out to be a list of the instructor's particular grievances against the world of men. [Have you ever heard of a course in Men's Studies? I haven't.]
The main "studying" of the students of such courses is to learn the instructor's opinions and prejudices and parrot them back to him or her. This is unfortunate for the student, since there is not much serious, substantive information in such a course to equip the student for his or her struggles in the world of real work, which requires real information about such things as engineering, mathematics, economics, languages and technological subjects like computer science. The more time students spend on "Studies" courses, the less they have to equip themselves for battle in earning a living.
All right. My 'dukes' are up. Who wants to argue?
I'd like to argue, but I agree with you.
My own observation is that well over half the college students these days are wasting their time. If you look at the employment patterns more than 75% of the jobs require no more than a high school education, if that.
We've seen the studies where a person with a college degree earns more than one without. There is a significant methodological flaw in that they don't survey those with a degree who are in occupations which don't require a degree. Your basic Masters in Art asking if you want to super size that.
The educational establishment has done a superb marketing job in over hyping the value of the product they sell. That, combined with easy student loans (government driven as a quid pro quo for political support) and excessive credentialism, has seriously impacted the lives of our young.
I've been teaching at a big 10 university since 1987--part time, so tenure was never an issue or option. Over the years, I've seen more and more students who are unable to adequately write, communicate clearly, ask a decent question, self motivate, self discipline, etc., etc.
Why are they taking these classes? To graduate - with as little work as humanly possible. Why do they want to graduate?
Dude, it's for the diploma. Nothing more. The only students who actually get excited about the content of my course are students who don't need the class for a degree.
If I may, let's not forget the self-made and self-educated man/woman. Though I may not be able to quote Chaucer, hell, I might not even be able to read Chaucer in the original, I think there are other avenues that substitute for lack of a formal 'liberal' experience at an institute of learning. I've spent the majority of my life in the search for 'truth' and seeking the thrill of discovery in new ways of thinking and being. What I see here is a piece of sheepskin being used to validate knowledge when it may be no more than a wall hanging to many, even back in those old-fashioned days.
My daughter is home from school and I asked her about some of the debates of the last couple of nights here. She said the kids who will get jobs right out of college majored in business, economics, finance, marketing, education, and technology. She majored in Justice with a minor in psychology with the intention of working for the FBI. She will do her post-graduate work in forensic psychology. Those kids like her boyfriend who majors in biology will probably have a tough time finding a job and will probably end up doing research. She said the best courses were the seminars, and that even in the liberal arts courses, she never ran across a teacher who tried to propagandize anything. She attends a major university in Virginia and told me several of her professors teach at Colombia and NYU.
She did make the point that the best classes were the ones she took out of genuine interest second to the required liberal art classes that through a terrific teacher, surprised her with a new interest. And she said she forgot most of the rest. ha ha.
But to get to your point: You are so right. I said something to her about the value of her years at the school and she looked at me and said, "Mom, you know when you're filling out something and you have to click that arrow to highlight your education? I like going all the way to the bottom."
While it took me years to appreciate college, I think it wasn't until I was on the search for 'truth', new roads to travel, new perspectives that life throws your way that I realized the things I could never, ever have learned in classroom offered the best lessons. The sheepskin opened a lot of doors, the least of which is that I am now a lifelong autodidact. But with or without the diploma, curiosity rules.... just as you describe.
It was only last year that a junior college in west(?) Texas tried to offer a course for men only--the fem/nazi/lesbian educators powered that poor little school into dropping on their knees and canceling the course--if memory serves me well it took less than one quarter for these brutal females from university campuses in every corner of this country. You could probably find it on Google--I'll look later!
feminist: N. A virago who has not been laid in two years or more.
I know for a fact that most college students treat college as an expensive technical school. I'm a Computer Science major at Texas Tech University, and I also have four years experience as a Computer Programmer in the US Air Force. After getting out of the USAF, I tried to get a job in my chosen field, and I discovered that there are three main ways to be considered for an opening (besides nepotism).
First, if you have self-studied and done something noteworthy enough for your name or work to be readily recognized.
Second, get a degree in Computer Science. To be fair, many organizations want someone with a degree and at least 4 years experience in a certain specialization.
Third, approximately 10% of job openings (my rough guess) allow you to substitute job experience for education. However, these jobs are lower paying with less responsibility. You would have the opportunity for career advancement since you've managed to get your foot in the door, but it does require quite a bit of work and putting up with quite a bit of BS.
Fourth, leave the military with a Top Secret security clearance. It costs a government contractor approximately $250,000 to get someone a clearance, so companies are more than willing to give you $10,000 in training if you have a clearance.
I decided to get a degree since I know enough about programming to know just how much I don't know. I try to get the most out of my classes. When I graduate, I'll have much more knowledge of algorithms, data structures, and a few new programming languages. Luckily, I managed to get a job as my college's web developer, so I'll also have more experience on my resume. However, the biggest reason is for that damn diploma. Without it, I'm filtered out of most job openings in my chosen field. I know that I could get a different kind of job elsewhere which would pay plenty, but computer programming interests me more than any other trade I've come across.
Well, that's my two cents...
"I know enough about programming to know just how much I don't know."
How perfect is that statement. You are 100% right. Substitute anything in the subject field, and you have a smart, self-aware person. If nothing else, college will show you how much you don't know, and if you have the curiosity of learning, you will see learning as a part of life, not as something to endure.
The most important things you'll need in this business are adaptability, curiosity, and a sense of design. The Gang-of-Four Design Patterns book will likely be the most important thing to know. From what I understand, a lot of CompSci profs these days still waste a lot of time on algorithms. More important is writing clear and concise code that is easy for others to maintain and understand. Your ability to communicate clearly is an added bonus.
More on-topic to this thread, though a bit off-topic, is that from what I can see, most HR departments are the root of the degree-centric perspective. Most of the people in HR and recruiting in my industry don't have a clue as to what is required and don't know much of the lingo of the business, so they fall back on some sort of credential that makes it easy for them to just check off boxes on a form. And they're mostly liberal arts majors.
I wonder how much of the credential-centric thinking that goes on in HR departments is a result of the fact that this is the area where the psych/soc/studies majors mostly seem to end up in the corporate world.Are they being taught to value authority over experience in judging the skills/talents, and abilities of others?
What I've found interesting when looking for jobs in the past in my business is that how few hits I get for HR positions when entering my credentials in search engines or perusing ads. Not that I'm looking for that kind of work and hits for such would just be noise interfering with the signal I'm trying to receive, but it seems rather telling to me.
I've gone on recruiting trips with HR people and what I gather is not only your point about psych/soc/studies but that the only advantage these people have is as gate-keepers. They are working more to maintain that position than to find people who can do the work that companies want done. I've long suspected that this is what drives a lot of the "sensitivity" classes and such. They already have the "training" and can use that as leverage over the corporate hierachy. I think if we could break that grip a lot more people with the knowledge of how to do stuff can get hooked up with the stuff that companies need to get done. To my mind our economy has huge untapped potential in this area.
It's for the piece of paper, nothing more. In beginning a new career, I lucked into jobs involving databases in which I taught myself the necessary skills on the job, with a higher salary coming after I acquired the skills. I found my work more interesting, with my motivation to learn much higher, than for any coursework I concurrently undertook for my graduate degree. One problem I found being an older student at university is that while I was still able to learn, I was not as willing to jump through professor-mandated hoops compared to my younger days.
For liberal arts learning, I have a book club. One of the members is a retired English prof; the discussions can get quite interesting.
I think that college has been made deliberately useless. Colleges have become an echo chamber and the mutual feedback just amplifies the uselessness. Outside of hard science (the ones with numbers), just about everything is designed to teach what to think instead of how to think. I have enjoyed a well rounded education from the poor man's university: the local public library. Now, with the internet, if I am willing, I can gain even more knowledge.
More discouraging to me is how schools do nothing to feed the soul. Discernment is no longer fostered, beauty is no longer in the eye of the beholder; you must shut up for dissent of the wrong kind is no longer tolerated. I love to learn but I hate schools. They have nothing to teach me.
Students want a college degree (note that I didn't say college education) because the businesses they want to work for require them. Businesses require college degrees because they are no longer allowed by law to ask probing questions during their interviews of job applicants that would not appear to have some exposure to claims of bias or to ask questions about almost anything that would help them determine whether an applicant has the brains of a common toad.
Anyone who works in "human resources" will tell you this: the college degree is used to filter out the dummies, the misfits, the shirkers, and the perpetually stoned. Given the abysmally low standards of most college undergraduate programs these days, which serve mainly the purpose of post-high school remedial education, it won't be long before the ante has to be raised and a graduate degree becomes the minimal requirement for entry level jobs.
As several people have pointed out, it's all about the piece of paper. College is increasingly neither a matter of acquiring knowledge for its own sake nor of acquiring knowledge for its practical utility--it is a ritual. Also, the increasing emphasis on graduate degrees--especially graduate degrees from "elite" universities--serves the function of maintaining & strengthing class barriers and of inhibiting social mobility. In a world where on-the-job performance was the key thing, the talented branch manager in a bank might stand a good chance of making it to region manager. Today, the job will in many cases go to an MBA from a "top school," who got into that school in substantial part because his parents could afford to pay for private schools and tutoring (and may have engaged in outright legal bribery, in the form of "contributions")
This varies from industry to industry, and credentialism in business is still nowhere near as bad as in government, academia, and the "nonprofit" world...but it is getting worse.
Yes, it's a ritual. Everyone else is doing it so I gotta do it too or be left behind. Kinda like Twitter. Also to your other point, it was many of those same people with MBA degrees who could jargon themselves and others into believing that the real estate market would go to infinity. Both issues point back to echo-chamber mentality.
sigh... Seems as if we've lost the sweet from the bitter here.
Not everyone else is doing it, KRW. I like John Sanders' take on it. He has the right attitude. In the end, what you do with your four years in academia is all about attitude. If you succor each moment and learn everything you can, you will come out of the experience a wiser man. If you merely endure it as a ritual, you will be less for the experience.
I think how one views 'that piece of paper' says much about determination, dedication and persistence. It's attitude, and that counts for everything. You can blast HR departments all you want, but their job is to filter out those whose attitudes don't match the job - or anything else for that matter. You figure if someone blows off four years of a chance to learn just about anything, they've got little respect for anything. Who needs a jerk like that?
No, not everyone else is doing it, but that's the perception that drives much of the demand. I too admire JS's approach and I think he will be much better off in the long run than those with just experience and no diploma or those with a diploma and no experience. But if I was hiring for my own company, I'd take the experienced guy and give him a couple of training classes. So much of what you needed to go to a university to learn 10 or more years ago, you can learn today for free on the internet.
Speaking specifically to the CompSci domain, however, you will learn far more and find far more interesting challenges outside of universities. With open-source software, you can even try your hand at solving challenging problems in the real world environment and have others judge it for free. Technology changes much too quickly for universities to keep up. A design that was viewed as "wrong-wrong-wrong" 5 years ago became a "smart innovation" 2 years ago, but is passe today. Actually, one other thing I would advise JS, which does fit into a degree program would be at least one if not two classes basic/applicable philosophy...if universities provide such a thing without going too far out on an impractical tangent.
To me the sad thing is that much of what I learned in school I had to spend much more time un-learning because the approach was not to challenge you to think but to tell you what to think. Some of that crap just didn't add up. I also remember on numerous occasions going to the library to research some topic I didn't give a flip about and getting distracted by some book on the shelf next to the one I was supposed to pick up and getting absorbed in learning something that wasn't "going to be on the test". I learned more once I left school and had the time and money to spend on what my instincts told me were important. But that was just my experience, ymmv.
And again...CURSE YOU MF SPAM FILTER...Ahh, the rage that soothes...
KRW. We agree on everything, really. As usual. One consistent theme I've heard on these threads, though, that I can't understand is the notion that few felt challenged to think on their own - as opposed to being told what and how to think. I never experienced that in my life. Consider I was/am in academia and that involves classes and continuing ed 'til the day I drop, and I still can't think of a time I was 'told' what to think. I wonder if it's just my personality seeing any 'think' as a challenge or if it is just the way my mind works in refusing to be 'told'. (don't answer that. :) In my view, it is the individual's responsibility to question everything... open the doors on their own, but to buy 'what' to think? I don't buy it. How to think is good for logic and sequential naming, etc. There are good lessons in that.
I've spent my life picking up the book 'next to the one I was supposed to get'. How cool is it to be blessed with curiosity and the simple desire to learn? I know people who are not like that and just plain wonder how they live.
By the way, your field of work/study is the fastest, so yeah... you guys have it hard for keeping up. Think of the schools trying to keep up! Same with medicine.
I think the notion of being told what to think is not completely literal. Example I recall in college where for some stupid reason freshmen had to take PE, which was always quite a joke when it came "exam" time. Our instructor insisted on ingraining into our heads that stock car racing was the most popular sport in America. If we put any other answer on the test, we would get it wrong. Not that he didn't have a point from an attendence counting perspective, but for certain types of people (such as myself, and I suspect a few others here, probably including yourself) putting down a "wrong" answer to a question that is not worth arguing about is very aggrivating. You can't help but get the message, not so much that you're being told what to think but that what you think doesn't count.
And again...CURSE YOU MF SPAM FILTER...Ahhhhh
"You can't help but get the message, not so much that you're being told what to think but that what you think doesn't count."
How intensely astute that observation is, KRW. It might sum up one of the reasons I can't find it in myself to engender a scintilla of respect for 'authority'. I scoff at it. And it seems it goes so far back I can't remember when I first realized even the gods that walk among us are human.