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, November 30. 2011
From J.M. Anderson's Three Cheers for Useless Education:
I agree about the value of a "useless education." I also agree with his distinction between "liberal arts" and "job training." I think Prof. Anderson is likely an inspiring prof.
However, I think liberal arts education has become insanely and unnecessarily expensive, so that people feel forced to regard it as a financial investment. Ask me whether I think higher ed is a credentialling racket, or expensive babysitting for superannuated adolescents.
Also, I do not think "the life of the mind" is for everybody. Seems to me that we have many people feeling obligated to "attend college," whatever that means, when they would feel more motivated and engaged in "training" to do something practical instead.
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There is no reason that a high quality Liberal Arts education should cost much more than zero. Every year state run Universities and our national military Universities all offer these courses to students. Because the funding for these is through the public it seems only appropriate that these lectures be in some part archived on the net.
Through net lectures, discussion networking, and used books/materials it is unlikely the cost of such courses amortized over time would be more than a few dollars to a few hundred dollars per student (I go with "a few hundred dollars" only because of the absurd cost of the books even used - this is also curable by the Universities).
This leaves only testing and the University of London has established the model for this through its International Programmes. Testing from U of L is available throughout the world and for a reasonable testing fee.
Actually the U of L, London School of Economics offers degrees for about $6,000 total cost. They are ranked with the Ivy's in quality.
We could do the same here and we should require our state Universities to do so. The actual cost of education is quite low but we are fooled into "needing" a system which is costly. Shame on us.
Do it yourself and read the Harvard Classics, the 5-foot shelf. Start with daily reading guide and you will be hooked.
I'm saving the Teaching Company for when my eyes fail.
The problem, as in all things, are credentials. I would never had gone past the bachelors in engineering stage if it wasn't for the fact that the government required that so many BS/BA, MA/MBA/ME and PhD level employees to obtain government contracts. Why they required that, I have no idea, but that's the way it was.
Well, ok - I am big on self-education and if the company was paying, hell, why not?
With respect to kids I talk to today, my advice is tech school - any tech school. Hell, outboard mechanics make well over $30/hr now (true of any type of mechanic actually). HVAC? You can make a very good living working on HVAC systems as a solo operator. A nationally Registered Nurse does not require a Bachelors and there is some good money to be made there too.
Yes, it is the credentials that cause the problem. And it is discriminatory against people who are self starters and can read. No piece of paper, no credit for what you've learned. Sure confuses them when they ask where you got your Masters and you tell them you don't have a Masters, you've got a brain. But in government, brains don't count, paper counts.
So I spent my money and lots of your taxpayer money to take courses in what I already knew until I got bored and cut the losses settling for a graduate certificate, which doesn't count for much. Didn't matter much, I had political problems in my job and left a few years later. I actually forget I have the paper to prove I know things I learned long before the major was created.
Now, the question is, if the useless education is so valuable, why don't they offer courses such as Classics for STEM major like they offer dumbed down Stats for social scientists or Business math. Instead, as my niece had to take, you have 'Liberal Arts' which is actually some BS about Rap music and culture.
In any case, an 'education' is a fine thing, but only an idiot goes into debt for it, much less $50,000 in debt, unless there is a direct link to improvement of future earnings. That'd be like going deeply in debt for a vacation you'll never be able to pay off, which people would never do. Right?
Here's a test, let's let student loan debt be discharged in a bankruptcy after demonstrating a real effort to pay it off, but they have to surrender the credential. No diploma, but they can keep the 'education'. The record of attendance and degree conferment is suspended but they can use the knowledge all they want. It's the 'education' that is the valuable part, correct?
"No diploma, but they can keep the 'education'. The record of attendance and degree conferment is suspended but they can use the knowledge all they want. It's the 'education' that is the valuable part, correct?"
That's a damn interesting thought.
Wheat from chaff right off the bat. You've got the education, now do something with it.
Last things first - no diploma if you default? Interesting concept. That wouldn't work though because you'd still have to have some way to prove that you have the education in some fashion.
Perhaps an apprenticeship of some sort?
Well, if only the useless education didn't have to be so useless, and in the humanities, often rendered ugly.
I considered going to graduate school in English. But even by the late '80's the professortoriat had made such a hash of the humanities in general that to love reading and literature was practically a disqualifier.
After investigating, it became clear that job prospects for a new English Ph.D were grim in general. Worse, I was male. Not very cool.
Even worse, to get the kind of approval and attention it would take to have a hope of landing a decent job in a decent place, I would have to pursue one or another branch of currently fashionable "theory" and write a dissertation so steeped in jargon-wasted bullshit I would have hated myself for aiding and abetting fraud.
And, worst of all, I would have had to bend and shape my love for literature into a mere cudgel, a weapon aimed at advancing the approved social, which is to say political, aims of the Academy.
Fie on them. Most of them are barbarians and destroyers with a polished manner. Though I want to agree with Prof. Anderson, that a "useless" education has worthy value of itself, I don't believe very much of the institutional Academy offers a "Life of the Mind" worth living. You'll have to look elsewhere for it.
I know little about Prof. Anderson; I expect he's a peach, and I do know plenty of people in higher academics today who display bountiful good sense, love for learning and teaching, and charity. But the grim, resentful, spiteful and shallow outweigh those people by too, too far.
" Ask me whether I think higher ed is a credentialling racket, or expensive babysitting for superannuated adolescents."
No question: BOTH.
Perhaps if the 'useless education' purveyors applied a bit of critical thinking to their program in the hopes of improvement. Take this view of writing instruction by Paul Graham.
And so in the late 19th century the teaching of writing was inherited by English professors. This had two drawbacks: (a) an expert on literature need not himself be a good writer, any more than an art historian has to be a good painter, and (b) the subject of writing now tends to be literature, since that's what the professor is interested in.
High schools imitate universities. The seeds of our miserable high school experiences were sown in 1892, when the National Education Association "formally recommended that literature and composition be unified in the high school course."  The 'riting component of the 3 Rs then morphed into English, with the bizarre consequence that high school students now had to write about English literature-- to write, without even realizing it, imitations of whatever English professors had been publishing in their journals a few decades before.
It's no wonder if this seems to the student a pointless exercise, because we're now three steps removed from real work: the students are imitating English professors, who are imitating classical scholars, who are merely the inheritors of a tradition growing out of what was, 700 years ago, fascinating and urgently needed work.
It's only been a 120 years or so, perhaps composition and rhetoric could be removed from being a bother to literary theorists and returned to those who wish to teach, without the foolish post-modern, progressive indoctrination? Then the Freshman lit, or the high school English, classes wouldn't be driving so many away from good 'riting with their pointless papers and appreciation of great literature by the constant search for irony.
Of course, the difficulty is that those who must institute some change are the very ones who excelled in and enjoyed the current system, thus it requires a bold leap to see why so many find their educational product useless.