Charles Murray has an incredible proposal in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal. He wants to do away with most undergraduate education. This idea seems quite popular at the time -- at least Murray's time. One of his colleagues, had a similar idea:
"Can there be any thing more ridiculous, than that a father should waste his own money, and his son's time, in setting him to learn the Roman language, when, at the same time, he designs him for a trade, wherein he, having no use of Latin, fails not to forget that little which he brought from school."
Locke, John. 1690. Some Thoughts Concerning Education in John Locke, The Works of John Locke in Ten Volumes (London): ix, pp. 1- 205, p. 153.
The core of Murray's idea is that the purpose of education is to compare people for the workplace. Employers would be better served if prospective employees would just take tests to prove their competency. Here is what Murray has to say:
"Outside a handful of majors -- engineering and some of the sciences -- a bachelor's degree tells an employer nothing except that the applicant has a certain amount of intellectual ability and perseverance. Even a degree in a vocational major like business administration can mean anything from a solid base of knowledge to four years of barely remembered gut courses."
"The solution is not better degrees, but no degrees. Young people entering the job market should have a known, trusted measure of their qualifications they can carry into job interviews. That measure should express what they know, not where they learned it or how long it took them. They need a certification, not a degree."
I agree with Murray than many people are in college to earn a credential, which will have few benefits on the job. Some people with this kind of motivation will not get much out of college, but some will. And in the process, they might become richer (not necessarily in an economic sense), fuller people.
John Locke was correct that in education just restricted to Latin and Greek doesn't make sense. Many people during in the decades that followed Locke were leery of giving education to people without proper backgrounds, who might get too high an opinion of themselves -- or even become dangerous.
I certainly agree with Murray that college education has many deficiencies, a good number of which have to do with making education into providing business with good employees. Murray would certainly not appreciate that particular critique.
One measure of a decent educational system would be that the majority of graduates with be able to act as informed citizens with the result that they would get a government that would serve people's real needs.
By the way, whatever happened about the conservative demands to teach students about Shakespeare and great American literature?