Friday, August 15, 2008

Away with Education!

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?


Sandwichman said...

Given the ideological slant of the social sciences, led by economics and its exclusion of labor, and the vocational irrelevance -- aside from credential inflation -- of much university education, yeah, sure Murray has a point.

But, you know, the libertarian panaceas offered by these right-wing rat bastards always turn out to be Trojan horses for ramping up even more ideological shit and credentialization. Fuck 'em.

Anonymous said...

You know, of all the courses I took in college, perhaps the most valuable of them was a course in research techniques.

Strictly speaking, I should also give lip-service to English Composition. Then again, I have earned more money with Music Theory than English Composition.

J.Goodwin said...

Most of what I learned in my major only barely prepared me for a career within that field. That's hardly important to me, if I had it to do over again, I'd skip the major entirely and just study what I wanted to.

The conservatives probably dropped the "great American literature" plank because they realized the list was the same as the one of the books they were attempting to ban.

Shag from Brookline said...

What would be the economic impact of Murray's idea? How might national security be impacted if competitive nations (e.g., China) do not follow suit?

When I started college in 1949, I had in mind becoming a lawyer. Back then, only two-years of college was required to get into a law school (other than Harvard) in the Boston area. Looking back I wish I had spent two more years in college, especially since the most tuition I paid was $400/year in the third year of law school; books were cheaper and, yes, like many others, I lived with my parents and commuted to classes.

Today, compare the costs of college and graduate school. It is difficult for the student to work summers and over the Christmas and other holidays to save enough for tuition, books, room & board, and occasional entertainment. Student loans have been available, up to now, but then these loans are supposed to be paid back, so the student can start a career deep in debt. I did not have that problem back then. So I made it a point that my children would not have to take out student loans - and neither did I, because of a successful career, have to go in debt for them. Student loans are a great thing, but perhaps parents should have bellied up to the financial bar a little more rather than, say, indulge their lifestyles.

A lot of college graduates are frustrated that their careers may not have worked out as they had contemplated when they were in college. In my retirement, I note extensive TV commercials for trade schools that call themselves colleges. This has become a big business. But how successful are their students in establishing new careers in a trade?

Contrast the policies on education in continental European countries with those of the U.S. I understand that the former focus upon careers, including professions and trades, whereas in the U.S. it is more general education, with the student intended to later get into a career that he/she may not have been specifically trained for.

Personally, I think Murray is part of the conservative movement to dumb down work and thus compensation so that the intellectual conservatives can reap the financial rewards. (Just think of Northwestern having only two-years of law school. If this spreads, attorneys will be in the same league as community college graduates in the work force compensation-wise.) And Murray obviously is not interested in college grads being able to act as informed citizens, such as VOTING THEIR OWN POCKETBOOKS rather than those of Murray's ilk.

Michael, this has been an S.J. Perelman moment for me. Any relation?

Robert D Feinman said...

Where is John Dewey when we need him?

Dewey made two real contributions to educational philosophy. The first was the "learn by doing" type of instruction that has formed the basis of US public education ever since. The alternative is the learn by rote (or from authority) which is what the teaching of Latin and Greek was all about. Rote learning is also the current preferred design of parochial schools and authoritarians masquerading as "libertarians".

"I know the truth and I'll just explain it to you" school of thought.

His second point, which ties into the first, is that the purpose of education is to make better citizens who can then function properly in a democracy. You can see where ideologues would be against teaching which is aimed toward providing mechanisms for people to learn on their own in later life and think for themselves.

No Child Left Behind is a pure expression of autocratic instruction. There is a national, fixed set of standards and learning is measured in relation to this, not in pedagogically meaningful ways. Since the goals are impossible to meet (continual improvement every year - where do you go when you reach 100%?), the ratings for schools will go down. This will then be used as ammunition to destroy the "failing" public schools and turn the money over to the ideologues - religious and secular.

As for college being a "waste", Leon Botstein has been doing some work on this. His claim is that high school is the waste, students know too much now and don't get enough out of four years. He has started a program of a four year course where the student gets a high school diploma as well as an AA degree from an associated community college.

They can then go on to finish two more years at college for a BA. He has been running a school in NYC for several years and the program seems a success. I haven't heard of any other schools trying this, but I don't keep up on this topic.

Learning a trade is shortsighted, most people do more than one thing in their working lives. Learning how to learn will always be useful (and dangerous to demagogues).

Fungus the Photo! said...

I'm with sandwichperson...schooling is Prussian for effective armies. We are now so wealthy that we buy, THROUGH $ IMPERIALISM, the USA to carry out our invasions. So schooling is now mainly relevant to economic expansion given that the Gov still rules educashun. Once we can read and have access to a library of knowledge, (Andy Carnegie and WWW) then why do we need schools? They act as baby minding open prisons.

Third level is just a way of keeping middle class juveniles out of the work force. Until they lose all creative juices and realize they would have earned more as a chippy.....

Fungus the Photo! said...

I agree with feinman too!
Education is also a way of dumbing down. We can only afford this as we make wealth disproportionate to our physical effort. We then feel guilty as we are educated by media that others are not so well off. I am more to the liberal side of things. Let the market take care of things. The gov/corp influence means oligopoly in media and curriculum and science.
Withdraw funds from gov. Cheat/out compete all corporates. Then we may find those who produce and who consume defining what knowledge is relevant. At least we lose the friction of wasted intermediation by bureaucrats who occupy gov/corp.
Down with mercantilism!

nihil obstet said...

In 1690, if you wanted to read serious scientific or mathematical works, not to mention classical literature, history, and philosophy, you'd better know Latin and Greek. In our day of relatively easy access to books, we forget the difficulties of getting information in earlier times. This is not to forget that studying Latin and Greek didn't mean just conjugating verbs and declining nouns. It meant studying Cicero and Plato and reading Homer and Plautus. School was no more successful in turning its students into educated people in 1690 than it is today, but the course of study wasn't silly. It gave people intellectual training and a common basis of knowledge from which to discuss and form opinions in an age when last night's TV program didn't provide fodder for a common national discourse.

While a substantial proportion of people have always looked at education as simply job training, U.S. society in the last 30 years has come to be dominated by the idea that schools should be worker factories, relieving business of any training expenses. It underlies the "replace the expensive older worker with the just-trained-with-no-expense-to-us cheap young worker." The schools end up devaluing people as mere economic commodities.

Myrtle Blackwood said...

Charles Murray, according to Wikipedia, is a man that gets paid by rightwing thinktanks to 'think' for them.

1974-1981 American Institute for Research. Gets paid by the CIA and the general intelligence community among others.

1981 - 1990 - The conservative Manhattan Institute. "The Manhattan Institute concerns itself with such things as 'welfare reform' (dismantling social programs), 'faith-based initiatives' (blurring the distinction between church and state), and 'education reform' (destroying public education)," Kurt Nimmo wrote October 10, 2002

Since 1990 - The American Enterprise Institute. "an extremely influential, pro-business right-wing think tank founded in 1943 by Lewis H. Brown. It promotes the advancement of ..capitalism, and succeeds in placing its people in influential governmental positions. It is the center base for many neo-conservatives.

It's not surprising that whatever he writes will find itself in the other part of the loop, the right-wing mass media.

His article appears to tell us nothing more than the fact that the dismantling of tertiary eduction is being considered by the world's top 501 corporations (Number 501: government).

Nothing better prepares one for 'life' than an education for making money.

Anonymous said...

The idea that undergraduate education is simply a screening mechanism for workplace potential may be relevant to some degree (I don't think most people would argue that is isn't). However, the abolisment of the degree system in favor of certifications forgets one key aspect of the screening hypothesis.
Taking a test after high school or attending some career related seminar fails to draw out those key individuals who show motivation in their work. A primary reason the screening hypothesis gained traction is that it explained that college "screened" individuals not only through admission but also through completion (the compilation of four years of work and the ability to be at least at some level self sufficient).
To agree with John Dewey's point about developing well rounded citizens; to a large number of university attendants, college is where the largest degree of diversity is faced (religous, political, ect...) and where the free exchange of ideas (without getting into a mudsligging battle) are supposed to occur.