It's not a zero-sum game.
I disagree with the premise of the article and this post.
As more people are educated, the average productivity increases due to the correlation with improved mental flexibility. Increased educational attainment by society is thus always associated with an increased standard of living.
Will is right - it's not a zero-sum game. Indeed, some people shouldn't go to college. But we can fix that through better standards of testing. It remains true that overall MORE people should be educated to HIGHER levels if we are to compete in the global economy, and if our workers are to have anything against the highly educated, highly flexible workers of the world. Higher education is the only way we can integrate effectively into the new global economy.
why don't we stop requiring people to get a secondary education while we're at it? then the people who don't want to go to high school will stop tying up the resources for the smart kids who do.
college isn't just about making smart people smarter anymore. that's what grad school is for.
Bryce: Correlation is not causation. Sitting through classes on English poetry and anthropology is great for those who benefit, but those who don't (which is most of them) are still tying up resources and still go on to get managerial jobs by virtue of a college degree that didn't do a damn thing for them. The onus is also on employers to stop believing that a degree is, by itself, meaningful. They have to start hiring in a smarter way.
Andy: But college should be about making smart people smarter. And both the smart and the stupid (and the industrious and the lazy) are hurt by the disproportionate numbers going to college. And doubly so for the capable people who, for whatever reason, couldn't or didn't go to college. They're penalized for not having an expensive, often meaningless, degree. It's become an arms race that has less and less to do with education. It should stop.
Some skills that are almost impossible to get in college (in the US anyways) but which are nonetheless very valuable, and perhaps valuable enough to pursue instead:
1) Becoming fluent in a foriegn language - and I mean fluent, not fake half-assed american college fluency. That means spending at least couple of years going native. College doesn't only provide that, it makes it nearly impossible.
2) Find a niche in the political economic spectrum and learn to advocate publicly for a position that seems interesting to you. Such habits are much more usefull in a business environment than any sort of academic training in communication or leadership.
3) Learn some segment of the IT infrastructure from top to bottom. In other words become a hacker. Hackers are ultimately the only ones who really know how this stuff work and the only one he really produce anything valuable. Academic degrees are mostly superfluous in IT.
Whether college is a zero sum game really depends on what you believe about the value of a college education. If indeed it imparts skills that contribute to increased productivity, then no it's not a zero sum game. If on the other hand it is form of credentialing individuals as somehow conforming to the conditions of class membership without really imparting any ultimately productive skills, then it's a zero sum game. Reality probably falls somewhere between the two extremes. That's enough to at least support some anxiety concerning the watering down of the value of a college degree.
OK, so college should be both less available and less expensive? Where'd you study economics?
I see what you're after, but I suspect the methods required to achieve your aim would be unacceptable.
"As more people are educated, the average productivity increases due to the correlation with improved mental flexibility."
I don't think going to college, or even earning a degree, correlates strongly with becoming educated. I believe that's the original point.
There's a very simple test of whether or not you should go to college. If during high school, you've ever asked, "Is this going to be on the test?" you shouldn't go to college.
"...the capable people who, for whatever reason, couldn't or didn't go to college. They're penalized for not having an expensive, often meaningless, degree. It's become an arms race that less and less to do with education. It should stop."
As someone who has been penalized, this was really nice to read. Thanks. You would think by now employers would have learned a piece of paper does not tell you anything about job performance.
The gain in productivity from exercising one's mind in college must be weighed against the years of lost productivity and resources consumed while attending college; if the knowledge and analytical skills gained in college are not directly applicable to one's job, it would be hard to make an argument that college is worth it from an economic standpoint.
Calculus is not of much use to a carpenter, and macroeconomics is not of much use to a store manager. And why the stigma of working in a job that doesn't require a college degree? Sure there are all kinds of opportunities available to those with a college degree that aren't available to those that don't have one, but that's irrelevant to someone who doesn't particularly care for those opportunities, and there's nothing wrong with that. The problem is the stigma associated with not being intelligent; In French schools, grades in the top ten percent of their grading system are rarely ever given; here grades below a 90% are seen as subpar. Excessive pride is built into our culture, both making people underutilize their talents and adding to social stratification. Going to college is a way to enter a higher caste, so to say, and we need to eliminate the system behind this phenomenon so that people are free to not go to college if it's a waste of their time. This would involve drastically changing part of public opinion that is an essential part of being American, and I don't think some thoughtful public service announcements would cut it - I don't in fact think it's possible.
I would never advise not going to college. But there are some people that are suited to the trades.
I don't mean that snobbishly: My grandfather was an electrician, and most of my uncles were farmers, and they were all smart men (as were their wives, most of whom didn't even finish high school)
I went to college because it was expected of me, and I'm glad I did. But I would have liked to have been an electrician as well. I'm too old and dumb to do that now.
Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you sweeeeeet baby Jesus!!!
As a student at Antioch University, which is SUPPOSED to be a school for progressive, adult learners dedicated to their education, but has proven itself to be more a school for people who couldn't hack it in mainstream academia and want a pretty diploma for their wall, I have been saying this over and over and over again.
1.) Having a degree doesn't mean you're smart.
2.) Not having a degree doesn't mean you're not smart.
And all of the 22 year old recent UW graduates prove that to me over and over again.
There are far too many people with degrees out there, most of whom don't need a degree, and way too many idiots with degrees cheapening the educational process for the people who are serious about it.
If I sit in one more classroom and have to put up with the banality and ignorance that is so prevelant, I am going to shoot myself.
Bravo, NYT and Brendan, BRAVO.
The problem isn't too many students. It's that most of those kids are going because they think they have to, but they don't know what they want to do.
If it were more common (or even mandatory) for people take a few years off between high school and college, college students would be a lot more focused, since they would have had time to figure out their interests. They might also be somewhat more mature, a feature that's sorely lacking.
I also think we'd cut down on classes full of people who don't give a shit if colleges would seriously rethink their distribution requirements. A liberal arts education is definitely worthwhile, but that's not what you get. Whatever area(s) you're not interested in, you take some random useless classes, which are often (esp in math and science) designed for and taught to people like you, who don't give a shit. You pass the class and promptly forget 90% of what you just learned. Meanwhile, the professor hates life, the 5 students in the class who actually are interested hate life, and you've just been forced to waste several hundred or thousand dollars on a class you don't give a rat's ass about.
In Germany, they send teenagers who are not going to benefit from reading Shakespeare and struggling with Calculus to "HauptSchule", where they learn practical trade skills that they might actually use someday to earn a living.
Always seemed like a sensible approach to me.
Ya... Why not two mandatory years of national service BEFORE college?... Gain some focus, life skills, real world experience.
And by "national service" I DON'T mean the military although, of course, that would be an option.
Why not MANDATORY AmeriCorps or Vista or Peace Corps or some other sort of national service program for ANYONE wanting to go to college, at least to a public college?...
You know, I couldn't agree with this post more. As a high school teacher, though not a professor, I see schools overcrowded everyday (the one I work at has about 5,000 students) with kids who have little or no interest in their education. There is, unquestionably, a depreciation in the value of any schooling. If a college degree is becoming devalued by the current state of enrolement, think how worthless a middle school education is today. I'd say that Kiley's argument isn't just applicable to college, but the whole educational system. Keep education, from pre-k to the second phd, only for those endlessly driven, shy but determined folks with something interesting to say.
I'm with Megan, Sean, National Service, and johnnie. This country could really use a two-year (optional 4-year) national service program as an alternate to college. In addition to programs mentioned, there could be others geared towards mechanical or other skills. Or how about that growing population of elderly? Or wounded soldiers who need constant care? Or hurricane clean-up?
Anyone who agrees that college should be restricted to only the really smart is a huge asshole. If you can't stand to spend time with those you consider lesser creatures, use your elitist money to buy admission to a snooty private school. That's what they're there for.
I do understand your frustration - it does suck to be in a class with those who don't care. (It sucks even more to T.A. a class full of those people). However, the solution to the problem of a poor education is never to limit the educational opportunities of others.
Maybe you should address the root causes of these people's attitudes. How about the deep-seated anti-intellectualism of American society? The behavior you're complaining about is largely a lack of respect for the classroom environment. How about the near-required status of a college education? Nothing makes people less enthusiastic about a situation that being forced to be there.
One of the key points that should be drawn from the article is that a college education is essentially required to make a middle-class income in this country. I imagine that every single one of the students you had problems with during your college years was being coerced into attending by their parents.
I agree that a more targeted education (read: interesting) education would benefit many students, and I think starting this at an earlier age could prevent many high school dropouts. It was a program like this that I credit for keeping me in high school long enough to graduate. Keeping people out of school is a terrible way to improve overall education.
I agree with Sean and National Service. It's worked in most of Europe, why not here too?
I know of many people that didn't go to college after highschool, and I even know some that went back to college after a while (very understandable). But honestly, I don't think I could survive with the "low" level of education that highschool provided me with. Sure I learned team work, productivity, being efficient, etc etc from my part time job, but I dont think that could get me through life. I don't have much of a drive to practice a skill, but power to those who do!
Stupid kids for Soylent Green!
I totally agree with chip. To say that some people aren't college material is going right back to when my mother went to the all mexican-american school in our town and was told to take typing classes and not worry about college. my father was pushed into boxing because that's what our kind of people were better at. I'm glad they didn't listen to those people.
Chip and Andrea:
Note that when I talk about some kids not being college material, I'm mostly talking about middle class kids who got decent grades defaulting to college—state schools as well as expensive pedigree schools like Yale.
Don't assume my argument is that *poor* people shouldn't have access to schooling. It's the opposite—it's that *indifferent* people should do something else.
If a B.A. or B.S. degree really gives you a 50 percent wage advantage at age 30, you'd be stupid not to attend college.
How do indifferent kids take up resources? They just sit there in class like a bump on a log. They certainly don't go to the professor's open office hours. Maybe the smart kids should learn a little courage if the indifferent kids intimidate them from speaking up.
I love it how a bunch of liberals have absolutely no problems forcing kids to give up two years of their lives to serve the government. I guess it's easy when it's someone else's freedom you're giving away.
Sam @ 25--
I didn't suggest that two years of national service be mandatory for everyone... I suggested that, before one attends college, they must preform two years of some sort of national service.
And "national service" does not mean serving the government. It means any sort of service given of one's self to one's country. It could be by participating in an AmeriCorps programs, an EarthCorps program, a local tutoring co-op, or even in the military. (Which would, yes, be service to the government.)
The point isn't that youth serve the Man, it's that they serve their fellow man.
Going to college at 18 is shortsighted and dumb. Who knows what they want to be at 18? How many 18-22 year old college students do you know that have been in the workforce, that have experienced real life, have had time to mature as a person and as a member of our community? Not a whole lot of them.
If I would have gone to college right out of high school, I would have ended up with a degree in biology and never would have known my true, true passion for working towards social justice.
I've traveled around the world, I've lived in many places, I've held many jobs. Now, with those experiences under my belt, I would be ready to be SERIOUS about getting a college degree.
And I would like to go to a place where the classrooms are full of people who are equally serious, and passionate, about their education.
Unfortunately, I have yet to find a place like that.
Don't think for a moment that the French and the Germans have got this one figured out and we just need to copy their great ideas.
Those Hauptschulen of children learning practical skills next to Gymnasia full of university-track kids map pretty tightly to the socioeconomic and class status of the childrens' parents. Is putting children of different socioeconomic classes in different school buildings appropriate for this society? It happens anyway, to some extent, in practice, but should it be encoded into policy?
Also consider that a secondary education in those countries is generally a couple of years longer than a US high school, and that, especially when it comes to the university-prep course, the curriculum is closer to a US undergraduate program.
Undergraduate enrollment rates are higher in the US than in Europe. Perhaps we're just making up for the generally shitty secondary educations (multiple-choice tests, rote, uncritical learning) that are given us by a system that would rather have a kick-ass football team and hot cheerleaders than graduates with adequate academic and practical skills.
While their secondary schools may do a better job in general, students in universities in France and Germany look on our universities with, generally, envy. If you think classes are crowded here, take a look over there. If you think students are disconnected from their profs here, try raising your hand and asking imperious Herr Profesor Doktor Schmidt a question in your lecture in Germany, where you might as well stay home and read HPD S.'s book as go to class.
I was a 5th year senior in High School because I "didn't care" and was "indifferent" as Brendan and others here describe. I then spent my post high-school years (approx. 18-20) drunk and jobless, living in shit houses with other similar kids. It was awesome and ultimately an utter waste. I wound up at SCCC because I was bored, more than anything, and now am an honors student at UW (and putting off a political theory paper right this moment, actually).
So I get what everyone's talking about; "so many people wasting the [grand hypothetical] college's time" and by extension "the smart/interested kids'" time. Bullshit. Total fucking bullshit. I'm going to put myself firmly in the camp of Chip & Andrea: even those indifferent kids are becoming better, more involved and well-rounded people. The great thing I see about education is that sure, it may just get you that 'sheet of paper' in the end, and that may be all you're in it for, because you're forced into it by parents or society or blah blah blah, but you're going to pick stuff up along the way that ultimately you wouldn't find anywhere else.
Case in point that comes to me is last week in a small discussion section, where usually the same core group of 5-7 students in a group of around 25 (you know, those 'interested' ones who are the only ones who should be there) are the only talkative ones. During the back-and-forth, only that core group talked, but at the end of class, needing to pick up an old paper from the TA, I waited in the front while a usually exceedingly quiet student who is clearly attending due to athletic scholarships (you know, who 'shouldn't be there' because he's only interested in sports, not learning) started asking questions to clarify whether he was understanding Foucault's conception of power. You could see his eyes lighting up at the implications of what we were reading; you could tell he wasn't expecting to get anything out of the material, that he was only there to get his credits and leave, but the material *got through* and he is *better for it*.
Education should be egalitarian (a point mostly well made here) but that doesn't mean we should limit it to those 'smart people who seem interested' no matter of class, it should be available to and cherish that nearly everyone who wants to succeed in our culture has to have it. Because even if it's not necessary in whatever vocation they later choose, it makes you a better person for having experienced it.
I never begrudge those kids in my classes that 'don't seem interested'; at worse, they help keep the heating bills down by warming some seats and occasionally make a remarkable point no one else noticed, but more so because I recognize that these uninterested, there-by-default types will make up most of the world I have to spend my post-academia life with, and knowing that they at least having an inkling of, say, who Hannah Arendt is, or the awe-inspiring power of the equation I=RV over their everyday life, we're all better off.
Brendan, when you write that “Don't assume my argument is that *poor* people shouldn't have access to schooling. It's the opposite—it's that *indifferent* people should do something else,” it makes me think that you haven’t been around many poor schools lately. The poor, already to a large extent, tend to be indifferent at best about education, if not hostile towards it. If you don’t believe me, check the attendance and graduation rates at most poor schools. (This is not to say that attendance and graduation are a result of one’s view of education, which would be to repeat the tired mantra of “if you can believe it, you an achieve it,” but that systems of poverty often result in lower educational success and a more negative view towards official education.) And indeed, it’s a logical stance. Much of education is, as the linked article points out, based on the idea that (institutionalized) knowledge leads to (monetary) success. To an extent, this is true, but the same monetary system that rewards college grads more than high school grads also requires a large poverty-class to maintain its economic structure. Because of this, people who’ve experienced poverty are almost always more suspect of the system’s promises. There’s, of course, always room for a Frederick Douglass or two, but don’t expect it to be a social trend.
Let's not forget that our public school system is largely a result of the rise of the bourgeois state bureaucracy and its standardizing instincts. The children of the bourgeoisie, in fact, are those that are most invested and interested in the school system. This is not just theory, but empirical fact. Students who are solidly middle class, those students who "default" to college, are the students who put the most effort into their education and perform the best on typical assessments, better than the super rich and much better than the poor. When an economic system trains one to be a mindless cog in the machine, when autonomy and independent thought are discouraged, don’t expect too much excitement in any of its institutional settings. This isn’t an accident; this is how the system is built.
The largest problems with the educational system are not, in fact, with the educational system itself, but reflections of larger social problems which are expressed within the educational system. When one is largely alienated from the ruling system, don't expect him or her to become overly enthusiastic by the state structures that support that system. To the same extent, when a society is structure around meaningless and often thoughtless labor (synergizing not counting as thought here), don't expect much enthusiasm from those who embrace, or even thoughtlessly accept, such an ideology.
So yes, Marxist revolution. However, in the meantime, other things, besides reducing the mount of people going to college, (honestly, how absurd!) can be done. First an foremost would be encouraging intellectual freedom, allowing students to pursue their own academic interests. Part of this is also shifting the dynamic of education, away from the idea of the educator as the purveyor and controller of knowledge and students as their weaker vessels, towards an idea of students as themselves creators of knowledge. Some brave schools are doing this already, with mixed though generally positive results.
There’s a lot that can be done to make your Psych101 class a bit more interesting, but kicking out the dullards is about as effective as shooting the messenger.
Hear, hear, #30.
I also might add re: "Stop going to college unless you really, really want to be there," from the original post.
Huh? How often are you in a position to know what you really, really want? Were you certain of that in your late adolescence? Your early adulthood? How on earth would one prove that anyway? Would we all have to make sure we rejected our parents' dreams in order to appropriately raise the stakes? ("I don't care if you're spending all this money to make me an electrical engineer, Mom, I'm GONNA be an English major!!!")
Most of the relatively successful, relatively happy people I know in their mid- to late-30s don't live with that kind of certainty. Chances are you, me, and everyone you know who went to college had their days of indifference and uncertainty. We all do. Just because you woke up one day feeling inspired, went to class, looked around and saw some slackers doesn't justify your position. C'mon already.
#31 sez: "How often are you in a position to know what you really, really want?"
A lot of us have strong desires and KNOW what we want-- whether it be a potential mate, or material things, or fulfillment of goals... but this is about education, so I'll keep my answer limited to that.
I'm 29 now, and I've been working on my undergraduate degree off and on for almost 12 years. I am now in the home stretch of my BA, going full-time, totally committed, and I want my degree so bad I can taste it. I finally found the perfect area of study for me, I'm relatively happy with my university, and I work my ass off because I want to do well for ME. I am the epitome of someone who is "in a position to know what [she] really, really want[s]."
I used to be one of those "indifferent" kids that ended up in college by default and offered nothing but a warm seat. But I've lived a lot in the past 12 years-- I did my "national service," I hit up three new continents, and I learned some powerful lessons. Now I can be one of those 5 students in the class that is passionate about their studies.
This has been a really interesting thread. Thanks, Brendan! I don't totally agree with you, but I don't totally disagree either. Sometimes those white middle-class "indifferent" kids annoy me, but I've Been There-- where they are-- so I can't really judge. And #29 is right-- those kids keep the heating bills down AND they round out the bottom of a bell curve nicely. Keep coming, kids!
I think we're also forgeting that college is not just an academic enviroment. The first few years of college are (usaully) life changing for most kids. They're living away from their parents for probably the first time in their life in an enviroment with no starkly regimented rules or time schedules. And they're living with in a homogenous peer group, all the time, where they're probably subjected to more peer pressure.
College kids are having to learn a lot of decision making skills in a very short amount of time, and most of the self discipline they should have- they don't. I'd argue that because kids' lives are so regimented by other people (their parents, schools, coaches, etc) that when they come to college, they find themselves free to do whatever the hell they want for the first times in their lives. And that can have really damaging effects for the kids that say, choose to illegally download Casino Royale and drink a case of PBR until 4AM instead of study for their biology midterm. Rather than just being indifferent, they're just really bad decision makers- and whose fault is that?
Just looking at the problem in terms of academics is narrow sighted. Of course you guys who have gone back to college at older than 18 know what the hell you want- you've had years of living and being you're own person! Most college kids have not. Coupling a job, plus studies, plus living on your own or with roommates can be a stressful transition for most kids. Studying and learning in classrooms is just one aspect of the entire college experience.
But I think the whole point of Kiley's post WAS to look at this college issue in terms of academics. And I agree with that aspect of it. If your shitty part-time job or your boyfriend/girlfriend/roomates are a major distraction from your studies (and you accept that as being okay) then that means you don't have enough will or ambition to make your college career worth your while, and you probably should take a break and save your money until you're properly ready for it.
Kiley's post wasn't about supporting that glorious so-called "entire college experience." It's about dealing with the numbskulls who are unable to "contribute intelligently," and end up "sucking up valuable resources." I don't care about their lives outside the classroom-- the question is, can they perform in the classroom? Outside influences are irrelevant. If you are a young kid and really want to get a college education, you try to make the best of whatever situation you are in. Which leads me to this...
"...choose to illegally download Casino Royale and drink a case of PBR until 4AM instead of study for their biology midterm. Rather than just being indifferent, they're just really bad decision makers- and whose fault is that?"
Are you joking? If students do something like that, they are not only bad decision makers, they also show themselves to be completely indifferent to their expensive education, AND it is 100% their own fault.
Who do you want to blame? Put blame where it belongs-- the individual. (But like I said before, if that same student wants to come to the biology midterm hungover and therefore pad the bottom of the bell curve, I'm fine with that.)
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