I have a number of friends who went to Ivy League schoolsFrom an early age, they knew to play up to their teachers; they knew in the third grade that those little "A" and "B" tokens on their report cards were what really mattered in life.
And I periodically get into discussions about education, including my belief that too much of American secondary education is focused on the "college track". In American high schools, it's the college-bound kids that are considered the success stories. And in many cases, they are - which has the unfortunate effect of creating huge meta-clicque, with the establishment favoring the kids who are pursuing the college path (which, indeed, was the path chosen by most of their teachers, most of whom will have to maintain the motivation to get a Masters degree during their careers.
"So what about the kid who has a genius for working with his hands? The kid who doesn't care, for the moment, about polishing the teacher's apple, but loves tearing down engines or building things? The kid who has a talent for taking care of people, doing daycare, cooking great food - things that are noble, useful, needed skills that demand people with drive and passion, but don't require a college degree? Why should we look at at their not joining the paper chase as a "failure"?
My Ivy Leaguer friends look at me with the look a steer gets when you whack it on the noggin. "But if you don't drive them toward college, you're in effect discriminating against them". Er, no, you're just not setting up the college path as the best path there is. That's it.
They look at me like I'm wearing a pointy hood.
Matt Yglesias - a Hahvahd guy - riffs on a David Adesnik post on the subject.
The piece, called,
College For Everyone, starts:
David Adesnik asks an interesting question -- what if we did something good and liberal and made obtaining a college degree near-universal? By and large, I think this would be an excellent thing for many of the reasons David cites. This would have a dynamic effect on the sort of jobs that exist in America and allow a larger proportion of the population to have better jobs. Still, it's worth noting that there are certain sorts of non-tradable unskilled jobs that would have to get done anyway. You can't outsource janitors or construction workers or landscaping, etc. Now in the context of a workforce that was, on the whole, extremely well-educated and productive these jobs might just become higher paying.The problem being that if you jam someone who's primarily a "doer" rather than a "thinker" or, as often as not, a "paperwork and process maven", and jam them into college, they are not going to be especially well-educated or productive - any more than if you put Matthew Yglesias, Hahvahd graduate, into chef school and told him that no other path through life was of as much value.
On the other hand, you might have a replay of the European situation where rising productivity (and a robust welfare state) made it hard to find people willing to do these jobs for the customary low wages, and instead of paying higher wages the governments chose to simply import unskilled labor.Yglesias exhibits a conceit that he shared with my other Ivy-league friends; the idea that all jobs you don't get into from the college track are all basically the same.
And we all know college graduates in Psychology or less-vital Humanities who are working at Blockbuster, and who ten years after college are busy selling shoes; you might not know the people who went to work, or to vocational school and are making more money than the bottom 40% of lawyers, working as airline mechanics - or the ones who earn perfectly fine, sometimes excellent, livings as LPNs, daycare providers, carpenters, chefs, mechanics and a zillion other things that can't, and won't, be shipped overseas anytime soon.
That would be okay, too, from my perspective. It's often not realized, but allowing immigrants into the developed world to work for what are low waged by developed standards but high ones by developing world standards is one of the more effective ways to ameliorate global poverty. But if immigration to the US were to rise substantially in this way, there might be increasing pressure to do what Europe did and turn the immigrants into a helot class of "guest workers" rather than full-fledged citizens-to-be. That, in turn, could have many of the bad consequences we've seen from Europe's illiberal immigration regime.Right. Which means the "Educated" class in this country needs to learn that "Lack of a degree" means neither "uneducated" nor "Helpless in today's economy".
The other thing to note about education, of course, is that while upgrading the workforce does excellent things to improve the economic outlook for future people it does almost nothing -- indeed, can in some ways be harmful -- to current adults. When Bush answersed outsourcing questions during the debates with reference to the need for better education, he was sketching an appropriate policy response for the long term, but being completely insensitive to the problems these dislocations cause for people who face economic distress right now. To some extent, there's less you can do for currently-existing people than for hypothetical future-people, but that's not an appropriate excuse for doing nothing.But is college better than nothing? Certainly if you're wired that way, and if your passions and interests and curiousity drive you toward the academic life (to the extent that college is, in most places, still academic), but that accounts for about half the popularion.
We need to:
More kids need to know that.Posted by Mitch at December 21, 2004 02:08 PM | TrackBack