Tuesday, May 7, 2013

"My college actually took me away from logical thinking"

So says Forbes magazine publisher Rich Karlgaard in this article (H/T NRO).  His experience pretty much jibes not only with my own, but with many of my friends who sit in "careers" for which they're vastly overeducated.

A friend of mine, like Karlgaard a PoliSci major, has never had a job for which his degree meant anything other than that he had a college degree in the first place.  "Unless I was actually going into teaching, that degree was pretty much useless from a job standpoint," he told me.  "I didn't take it because I thought it would improve my chances to get a job or to make more money.  I took it because I liked and was interested in politics, and I wanted exposure to the kinds of thought I would be encountering."  Meaning?  "Look, I didn't have any illusions that I'd be getting a good education.  After all, this was a school where the students cheered when they heard Reagan'd been shot.  They had bumper stickers that said 'Reagan in '80, Bush in '81.'  If they were any more left, they would have fallen off the table completely.  But I figure if you want to be involved in 'competitive' politics (as I did at the time), it's good to know what the enemy's saying about you."

But the point he went on to make is this: "Ultimately, it didn't matter what I studied.  I figured a successful school year was one in which I still knew as much at the end of the term as I did at the beginning.  As long as they didn't make me stupid, it was a good year.  But at the end I had that degree.  How many decent jobs can you get now where they don't ask for - demand - a college degree?  Even when it has nothing to do with the job itself?  It's lazy - they just use it as a gatekeeper to keep out the riffraff.  Most of the jobs out there can probably be handled just fine by someone with a degree from a vo-tech school."

I digress with that little anecdote, but only slightly.  Karlgaard's point in this article is similar to my friends - that college has become an enormous (and ridiculous) drain on family and individual finances, oftentimes for nothing more than a piece of paper that does little to prepare the student for life after college - and introduce him or her to a lifetime of debt. Karlgaard posits that the average student would "learn more and spend much less at a community college," and it's hard to disagree with that.  The money quote:

The U.S., I would argue, is driving itself crazy over early achievement. Expensive four-year colleges are a symptom. They’ve become a costly dream trap for too many kids and families. High school grades are overemphasized, SATs must be prepared for years in advance, youthful intellectual experiments (or pranks of the kind Steve Jobs famously engaged in) are discouraged–and for what? Most kids won’t get into the topflight college of their dreams. Worse, some who actually clear that bar will nearly bankrupt their parents in the process. Or they’ll find life so competitive at Elite U. that they drop down into the Mickey Mouse courses–which exist everywhere, even at Harvard–and end up with a worthless degree.

In fact, it's been my observation that education is really one of the last things the modern college is concerned with.  First and foremost is indoctrination, but after that there's the endless quest for prestige, to be able to say "we're the best business school in the world," or law school, or engineering school, or what have you, in the ratings that come out from publications such as US News  There's the desire for research dollars from governments and foundations.  There's the scam being leveraged on alums to provide financial support for the school.  There's a continuing, and growing, alliance with big government and big business to control access to the power in this country.

But don't just take my rantings - be sure to read all of what Karlgaard says, and discuss.  

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