The Failure of Higher Education: A Tale of Two Diplomas

By David Barber, a Professor of History at the University of Tennessee at Martin and is the author of A Hard Rain Fell: SDS and Why it Failed

I am struck by the variety of ways in which the actual spiritual state of Americans is denied by people who have every reason to know what that state is: our educators, artists, and politicians.  It is hard for me to believe, for example, that educators do not know the sorry truth behind the lack of real education here.  It seems very clear to me that until the educators themselves believe in what they teach, there is no hope for their students.  But the educators cannot accept this, because in order to do so they would have to overhaul every aspect of their private lives, which effort would hurl them forever beyond the bounds of the academic life.

James Baldwin, 1961

The catastrophe which is education in this country is not new.  For the majority of students in the United States, black students in particular, education has never meant anything more than a training to stay in one’s place. Over the past several decades, however, with the American Empire in an accelerating free-fall, American education, ever the handmaiden of society’s rich and powerful, has in tandem spiraled downward: our schools endlessly drill our children with boring and meaningless “worksheets”; we subsidize and celebrate the digital economy by “teaching” children with computers and computer programs; we script our teachers to guarantee a minimum of human interaction in the classroom; we strip our schools of art and music, making sure that our students never see beauty or truth in the world; and, of course, we drill our students for weeks and months on end with testing, and more testing, and still more testing, lest our students find any joy whatsoever in learning.  In short, our schools dull the intelligence and curiosity of our young people such that they will never question the meaningless and unpleasant lives they will be forced to lead in a society that is everywhere falling apart around them.

In higher education, too, we see this dramatic narrowing of the already slim chances that any of our students will achieve a real education.  Our state legislatures, in the most telling example, cut state support for higher education requiring that university administrations jack up tuition, tuition that rises far more rapidly than does inflation.  Higher tuition yields both higher student debt and more students working twenty, thirty, or forty hours a week in paying jobs while they attend school. Our indebted students then must hew as closely as they possibly can to career paths which enable them to minimize and pay back their debts; and the long hours of minimum wage work taken on by our students all but guarantee that they cannot be serious students, cannot devote the hours they need to study and reflection, cannot, in short, do the work most necessary for them to become educated, mature, human beings.  But then educated, mature human beings do not fit well into our global economy.

In the face of this disaster, our university faculty refuse to take any stand against the strangling of education in this country.  We mouth words in our classrooms about truth, and the search for truth, and the value and necessity of honesty and ethics, and democracy, and responsible citizenship. Privately, we condemn the various assessment schemes we’re compelled to carry out; privately, we denounce the rapid multiplication of educationally meaningless administrative and compliance positions on our campuses.  And privately, we bemoan the ignorance of our students, their lack of curiosity and their lack of academic preparation. But when it comes to denouncing all the various assaults upon education occurring across the entire spectrum of our educational landscape, when we are compelled to speak to the reasons why our students enter our universities uneducated, and still more seriously, why they leave our universities uneducated, we lose our voice. As more than one of my colleagues has said to me in explanation of his silence: “I don’t want to stick my neck out.”

Of the relatively small number of academics attempting to defend the liberal arts, we find two predominant approaches.  The first approach I call the American Liberal approach.  Here, as is typical of our Liberal, we sing bright and cheerful songs about the value of education – to the employer.  We do not challenge the corruption and smothering of education so much as we claim that real education, education which develops critical thinking, for example, is what employers are really after. That this approach accepts the fundamental premise of its opponents – that a genuine education has little intrinsic value outside of its ability to train workers – needs scarcely be said.  And I would add that as an individual I myself entered academia after nearly a quarter of a century of working in a wide variety of jobs.  Never once did I find that any of my bosses valued “critical thinking.”  Hell, for that matter, I’ve never found my superiors in academia valuing critical thinking, either.  Not once.

Conservatives proffer a second, more meaningful critique of our educational system.  In a February 2016 article, “How a Generation Lost its Common Culture,”for example, Patrick Deneen offers a telling but flawed understanding of American education, a criticism characteristic of the conservative understanding of our educational system.  Deneen begins by describing the students he teaches (at Notre Dame) as “exceedingly nice, pleasant, trustworthy, mostly honest, well-intentioned … utterly decent … know-nothings.”  Of course, if Notre Dame teaches and graduates “know-nothings” (and, as Deneen tells us, at the other schools he’s taught at – Princeton and Georgetown), this is true many times over for the less prestigious public universities in which most of our students are trained.

Unlike the American Liberal critic, Deneen insists that the ignorance he sees in his students “is not a failing of the educational system – it is its crowning achievement .… [it] is the intended consequence of our educational system, a sign of its robust health and success.”  In other words, argues Deneen, our educational system is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do in producing students who rarely read, who are not engaged in the issues confronting our country and our species, and who are largely ignorant of our history.

Deneen also grasps the bottom line of this educational system, its goal: the bottom line.  Our educational system, says Deneen, is designed to produce “individuals without a past … cultureless ciphers who can live anywhere and perform any kind of work without inquiring about its purposes or ends, perfected tools for an economic system that prizes ‘flexibility’ (geographic, interpersonal, ethical).”  Certainly, Deneen correctly understands that the folks who shape our part of the global economy are the driving force shaping our educational system.  Today’s economy needs, from top to bottom, workers, managers, who can shift from one place to the next, on command and without question; who can, without fuss, move from one task to another; and who can ignore or be oblivious to the moral character of the work they are doing, or the meaning or lack of meaning that that work has for them as individuals.

I know, for example, that the public university in which I teach, like most public universities, has as its chief product students who have spent 16 or 17 or 18 years seated behind their desks, engaged, more, but usually less, in the classes they’ve taken. They have learned to manipulate the data they’ve been presented with – without necessarily understanding why they manipulate that data in the particular ways demanded by a given discipline – and they’re capable of getting the correct answers to the questions asked of them 70 percent or maybe even 80 percent of the time.  And as stultifying as this may sound – and it is stultifying – working with data and subjects in which the student has no real interest, which the student may find boring or confusing, still, to get in these circumstances the right answer is a valuable skill: labor discipline.  Such labor discipline puts the public university graduate in a good position to do the variety of jobs he or she will have over the forty or fifty years following college, and probably allows that graduate to pay most of his or her bills during that time.  A diploma from my public university proves that our graduate is trainable in a wide range of tasks, tasks whose ultimate purpose our graduate may have little or no understanding of, and, especially, after sitting passively in classrooms for nearly two decades, tasks which our graduate will not question

But it’s in Deneen’s characterization of our students as  “individuals without a past … cultureless ciphers” that Deneen misunderstands both history and culture and its implications for the content and methods needed for a real education.

Our students are “cultureless”, in Deneen’s view, because they haven’t been taught and don’t know anything about Plato or the Bible or the founding documents of the United States of America. Deneen believes this because in his mind our culture has a distinct and narrow history and content – Western Civilization, Greek, Christian, English and American-rooted.

But Deneen labors under a false understanding of culture and history here.  Culture is the way people live – no one is “cultureless” – and the way people live is the product of history, real, lived history – the product of the myriad struggles nations wage with other nations and people within nations wage with each other. In the ways that they live, people largely accommodate, and must accommodate themselves, to the outcomes of these struggles, to the dominant strains of power in a society and in the world at any given time.  “The ruling ideas of an age,” intoned Marx in The Communist Manifesto, “are ever the ideas of those who rule.” History lives in our culture in the ways we shape our thinking, our values, and our lives, to accord with the power relations of our own society.

Deneen wants us to “inherit” what he considers to be the foundational stones of “Western Civilization.” Absent the will to teach young people what Deneen sees as their true inheritance, they become cultureless.  But, of course, we have inherited, here in America, as our culture, the beliefs, the attitudes, and the values of a society that has builded itself in very particular ways, in the first place, upon Native American genocide and African American slavery. We have inherited the real Western Civilization, as it has acted in the world here on this continent, and not how it presents itself in the eyes of some of its leading thinkers.

Our values, our beliefs today, are, I suggest, those same values that sanctioned our crimes of the past, values modified only by the ever changing relations of power in society and in the world.  Education for young people in this country today must start by “excavating” (Baldwin’s term) those values and the history that created them.

An illustration: Most American Christians today would, I hope, reject the notion that Christianity approves the despoiling of Native American societies.  But in the first 350 years of Anglo-American society American Christianity not only approved that despoliation, but justified and championed it. Perhaps Patrick Deneen might be able to connect Martin Luther, for example, to Anglo-America’s assault on Native Americans, but I’d like to suggest that for Anglo-American settlers in the New World the ease with which land could be taken from Native Americans far outweighed Martin Luther’s theology, or even the Biblical teachings of Jesus Christ, and these settlers spun Luther and Calvin and Christ to accommodate their desires for Native land.

That other Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, criticized the American Church as promulgating a Christianity that he could not recognize. Referring to the Church’s relation to the great struggles against racial injustice going on in the 1960s, King said:

I have heard many ministers say ‘Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.’ And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

Indeed, King, in seeing and naming this “other worldly religion,” was observing the real inheritance of a Christian culture which accommodated itself to the greatest of sins.  “As you have treated the least of thee,” warned Jesus, “so you have treated me.” To rob Native Americans of their land and their lives, to enslave and brutalize millions of African American people, American Christianity had to put that Jesus, the Jesus who was the least of thee, onto a cross, yet again. The American Church then had to define Christianity not by the commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself, but by an individual’s personal relationship to Jesus alone, by how loudly and how often that individual shouted Jesus’s name.  That Christianity, the Christianity that justified theft, and genocide, and torture, and murder, and slavery, and rape, that Christianity lives yet today in this country, and it serves the same ends now as it did in the past.

“Cultureless ciphers”? No, the students Patrick Deneen characterizes as polite “know-nothings” are young folks who have inherited and been trained to accept as natural or divinely ordained a culture characterized by vast inequalities and injustices, and the primal right of the powerful to put an individual’s own comfort above and at the expense of the lives and well-being of the far greater part of humanity.  Educating these young people is not a matter of dragging out a “greatest hits of Western Civilization.”

In any case, our young people, in their mass, to the extent that they can read a Plato or a John Locke and not see these authors simply as required readings that they must slog through, will read what they’ve been given through the prism of the values their society has raised them with; and those values, unquestioned, will continue to define who they are.  I suspect that those great enlightenment thinkers, Jefferson and Madison, for example, were educated in much the same fashion that Deneen insists is necessary for the salvation of our civilization.  All their education, however, did not prevent them from owning human beings.

* * *
This past spring semester I spoke at a meeting of my school’s Student Government Association (SGA) and asked the assembled representatives what would people see looking at a University of Tennessee at Martin (UTM) diploma?  Would they see in that diploma an individual who had spent the past four or five years of her life deeply engaged in the search for the truth and meaning of her life; would they see someone who had excavated the values, and culture, and the real history of the country into which she had been born and which had, to the time of her entry into college, wholly, or nearly wholly, shaped her sense of self, and society, and place in the world? Would they see someone who had compared the values she had been born into with values articulated and practiced by peoples and thinkers of other times and places, and on the basis of that comparison, chosen the values and the principles by which she would lead her life?  Would they see a woman, moreover, who had explored the vast realms of human knowledge and discovered within those realms – natural science, social science, literature, art, language – a greater understanding of who she was and what her relationship was with her fellow human beings, her society, and the world and universe in which she lived?  Would they see in our graduate a young woman who had, in the course of her studies, discovered those areas of human culture and practice which raised in her passions she had never before felt?  Would people see reflected in her UTM diploma a woman who, on the basis of her studies, was deeply knowledgeable and engaged in the issues confronting her society and her world?  And would they see in that diploma a woman who was a larger, more loving, more generous human being for her years at our school? In short, did the UTM diploma signify an individual who had found in her studies the keys, not so much to making a living, but the keys to making a rich and meaningful and rewarding life for herself?  Is that what a diploma from our school reflected?

Or, on the contrary, would people looking at a UTM diploma see in the individual whose name appeared on that diploma a person who had simply “soldiered” through four or five or six years of schooling beyond high school?  Would they see a person who, when he graduated, was a few years older, but not significantly wiser or even different than the person he had been when he entered the university?  Would people looking at that diploma see in our graduate an individual who was not in any significant way conversant and engaged with the issues confronting his society?  Is this what our diploma represented?

When I posed this question to my school’s SGA representatives, presumably the most engaged students on our campus, not one single representative believed that our university diploma reflected the first diploma I described, the diploma of an educated, mature human being.  All but two or three representatives agreed that the diploma issued by my university far more closely reflected the “soldiering” diploma I had described.

To be sure, I am not here singling out my school.  What’s true at my school is, I am convinced, true at almost every other public university in the United States, and, if Deneen is to be believed, as I think he should be believed, almost every private university as well.

Over one-half century ago Baldwin had already denounced the irresponsibility of educators in this country – people who knew that our schools were graduating a mass of uneducated young people and who said and did nothing to change that reality.   Today, as American society tailspins into an ever greater and ever more dangerous chaos, we educators are confronted by an urgent choice: will we continue to plod along doing our teaching, our scholarship and our service, soldiering, as it were, ignoring the moral responsibility we have to ourselves, to our students, and to our society; or will we, on the contrary, take up our role as moral leaders, forcing the issue and meaning of education before American society and beginning to produce the only hope that this society and this world has for human survival: an educated people?

 

 

 

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65 comments

  1. albrt

    I flunked out of Bowling Green State University (in Ohio) (twice) and I did not finish my degree at UMass Amherst, but this essay makes me think a little more kindly of both places. I did receive an education of sorts, because I was able to explore (some) values and realms of human knowledge even though I did not fit in and did not get my piece of paper for many more years afterward.

    Reply
  2. Ignacio

    I would say there is not an education system but a skilling system. Probably a majority thinks that this is precisely what The Market demands. My critic would be that if it is only skilling what is needed why such a long education process?

    Reply
    1. Phillip Allen

      “[W]hy such a long education process?”

      Before student debt because quite the profit center it is now, I think post-secondary education served in part as a holding tank that delayed entry into a labor market not suited to absorb the influx of boomers.

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    2. Marlin

      My critic would be that if it is only skilling what is needed why such a long education process?

      As a demonstration and proof of the aforementioned labour discipline. In most subjects, the actual content of the education is just a bonus to that.

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    3. Mike

      Let’s see – it’s the “market” that demands skilling and its comcomitant, stupidity. In other words, it’s much easier to get rich in this economy by being blind to the societal issues and their psychological outcomes…i.e. being stupid on that level, while knowing your job, its necessary behaviors and functions, and constantly trying to kiss up to your employer so advancement = progress=money. Was it ever not thus?

      This means, ultimately, that we must take the market and its methods and processes of thought out of education, and also demand that each “job” society offers allows the proper time and “reflection” necessary for a democratic citizen to have meaningful input into their society, community, and its goverment’s decisions. Of course, employers cannot have control over employee behavior or speech, and jobs cannot take the place of rights and citizen responsibilities.

      Quite alot to do there – sounds like a revolution plus. Moderate, “responsible” citizens will tell you that’s just not possible…

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    4. Left in Wisconsin

      1. not an education system but a skilling system: Only if skilling = credentialing
      2. why such a long education process? See #1

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    5. anon y'mouse

      to serve as a class marker which masquerades as an ability marker.

      the more financial support you have, the more likely you will graduate. GPA has been directly linked to hours worked outside the classroom, falling at every point beyond 11 hours (what can you afford with 11 hours of min wage? a coke and a movie?).

      people who have to pay their own way in life all on their own out there rarely make it.

      10% who start out at a community college (the cheaper option) go on to get the Bac. we all say it is because most people are not “college material” (or they wouldn’t have had to go to CC in the first place, right?). but no, it is about money and life’s other responsibilities pulling you out of school.

      why do we require these 4 years before starting to train as a doctor (and yes, i know that some undergrad degrees can actually be helpful in medical school) or a lawyer? class signifiers are necessary to progress into the professions. but we want them disguised as ability markers.

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    6. Yves Smith Post author

      Huh? It takes a long time to acquire certain skills:

      1. Perform higher level math, meaning calculus and what comes after (topology, abstract algebra….)

      2. Learn a language well enough to read it at a college level and speak it pretty well.

      3. Write well. Takes lots of practice and most important, feedback. It wasn’t until I had papers in college closely read and very heavily marked up that I mastered making a sentence say what I thought it meant, the writing version of hand-eye coordination.

      Reply
      1. anon y'mouse

        your #3 would never happen in a public university today unless one was majoring in English, and maybe not even then.

        every instructor i had, when asked why they did not critique the work on those points, said that they would never be able to have enough time to do so for 50+students with 5-15 examples of the 7 page essay every semester. we would never get them back. if they understood what you were very badly trying to say on the subject matter, and fulfilled the scoring rubric, it was enough.

        so, either you show up being able to write to that standard or you do not. or you muddle and figure it out on your own maybe.

        any English (primarily writing) class I had once i reached the college level was of absolutely no use in that regard whatsoever. they are too busy remediating even more poorly trained h.s. English that everyone arrived with to get them to do better.

        Reply
        1. Yves Smith Post author

          I don’t disagree. The intensive attention to writing came in my sophomore tutorial in my major, where 5 of us had two demon tutors. All students had to take Expository Writing their freshman year, and it didn’t do much for me.

          What makes people better writers is being edited. When I have a good editor, I realize what I’m missing by going solo.

          It is sad that people hardly get that any more even in college. My mother got that in her public high school, back in the day when teaching was the best employment opportunity for smart women.

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        2. rd

          One of the simple solutions is to have the presentation (manly writing) of your work count heavily towards your grade. I had good high school teachers who very focused on writing in all of the classes. At university, it was my senior year and grad school engineering professors who made a point of grading based on writing as well as technical work. Their point was that you are pretty much useless as an engineer if you can’t communicate your thoughts. In the workplace, the ability to write and speak well is a major discriminator in advancement in engineering.

          The big push towards multiple choice tests during the school year hurts this important learning process. I think multiple choice tests work well as year-end statewide tests for math, science etc. But during the school year, most should involve writing.

          Reply
  3. Hoppy

    I don’t know, this reads like an academic thought exercise that I might have tuned out in school too.

    Maybe if tuition wasn’t so high and STEM classes didn’t require so much time?

    One of my best friends growing up wanted to study environmental sciences. He somehow lost his way to a Harvard MBA and the masters of the universe club, one of the banker ‘eat what you kill’ folks.

    I think the problem more lies there. Reminds though, I need to call him out on that and see where he thinks this all ends. My guess is it’s a belief in tech to save the day.

    Reply
    1. Alli

      That’s exactly what this post is talking about. He mentions tuition and that universities support a curriculum of STEM while disadvantaging the humanities. Maths and sciences are beneficial and important, but how can we build a conscious and free-thinking generation when we devalue history and literature? These liberal arts are the stepping stones to free thinkers. Those free thinkers have the potential to topple the system of the diploma mill simply turning out trained drones who must then enslave themselves to the bottom of the capitalist ladder in order to survive and pay off the tens of thousands of dollars they “borrowed” to get that mindless education.

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  4. ambrit

    As one who never finished the ‘official’ “education” process, I can look back and see that I was reacting to an almost subconscious realization that I was ‘there’ for the wrong reasons, according to the received wisdom of that, and every other, time. This disconnect between the ‘ideal’ of education and the ‘reality’ of the “Paper Chase,” is perennial.
    Historically speaking, a ‘proper’ higher education serves the purpose of producing a ‘well rounded’ person. Traditionally, that process was reserved for those with a high amount of disposable income; the children of the wealthy. The “lower orders” beavered on in technical colleges and apprenticeships. The odd ‘special’ case was made in the ‘proper’ universities for the exceptionally bright and the token ‘charity’ student. Call it an institutional case of virtue signalling.
    Today, those two disparite streams of education have been melded into one almost monolithic bloc. The original utilitarian view of education, previously reserved for the ‘technical’ fields has invaded and corrupted the “higher” educational sphere. Now, everything has a “price.” Presumably, that formulation also applies to the students enmeshed in the new, magisterial ‘education’ instrumentality. Roughly speaking, the ‘students’ are now the ‘product’ of the universities, not the education.
    Finally, all this might be a socially ‘agreed upon’ process to short circuit the production of intellectually and emotionally ‘well balanced’ individuals. There is nothing more fear producing in any ruling elite than the prospect of an ‘aware’ public.

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  5. John Mc

    As a consumer, and producer of higher education curricula over 20 years in academia, this article is spot on in how it describes the bezzle. And the area of specialization for me (family finance – human ecology) is the prototypical example of the Neoliberal university coaxing students into believing that incremental change, small bits of knowledge/courses will change their lives for our students for the better — while large institutions continue to cheat, obscure malfeasance, and promote the administrative culture. Its sickening on so many levels.

    It is sickening to experience (teaching and learning). And if we remembered more than we forget, it would take about 20 seconds to remember how the market has changed higher education in terms content (what is studied), how we study (crammage), and why we study. Lastly, if we imagine the exact same degree type for two different eras we can see the main focus very clear:

    1. Tuition at Cal Berkley in 1970? Around 1K 2019 – more like 1K per credit hour.
    2. Paying for your future assumes that we have a future (climate change, job market opportunities)
    3. Debt peonage and rentier education squatting requires the right mix of desperation and time

    When I think about the time/money/energy that is wasted in this country (not just in universities – anyone just has to spend 1 minute with someone who participates in fantasy football or sports gaming to see how out of wack we are as a culture and as a people.

    The hollowed out spaces in universities are now more about pretending to be competent, maintaining the status quo — each unit within departments competing against one another for resources and students rather than we are all in this together (for the student).

    If education can be seen in the lens of abuse, we have the profiteers abusers, and the admin enables with chaos for everyone else.

    Crazy

    As Regina Spektor says: Living in Den of Thieves – its contagious

    Reply
  6. Loneprotester

    What Barber is saying: Teaching is hard, and my students aren’t very bright (look in a mirror, sir, neither are you). Revolutions are fun. Let’s do that instead.

    Reply
  7. DJG

    Yes, most people are educated, especially these days, to be conformist, to adopt the current economic fantasies, and to be highly verbal.

    But Barber does himself no favors: What can he possibly mean by the American Church? I am detecting someone who has spent too much time in the U.S. South (Tennessee) where the “church” is those nice Methodists down the street. Along with some required singing of Amazing Grace. So what he may think of as an insightful critique of Americans’ flexible morals doesn’t get to the center of the problem. The American “church” is utilitarianism. Whatever one can get away with one gets away with. Actions have no consequences among the perfected.

    And the mention of the Greeks by Barber and Deneen is gratuitous. Neither of them has much use for the Greeks and Greek philosophy. Each of them likely considers Greek philosophy mainly to be the support that makes the American Church intellectually legitimate.

    I understand the moral problem of anyone trying to get an education in the U S of A these days. My alma mater is one of the main cheerleaders for fundamentialist free-market fantasy. (Alma mater: What an idea.) Yet the diploma is only a start: Education has to go throughout one’s life, and sentimental education (is that even a “thing” here in the U S of A?) has to go on everyday for the rest of one’s post-diploma life.

    Reply
    1. Anon

      Actually, the diploma is the end of the beginning. The start is “the first five” years of life (talk, read, sing) which is likely to expose the growing brain to stimuli that allows for future “discovery”. The beginning of formal education (K-12), unfortunately for many, starts with poverty (25% of all school children) and impoverished school resources (including underpaid, over-worked teachers) that conspire toward an assembly-line methodology (testing, and more testing). Those who make it to college (honestly) are well-versed in manufacturing “acceptable” papers on topics not understood. But then the college curricula (more demanding than H.S.) and the concept of “critical thinking” (ignoring the social implications of 18-20 y.o.’s on their own) makes the idea of “learning how to learn” a difficult grasp. Some get it, some don’t.

      It is after getting the college diploma, and maybe of few years of travel (for pleasure or a job) that a much broader, mature perspective of the world (Plato) emerges. (Hopefully those Classics, or an introduction to NC, comes across your path.) It is then the real learning starts.

      Reply
  8. John Hacker

    Thanks Yves. Education has been a tender spot for me. All i have are complaints. Please point me in the direction of some solutions.

    Reply
  9. funemployed

    I agree wholeheartedly with your diagnosis (not to mention greatly appreciate your lovely prose), however, I think your theory of change as stated here – “force the issue and meaning of education before American society” – misses the mark.

    I have spent the better part of 2 decades studying, first history, then education, with the goal of becoming an educator (accumulating no small amount of debt in the process). So long as I stuck to diagnosing the problem as you did here, and keeping my calls to arms strictly in the rhetorical realm, I was welcomed as an “ally” and fellow traveler by a not insignificant portion of my colleagues.

    Unfortunately for my career (not to mention mental health), I wasn’t satisfied with that, and began to delve and a very focused and specific way into the actual structure of educational systems, and looking for levers to gain the power necessary to change them (or, more specifically, to shift power from those who hold it to those who do not). That was when I learned just how thin of a gruel “allyship” really is in academia.

    I think you are assuming educators have real power. They do not. Power, real power, comes from control over the material necessities and niceties of life. The primary social function of our educational institutions, from pre-k through endowed chairmanship is to sort people into an unequal society. If the “real issue and meaning of education” (i.e. creating the conditions and connections necessary for truly democratic life) were to take hold in such an institution, it would either destroy the institution or turn it into something else entirely.

    I agree “an educated people” is indeed our only hope, because to me an educated people is synonymous with a democratic people. Indeed, I think education is the inevitable result of people getting together to solve problems nonviolently with a coequal distribution of power. Where it has truly taken root (e.g. Freedom schools in the 60s, the meetings organized by populist party at the turn of the 19th/20th century), it has had a material function and base that is diametrically opposed to the way virtually all today’s “educators” earn their daily bread.

    IMO, the way people become true “educators” – those who “force the issue and meaning of education before American society” – is by serving the educational function in a democratic movement. They are people who are delegated authority democratically (i.e. without coercion) by those they serve because they, in essence, are effective hubs for the uninhibited flow of social information. In other words, they are authentically democratic leaders, whose power is entirely dependent on maintaining trust because trust is fundamental to the uninhibited flow of social information, and the temptation to violate social trust is, well, why human societies have more drama than ant colonies.

    You are a professor, and no doubt do a great deal of good for a great many students (I did a brief stint of that as well, and in no way am trying to undermine how valuable and rewarding it can be), but you will never be, in that role, an “educator” in the truly democratic sense because every one of your students knows you could, if you wanted, completely screw them over and there’s not a family blogging thing they could do about it.

    You can, however, be a real educator (i.e. democratic leader) in your spare time, and are in a unique and special institutional position to prepare future (and support present) real democratic educator/leaders to manage one hell of a clusterfamilyblog of a global civilizational collapse that is coming whether we want it to or not. I hope you will do so with a hard-nosed evaluation of the relationship between power, information flows, democracy, and the material world, as I fear anything less will be far from adequate.

    Reply
    1. anon y'mouse

      i hate to do that trite shorthanding that online people do (tl/dr), but is it fair to say that the problem of everyone in this society is parallel to the one you lay out: at the end of the day, we all really NEED that paycheck?

      that exact point right there is why i value the ideal (since it will never be a reality) of the UBI. utter continuing dependence on a system that destroys you is similar to alcoholics who have to drink or have seizures which may kill them. seems an apt metaphor for our society at this point, in all fields.

      Reply
    2. David Barber

      First, thanks for your kind words on my writing and your thoughtful response. Over the last several years I have come to understand that my role as a citizen is not external to my daily life — is not something I do in my spare time, but is what I do on a daily basis challenging institutional goals standing in the way of the real educational needs of our students. And, yes, you are right — this is not easy because I do have a position of power over my students. Not easy, too, because the institution has power over me and my faculty colleagues, making it scary for all of us to challenge. Frankly, I am hoping through this essay to find like-minded educators, and others, folks willing to discuss how we can build a meaningful struggle for real education in this society today.

      Reply
  10. Tom Pfotzer

    Isn’t it lovely that NC makes time and space to publish this sort of article? I trawl a lot of internet space, and rarely do I behold… you NC folk, take a moment to gloat, no remorse nor concern for decorum.

    ===== on to the subject matter at hand…

    Making it in this world is getting pretty tough, and you’re going to need skills that make money to cope economically. When I got to college, I hoovered up all I could to learn how the world ticked, and how I could make my place in it. I took few humanities in college.

    Remember Abraham Maslow, and the hierarchy of needs? He posits that people attend to the basics first – food, shelter, safety…then love and social approbation…and once the foundational aspects were in place, the “capable” individual moved on to “self actualization”, which is his shorthand for situational awareness and doing one’s part to advance the cause of humankind / biosphere-kind.

    In the piece above, the author says the student is a product of the ambient culture, and sees all through that prism. I think that’s obviously correct.

    The author says (my paraphrase) “do we teach comparative culture, wherein the student can survey other value systems, and actively craft one’s own life using the materials offered up by all those other cultures?”.

    No. Why? Because college-age kids are generally not ready for that, on nearly any level.

    But they can become ready. You readers are evidence of that; you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t “self-actualizing”, right? OK, so what was your traversal? Did someone lay down a trail of bread-crumbs for you?

    Probably not, is my guess. Furthermore, I posit that it’s never been easier, cheaper, etc. to get educated than it is today. Internet brings all for almost nothing.

    Places like NC provide forums for emotional, intellectual development outside the campus. If you’re in a mood to address the big issues of your time, there’s not much standing in your way.

    Except, of course, the fact that it’s astonishingly difficult to do.

    Reply
    1. John Mc

      These comments appear to me to be the epitome of neoliberal doctrine:

      1. People have everything they need to excel
      2. Its never been easier to study as information has been democratized
      3. Invocation of Maslow, ambient culture (interesting view of life-stage development for young adults too
      4. Individualistic lens – “addressing the big issues of your time”

      Maybe I read this wrong, or it started with “NC folk” – but there is no mention of:

      Debt peonage
      Administrative culture
      Global Labor Markets
      Real Costs for Students – Tuition Inflation (higher than healthcare costs over last 30 years)
      – Parking predation
      – Textbook Bezzles
      – Adjunct – itus
      – Pay to Play Tenure
      – Darwinian death struggle among college units in departments (Survival = Resources)
      – Forgetting – a major theme (making meaning of one’s education) – moving onto CV building
      Social Costs of Expensive Higher Education (delay family formation)
      Long term wealth implications for this generation’s graduates

      Education is not a solitary event, with isolated moments of brainstorming and individualistic memes of hardwork. It is a system with millions of parts — and these parts have been bent to serve our neoliberal masters in about every domain imaginable.

      And in my experience, (as Yves says) this is not a bug in the system — it was a feature of a system reboot designed especially for these outcomes

      Reply
      1. Tom Pfotzer

        Last year I went to the local library book sale, and bought a stack of college textbooks – chemistry, physics, elec engineering, calc, etc. The stack was 3′ tall, and it cost me $26.

        A few months ago, I downloaded the latest Linux & Java development workbench onto the computer I built from components sourced from Ebay/Amazon. Full, up-to-date, latest edition of Java development workbench on killer hardware…$650, including 21″ monitor. Software and how-to materials all free. I have done this several times during my career, and it’s never been easier or cheaper to do.

        To glean those textbooks, all I have to do is read, do the probs at the back of the chapter. To build salable skills, all I have to do is think up a problem to solve, and write the software to solve it. Effort. Those two things – ID useful problem, and the marshalling of components to solve it – gives me demonstrable evidence of competency, and I can parlay that into a good job.

        When I look a the amount of time expended on smart phones, Facebook, etc. I become less sympathetic about people’s plight – in general. One counter-example: the 450-year systematic repression of blacks is one issue that merits societal redress.

        And whether this cultural malady of victimhood is by design (by the “elites”, for ex), or by circumstance, it is not mandatory. No one is making people watch TV. There are choices, and some are making different, better choices, and benefiting from it.

        Visit http://www.coursera.org. Tell my why I would go into debt to get what I need when it’s available (from many of the elite schools and professors) for free.

        So, if taking initiative to address my own needs is what you call NeoLiberal, then I’m all for neoliberalism. I get confused about all the political classifications afoot these days, so I’m not real sure what bin I fit into, exactly.

        Lastly, I doubt anyone could name 100 parts (types, not instances) of their educational experience, let alone millions. It’s not nearly as complex as all that.

        Reply
        1. Ankara Fuller

          While there a many areas where the web and libraries do indeed offer the curious and disciplined an opportunity to better themselves with book knowlege of software. Much of what we hope to understand about our world – fundamental research, and many speciality areas of knowlege require a ‘craft’ or hands on component that no amount of book reading can replace. Skill crafts of cabinetmakers, tailors, chefs and and product designers, or in my field of biology. Lab ‘bench craft’ is fundamental to learning: microbiology, molecular biology and much of fundamental physics requires labs. I understand from engineering friends that trial test rigs during university are also fundamental to locking in skills. Many areas of STEM require significant funds to back the student, because the study work loads make academic excellence really challenging, and part time jobs nearly impossible. I know, I worked 20 hours in a lab on weekends during much of my undergraduate. At graduate school the extra hours ‘spare’ ideally are spent working on one’s bench craft as free slave labour to the senior ranking (i.e. higher skilled, greater knowledgeable senior scientists). In biology labs, there is almost a medieval apprentice, journeyman, master craftsman route of skill acquisition. There is as much an art to casting an agarose gel as there is in knowing the tweak of the ‘recipe’ for the molecular attributes desired. It is with great relief that I am not part of the US system, but sitting in a well funded more democratic (free) educational system in Europe. Our world needs to radically think how to put much ore cash into STEM and fundamental research. Incentivise school students (everywhere on planet) to commit the insane hours needed for genetics, molecular biology and all the other emerging areas of life sciences. It requires countries to overhaul education to allow curious minds regardless of family finances. I agree with many NC readers that wide systematic overhaul is needed to untangle many of these difficult and decaying situations (not just US).

          Reply
          1. anon y'mouse

            contrary to our system, but concurrent with how people actually learn, DOING is the only path to learning much of what there is to know, and especially to retaining it. and this is true even for so-called “intellectual” tasks.

            but it’s too expensive to allow just anybody to do that. one has to have been through the sifting/sorting process of worthiness which is largely class categorization. or had someone we know guide us through the process (an “in” with the social network).

            Reply
        2. divadab

          Yes. It is still possible to get an education if you are self-motivated and self-disciplined. Either inside or outside the academy – and which academy is secondary. But in my view education requires teachers – this is missing from your model and a very important part of the Academy.

          However, Credentialling is only available if you pay the price of attaching yourself to the academy. DOn;t worry – credentials are becoming less and less important as changing times and institutional decay make truly educated and adaptable people more and more important and the obedient credentialled irrelevent and useless.

          Reply
          1. jrs

            Only how many hundreds of job ads on Indeed use “do you have a bachelors degree” as a screening question? And straight into the circular disposal unit your digital submission goes if you don’t.

            Ah well pesky reality of the job market and all, sure does reduce philosophizing about “the pointlessness of credentials and formal education” down to size. And no my position is not that noone can succeed without credentials, just that it’s obviously harder.

            Reply
            1. Tom Pfotzer

              Yes, of course it’s harder to get hired without credentials. You can get credentialed (in tech fields) without college degrees by taking 3rd party competency tests.

              On the other side of the ledger, paying down all that student debt isn’t a walk in the park. It takes years of effort.

              I have hired many technical people, and I don’t pay a lot of attention to the diploma. I concentrate on whether the individual can figure out what the customer needs, and then do what’s necessary to deliver it. That shows up in the job narratives and attached recommendations, not on the “degrees held” section of the resume.

              I, however, am not the average hiring manager, and I acknowledge your point above.

              Reply
        3. inode_buddha

          I’ve never had an employer, in the last 35 years, who would give you any credibility for stuff you learnt on your own.

          If it isn’t on your school transcripts or a diploma, you don’t get to negotiate with it. If you have great knowledge, acquired on your own, and use it on the job, you will get no mention of it, no credit, nada. They will keep taking until they are made to stop, and nary so much as a “thank you”.

          But that’s just my experience of 35 years on the job.

          Reply
          1. jrs

            “I’ve never had an employer, in the last 35 years, who would give you any credibility for stuff you learnt on your own.”

            +1 and most WILL NOT give any credibility for class you take either, under no circumstances.

            There are two things employers give weight to:
            1) on the job experience
            2) credentialing, not taking a class in this or that but having a bachelors or a masters. And this #2 is only as a screening device, #1 is still paramount, #2 can be used to screen out but seldom is it by itself an “in”. Now there are unique circumstances, if you are still in your 20s, some will let you start out with just a degree as “you have to start somewhere”, but after that age, no you need #1 and best to have #2 as well.

            Reply
            1. Jesper

              +1 on this as well. My experience is that either you have the knowledge certified by diploma or you are considered to know nothing about the subject & that is even more true when dealing with people with neither diploma nor knowledge of/in the subject matter. They use what little they know and what they know is to look at a diploma.
              Ignoring opinions/knowledge from non-certified people is something actively taught at universities and especially at business schools – if things go wrong then the defense can be: He/she was the expert and had the diploma to show for it. People in positions of responsibility are experts at avoiding responsibility, credentials help to deflect blame/responsibility so it is often used.

              IT has been slightly different, in the older days, but now it is settling in and even IT recruiters no longer need to take chances on the uncredentialled.

              Reply
            2. inode_buddha

              What really grinds my gears is they only give credit for experience gained at their company which makes me wonder why do they want your resume? Gah, its so one-sided in my field, it just pisses me off to no end. If they won’t give credit for it then why should they have the use of it? Hence I am in the middle of a total career change, in my 50’s.

              Reply
        4. AndrewJ

          Plinking away on a keyboard may feel like you’re doing “real work”, but there’s a lot more that’s necessary to keep any kind of civilization going than developing a new Java app. Training yourself to do any of these myriad other tasks takes more capital, financial and otherwise, than the $700 you’ve laid out above. Not to mention that staring at a computer screen is profoundly unhealthy and not suitable work for us jumped-up monkeys.
          But that’s where we are now, aren’t we? The only work that Americans think of as “good real work” these days is on a family-blogging computer, and everything else that keeps things going has had the living wage taken away from it and the training ignored.

          Reply
        5. jrs

          Everything is a waste of time if it’s not improving one’s usefulness to the economic system I guess you would argue. And whether it’s spending time on facebook and smart phones, or taking care of old people, or raising kids, or engaging in political activism, or increasing one’s understanding of the world, or volunteering, or hanging out with friends which Americans increasingly don’t even have, or etc.. Because you know it’s not just Facebook people spend time on.

          This is the philosophy of a tool. Your soul was bought on the cheap and you don’t even have the inner spirit to miss it.

          Reply
    2. Tom Pfotzer

      As I re-read my piece a key question descended upon me. Since Maslow’s hierarchy is a guide, or a possibility, it’s not a given that someone ever will “self-actualize”, or will do so in some socially- or ecologically-useful manner. So what happened to make you “self-acualize” in a direction that might include an NC and the values it espouses?

      A parent? A book? A Ken Burns documentary? Did you decide one day to sail outside the safe harbors of conformity, and got swept – with malice afore-thought, and cocktail in hand – into the currents of worldliness?

      This is a key question for you democratic educators, ref. funemployed above: “Where’s the launch button?”

      Reply
      1. xkeyscored

        When I first encountered Maslow, I was puzzled, thinking I was missing something profound. Now I’m simply amazed that he can be celebrated as an intellectual with penetrating insight for stating the obvious.
        “Food, clothes and shelter
        All the poor man asking for”
        Misty in Roots

        Reply
      2. KiWeTO

        None of the answers I have received when younger, about how society was organized made any sense in justice or fairness. Thus, the quest for better answers began. If that is an awakening, then perhaps it is genetic. Some just seek to know more. Or perhaps more have had that curiosity defeated by society’s need for conformity earlier. The quest for knowledge often is the lonelier path, for conforming to thr tribe brings fellowship and norms to follow. There is safety in the middle of the pack.

        Now, having observed a better understanding of the intrinsic unfairness of societal arrangements and structures, the question turns to what nudges to the body may be possible to limit the damage we bring upon ourselves as a species to strive for better returns (profits? Benefits?) without the understanding of what “better” or “returns” means.

        Smokers know smoking is bad, but the nicotine calls are here and now answered.
        Feed scrollers know it doesn’t improve their lives, but the hope for just a bit of pleasure keeps the finger scrolling.

        As to the digital opiate of the masses, is it because they have been conditioned/addicted to lose their own agency to said opiate? Perhaps the very discussions here in NC is but a different flavour of the same digital opiate. Or to paraphrase Mulder, “The answer IS out there”, and we just have to discover it.

        Reply
        1. anon y'mouse

          the earliest lesson certain children learn is this, from a system like ours:

          whatever you might dream of doing, whatever you might be interested in or, more importantly, not-yet-interested in, is of no matter whatsoever.

          the second lesson is: if you haven’t learned the first lesson sufficiently—“you can’t make any money with that!”

          and for people like me, who never knew and still do not know what i want to do when i grow up, there is absolutely no answer. my answer has been “i want to keep learning” (to which my parents, less-than-working-class, said “too bad. get a job and get outta here! and preferably now at 16. we aren’t going to wait around for you to make up your mind.”). sadly, my abilities are not up to the tasks of pure intellect. but i enjoy the attempt.

          Reply
      3. anon y'mouse

        for myself, lots of books aimed at humanities around the house. familiarize oneself with the buildings, art, clothing, words and thoughts of the past (my parents wouldn’t bother taking you to the library, so thank the gods we had quite a few books). the classics, read before i could understand and then read continually until i understood them(somewhat).

        and one parent who told me “i don’t care what you read. even if you read something other people would call Pornography. i care THAT you read.”

        Reply
  11. Ted

    The more things change … Check out Thorstein Veblen, The Higher Learning in America (1918) or John Dewey The Public and its Problems and other works. Formal education, divorced as it is from the practices of everyday life, presents these sorts of problems as a feature, not a bug. That said, it has been my experience over the past 35 years that education can be and is world opening for many young students. I have also found that the problem often rests with the educator as much as it does the system of education. Well recognized philosophies of education underlay a fundamental split teaching practice, (e.g., transmission of “facts” versus enlivenment of knowing). Those that don’t take the time to learn how to teach end up frustrated that the “system” is failing. That a tenured full professor is lamenting thus, just as Veblen did a century ago, is suggestive.

    Reply
  12. flora

    The prof can complain about students, but I think the students know what’s going on better than does the prof. The problems are much higher up the ladder than lowly students readiness for college humanities courses. I expect the students are learning a great deal that’s not in the official curriculum. See:

    https://www.wbir.com/article/news/local/ut-buyouts-over-past-10-years-top-24-million/51-548254549

    and

    https://www.knoxnews.com/story/news/politics/2018/01/02/congressman-duncan-disgusted-university-tennessee-buyouts/995413001/

    Reply
  13. Susan the other`

    I loved the book about Summerhill – the alternative education option in the UK (back in the 70s). Everyone was aghast because they thought it was remiss not to educate children rigidly. It never got traction here in the US. But last night there was a segment on alternative education in the UK, allowing children to go at their own pace, find their own interest and above all learn that they didn’t need an intermediary (teacher basically) to learn – they could be successful autodidacts. It sounds like it is taking off in England. How nice. Summerhill is still alive and kicking – it advertises itself as a student democracy. Choose what you want to study. I certainly still like the idea because I had my nose in a book from about the age of 7. I always read what interested me and it has been a true pleasure. That’s gotta be worth somthin.

    Reply
    1. Arizona Slim

      Permit me to add three more books to your recommendation:

      1. The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education by Grace Llewellyn. I don’t think this one’s in print anymore.

      2. The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto. Still in print. Here’s the author’s website: https://www.johntaylorgatto.com/

      3. The Day I Became an Audidact by Kendall Hailey. As far as I can tell, no longer in print.

      Enjoy your self-education outside the system, everyone!

      Reply
  14. xkeyscored

    From the OED:
    educate, v. [f. L. ēducāt- ppl. stem of ēducāre to rear, bring up (children, young animals), related to ēdūcĕre to lead forth (see educe), which is sometimes used nearly in the same sense.] 1 To rear, bring up (children, animals) by supply of food and attention to physical wants. Obs. 2 To bring up (young persons) from childhood, so as to form (their) habits, manners, intellectual and physical aptitudes. b To instruct, provide schooling for (young persons). 3 To train (any person) so as to develop the intellectual and moral powers generally. 4 To train, discipline (a person, a class of persons, a particular mental or physical faculty or organ), so as to develop some special aptitude, taste, or disposition. b To train (animals).
    It would seem that Prof. Barber bemoans the demise of meaning 3, if that ever was the purpose or function of our educational system.
    Meanings 2 and 4 are alive and well. A special aptitude for narrow-minded submission is successfully cultivated, the more so as the academic ladder is scrambled up.

    Reply
  15. chuck roast

    But it’s in Deneen’s characterization of our students as “individuals without a past … cultureless ciphers”.
    I get that.
    Americans have no use for History (with a capital H). American History is trail of carnage and savagery on the scale of Attila and Hitler. Any discussion of History is replete with irony, exceptions and contradictions. Things that Americans do not do well, and things that you do not want rattling around in the heads of right-thinking citizens. Critical thinking could be the catastrophic result.
    OK then! Well enculturated Americans know that we have an exceptional past and we are an exceptional people. But, History…meh!
    What we do have is a future. That’s what America is all about. The wonderful, wonderful future with it’s myriad fabulous possibilities. Really, you could wet your pants just thinking about it!

    Reply
  16. Walter Antoniotti

    Essay applies to the academically superior. One quarter the HS graduates. hat do you propose to do for the rest?

    Reply
    1. anon y'mouse

      is that really what this kind of system is selecting for? “academic superiority”? or just an ability to regurgitate canned responses readily that have been memorized.

      the system is actually destructive of learning. one’s ideas about who is superior and inferior are then based upon a system that destroyed most of the people who could quite possibly learn a multitude of things. and that then becomes merit and further selection criteria.

      and then that hardens into a class/caste system.

      Reply
  17. Paul Jurczak

    This is not a bug, it is a feature of modern Education-Industrial Complex. As per design, its product is indebted cubicle fodder.

    Reply
  18. Mike Gualario

    By 8th grade students are well versed in basic math and language arts. At that point the student and family should have a choice between a college bound liberal arts education or a technical education where they have a choice of several knowledge disciplines to choose to study during High school. That way kids who leave high school and are not college bound at least have one skill they can take anyplace in the USA and get a job.. Auto Mechanic, Diesel Mechanic, Marine Mechanic, Chef, Software Development, Website Development, Cosmetology, Adobe Creative Suite (video and photo editing), etc. Not all of those careers would be offered at every high school. But at least 2 or 3 at a minimum and more choices the better. After 12 years of state schooling students should have a skill or a plan to attend college to acquire that skill.

    Reply
    1. anon y'mouse

      why not both? or is this more of the sifting/sorting into castes? because people who propose this do not understand that is exactly what a system like that will devolve into.

      perhaps people are more readily able to learn physical things early and intellectual things late. perhaps people should be able to cross the lines readily? why doesn’t the starting ground of educating eventual doctors begin in training for the CNA, up through the RN, and onto doctor?

      how do you change tracks?

      what about cross-fertilization? isn’t part of the problem in our country the fact that the designers are not able to go onto the manufacturing floor because there are so few of them left. and why has it almost never been the reverse (the floorworkers go learn what the engineers do)?

      what about money and status? although some people value their plumbers as much as their doctors (oddly enough, primarily doctors do!), most do not and these valuations impact not only on what the two earn but how others view what they are capable of engaging in, thus it is unlikely you will be invited to socially enriching events if you basically clear toilets for a living, although plumbers do a lot more than that.

      everyone should be able to do both, as needed and perhaps even as desired. but it will not turn out that way. we have not built a system around allowing people to move in and out of the intellectual vs mechanical or brain v brawn worlds.

      also, this article is discussing the things that all humans should quite possibly be exposed to. intellectual enrichment is not merely for those who will go onto engineering, law or medical school. but perhaps it should not be enforced upon everyone to make a choice between them at such a young age, since it seems to permanently foreclose the road not taken.

      Reply
  19. Hepativore

    I remember when I was in grade school and high school there was a massive push for students to go into STEM fields, and even in college, advisors, business representatives, and administrators constantly decried the “STEM shortage”. After people like myself graduated, we found out the hard way just how wrong they were as there is a massive glut of STEM degree holders, which offshoring and the H-1B visa program have only added to.

    Anyway, a major problem with many institutions is that there are so many degree holders now, that employers will not even consider a degree outside of a few select schools even worthy of their attention. There is also the fact that almost no company makes any sort of effort to train employees in on the job, expecting the institutions that students attend to magically prepare them to work with equipment or master skills in an area of work that is often proprietary or unique to a few select companies.

    Education in of itself should be valued, but I also think that there is something to be said for people being able to put their learned knowledge to use. With all due respect to Bernie Sanders, I am all for his free college tuition program. Sadly, I think that will exacerbate the credentialism push even more because it will only increase the number of people with degrees in already-saturated fields.

    What is the best way to solve the problem of people being able to match their education to their fields of choice without dealing with the arbitrary barriers put into place by employers?

    Reply
  20. Grayce

    One thing we know: “Americans” is not a monolithic term. There are many flavors of “American.” But the examination of the history of “the Americans” should offer a view that there has been a steady progress towards the ideals of the country. Martin Luther King described it when he said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

    If you take a democracy as a pool of opinion waiting for a majority for direction, it requires thought leaders to bring one or more “better angels” to the frontline where they bend public opinion into an ethical majority. The great task of ethical democracy is to pass on just ethics to succeeding generations–through public schooling available without economic barriers. Are we evolving to a way of knowing how to do that, or are we drawn to the siren of economics that lets us mask justice with excuses such as, “it is only business.”

    Indeed, some things are “only business” and are less vital for the moral universe.

    Reply
  21. anon y'mouse

    some vital background reading to possibly show these points and in some ways expand upon them.

    Paulo Freire–“banking” model of education
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banking_model_of_education

    the “hidden curriculum”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hidden_curriculum

    John Taylor Gatto’s The Underground History of American Education
    Bill Reading’s University in Ruins

    unlike some, and because i entered college as a fully adult student who had already slaved in minimum wage jobs, i focused my studies on philosophy, learning itself (cogsci, motivation, adult development), and the sociology and philosophy of higher education itself. people who are teachers ask me why i do not return to get a teaching credential.

    i tell them it is because i don’t want to be a party to child abuse.

    perhaps we are sending our students for this kind of education at the wrong age.

    Reply
  22. Tom

    Abolish the colleges and universities.

    In their role to educate perceptive, critical-thinking, competent and committed citizens, they fail — see above. In their role to produce workers with the specialist skills industry and commerce needs, they largely fail and a system of training organized by the specific sectors works better.

    In their role to extract debt from students and their families, they succeed very well. In their role to enforce class boundaries and to train students in class-based ideologies, they succeed very well.

    Let’s say, hypothetically, that we could reform the colleges and universities so that they could educate well and it was free to all, they would still be turning out individuals indoctrinated to serve in the professional, management, ruling classes.

    Reply

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