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On the upside, maybe I could start beating students with a stick

It’s the end of summer, and it’s a slow news time, so the newspapers are dredging the bottom of the fecal lake for material, but this is ridiculous. How about Syria? Come on, that’s important stuff. Instead, though, we get op-eds like this one in the Globe and Mail from Zander Sherman, proposing a solution to a nonexistent education problem by making education worse.

His problem: there are too many educated people.

As an entry point for the middle class, our institutions of luminous knowledge have lost their efficacy.

This is an economic consequence of oversupplying the market with similarly educated labour. Too many graduates have the same qualifications, resulting in a loss of competitive edge in the workplace.

To stay relevant, students are reaching ever higher in the pursuit of more specialized degrees. It used to be that a high school certificate was all you needed to get a decent job. Now even a bachelor’s degree is often insufficient. In this credit inflation spiral, we have devalued both our labour market and the institutions we’ve relied on to populate it.

This is a strangely twisted view; it’s about using education as a tool to promote hierarchical stratification; “The more available and abundant something is,” he says, “the less it’s worth.” We should reduce the number of college graduates, because then the few will be worth more and get paid more…leaving unsaid the corollary, that more will be worth less and can be paid less. It’s a blatantly anti-egalitarian perspective.

Furthermore, it only looks at education from the economic side. There is a real problem, that too many look at college as a magic formula for a certificate, rather as a path to greater knowledge, and it’s fueled by cheesy exploitation — I’ve seen the late night TV ads touting ways to get your bachelor’s degree in 6 weeks! Part time! By mail! I’d like to see those outfits shut down cold, but they say nothing about a real education, in which you invest time and effort in learning. Education is a path to self-knowledge and broader understanding of the world around you. It makes you a better person and a wiser contributor to society.

And yes, if you must put it that way, it creates a more educated workforce that is better able to handle challenging new jobs. If your economy is built around serfs and laborers, I guess you wouldn’t need more education.

But Sherman, who was home-schooled, could use a little education himself. He completely distorts the history of education.

The link between school and work was connected in the mid-20th century by the president of the University of California. Clark Kerr envisioned a large middle class, and saw the postsecondary certificate as a way of achieving it. By influencing the Basic Educational Opportunity Act, Kerr effectively commoditized social mobility. If you could afford to go to college – or fill out the paperwork required for a bursary – you could effectively buy your ticket to the middle class.

But Kerr didn’t predict the perverse ramifications of such a decision. By putting degrees in the hands of anyone who could pay for them, he made the work those graduates performed less valuable. A measure that was designed to mobilize society has ground it to a standstill.

Oh, nonsense. The previous system was one in which you bought your degree: even now, those most prestigious institutions in our midst, the Harvards of America, have been and are finishing schools for the rich. You do literally buy your Harvard degree. But the University of California changes were to remove most financial barriers and make a college degree an actual measure of merit. You couldn’t just pay your way through, you actually had to earn passing grades in a curriculum to get a diploma at the end of it all.

Does it even make sense to declare that students were paying for their degrees when the whole point of the institutional changes was to make a college education as close to free as possible?

So far, Sherman is just stupid. But brace yourselves, he’s about to explain his fix for the problem.

The solution to our present predicament lies in the past. In medieval times, university attendance was extremely rare. This was at least partly because school environments were so hostile. Freshmen students spent every coin they had just to get in the door, at which point they endured a hazing ritual that included dagger attacks and assaults with buckets of scalding water.

Provided they reached their dormitories alive, students slept in dank quarters, awoke before sunrise, and attended lectures in the dark (where they memorized nearly everything they learned – paper was prohibitively expensive).

When it came time to demonstrate their knowledge, students were called upon to recite epic poems in both Latin and Greek, perform a variety of musical compositions on a variety of instruments, and then bow to the same panel of judges and examiners who had made their lives intolerable for the last several years.

It’s this model we should be adopting.

You know, I didn’t go into teaching because I’m secretely an afficionado of sadism. How do dagger attacks, living in misery, and memorizing epic poetry in Greek contribute to my goal of giving students knowledge of biology?

To turn this trend around, fewer people should be furthering their educations. With fewer people furthering their educations, value will be restored to the university degree. And with value restored to the degree, the workplace will function as it should: as a powerful, competitive meritocracy.

While a privileged few fret about the problems of philosophy, the rest of us will go happily unschooled, living student debt-free, making our own jobs, and being living exemplars of the age-old axiom that ignorance really is bliss. Rarefied in such a manner, we might then find that knowledge takes on a special luminosity.

Then, finally, we’ll have a truly enlightened society – just like in the Dark Ages.

That makes no sense. The university is already a competitive meritocracy — how does it improve that to throw up additional obstacles to entry? I can predict what those obstacles would be, too: money. The same as they already are. Something that has nothing to do with intellectual merit at all.

Sherman’s entire proposal is so insane and so irrational, yet so closely in alignment with what a good American Republican would endorse, that I at first thought it had to be some kind of clumsy attempt at Swiftian satire. So I dug a little deeper into this guy’s views…and discovered that he’s completely incapable of expressing himself with clarity and coherence. He has a book called The Curiosity of School, and I first tried browsing it for clues for what he really advocates. It was nearly impossible. Here’s a snippet from a Q&A, for example.

Were people better educated before the modern education system came into existence?
The case could be made that institutionalized education–what we’re now calling school–has negatively affected people’s sense of passion and wonderment. In The Curiosity of School I was less interested in making this argument myself and more interested in providing the means by which it could be made (along with plenty of other arguments) by other people.

Passion and wonderment are good things to encourage in school. But blaming the loss of those senses on modern institutionalized education (which definitely does have flaws) while praising the cruelty and rote memorizations of the scholastic system of the Dark Ages is bizarre. And he’s not interested in making an argument? What? So I read the preview of the book on Amazon to try and figure out what the hell he’s talking about (it’s a bad sign when you have to struggle so hard to understand a writer — lucidity is not Sherman’s strength). And yes, again, he starts out with a long section describing the horrors of a medieval school, and talks about the Prussian system of using education to shape students for the military, for instance, and then switches to a litany of terrible things that have been done in the modern school system and announces that that will be the focus of the book.

What a mess. Even without his silly op-ed, I’m able to read between the lines here.

And worst of all, he ends his introduction with a vacuity.

Finally, discerning readers will notice this book has no thesis. It doesn’t argue that school is bad, or that homeschooling is good, or any such similar thing. My intention is to simply present the story of school, and let you take away what you want.

Wait, that’s not an empty statement — it’s a lie. When you present a series of selective examples and distortions, when you focus on treating education negatively and call elitism a “meritocracy”, when you subtitle your book “the dark side of enlightenment”, you clearly do have a thesis — you’re just too great a coward to come out and state it openly.

Comments

  1. Rich Woods says

    and being living exemplars of the age-old axiom that ignorance really is bliss

    Sherman strikes me as being deeply blissful.

  2. george gonzalez says

    The only bit of pedagogical advice I have is that universities should have a bit more of a practical, real-world job component. I see newly-minted Electrical Engineers that have not a clue how to solder two wires together, or how to read a spec-sheet, or what it means when they smell a wisp of smoke coming off their new design. Software Engineers that think all software must be designed with 7 levels deep of abstraction and is written in Java and will never fail.

    IMHO a few more down-and-dirty lab courses and internships might be a real eye-opener to the students and make them less of a flopping fish out of water if and when they graduate.

    But a medieval boarding-school environment, probably not that helpful.

  3. Ysanne says

    Where do you find these morons?

    While a privileged few fret about the problems of philosophy, the rest of us will go happily unschooled, living student debt-free, making our own jobs, and being living exemplars of the age-old axiom that ignorance really is bliss. Rarefied in such a manner, we might then find that knowledge takes on a special luminosity.
    Then, finally, we’ll have a truly enlightened society – just like in the Dark Ages.

    And it will be all wonderment and passion and happiness and people will live happily and their needs will be met, just like in the Dark Ages, when the things that needed to be done didn’t require so much knowledge. That’s when all the nice scientific and technological progress took place to give us aeroplanes, cures for diseases, computers and communications technology, and all this other nifty modern stuff, after all…

  4. DonDueed says

    Sherman was home schooled, eh? Do I detect a hint of jealousy for those who actually got to go to an actual school?

    I’d call this guy a jackass, but that would be insulting to jackasses. With his medievalphilia, I’ll call him a Lewis instead (as in C.S.)

  5. Rich Woods says

    He can’t seem to make his mind up. In the Q&A advertising blurb for his book he says:

    It’s pretty clear that the present model is not dependably successful in this area, and equally clear that education is too valuable to the human enterprise to be conflated with social engineering and the manufacturing of outcomes.

    Yet in his op-ed he’s advocating a considerable degree of social engineering and heavily-manufactured outcomes. Maybe he’s had a reverse epiphany.

  6. notsont says

    Then, finally, we’ll have a truly enlightened society – just like in the Dark Ages.

    I keep reading this sentence trying to make some sense of it. I fear it may be beyond my comprehension.

  7. throwaway, gut-punched says

    Sounds a bit like he wants the Ankh-Morpork’s Assassins Guild to be the model.

  8. Dick the Damned says

    Then, finally, we’ll have a truly enlightened society – just like in the Dark Ages.

    Maybe he means that the enlightenment would come from the flames bursting from the faggots at the feet of the free-thinkers tied to the stakes?

  9. says

    Honestly I’d rather see more jobs creation for grads or some more practical components to a university degree. My Bachelors of science isn’t worth much and now I’m going back to school to try to get the qualifications for a techie type lab job. While I did greatly enjoyed my time getting my degree its pretty frustrating seeing so few job options being opened up after all that work.

    Course Sherman’s just an idiot. Now back to packing for my move.

  10. congenital cynic says

    Sounds like the man’s home schooling was a fail. He can neither think nor write clearly. What a bunch of nonsense.

    We need a more well educated populace, not a less well educated one. There’s far too much ignorance out there already (as illustrated by both the purveyors and the dupes who believe in the magic of electrowater, or whatever that load of foolishness was).

    @George #2
    As an EE prof I agree with you. We have done something about this over the years, and basic skills like soldering and such are covered. But apprenticeships would also help a lot. Only those who join the Co-op program are assured of such on-the-job training.

  11. jasonnishiyama says

    It is important to remember that the lion’s share of the Canadian media is very much in the neo-conservative camp, the Globe and Mail being one of them. The scary part is that the G&M is one of the more “moderate” conservative papers. The article wouldn’t have made it into the National Post or the Sun newspapers as it would have been deemed too “lefty”.

  12. chigau (違う) says

    Sounds a bit like he wants the Ankh-Morpork’s Assassins Guild to be the model.

    or the University of the Four Yorkshiremen.

  13. says

    He needed to write an entire book to demonstrate that he was home-schooled but not very well? Clearly he was able to achieve that with a single op-ed.

  14. Larry says

    It used to be that a high school certificate was all you needed to get a decent job.

    And it used to be there were plenty of jobs available that high school graduates could do. Unfortunately, many of those jobs are now in 3rd world countries because the factory owners find it profitable to pay their workers 15 cents a day.

    Although I don’t believe that this kind of thinking has become a prevalent theme in the GOP yet, there have been similar arguments made. Because it is ill-advised and highly detrimental to the middle/lower class in today’s society, I have no doubt they’ll be singing its praises from Fox News, Limbaugh, and O’Reilly broadcasts shortly followed by GOP candidates soon after.

  15. consciousness razor says

    Furthermore, it only looks at education from the economic side.

    That wasn’t “the economic side,” just some twisted bullshit.

  16. wcorvi says

    I got this e-mail yesterday:
    ______________________________________
    Bachelors, Maste rs, MBA, Doctorates in 10 days.
    Full Name [[email protected]]
    Sent: Saturday, August 31, 2013 2:57 AM
    To:
    [email protected]
    Bachelors, Maste rs, MBA, Doctorates in 10 days.

    http://tiny.cc/aly2609ed0
    ______________________________________

    MAN! 10 days, I surely wish I’d known back in grad school!

  17. Rieux says

    I’m going to guess that it is in fact an attempt at Swiftian satire. A badly failed attempt, but an attempt nonetheless.

  18. loopyj says

    “…the rest of us will go happily unschooled, living student debt-free, making our own jobs…”

    Making our own jobs? Out of what, papier mâché? The problem isn’t over-educated people – the problem is under-employed and heavily indebted people. If a brick-layer or plasterer wants to get a degree in philosophy, they should be able and encouraged to do so. Education is good for people. Skills training is good for people.

    “It used to be that a high school certificate was all you needed to get a decent job.”

    That’s because there were unions and factories and manufacturing jobs in North America that paid a living wage. Higher rates of higher education didn’t force companies to outsource their labour overseas or bust unions and slash wages by more than half or tell their employees that they’re all independent contractors now, so no pensions or health insurance, you’re on your own. And it used to be the case that federal and local governments invested in public services and infrastructure that employed skilled and unskilled labour at a decent wage; now they have to pay more for social assistance programs to make up for the wage and benefit shortfalls of service industry jobs, effectively providing tax-payer funded subsidies to obscenely profitable and greedy corporations like Walmart. Fast-food workers are told that they’re losers because they didn’t further their education so they wouldn’t be stuck in dead-end ‘entry-level’ jobs that people believe are only supposed to be done by teenagers and students. And then people who are unemployed, including those with advanced degrees who are having trouble finding positions in their field, are told to get off unemployment insurance and go out and get any job they can, including flipping burgers…and when they do go and flip burgers so they can support their families and experience the ‘dignity of work,’ they’re berated for wanting to earn more than a poverty wage.

  19. raven says

    It used to be that a high school certificate was all you needed to get a decent job.

    1. It used to be, we all died like flies. Even a century ago, the US lifespan was three decades less, 47.

    2. It used to be most people were poor.

    3. It used to be that we didn’t have cars, computers, the internet, cell phones, clean running water, or electrictiy.

    Guy’s an idiot. Even the nostalgia was better in the old days.

  20. Trebuchet says

    @18, Rieux: My thought as well, Poe’s law and all that. But since there’s a whole book, it’s probably not.

  21. loopyj says

    Oh, and the value of a mind that’s been nurtured to be able to think independently, reason, research, problem solve and question shouldn’t determined by its rarity.

  22. says

    This gave me a great idea. If farmers grew lots less food, the price of food would rise and they could make lots more money. That would be another awesome way to improve society!

  23. robotczar says

    Cheesy fly-by-night profit-making schools (along with easy loans) are certainly a problem. And, education is not just about jobs (most Americans would disagree). But, there is a problem with the idea that if we send more people to college, they will all get better jobs and make more money. Where will the additional jobs come from? Back in ancient times, like 1970, about 1/4 of high school graduates went to college. Now the number is over 60% in the US. There is no reason to expect that we will have more high level jobs just because we have lost most of our blue-collar jobs. Even worse, many white collar jobs have also gone overseas. The result of greatly increasing college degrees is 1) a dumbing down of the degrees to accommodate students with lower cognitive ability and 2) more college graduate unemployment or under employment. By what logic have we concluded that everyone can or should get a college degree? Can everyone be a college athlete? Hey, then they could all get high-paying pro sports jobs.

  24. gijoel says

    I noticed that his book on Amazon has nothing but five star reviews. We should start a FTB book club, where we read, and eviscerate critique these horrible books. And then post the winners to Amazon.

  25. Jackie Papercuts says

    I’ve homeschooled, private schooled and public schooled my kids. Any of those options can be good or bad depending on the school and how well it meets the needs of an individual student. What is frighteningly telling of this individual’s homeschool experience is that he equates abuse and misery with learning. I notice that he used the word unschooled, though I don’t think he’s referring to the homeschool method of the same name. Unschooling tends to be flexible, student driven and largely about allowing a student’s passion for learning to bloom on it’s own while the parent takes the role of a more of a guide or facilitator than a teacher. He seems to be using the word to mean “lacking any kind of education”. That isn’t how the word is used in homeschooling circles. If he thinks our choices should be to lack education entirely or be subjected to horrific abuse, I can’t help but feel very sorry for him. Somewhere, someone he trusted let him down in a big way.

  26. notsont says

    By what logic have we concluded that everyone can or should get a college degree? Can everyone be a college athlete? Hey, then they could all get high-paying pro sports jobs.

    Yeah no one is saying everyone should get a college degree, What people are saying is the opportunity to do so should be available. Its not a minor distinction, I’m surprised you missed it.

  27. smhll says

    Satire? Because it’s pretty ridiculous.

    While a privileged few fret about the problems of philosophy, the rest of us will go happily unschooled, living student debt-free, making our own jobs, and being living exemplars of the age-old axiom that ignorance really is bliss. Rarefied in such a manner, we might then find that knowledge takes on a special luminosity.

  28. says

    My dad got an undergrad engineering degree from Virginia Tech under the GI Bill, and went to work at IBM in the mid-50s. He stayed with them, at that time when some companies actually believed loyalty was a two-way street, until he retired. He made a point of telling us, more than once, that pretty much everything specific he learned in school was out of date five years after he graduated, and what he’d learned in the meantime, the specifics, were out of date five years after that. And then he moved over to the World Trade exec side and his college degree had nothing whatsoever to do with what he was doing then.

    When it comes to learning, specifics are a necessary evil; you need them for some things, but getting too tied up in specifics traps you. When things change your specific knowledge often becomes useless. What school should teach you is to learn how to learn.

  29. consciousness razor says

    There is no reason to expect that we will have more high level jobs just because we have lost most of our blue-collar jobs.

    Well, not just because of that. Suppose we had a society which wasn’t driven by a mysterious invisible hand…. And I don’t know what “high level” means. It means that you get paid a lot, or that you boss people around but don’t do much work yourself, or that you need lots of skills or education for it, or what? Because I don’t see how we can sensibly treat all of those as equivalent.

    Even worse, many white collar jobs have also gone overseas.

    What is worse about that? We should want a stable economy which is fair for everyone inside and outside of this country (I mean the U.S., for you furriners), not one that’s heavily weighted to “white collar jobs.”

    The result of greatly increasing college degrees is 1) a dumbing down of the degrees to accommodate students with lower cognitive ability and 2) more college graduate unemployment or under employment.

    That’s a result of crappy colleges as well as a crappy economy, not simply more degrees.

    By what logic have we concluded that everyone can or should get a college degree?

    Whose conclusion is that? Not everyone can, nor is there any reason to say everyone should, as if they must be doing something wrong if they don’t. But if everyone could and did graduate from college (because they wanted to), I certainly wouldn’t call that a bad thing.

  30. says

    Software Engineers that think all software must be designed with 7 levels deep of abstraction and is written in Java and will never fail.

    Nah. You can’t do it i Java. You need “Erlang”. The languages features:

    1. Variables are permanent within an instance, so.. if you say Y = 2. it is 2 “permanently” for as long as that subroutine is running.
    2. Data that needs to change, instead, has its own magic memory space, sort of like a database.
    3. You can set up guards, which “watch” what your application is doing, and, when a specific part fails, reloads it.
    4. Every time you do something you have to spawn a new copy, due to #1, but, if the copy breaks, as long as its guarded, you can’t crash the entire application.

    Personally, I think the people that came up with it are insane, in no small part due to making it bloody impossible, even for the person that developed it, to comprehend how their own application works. I have a 3D application called Wings3D that runs under it. Its damn near impossible to crash the thing, but, its also impossible to “fix” problems with it, or, apparently, for any of the developers to comprehend any part of it they didn’t personally work on. lol

    I can easily see one of these people imagining “education” as a problem, in the sense that they decided that its a “non-critical” component, when in reality, it contains a whole list of the “guards” in it, and, as a result, whole swaths of the “application” we call the economy will start crashing, and not restarting, because, whooops! the function that was supposed to do it is now missing, or broken beyond repair. After all, they don’t understand why it works, or how, or it isn’t doing what they *want* so.. it needs to be thrown out, replaced, or “fixed”, i.e., broken beyond impossibility of function. lol

  31. DLC says

    Enlightenment, just like the Dark Ages. . .
    You keep using this word Enlightenment. I do not think it means what you think it means.

    You really want to have an enlightened society ? double the budget for basic research. or triple it. The cost wouldn’t even come to 1% of the military budget. Second, do something to restore secondary education’s lower total costs. A taxpayer subsidy or national tuition cost limit would be nice. No Squire Sherman, I don’t care to go back to the day when people like me respectfully touched their forelock to Gentry such as yourself. In fact, you can kiss my big over-educated arse you vacuum-head.
    Four Yorkshiremen ? no, I think much more along the lines of Upper-Class Twit of the Year.

  32. raven says

    @raven #20

    Was that 47 the mean, median or mode value for lifespan?

    1. Does it matter?

    2. Do you know what a search engine is? Look it up yourself. I’m not your mother or your search engine.

    3. Probably the median, but I would have to look it up myself to be sure. For these types of statistics, the mean and median are usually pretty close together.

  33. shouldbeworking says

    If there is too many educated people, perhaps the G& M could hire 1 or 2. It would be an improvement over the usual flu lies currently there.

  34. M can help you with that. says

    raven @ 36 —

    3. Probably the median, but I would have to look it up myself to be sure. For these types of statistics, the mean and median are usually pretty close together.

    Mean and median for lifespan statistics in particular weren’t always so close together, though. The decrease in child mortality has been immense over the past 200 years, which has a much greater positive impact on mean lifespan than median.

  35. unclefrogy says

    CR are you sure that the article in the link was not written by the Zander Sherman here?
    It sure sounds like the same thinking or not thinking.

    uncle frogy

  36. says

    I’m pretty sure they were called “The Dark Ages” for a reason.

    they were. they were called that because we were in the dark about it AKA didn’t know shit about what happened during that time.

    That’s not even true anymore.

    And, “the Dark Ages” doesn’t refer to the Medieval Period, it refers to the period between the fall of the Roman Empire and and the rise of the Holy Roman Empire. [/pet peeve]

  37. says

    3. Probably the median, but I would have to look it up myself to be sure. For these types of statistics, the mean and median are usually pretty close together.
    Not really. Infant/child mortality had a huge effect on the mean until quite recently.

  38. Larry says

    #34

    in no small part due to making it bloody impossible, even for the person that developed it, to comprehend how their own application works

    Ah, yes, the WORN programming paradigm (write-once, read-never). Worked on more than one program like that. Written one or two, as well.

    However, if you think Erlang is the prototype of that style of programming languages, you are evidently too young to have used APL (think Perl without its syntactical readability).

  39. Who Cares says

    @george gonzalez(#2):
    Quite often internships are only as good as the person riding herd on the interns when it comes to programming. Got a bunch of horror stories thanks to having to fix/rebuild what rote memorizers/regurgitators type interns made without person assigned to them ever noticing the stinking pile of crap that was being made.

  40. says

    what a deeply confused and ignorant article.

    No paper, no light, no money – but Dark Ages were best for students

    this is the title of an article that later points out that hazing was a rather deadly affair. M’kay then.

    The Dark Ages may have led to the Enlightenment

    lolwut. That’s barely even chronologically true. It would be like saying the Roman Empire lead to the French Revolution.

    Too many graduates have the same qualifications, resulting in a loss of competitive edge in the workplace.

    making virtually everyone only get a high-school degree is totes going to fix the problem of “too many” people with “the same qualifications”.

    It used to be that a high school certificate was all you needed to get a decent job. You mean back when out-of-high-school jobs were union-jobs in manufacturing, whereas now they’re non-unionized jobs in the service industry?
    How about instead of whining about too many people in higher ed., you write op-eds about how the service industry needs to unionize so that North America can once again have decent jobs for people with high-school degrees?

    By putting degrees in the hands of anyone who could pay for them, he made the work those graduates performed less valuable.

    not “everyone who could pay for them”; that, as PZ said, was how it was before. It was “in the hand of everyone who wanted one and did the work”. Also, it didn’t make them less valuable, it made them less rarefied.

    Today, the overabundance of qualified labour has led to a dangerous, expansionary spiral. We’re paying more for our degrees, and getting less in return.

    the overabundance of college graduates is hat led to the cost of college becoming more and more? yeah, I don’t think so. And blaming that on people whose “view of education is that it’s a basic human right, and should be available to all” is even greater BS, since those would be the people trying to make college cost less, or even nothing. And in neither instance is one getting “less in return” just because other people are getting the same. That’s a view that values knowledge and skill not for itself, but for its socioeconomic status.

    Our graduates are arriving to the world of work and finding that there are millions of people with exactly the same qualifications, competing for exactly the same jobs.

    again: making it so that everyone only has a high-school degree is totes going to fix this problem.

    The industrialization of an education, and the commoditization of its end result, has disempowered the same social class it was meant to liberate.

    the industrialization of it? nope. That’s how the west even got a middle-class to begin with. The commodification of it, yes, but again that’s the fault of people who look at it as a means to an economic end, AKA people like Sherman, not people like Kerr who are trying to de-commodify higher ed by making it a right and a resource available to all, not a good to be purchased by the few very wealthy.

    The more available and abundant something is, the less it’s worth.

    then stop breeding, you’re making humans worth less.

    With fewer people furthering their educations, value will be restored to the university degree.

    which will help the majority of people not in the slightest, since they won’t be the ones with these rarefied degrees; instead, they’ll join the underemployed masses in the service and day labor industries. whee.

    And with value restored to the degree, the workplace will function as it should: as a powerful, competitive meritocracy.

    the workplace has never functioned that way, and in itself it never will. wtf. And what does this even have to do with making college available only to a few individuals.

    While a privileged few fret about the problems of philosophy

    yeah. That’s what we all go to college for. Philosophy classes.

    living student debt-free

    better way to achieve this: make college free or very cheap; like Kerr did.

    making our own jobs

    lolwut. that was never true for the working or middle class, college degree or not. It sure as fuck wasn’t true in the “Dark Ages”, or the Medieval Period.

    Rarefied in such a manner, we might then find that knowledge takes on a special luminosity.

    and what the fuck would be good about that?

    And as a side note, this was embedded on the page:

    More Related to this Story

    Rob Carrick Why some university students are doomed to below-average earnings

    Education Class of 2013 demands more from universities: help us find jobs

    University of Alberta eliminates 20 arts programs

    *le sigh*

  41. vaiyt says

    Arbitrarily putting entry barriers for an activity doesn’t get you people with more skills, it just gets you less people. That’s no “meritocracy”, it’s just elitism.

    Not to mention it’s completely unequal in other ways. You all know very well what kind of people are going to suffer more under violent hazing rituals and antagonistic teachers.

  42. says

    minor blockquote fail in the middle:

    It used to be that a high school certificate was all you needed to get a decent job.

    You mean back when out-of-high-school jobs were union-jobs in manufacturing, whereas now they’re non-unionized jobs in the service industry?
    How about instead of whining about too many people in higher ed., you write op-eds about how the service industry needs to unionize so that North America can once again have decent jobs for people with high-school degrees?

  43. cartomancer says

    Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear…

    It really is quite painful for someone who has actually studied medieval intellectual history to see people talking about “the medieval university system” as one monolithic entity – as if any such thing existed as a formal, one-size-fits-all institution, as opposed to broad cultural trends across a whole continent and five hundred odd years of history. Clearly this guy gets his information on medieval learning from anecdotes and hearsay, rather than any kind of dedicated study of the period.

    First pet peeve – “The Dark Ages” is NOT a synonym for “The Middle Ages”. Historians use the former term to refer only to the very earliest part of the Middle Ages – roughly from the collapse of Roman power in the 4th-6th centuries to the emergence of established kingdoms under the Carolingians, Ottonians and Kings of Wessex, when written source material begins to emerge again in modestly significant quantity. It is “dark” because we cannot see it – i.e. the written records and documents from which we write history are not in evidence. Calling the entirety of the period from 500 to 1500 AD “the Dark Ages” is buying uncritically into a kind of lazy Renaissance and Early Modern medieval-bashing aimed solely at othering medieval European civilization in order to vaunt one’s own intellectual credentials. It ignores entirely that the very foundation of modern European civilization evolved from medieval roots.

    Second – medieval universities differed radically in nature over time and place. There was no fixed top-down “system”, merely borrowings and transfer between independent institutions. Some relatively universal features did emerge – the granting of the ius ubique docendi to graduates for instance, or the use of dialectical disputation as a final passing-out examination – but the differences were huge. Bologna, for instance, began life as a guild-like collective of masters, while Paris was a union of the students, with different degrees of control and organization afforded at each. Some developed very strict fixed academic curricula by the mid thirteenth century, but before then teaching was pretty much at the whim of whoever they employed, and it continued to be in many places (even where there were fixed texts, masters very often lectured on other works as their fancy took them). There were fads and trends – in early 13th century Oxford, for instance, Robert Grosseteste decried the habit of lecturing on Peter Lombard’s Sentences, rather than directly from Scripture, while the “libri naturales” containing the scientific works of Aristotle were prohibited in Paris until at least 1244 (following the scandals of David of Dinant and Amauric of Bene), and for decades after their use was sanctioned the Parisians had to import masters from England and Scotland to teach them.

    To say that medieval universities were all about the rote-learning of Greek and Latin epics is a gross misnomer too. Greek was almost absent from Western Europe, and certainly not taught formally at universities, where the universal scholarly language was Latin. A few very capable scholars, such as the aforementioned Grosseteste, David of Dinant, Roger Bacon, and others, would study Greek on their own time (Bacon wrote the first grammar of Greek in Latin since the end of Antiquity), and incorporate their Greek learning (mostly the Greek Fathers) into their published works, setting the stage for the Renaissance revival of Greek learning. The vast majority of intellectuals in Medieval Western Europe were without the language until at least the sixteenth century. As for reciting the Latin epics (well, the Aeneid), that was an entrance-level activity. Seven year olds were expected to read and memorise the Aeneid as the core text of learning the Latin language in the first place – all that it showed was that you were capable enough in Latin to attend the lectures and understand the set texts (which were mostly the Latin versions of Aristotle’s organon, some Boethius, and Porphyry’s Isagoge as an introduction for the Arts course). The actual disputation – the final examination before being awarded a degree and allowed to leave – was primarily an exercise in solving logical problems, resolving difficult issues in the interpretation of key sources and showing your working.

    As for student life being intentionally brutal, harsh and spirit-crushing… not really. Sure, some students found it hard paying the fees for tuition, and often had to live in terrible conditions to afford it (often taking on the teaching of younger pupils, usually in basic Latin grammar, to make ends meet). However, if you had money or a cushy church benefice to support you (which was the usual way to do it, and hence the majority of students came from well-connected noble or mercantile families who could secure such things from their contacts in the church or at court) you were fine. Wealthy students could choose their own lodgings, and those with church support often lived in luxury – it was only the poorer ones forced to band together and live in communal lodging houses. Even then the collegiate system developed at places like Oxford and Cambridge toward the end of the Middle Ages to ameliorate this problem. We tend to hear a lot more about the less fortunate ones though, because a number recorded their sufferings and disillusionment in popular ribald poetry and the like – they were known as Goliards (the Carmina Burana has many songs on this theme) – where the feted scions of the wealthy just got on with being comfortable. And compared to the lives of the lowest orders toiling away in the fields and workshops, even the poorest students were well off.

    That teaching began at dawn is not surprising, given how expensive candles were, and we must remember that pretty much all work in the Middle Ages tended to begin at dawn. As for the dagger attacks and scalding water – calling them a “hazing ritual” is blatantly applying 20th century American categories to matter that will not take them. Of course university students had to put up with dagger attacks and worse – everyone in Medieval cities did, they were pretty lawless places. In many ways students were cosseted and looked after compared to their fellows outside the hallowed halls of academe – they counted as clerics for legal purposes, and so could rely on Canon rather than civil law, were often tried by special university police who would understand, and even when collared by city authorities could rely on having their university fight their corner (as I said above, they were guilds of masters and students, trade unions of a sort, founded to formalise and assert their role in society and protect their members).

    Indeed, so privileged were most students at Medieval universities that actual bloody rioting was a common response among disgruntled townsfolk to their perceived haughtiness, and the problems they caused (as happened in Paris in 1229 and in Oxford in 1209 and most infamously at the St. Scholastica’s Day riots of 1355). To say that medieval students were institutionally oppressed is laughable.

  44. karpad says

    Then, finally, we’ll have a truly enlightened society – just like in the Dark Ages.

    I cannot fathom a way this isn’t Poe’s Law in action.

  45. sbuh says

    My belief is that when public education was new and novel it was very much appreciated by America’s waves of immigrants, who saw education as something that back home was reserved for the wealthy and privileged, and even if they weren’t educated themselves, parents recognized that an education was something important and that they wanted their children to have one. I think there’s a lack of that appreciation among parents that translates into students not valuing their time in schools as much as in the past, but I don’t have any easy answers to bringing it back.

  46. ck says

    He came perilously close to an actual legitimate point, though. University education has become a replacement for virtually all forms of vocational and on-the-job training, which is a serious problem. There are very few jobs you are qualified to do with only a diploma, but ever since business discovered they could offload the cost of this training onto their prospective employees (and also avoid subsidizing the training of their competitor’s employees), they have been pushing colleges and universities to produce graduates that fill their business needs instead.

  47. janewhite says

    Excellent point. I was at dinner the other night with a couple of government workers, and they pointed out something interesting to me. No unskilled labor is done by actual government workers anymore. The government is employing lots of GS12’s, highly skilled positions or managerial positions, but there pretty much aren’t any more GS3’s. GS3 work, like mowing the lawn or repairing buildings at government facilities, is being done by contractor employees making minimum wage with no job security or benefits.

    Ever wonder why government workers make “so much money?” None of them are blue-collar.

  48. says

    My belief is that when public education was new and novel it was very much appreciated by America’s waves of immigrants, who saw education as something that back home was reserved for the wealthy and privileged, and even if they weren’t educated themselves, parents recognized that an education was something important and that they wanted their children to have one.

    have you ever talked to a child of such immigrants about how their parents having that attitude worked out for them…

  49. stevebowen says

    I was staying with a friend in Germany recently a country that fully funds higher education with tuition fees and accomodation grants all non repayable. However my friend’s daughter was on the point of giving up her biology course after year one as she got no academic support from tutors or graduate students. Just One lecture a day, access to libraries and a pass or get lost exam at the end. It seems that because education is so readily available they are weeding out anyone who is not sufficiently self motivated by providing no other help. This may not be a bad thing if the economy really can’t support the number of stuents entering higher education from school.
    As it happened I think I helped pursuade my friend’s daughter to perservere…

  50. says

    It seems that because education is so readily available they are weeding out anyone who is not sufficiently self motivated by providing no other help.

    no.

    The reason that university education is the way it is in Old Europe is because that’s the model they started out with hundreds of years ago and are having a fucking hard time changing it to something else. Aside from that, not everyone actually prefers the U.S. method of heavily interactive and interpersonal college education, so there’s resistance to Americanization of the European system even beyond boring old traditionalism.

    Personally, if it weren’t for mandatory attendance, I’d be fully behind the U.S. way of teaching at universities. OTOH, having high-school style tests and exams and essays and whathaveyou is not good for my health, either. I had a lot less issues with the archaeology classes I took from a British university, which only required a paper at the end to pass. So:YMMV.

    Nonetheless, none of that has anything to do with trying to keep people discouraged from getting university degrees. That’s pure nonsense.

  51. anchor says

    @cartomancer: Thank you for that cogent outline – and the pleasant afternoon searching out more in detail it precipitated!

  52. Aim: baby hordeling says

    stevebowen, @54:

    Actually, these days students have to repay half of the government assistance they receive, if they qualify at all.

    Also, that sounds like a pretty weird university. Many courses are very tough for the first two semesters, but that’s more becuase a lot of work is piled onto bachelor students’ heads, not because there are no resources available.

    At both of the German unis I attended/attend, there were student groups and tutors available and most of the lecturers were also very approachable.

    The “do or die” test is also a myth. (Perhaps that’s because people remember the Staatsexamen?) In most cases you’ll get one “free” try and then either two or three repeat tries if you fail, depending on jurisdiction. Some unis also allow a limited number of repeat tries to improve your grade.
    Most lecturers will accept either a short paper plus a presentation, a “long” (still pretty short) paper, a written exam or an oral exam.

  53. bryanfeir says

    @Larry(#43):

    Hey, APL was the first computer programming language I learned, back in the mid-70s. My uncle taught me how to program on an old IBM thermal paper terminal (with an acoustic coupled modem to connect to the University mainframe), and he loved APL.

    That said, yes, it was something of a write-only language. The more modern descendent of it, J, is a little more… orthogonal in design in some ways, as well as actually being programmable in standard ASCII.

    For those unfamiliar with it, it’s a functional language, not a procedural one… so structurally it’s actually similar to LISP and other such languages which focus on ‘collection of operations’ rather than ‘sequence of events’. It was never really a programming language so much as a very efficient custom mathematical notation.

  54. vaiyt says

    The thing about these arbitrary elitist hoops is that they weed away precisely the people who like the subject the most. The people who like the stuff soon realise that all the bullshit makes them not happy anymore, and leave. It’s the stubborn and insecure ones that remain, because they’re either too invested or too indecisive to drop out.

  55. unclefrogy says

    as has been demonstrated here he was incorrect, he flayed out “a” story of school not “the” story of school.
    What would be the chance he is a Libertarian? he does pick and chose his “data” assertions to match his desires and beliefs like them even if he says he does not state them himself.

    uncle frogy

  56. says

    Its damn near impossible to crash the thing, but, its also impossible to “fix” problems with it, or, apparently, for any of the developers to comprehend any part of it they didn’t personally work on. lol

    So like most large software projects in any language, except for the not-crashing part.

    Sounds like a win for Erlang to me.

  57. David Marjanović says

    I’m going to guess that it is in fact an attempt at Swiftian satire. A badly failed attempt, but an attempt nonetheless.

    Seconded. Putting “enlightened” right next to “Dark”…

    It’s a really bad failure, though.

    Even a century ago, the US lifespan was three decades less, 47.

    You mean the life expectancy at birth. People have been telling you for years that it’s grossly misleading to call it “lifespan” – for the reason mentioned again in comments 39 and 42.

    The more available and abundant something is, the less it’s worth.

    then stop breeding, you’re making humans worth less.

    + 1

    Bologna, for instance, began life as a guild-like collective of masters, while Paris was a union of the students, with different degrees of control and organization afforded at each.

    Huh. I thought Bologna was the place where prospective students got together and hired someone to teach them law, so that soon the students controlled the job description of the professors just like how the professors examined the students, while Paris was affiliated with the Church from its beginning.

    Sure, some students found it hard paying the fees for tuition

    …while the founding statues of the University of Vienna say that tuition fees should never be introduced.

    Sic transit gloria mundi.

    were often tried by special university police who would understand

    Even today, the police is not allowed to enter the premises of an Austrian university without permission from the rector*!

    * President. Except not, because they’re professors turned bureaucrats, not fundraisers.

    I think there’s a lack of that appreciation among parents that translates into students not valuing their time in schools as much as in the past

    Lack of appreciation among parents?

    In the USA, where parents start saving money for their child’s university education as soon as that child is born, and everyone seems to think that’s normal?

    It seems that because education is so readily available they are weeding out anyone who is not sufficiently self motivated by providing no other help. This may not be a bad thing if the economy really can’t support the number of stuents entering higher education from school.

    The fuck can’t the economy support any particular number. It’s purely a question of political will: the university budgets, set by law, can’t support reasonable numbers of students. Germany instead has a numerus clausus, a cap on the number of students allowed to begin each year; those that don’t get in move on to Austria and study there. As a result, the most popular studies in Austria (medicine for instance) have recently introduced knock-out exams at the very beginning; you’re qualified to study if you survive those.

  58. says

    Many courses are very tough for the first two semesters, but that’s more becuase a lot of work is piled onto bachelor students’ heads, not because there are no resources available.

    compared to US unis, there’s very little “support”, as freshmen in the U.S. are basically treated as incompetents who need to be walked through the experience of not having their parents do everything for them (and it’s sometimes justified, to the point of having to remind the parents that they no longer have access to students’ grades etc.). This can get annoying as fuck really quickly but it’s for the most part avoidable with some effort.

    The “do or die” test is also a myth.

    for people used to having their grade chieved via the distributed system of exams, essays, participation etc. like in High-School, a single exam determining the grade still feels “do or die” even if you get re-dos etc.

  59. michaelpowers says

    I’m continually amazed at the short-sightedness, and greed of those who see an ignorant citizenry as a lucrative method of social engineering, but ignore the long term, perhaps permanent, damage they do. How do we produce people who only care about the world, as long as they’re in it?

  60. damiki says

    I’m sure that rational folks in Texas will appreciate my “at least one sane person” defense of homeschooling as an educational choice, but I must object to associating homeschooling with ignorance.

    It’s clear that homeschooling increases the risk of parents filling their kids heads with all the bullshit they spend their lives trying to justify, but we home schooled our children because we wanted their early education to be more expansive than they were likely to get in the public schools (e.g., Howard Zinn’s A People’s History was their history text). I still cherish conversations I remember having with each of them about the “magic” of the the universe around us, *especially* absent the need of a sky fairy.

    We may have been in the minority (and in my experience we were), but we homeschooled our children out of a deep love and respect for education, and a commitment to take full responsibility for it during their early years. They all entered the public school system in middle school and did great academically and socially.

    Sorry if I seem defensive, I just don’t like being grouped with the wackaloons who homeschool their kids because they might be exposed to sex-ed or evolution in school (or to someone pointing out that their deity, as described in his own holy book, appears to be a bit of a prick).

  61. says

    I’m sure that rational folks in Texas will appreciate my “at least one sane person” defense of homeschooling as an educational choice, but I must object to associating homeschooling with ignorance.

    With all do respect, someone decently educated, not locked down in ignorance and stupidity, who **themselves** want to learn, and can comprehend the materials, and are willing to spend the time to create them, when they can’t be found, can do quite well at home schooling. Then… there is the other 90% of them (yeah, pulling the number out of my ass, but still, from what I can see, this is likely not that far off), who don’t have the time, don’t understand the stuff they plan to teach, don’t have a clue how to tell good material from bad, and, maybe, at neck deep in their own idiocies, who, when they go looking for “home school” materials, as the “easy” solution to doing it, are going to find a vast wasteland of so called “education materials, for home schoolers”, which make some of the stuff that the Texas board of education has tried to shove into public text books look sane, enlightened, and well informed.

    So.. Yeah, people who are prepared, and not, already, themselves ignorant of the material, and/or actually know people who will give them good information, can do quite well, and more power to them. The rest.. are lost a sea in a mass of stupidity, and ignorance, and intentional misinformation. If the public school system is a coral reef, near which people are busy arguing whether or not they even “need” a lighthouse, to steer the kids away from bad information, but also how bright, what color, or even where it should be put, some of them with the intent to ship wreck as many as possible, then “home school” materials would be the vast empty space on the map, which says, “Here there be monsters”, and, unfortunately, the “guidance” in such matters is, all too often, a badly drawn map, a broken compass, and a damaged rudder. You are as likely, in the end, to land yourself, with such guides, if you rely on them, in Dumbfuckastan, and in Enlightenland, and, most of them won’t know the difference, or, possibly, why it matters.

    So, yeah.. I am all for well educated people, with access to good information, home schooling. BUT.. this isn’t what most of the people that drag their kids out of schools that they, through inaction, bad action, bad voting, and election of idiots to the school boards, have failed as much as the schools have failed them, are going to “find” when they look for materials. They don’t know what, if anything, is wrong with what the schools use. They don’t know most of the subjects, in some cases, well enough to not just “add” to the problem. And, worse, their is whole industries out their, catering to tell them they are right, about every bloody ignorant thing they “think” is true about the world. They are like alternative medicine buyers. For every one thing out there that actually “might” be useful, there are 500 other people selling the same repackaged, nearly identical, ingredients, along with a special packet of, “Bog government-away.”, which they shake at the state tests, when ever someone comes along and wants to make sure they are teaching their kid the “big lie” that the moon is made of rock and dust, instead of the “truth” that its made of cheese, or at least the logical equivalent of such nonsense, in everything from history, to biology, to math, to science, to… you name it.

    When allowed to do their jobs, teachers, and the people that back them, by producing text books, are “paid” to spend 100% of their time trying to get the best information available, and failing at it, precisely because everyone from politicians, to some moron that wants their kid to believe that Jesus built the statue of liberty, is screwing it up. This is supposed to be replaced with someone that spends maybe 10% of their time (or even vastly less) reviewing materials, the majority of which seem to be made by people that spend 100% of their time “revising” them to including things like how The Flintstones was a documentary, or space aliens created the Grand Canyon, or.. who the heck knows what mines or lying in wait in their self made, not checked for facts, “home school” materials? Somehow.. this just seems like a way to make sure that about 1% of the population has an education, and the other 99% all think that Daffy Duck was once the US President (not to mention far worse things), and the creation of dozens of different “cults” who think, kind of like churches, that their version of biology, or physics, or history, etc. is the “right one”, while everyone else has been misinformed, especially all those damned “experts”, who, obviously, since they disagree with “all” of the versions, are the “most confused” of the lot…

    We can’t fix the problem by walking away from it, and laying out hopes on the small number of people that won’t buy into complete BS, when offered. We fix the problem by fixing the things that are “causing” the problem, which includes bloody stupid BS like not having a national standard, not requiring qualifications for school boards, letting people with MBAs run schools, as businesses, instead of as actual schools, and all the other things that have broken the system. The mob never turns on itself, when things get bad enough. They turn on the people that are doing well. And, it doesn’t matter *why* those people are doing well, just that they are, and the rest “are not”. This is how libraries get burned, at the same time more churches get built. And.. the best we can hope for, ironically, is that when it comes time to burn the library, its the one selling copies of, “Why the dinosaurs didn’t make it onto the Ark.”, not, “Biology 101″.