meep (meep) wrote,

Get out of my head, Mr. Murray!

So yesterday ended Charles Murray's 3-part bit on education.

Part 1: Not all kids can learn up to the same standard in K-12, and a college prep curriculum isn't proper for everyone, and that includes the smart kids. Splash quote: "Half of all children are below average in intelligence, and teachers can do only so much for them."

Part 2: College isn't for everyone, and is mainly a lot of wasted time and money for most people. Splash quote: "Too many Americans are going to college."

Part 3: College should basically go back to traditional liberal arts education, which has a heavy injection of ethics and lessons of the elite as to their obligations to the hoi polloi. Splash quote: "Those with superior intelligence need to learn to be wise."

I have actually been thinking about these issues for a very long time, pretty much since I was a kid in school. When you're not that socially engaged with your age peers, you have plenty of time to observe how the whole system works (as opposed to getting caught up in the whole "socialization" stuff). Also, I sat in on my grandma's special ed class a few times - once when I was about 6, and a couple times when I was much older. As well, when I actually did become social in middle school, I gathered a group of friends who had a great range in academic abilities -- some in remedial classes, and some in the same classes as I was.

Part 1 of Murray's series should be uncontroversial: not everybody can achieve to the same level. Duh. But having seen what happens when people are pigeonholed into college-bound and not-college-bound by admins and teachers who are acting on their own prejudices (high test scores means must be headed for college, even if they're not academically inclined; low test scores means ditch digger), and having seen how low the standards are for most high school exit exams, I have no problem with all students being held to the same standard for some things. A high school diploma should mean something, so I'm for exit exams to get a diploma.

And what about the special education students, like my grandma had, who would probably never get beyond a 3rd grade level in reading? Does it really help them to give them a real high school diploma? Perhaps there can be different types of diplomas, just as college has BAs, BSs, AAs, ASs, and then there's honors and all different majors. So something like that (but simpler) could be used for high school. There can be a generic diploma for a basic level of skills (8th grade level is actually the level for most high school exit exams), and then special add-ons.

And yes, there needs to be a lot more practical education. I got a little taste of it in middle school (home ec and industrial arts -- everybody did it), and I really enjoyed it.

Enough on that.

Part 2, again, has little disagreement for me. At the very least, most people do not need (or really want other than to get certain jobs) four-year degrees. A lot of people end up in nothing majors that do nothing other than signal one has been to college (any identity studies major falls under here.) Many students have no clue what to do because they're teenagers when they go to school and use the first couple years to fully enjoy not being under their parents' thumb without all that pesky responsibility that comes with actually having to work for a living.

My grandfather, who had been an excellent sales guy at IBM, had nothing more than a high school diploma, and picked up all his additional training through IBM. My Aunt Pat, who was running a division at IBM before she died, had done a secretarial course. They would have had a hard time nowadays getting an upwardly mobile job without a four-year degree. Why, pray tell, do salespeople need 4-year degrees? Because, unfortunately, a high school diploma does not indicate one can actually communicate with any facility...and, alas, because of the "College for all!" push, a college degree doesn't indicate that either.

So what to do?

First, I think employers should stop using college degrees as a screener, but rather go for externally-verified credentialling of skills. Luckily, there are all sorts of achievement tests out there, and if there were a large market for stuff like writing tests, business math tests, etc. then they would get developed. My bro-in-law was studying for a Cisco network certification this past weekend and I was studying for my next actuarial exam. It shouldn't require a 4-year degree for this type of stuff. For few professions is there actually any vocational training in one's college/grad school program, and you're going to learn most of the important stuff on the job (and not in a classroom setting). People have said that Griggs v. Duke Power is what made the push into using college degrees as a signal of high intelligence (the ruling said any employment screening needed to be based on skills that related directly to the job, not intelligence tests which would be discriminatory against certain populations.) However, there are achievement tests out there that have to do with well-defined skills: typing, use of various software packages, arithmetic, what have you.

Second, I think the main strength in higher education has been the development of programs for "non-traditional" students. This is likely to be far more productive than dumping a bunch of teenagers into classes where one talks about one's opinions and then get an A for showing up. Oh, and accrue tens of thousands in debt. People who go back at "advanced" ages have a better idea of what subjects they want to take, and what they want to get out of the experience. Also, some are having tuition support from their biz, which requires certain performance results in terms of grades and credit hours (TIAA-CREF does this). Also, I think MBA programs shouldn't require a college degree for entry.

I will talk about his third part later this weekend. A lot of people are reacting to the third one much worse than the first two. And I can think of reasons why people do not like his third bit, and it has to do with a concept that's often sneered at now: duty.

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