The ‘Education’ Mantra

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One of the sad and dangerous signs of our times is how many people are enthralled by words, without bothering to look at the realities behind those words.

One of those words that many people seldom look behind is “education.” But education can cover anything from courses on nuclear physics to courses on baton twirling.

Unfortunately, an increasing proportion of American education, whether in the schools or in the colleges and universities, is closer to the baton twirling end of the spectrum than toward the nuclear physics end. Even reputable colleges are increasingly teaching things that students should have learned in high school.

We don’t have a backlog of serious students trying to take serious courses. If you look at the fields in which American students specialize in colleges and universities, those fields are heavily weighted toward the soft end of the spectrum.

When it comes to postgraduate study in tough fields like math and science, you often find foreign students at American universities receiving more of such degrees than do Americans.

A recent headline in the Chronicle of Higher Education said: “Master’s in English: Will Mow Lawns.” It featured a man with that degree who has gone into the landscaping business because there is no great demand for people with Master’s degrees in English.

Too many of the people coming out of even our most prestigious academic institutions graduate with neither the skills to be economically productive nor the intellectual development to make them discerning citizens and voters.

Students can graduate from some of the most prestigious institutions in the country, without ever learning anything about science, mathematics, economics or anything else that would make them either a productive contributor to the economy or an informed voter who can see through political rhetoric.

On the contrary, people with such “education” are often more susceptible to demagoguery than the population at large. Nor is this a situation peculiar to America. In countries around the world, people with degrees in soft subjects have been sources of political unrest, instability and even mass violence.

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  • happyinfidel

    Sad it is when we want to drag everyone down to the lowest common denominator, rather than look at someone who is actualy successful and asking not, why should they be successful and I am not, rather, wow, look how well they have done, what did they do that worked, so I can learn how to get myself up to that standard rather than bring them down to mine. perhaps thats oversimplistic, but its true non the less. bit like the story of the crabs that drag others back into the cook pot to die by boiling, rather than climb out with them. so what we have here is cooking crabs syndrome.

  • betsp

    The real problems are that these kids have been taught collectivism and given a high level of self-esteem without the credentials to discern truth from fiction. Along comes Obama and the liberal media…these kids are suckers for the historical lies.

    • Jim_C

      So what historical lie caused these legions of brainwashed kids (our kids, after all) to vote for Obama?

      Could it be, maybe, just maybe, they felt he was the best candidate for the job, given the old crank and the bubbleheaded barbie he was running against?

      • betsp

        The historical lie is that redistribution of wealth is a positive basis for society. The lie says capitalism is bad, socialism is good and fair. Kids buy into this unless it involves the concept of sharing their grades or their money. Kids believed the hope and change slogan without understanding what his flawed economic model would mean for them…. the bill.

        Why must liberals always call people names? The 'old crank' was not conservative enough, but he has given more in the name of duty than most of us could ever imagine. You'll be hearing from the 'bubbleheaded barbie' again, I imagine.

  • kblink45

    Education shouldn't be a pulpit. It shouldn't be a license to pontificate. And yet this is exactly what education is today, especially to legions of elites. As a teacher I was once berated by a parent of one of my mathematics students for an email in which I attempted to explain why we were spending a significant amount of time on fractions before introducing decimals. The response I received from this parent was pure vitriol. I was dumbfounded, as I had just received an email from another parent thanking me for explaining what we were up to. And then I reached the end of the email and all was clear. It ended with "I have a master's degree from Harvard, blah, blah, blah…" Apparently decorum isn't required at Harvard. The Ivy league may be the most insidious enemy of the socratic tradition in the West. Why bother to "know thyself" when one has the intellectual equivalent of the king's blood?

    • Jim_C

      I'm not sure I understand–an uppity parent griped to you, and thus "education is a license to pontificate?" And because of this one experience of yours, "The Ivy League may be the most insidious enemy of the socratic tradition in the west?"

      Your post surely flies in the face of the socratic tradition!

      • ajnn

        i think "kblink45" is objecting to a message not of facts but of "pure vitriol".

      • kblink45

        I should have been more precise in saying that there are two major enemies of the socratic tradition today: higher education and scientism. I should have further clarified that what I object to is that higher education, especially when it is obtained from an elite college, is an end point. The aforementioned letter seemed to typify the tendency when questioned to simply point at one's degree…"I refute you thus!" The use of one's education to cow one's adversary is deplorable. If a degree from Harvard is truly worth the paper on which it's printed, its bearer should never have to cite it in an argument. His superiority, or the superiority of his position, should be objectively clear.

        Obama's arrogance derives at least in part from his education. It is probably not a coincidence that the greatest leader America has produced in the last century was a graduate of Eureka College, not Harvard.

    • ebonystone

      The Ivy League schools are simply the Old Bible Belt schools. Harvard, Yale, and the rest were founded to train Protestant ministers. These days they're just teaching a different dogma.

  • tagalog

    The problem began in elementary and high schools, when it became fashionable to demand that the students apply the power of their minds to various issues in order to learn. The problem with that kind of learning is that rote learning was abandoned as too simplistic, forgetting that students can't apply the power of their minds very well when there's no learned set of facts in those minds to think about. It's hard to put your mind to work on an issue when you don't know anything about the issue. It's like trying to rearrange furniture in an empty room.

    In college, beginning in the 1930s and continuing since then, the rise of logical positivism destroyed what was once valued in our society as a "liberal education" and exchanged political indoctrination for it.

    • Jim_C

      I've got two kids in school, and I'm trying real hard to think of any sort of "political indoctrination" they've received.

      Could it be that "political indoctrination" is an easy out for people who don't want to deal with the fact that:

      –we've had to assimilate massive waves of immigrants in the 20th century
      –we're educating kids in a post-industrial information society on the agrarian model
      –a college education is effectively the equivalent of a high school education two generations ago: a necessity for getting a job

      and most importantly:

      –the last 100 years have brought more change, development, and advances to the human race than the previous 500 years together

      • tagalog

        What are your kids studying? Science or one of the arts?

        Mostly my negative view of higher education stems from the elimination of required courses, the abandonment of the freshman-sophomore canon, grade inflation, "norming" the SAT, the focusing on being non-judgmental, and the dumbing-down of the student body on the dated assumption that a college education means a better standard of living later in life.

        We had massive waves of immigration in the United States from the 1840s to the turn of the century, and then again toward the end of the 20th Century. Higher education did not suffer until the politicization of the college student in the 1960s. Most college students then were not immigrants, but white American bourgeois youth. Before the 1960s, the majority of them were male.

        We are not educating our college students on an agrarian model, unless you're talking about summer vacation.

        Yes, a college degree has taken the place once occupied by the high school diploma; that doesn't mean that a college education should be the same as a high school education. Getting your ticket punched isn't quite the same thing as getting an education.

        The century in the West that brought more change, development, and advances to the human race was the century between the 1670s and the 1770s. The last century has largely been an exercise in applying science and engineering to mass slaughter.

        • Jim_C

          But also of enormous advancement, prolonging of life, etc. 'Twas always a double-edged sword.

          I thought you might be talking about earlier education. I think we agree about many of the flaws; I'm saying, look at the symptoms, too. Look at college enrollment prior to the 1960s, and after. Look at today's workplace environment–what they require both in terms of background, body numbers, and (importantly) specialtization. And look at the numbers needed to keep universities operational–including, yes, private ones.

          This is not a "liberal vs. conservative" dilemma, tempting as it is to cast every issue in that light.

          No way you fix higher education without addressing earlier education. And you can't address that until you take a serious look at what has happened since the early 1900s. I think we've moved leaps and bounds beyond thinking "Sit in that chair and memorize this!"

          • tagalog

            Really? How did you learn the multiplication tables? Without knowing them by rote, arithmetic or other higher forms of math would be much more difficult.

  • sedoanman

    “Even reputable colleges are increasingly teaching things that students should have learned in high school….”

    Yes. Take a look at the two bar graphs at the end of this article…. It illustrates a decision guide for the University of Michigan’s affirmative action program. You will note that in the first graph, “Majority” [read: white] applicants, there are only two classifications [besides "Reject"]: “Admit” and “Postpone decision”. The second graph, “Minority” [read: students of color], has a classification, “Admit to remedial program” not available to Majority applicants. Besides the obvious lowering of standards for "Minorities", this clearly illustrates what the author of this article is saying, i.e., why is a top university performing remedial education? That is one of the reasons for community colleges.

    “Students can graduate from some of the most prestigious institutions in the country, without ever learning anything about science, mathematics, economics or anything else that would make them either a productive contributor to the economy…”

    Not only is this true, but those majoring it science, math, etc. are required to take upper division liberal arts courses. For example, my son majored in economics and had to take upper division literature courses in which he had to compete against literature majors. The College of Engineering at UCLA requires its majors to take SIX courses in humanities, THREE of which have to be upper division, but over at its College of Arts and Architecture, its majors can skate by a math requirement by taking a course from a list composed of basically high school math courses, or satisfy the requirement with a sufficient math SAT score.

    How can a person call himself "educated" without at least one course in college level calculus and physics?

    • tagalog

      For what it's worth, when I went to college, we arts majors were required to take both physics and college-level algebra (today, calculus would probably be more up-to-date; a decent liberal arts teacher could bring in Leibniz and Newton for the philosophical background). I studied (some) science in college into my junior year as a requirement for the arts curriculum I was in (English Lit. major, History/Philosophy minor). I guess they don't do that anymore. Too bad. I developed a liking for nuclear physics and I still read popular, simplified, treatments of quantum mechanics, cosmology, and the history of Western science to this day. When I retire, I plan to study the math and develop a greater mastery of physics. I had very poor grades in physics in college, being artsy-fartsy and all that.

      • sedoanman

        You might be interested in "The Science Before Science: A Guide to Thinking in the 21st Century" by Dr. Anthony Rizzi.

  • StephenD

    Tag and Sedo, you guys need to take to heart what Jim C is going through with his kids now (our future leaders). As this article points out we have lawn mowers w/Masters degrees. What this article also pointed out is what happens or at least what a society is susceptible to when the education they receive is as useless as ours is heading. Scary stuff for the future of our country.

  • Texasron

    Washington DC is an example of what's wrong with the education of our children. Incompetent teachers were fired by Rhee when she was in charge. She was removed from her position and the teachers rehired. This is Affirmative Action in practice.

    Vouchers were also eliminated so children have to attend poor schools. That's so union teachers continue to be paid.

  • Jim_C

    No, they haven't–there's always been students of varying levels of performance. The major difference is that the low-performing students could still get an honorable, family-supporting job when they graduated high school. And their focus was making sure their kids did whatever their teachers asked of them, so they would have it better.

    And in a large part, they succeeded. And we are dealing with that success as a nation of specialists rather than "generalists."

  • Zexufang

    Eliminate government subsidies for college education.
    This will stop taxpayers from supporting frivolous college education; and it will force colleges to hold down costs.
    I say this because for every increase in government educational dollars there is a college bureaucrat in need of a bigger paycheck… or office.

    have too spend their own money – they will

  • Regina

    I grew up with the word education being hammered into me..(liberal parent) the other was more religious. We went to both private and public schools..none of us were sucess stories. Then one day, I had a spiritual transformation along with the sudden discovery of what a real foundation was.
    I bumped into someone the other day who has a son in his early twenties . He hangs out in town bumming money off people. His mom says to me "if he'd just go to school and get an education". I said, you think that's the answer to everything? That will get him off drugs, out of his tree house and will give him an insentive to stop hitting people up? Sure..then it should transform perverts and thieves too? Education is not the first brick you lay down. I just glanced up at (Hillary welcomes global gun ban- sign the petition)..well you know what, that woman would of been better off at home making brownies. Those two are educated fools-

  • Regina

    I didn't say the rest about the tree house to her..just you (lol)

  • KathleenP

    Studies in English Literature used to be focused upon preparing people to teach English at the high school or college level. Traditionally they have been far more rigorous and demanding than most of the trendy new "disciplines" like sociology and gender studies which are truly useless. Of course all that's changing now as the field has become appallingly politicized, as I discovered myself in graduate school. I slogged through and came out of it with a Master's Degree in English Literature, and no, I'm not mowing lawns, although on some bad teaching days I feel it wouldn't be a bad alternative.

  • jgo

    Incentives. Economists have to look at incentives. Fewer US citizens go into STEM fields because they see that brilliant grandpa Joe and aunt Frieda haven’t been able to keep good jobs in these fields, and 4 years after graduation, bright cousin Ben is still unemployed. The NSF knew that this would be the case when they were lobbying, back in the 1980s, to set the situation up: “A growing influx of foreign PhDs into U.S. labor markets will hold down the level of PhD salaries to the extent that foreign students are attracted to U.S. doctoral programs as a way of immigrating to the U.S.A. A related point is that for this group the PhD salary premium is much higher [than it is for Americans], because it is based on BS-level pay in students’ home nations versus PhD-level pay in the U.S.A… [If] doctoral studies are failing to appeal to a large (or growing) percentage of the best citizen baccalaureates, then a key issue is pay… A number of [the Americans] will select alternative career paths… For these baccalaureates, the effective premium for acquiring a PhD may actually be negative.”

  • jgo

    “the mean literacy test score for U.S. adults (272) was 2 points above the mean for all adults in the 20 country survey (270)… Larger, statistically significant, literacy gaps between us and them unfold when you separate immigrant from native-born test takers, as is done in 17 high income countries surveyed by ETS. U.S. natives scored 8 points above the average native of the 17 high income countries. U.S. immigrants scored 16 points below the average immigrant in the 17 countries.” — Edwin S. Rubenstein 2005-12-22 _V Dare_ “The stupid American? Think again”

  • Ozzy

    Hey, the Left says it's the police, the Right says it's the Teachers.
    What a pack of howling apes.