Education Solves Everything? Err, Not So Fast

Ross Douthat writes an excellent, wise blog called The American Scene, a right-leaning take on politics and culture.

Ross reminds us today that education is not everything; it certainly is not the cure-all for our economic anxieties people like to make it out to be. As Ross notes, it’s a sexy line: "We need to make college graduation a universal aspiration for everyone."

Not so fast.

Here’s Clive Crook in the Atlantic ($), in which he smartly argues that a college education will increase your enlightenment but not necessarily your productivity, especially as the social signaling value of a degree decreases since the total number of degrees are increasing.

Crook notes:

For countless other jobs that once required little or no formal academic training—preschool teacher, medical technician, dental hygienist, physical-therapy assistant, police officer, para­legal, librarian, auditor, surveyor, software engineer, financial manager, sales manager, and on and on—employers now look for a degree. In some of these instances, in some jurisdictions, the law requires one. All of these occupations are, or soon will be, closed to nongraduates.

Dental hygienists and physical therapists need bachelor degrees? Please. What society is missing, according to Crook, are not more wannabe intellectuals but folks who posses specialized skills in specialized industries, skills that can be acquired quicker and less expensively than at a conventional liberal arts school. Here’s my earlier post mentioning why it’s a pity vocational schools aren’t more respected.

Crook concludes:

The most valuable attribute for young people now entering the workforce is adaptability. This generation must equip itself to change jobs readily, and the ability to retrain, whether on the job or away from the job, will be crucial. The necessary intellectual assets are acquired long before college, or not at all. Aside from self-discipline and the capacity to concentrate, they are preeminently the core-curriculum skills of literacy and numeracy.

2 comments on “Education Solves Everything? Err, Not So Fast
  • Random anecdote:

    My parents and I were in the Philippines talking with a formerly-estranged uncle and his family of seven kids. My uncle’s been in and out of prison and my aunt’s a peanut seller, so they rely on my dad for a lot of their living expenses.

    The eldest daughter in that family wants to start her own business – a little roadside cafeteria. My dad asked her how much money it would take. She said “A college degree”.

    In the Philippines, not only do you need a college degree to work in a cafeteria degree these days, you even need a college degree to work at a department store (don’t know if it is a requirement per se, but the competition is that intense). Everyone has a college degree, but none of the jobs are high paying. The smart ones get to work in call centers. And a very very small percentage get out of the country to become nurses and doctors.

    I think it’s crazy.

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