Trying To Find A Good Analogy For The Horrific Failure Of America’s Colleges Being Accompanied By The Myth That A College Degree Is Essential

Great. What is it you think you did???

Great. What is it you think you did???

This latest example of a “Look! College grads are too ignorant to come in out of the rain!” survey” isn’t entirely surprising to me, but it is infuriating in a new way. Usually I react to such things with intensified contempt for the grads themselves, their lack of intellectual curiosity, their failure to meet the barest of requirements for competent citizenship. I still feel that way, but my disgust has refocused on other miscreants: the schools themselves, but most of all, the shills for continuing the myth that a college education is not only indispensable for personal and professional success, but worth beggaring the nation to ensure that everyone obtains one.

From a press release of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (and one which was ignored by the news media so they could spend all their time giving Donald Trump free publicity. That’s incredibly incompetent, but hey, the news media is run by college grads, so what do you expect?):

College Graduates Don’t Know Basic Facts About the Constitution

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 8, 2015 — The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) today released a survey that shows how little college graduates and the general public know about the Constitution.

According to the study, nearly 10% of college graduates think Judith Sheindlin — commonly known as Judge Judy — is on the Supreme Court; one-third of college graduates can’t identify the Bill of Rights as a name given to a group of Constitutional amendments; and 32% believe that Representative John Boehner is the current president of the U.S. Senate. Shockingly, 46% of college grads don’t know the election cycle — six years for senators, two years for representatives. Turning to the general population, the report finds that over half (54%) of those surveyed cannot identify the Bill of Rights accurately, and over 1 in 10 (11%) of those ages 25–34 believe that the Constitution must be reauthorized every four years….

Parallel with this development, which has been proceeding in plain view for decades, the primary candidates for the Democratic nomination have been calling for college to be free for all,  Hillary Clinton believes (or says—who knows what she believes, if anything) that the US should add 350 billion dollars to its already dangerous debt over the next decade to pay for bad higher education for everyone; Sanders’ proposal is more than twice as much. (Sanders’ policy proposals, so far, would cost an estimated 18 trillion dollars.)

This kind of irresponsible advocacy is accompanied by standard paeans, from all segments of the culture, to the value of a college degree. Not a college education, mind you: the value of education, once understood to be a virtue itself, has been subsumed by statistics showing how much easier it is to find good jobs and high paying careers if you have a piece of paper certifying that you have completed a lousy college education, because everyone knows that the lousy education provided in high school is next to worthless.

What to we have? We have a mandatory credential that no longer is a reliable evidence of the reason the credential is considered a credential,  priced at a level that would be unconscionable if the credential meant what it purports to, but is obscene to the point of fraud and theft for what the credential actually signifies (that is, nothing). Despite the abundant evidence that the credential is worthless, it is still blindly treated by employers and society as if it is still meaningful, in part because those treating it as such have similar fraudulent credentials, and similarly empty educational experiences. Thus the institutions of higher learning are permitted to charge more and more for their defective product, while trusting students and their parents cripple their finances and life options for decades so young adults can spend four years learning next to nothing of worth, while being indoctrinated into extreme ideologies.

Is that an unfair assessment? Tell me how. Certainly many graduate from college with sufficient knowledge and critical thinking skills to make their degrees more than false advertising. These people, however, could almost certainly and would almost certainly learn just as much without college, at far less expenditure of time and money, because they are motivated, have intellectual curiosity, and have been properly raised and acculturated by their families.

Who are the villains in this societal death-spiral scenario, besides the students themselves? Pretty much everybody:

The culture, which no longer elevates knowledge, intellectual inquiry, speaking, writing and erudition as respected values.

Scholars and intellectuals, who isolated themselves from popular culture and became irrelevant and faintly ridiculous

Policymakers, who confused employability, a beneficial byproduct of education which should be its own reward, with the goal of education, leading to the gradual marginalizion of the real goal of education—learning.

Educators, who put up weak or ineffectual defenses to this fatal concept

College administrators, who began thinking of their jobs as part of a profitable business rather than a society-serving profession.

…The Public School System, which through its own collapse churned out generations of students who could not survive a traditional, rigorous college education.

Employers, who lazily and blindly accepted degrees as a substitute for actual proof of competence and ability, while passing over competent and able individuals without the degrees.

College sports, which warp the budgets and attention of alumni and the schools while symbolizing the lack of respect for learning over other pursuits in alleged institutions of higher learning.

…Affirmative action and diversity ideology, which first, forced schools to accept students who were not qualified for admission for reasons unrelated to education; second, warped admission standards and principals of fairness to do so; third, dropped academic standards and requirements to allow unqualified students to graduate, since affirmative action would be pointless if the students accepted without sufficient ability flunked right out again. It is not that just minority graduates often have degrees that do not really prove that they have the skills and knowledge the credential seems to signify. All students receive similarly fruadulent degrees. The result is “educated” professionals like Shirley Malone-Fenner, the ex-Wheelock College vice-president in charge of academic affairs, who plagiarized a simple letter because she lacked the skill to write one herself.

Parents and families that do not meet their traditional responsibility to educate their own children, relying instead on under-qualified teachers in incompetent public schools, in part because the parents lack basic education and critical reasoning skills themselves. No books in the home, no substantive conversation between adults and children, no debates, no tales of history and national tradition, no exploration of current affairs in the home, waning conversation skills and sloppy vocabulary—all of this and more makes the jobs of  all but the most gifted teachers impossible, guaranteeing that by the time the students reach college, they are too intellectually and educationally handicapped to complete any college education regimen of value.

…Politicians, the news media and celebrities on public service announcements ignoring the reality of college education to perpetuate a non-existant ideal that masks the problem and excuses the society from addressing it.

The latter is the most  remarkable. What is a good analogy for a situation where an entire society is in thrall to a complete delusion that is documented and obvious, and yet continues to reject reality and enable the delusion? A useful one would have to be of similar society-wide significance. That eliminates “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” I’m open to suggestions. The Holland Tulip Craze, perhaps? American slavery?

What happens, as in those cases, when we wake up and asks, “Oh, God, what have we done?”

What happens if we don’t?

__________________

Sources: ACTAWall Street Journal,

 

55 thoughts on “Trying To Find A Good Analogy For The Horrific Failure Of America’s Colleges Being Accompanied By The Myth That A College Degree Is Essential

  1. Until the Bachelor Degree bubble bursts, I won’t openly tell my children not to go to college, but I will certainly let them know that the current state of affairs in higher education is abysmal and quite frankly, not necessary for the vast majority of disciplines (especially not after you factor in likely debt vs likely payoff).

  2. I agree that the college scene is abysmal. However, I will gladly encourage my children to attend my alma mater, St. John’s College, while also emphasizing the need to obtain some sort of marketable skill.
    -Jut

  3. Okay, here’s an analogy; the people of the village of Auschwitz, who claimed, about the camp less than 2 miles outside of their town, “We didn’t know what was going on there”.

    • They probably didn’t know, because they had learned a wider if shallower truth: that there were many things it was dangerous to find out in that time and place.

      In support of this, I can offer something I read in a book on Treblinka. A German woman and her children were travelling in a carriage in the same stopping train as carriages with Jews headed to Treblinka as their final destination. The woman accidentally forgot to get off at her stop and stayed on until the end, where she asked the guards in the dummy station for assistance. The guards were so scared of getting her out because the details weren’t widely known that they just processed her and her children like all the others.

      When I told this to a Jewish friend of mine, he laughed.

  4. Shouldn’t those kids have learned the answers to those questions in high school? Or grade school? THAT’S depressing. Who takes basic civics in college? What colleges TEACH basic civics in college?

    I remember as a little kids my brother and I having copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights that had been printed on yellowed, faux sheepskin or vellum. I must have been pretty young because I remember being a little amazed such an old, important document would come into our family’s hands.

    My mother also offered to pay my brother and me a dollar if we would memorize the names of the presidents (through Eisenhower- hah). I was too lazy but my brother did so and got his dollar.

    Educating and raising kids is a complicated task that requires generations of caring parenting (and not a fucking village).

  5. I really saw the degradation of higher ed when we built too many schools. We built junior colleges. The presidents of these colleges wanted more prestige and lobbied until they became state colleges. The state colleges then wanted to become state universities. The state universities wanted to become research schools. The research schools then wanted to expand to keep their place on top in the state university system. Funding is per students, so everyone wants to increase enrollment to increase the amount of money they have. Then we had no junior colleges left, so we had to build new ones to replace the ones we turned into state colleges. Society is under the illusion that all children need to go to college instead of the reality that people who want a career that requires a college education need to go to college, so they feel that enlarging the colleges is a good, not a disastrous idea. Now, we have too many colleges for the number of college ready students. No one is willing to admit that we have too many schools, so the answer is to attract students who aren’t ready for college. Once they are accepted, they need to be retained to retain funding. Couple this with the illusion that everyone can succeed, FERPA that makes it OK to have bad grades at school because no one will know it, and an education establishment that believes in a cooperative rather than a competitive academic environment and you have a disaster.

    In this atmosphere, the question remains, how can a quality college survive? A quality college needs quality students and it needs students to pay money to go. Quality students get full ride scholarships to major state schools because they are so far above the preparation level of the average student. That means that any quality institution has to be small, because you aren’t going to attract many quality students to pay money for an education they can get for free somewhere else. Being small makes it expensive (Catch 22). You also have the problem that the students at your quality institution hear from their friends elsewhere that the coursework is so much easier elsewhere and many of them will transfer. It is hard to convince an 18 year old that it is worth it to work hard for a C in calculus I when they know they could work half as much and get an A at “Flagship State University”. It is worse when they realize that a degree from “Unknown Quality U.” doesn’t get them a job because a college’s academic reputation is determined by the NCAA football rankings.

    We have systematically destroyed our academic system because we didn’t have the guts to tell some students that they failed. We found that an equality of opportunity does not result in an equality of outcomes and we weren’t strong enough to handle that truth. We wanted to ignore reality and we have turned our education system into the equivalent of a Soviet potato harvest. That is actually a good analogy because it is the same communistic process that ignored the realities of the situation in favor of centralized ideology-led policies that resulted in both failures.

        • I’ll go further than that: all of that stuff should be learned in the home.

          But it should also be impossible for a student to get through high school or college without having that knowledge reinforced many times, no matter what the student’s major is.

          • No doubt. It should come from the parents First. But then again, I think all passed on values should come from the parents 1st and reinforced by others or in the case of specific education, expounded on by others.

            I heard somewhere that within a community, for the values taught by parents to be instilled enough for a child to take them seriously as adults it takes something like 4-5 other adults *from that community* to actively promote those values *within the confines* of a personal relationship with that particular child.

              • Yeah, I actually had included an entire paragraph in conclusion regarding Hillary’s stupid comment.

                “It takes a village to raise a child.” On it’s face and with no attached baggage, the comment actually isn’t far from the truth. But only so long as we caveat that “village” should be read as “community with shared values” and we also know that those involved need to be in personal relationships with the particular children. Unfortunately, for Hillary, those relationships we know are impossible from the bureaucratic nanny-state administrators/adjuncts that we also know are trapped in the baggage of a comment like that coming from a Leftist. We can remotely create those relationships with the best teacher-student relationships, but those are only shadows of what is needed in a community.

                I decided to leave the paragraph out (which was worded better than that) to avoid a discussion on Hillary. Silly me.

                • You missed the smiley winky face.

                  And it might shock you to know that I agree with you. I am leftist in the sense that I believe in better funding for schools, after-school programs and the like, but without a strong and stable family environment, most kids will still fall through the cracks.

          • My wife and I have taken it upon ourselves to find and teach age-appropriate material on the Constitution, and the basics of our constitutional republic form of government, to our babies, ages 3 and 6. It seems like these subjects are just as taboo these days as sex ed was in the 70’s.

            • Ten years from now, you’ll probably be put on a terror watch list for being a purveyor of subversive literature for teaching such things. I’m only half-joking.

    • Absolutely. But college should also create an environment where, if you didn’t, you will. To name just one way it must: college is supposed to teach critical thinking and intellectual breadth and curiosity. You should learn to read the newspapers, surf the internet, know about current events and your own country, and absolutely, no one should graduate without taking a history or political science course. One should have to learn the basics before daring to take crap divisive, indoctrinating, navel-gazing crap like “gender studies” and “Black studies,” because a student is helpless without some core values and civic comprehension.

      • It depends on the purpose of college, correct? You were just saying how proud you are of your son for not going to college. Presumably, that’s because it is not needed for him. So, the entirety of his education — including the Constitution — needs to have happened by now. (My brother also didn’t go to college and is doing quite well.)

        So, if college is not needed for a large class of people, the rest of the population who does attend go presumably is doing so for the purpose of employment. There are certain degrees (medicine, engineering, software development, fine arts — just to name a few) that do not require a daily working knowledge of the Constitution.

        “You should learn to read the newspapers, surf the internet, know about current events and your own country, and absolutely, no one should graduate without taking a history or political science course.” I agree with you — but those skills should have been obtained before college. My kids better NOT be learning to surf the internet in college — that’s a middle school skill. For me, unless you are studying history, political science, or philosophy, the purpose of college should be to further employment opportunities (if required for your desired occupation), not to do a deeper dive into the Constitution.

        Now, I will take this opportunity to give a shout out to my public lower education. While it was crappy in many areas (science and math), it rocked when it came to writing, history, and government. We were required to recite — word for word — every Amendment in the 8th grade, in addition to explaining each part of the Constitution.

  6. That ACTA release also points out that universities are protesting mandatory education for their students about the Constitution, and that only 17% of universities require a civics or government course. Why would you waste time learning about how the government works when real knowledge comes from understanding how to fight the patriarchy and white privilege?

  7. I’ll bet every one of the students who don’t know anything about the constitution DO know every way there is to get grants, loans and free goodies from the government. It’s a matter of motivation.

  8. Rather loosely connected somewhere in here, of course, are also the following considerations:

    The creation of whole fields of study – particularly many of the social sciences – which consist of 98% theory and opinion, 2% research, and 0% conclusions.

    The subjectivist mindset that there is no such thing as established fact, which makes teaching history and other fact-based fields useless.

    The fact that student debt is non-dischargable via bankruptcy.

    High School Guidance Councillors and their ilk, pressuring the graduating students to take the leap.

    The stubborn insistence in the minds of many that things have not changed – that it is still possible to get a part time job, work your way through college, and get a semi-decent paying job upon graduating, and that anyone who chooses an alternate path is defective in some way; either too lazy to work, willing to live off of student loans, unwilling to put in the time to move up in a company, and/or are used to living outside their means.

    And the bizarrely stubborn notion that white-collar jobs somehow make one more respectable than a blue-collar trade.

    As for analogies, My mind goes to Charles Ponzi for perfidy, and Social security for scope. Maybe mix in a dash of Christian Science , too.

  9. Bernie Sanders’ budget for “free college for all”, in dollars, comes in at just under half of the best estimate for the number of cells (including neural and blood cells) in the average human body. Just to give you a sense of scale.

  10. I’ve been watching Judge Judy for many years in the summer when I’m home at the time her show airs. One of the recent phenomenon is the number of young deadbeats who claim to be college students. This seems to be the only difference between the new and the older deadbeats.
    I think college may be the new place to live out your life on welfare. None seem to be full time students and none have jobs.

  11. … Certainly many graduate from college with sufficient knowledge and critical thinking skills to make their degrees more than false advertising. These people, however, could almost certainly and would almost certainly learn just as much without college, at far less expenditure of time and money, because they are motivated, have intellectual curiosity, and have been properly raised and acculturated by their families.

    I think that would be true if they still had opportunities to rub up against others like themselves and get feedback from others who were further along. Of course, they’re not getting that now, but that’s the principle behind tutorials and supervisions at universities in other times and places, and also an intended benefit to university life generally.

    Aren’t “principals of fairness” more a matter for the school system?

    … The result is “educated” professionals like Shirley Malone-Fenner, the ex-Wheelock College vice-president in charge of academic affairs, who plagiarized a simple letter because she lacked the skill to write one herself.

    That is not evidence of lack the skill but rather of unwillingness, possibly proceding from a combination of presumed impunity and general laziness. She did, after all, research her several sources (“to steal from one is plagiarism, to steal from many is research”, as someone whose name I forget once put it).

    The latter is the most remarkable. What is a good analogy for a situation where an entire society is in thrall to a complete delusion that is documented and obvious, and yet continues to reject reality and enable the delusion? A useful one would have to be of similar society-wide significance. That eliminates “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” I’m open to suggestions. The Holland Tulip Craze, perhaps? American slavery?

    I think you should accept U.S. exceptionalism as an example. (Think about the implications if you and other readers don’t, or if you do – there are a couple that occur to me off hand.)

  12. It probably used to be worth it in terms that students pursuing a masters degree or a doctorate had to learn to carefully analyze data to succeed in their professions. Unfortunately the pc crap came into favor and department heads had to toe the line in order for their departments to get necessary funding. I confess that I really didn’t know much about the constitution as I was not required to take any classes in it and I naively assumed that the American system of government would protect my rights.

  13. I’d go with the housing bubble, myself, but the 1929 stock market crash and the Dust Bowl are close contenders. Too easy to be sustainable, but everyone thinks only a schmuck wouldn’t take advantage.

    It’s an education bubble: everyone is getting what they want supposedly for free, but they’re practically building cities on promises that can’t be kept, and when that becomes undeniable, everyone suffers from withdrawal as they’re forced to compensate for living beyond their means, overclocking the economy. Or we go full Atlas Shrugged and the people who know how to complain will attempt to bureaucratically enslave the people who know how to actually do anything.

    You make a fairly comprehensive enumeration of the villains, but what of the heroes? I know I’m not the only one working against this death-spiral.

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