Comment Of The Day: “Christmas Ethics Stocking Stuffers, 12/25/21,” Item #3, The ACLU And Canceling Student Loan Debts

Activists And Musicians Gather At The White House To Greet The Staff With Joyful Music And A Demand To Cancel Student Debt

I have a frightening backlog of posts and topics (especially after getting the bare minimum up during the traditional Christmas Traffic Crash,though in 2021 the whole year has been something of a crash, but “that way madness lies”), but this Comment of the Day by the ever-provocative and reasonable Extradimensional Cephalopod pushed it’s way to the front of the line on sheer merit.

Here is his/its (EC had never specified his pronouns, and for that I am grateful) COTD on yesterday’s collection of notes, specifically #3 on the ALCU pimping for student loan forgiveness:


I think the whole “student debt” issue should be re-framed.

Q1: Why do so many people need to go to college?

A1a: To learn how to think, in theory.
Rejoinder to A1: They should be learning to think in primary and secondary schools, and in their families and communities.
A1b: To get jobs that require college degrees.

From A1b:
Q2: Why do they need jobs that require college degrees?

A2a: So they don’t have to live in poverty.
Rejoinder to A2a: Something’s wrong with the economy if a person can work a full-time job, college degree or no, and not be able to earn a modest living. We might want to investigate and address the factors that cause that. For all we know, it could be we’re really that overpopulated, or automation really is replacing human jobs.
A2b: So that their community can have voices and influence among the rich and powerful.
Rejoinder to A2b: The rich and powerful already have undue influence, in my opinion; I’m not sure that changing their demographics is going to benefit anyone. A better version of my hypothetical answer is that it would enable members of a community who reach a higher socioeconomic status to mentor and connect other members of their community, increasing social mobility for the entire community. I can get behind that. If we know that’s what we want, there’s many ways to do that.

Q3: Why do so many jobs require college degrees?

A3: They don’t, but education inflation means it’s convenient to select for people who have college degrees over people who don’t. Most of the degrees aren’t even directly relevant for the work people end up doing.
Addendum to A3: Maybe we should have a way of identifying what core skills we want people to know and how they can build on them in different directions or adapt them to various purposes. That way people will be prepared for multiple types of career.
Addendum to addendum to A3: Picking up the basics of a new field isn’t hard enough to justify the expense of a college degree anymore, in my opinion; it’s calibrating those skills to effectively apply them to problems in that field that’s the difficult part. People barely get that calibration from college anyway, in my experience, so I’m not sure what the big deal about college is. Online courses seem to have have become as effective as college, if not more. Once a person has got the basics, they have to calibrate them on the job like anyone else. Companies failing to mentor their employees is another story…

In short, once again humans are arguing about how much money to throw at a problem when they don’t have a clear idea of how the solution is supposed to work or even what a desired outcome would look like. So much human potential is locked up in conflicts where people don’t understand what anyone wants, including themselves.

I’m going to have to step in so people can at least learn how to talk about how to run a civilization. Then we can start collaborating on the messy details.

7 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Christmas Ethics Stocking Stuffers, 12/25/21,” Item #3, The ACLU And Canceling Student Loan Debts

  1. This is spot on. My degree is in Liberal Arts with a major in political science and a minor in international studies. I have not used any of it in any job I’ve ever had, though it probably helped me get the jobs that have increasingly paid me more and given me better as I’ve gotten older.

    We have commoditized college educations to the point where they are virtually useless in identifying qualified candidates, especially since the quality of the education itself is questionable.

    I’m not sure what the solution is, but it should probably start with working to change this country’s attitude about education and what it should accomplish. We’ve never really valued education in America so it’s not surprising we put a price tag on it and those who get that piece of paper nor is it surprising that parental support has rarely been overwhelmingly favorable toward those responsible for facilitating the education.

    It’s just not part of our culture to value learning for the sake of learning.

  2. Adults spent at least a generation telling teenagers that if they got a college degree they would be able to get a good job making good money. The teenagers dutifully went and did as they were told, and then discovered that the vast majority of college degrees are actually worthless pieces of paper that get them jobs working as department managers at Target. Now those people are deep in debt working jobs that barely pay more than minimum wage and they are ticked off and demanding someone fix it.

    The economy is one root cause, and the lie is another. The lie needs to stop immediately. Tell the teenagers the truth, most college degrees are worthless. Putting yourself deep in debt to get a degree in history, psychology, English or French literature is not going to get you anything but an expensive piece of paper. That piece of paper will be worthless unless you get even more expensive pieces of paper and the cost isn’t worth it. The shotgun approach to college degrees needs to end.

    Some degrees get you specific good paying jobs, but if you don’t actually want to do that job, you shouldn’t buy those pieces of paper either.

    Instead of mindlessly shoving all the teenagers towards college, have the teenagers actually think about what they want to do with their lives. If they don’t know, tell them they don’t need to go to college until they do. If they know, discuss whether what they want to do actually needs a degree and only go spend the money if the job they want needs one and it’s financially worth it.

    Then take a good hard look at the economy and the bigger problem of there not being enough good paying jobs and who most of the available jobs are going to. In a lot of cases the jobs are available but Americans cannot have them because they are filled by foreign staffing agencies who won’t hire Americans.

    Paying off people’s loans won’t fix any of this.

  3. I’m going to take the other side of this argument. I don’t think colleges need to become trade schools. Maybe I’ve been reading too much Dickens lately. (“Little Doritt” is a REALLY LONG book.) But I think there’s still something in our culture to being, to use a now quaint term, a gentleman.

    It was always understood without even having to be said that my brother and I would have to at least get an undergraduate degree to have obtained the minimum amount of education acceptable. Neither of our parents were able to attend college because they came down with tuberculosis aged sixteen and eighteen, respectively. But their healthy siblings all obtained undergraduate and even some graduate degrees.

    There was an opinion piece in my college’s student newspaper late in the spring of our final year. One of my classmates, as was I, an English major, suddenly realized a B.A. in English wasn’t worth much of anything in terms of getting a job and complained vociferously about the situation. He should have known better. English was a popular major at my college, but there were also lots of pre-meds and science guys and economics guys. They were all headed to medical schools or sales jobs for General Foods or investment banking at Goldman Sachs or MBAs from Wharton. But I think I understood college was for me little more than finishing school.

    A very witty family friend always bemoaned the fact her physician doctor neighbor, like most of his peers, was a competent physician but not terribly educated as far as she was concerned. There’s more to being a human being than having a skill set.

    So, when I all of a sudden had a family to support (Mrs. OB was abandoned by her husband and pregnant when I met her), I worked as a mail room clerk and messenger at the Sears “credit central” in Lynn, Mass and literally trotted to Boston and trotted to Lynn. That didn’t make much money. I then taught grade school and then high school for a total of two and half years, at which point I concluded I didn’t want to spend my life benefiting other peoples’ kids and punishing mine. So, I went to law school, while Mrs. OB learned assembler programming and rode that wave through her forty-year work career at American Express and then IBM. By the way, she obtained her undergraduate degree along the way, and it never had much effect on her career. She just wanted to obtain a degree. But she does think a college degree of any sort helped her get into senior management, just as a matter of respect.

    So, I guess my idea of the worth of a college degree is a little skewed. A BA in English is good prep for law school to a certain extent. If you can explicate a poem, you can certainly read a case and figure out what it means. I don’t hold as high an opinion of a liberal arts degree as did the famed Economics prof at my college who bragged his students “didn’t learn anything in particular at the college, but they did learn how to learn anything.” (The school also prided itself on teaching students how to write. Hah. I learned how to write while grading a hundred-and-fifty two-page ninth grade student compositions on Sunday afternoon, seeing every common mistake a hundred times over. That and reading Harvard Law Review articles when figuring out how to edit law review articles submitted by faculty at other law schools who really hadn’t learned how to write.)

    I wouldn’t trade my four years of college for anything. It gave me a chance to grow up. It was incredibly intellectually stimulating and perhaps the high point of my life. As a college buddy who went on to the University of Chicago law school said, studying law is about as engaging as reading the warranty on your toaster oven.

    Both our kids graduated from college. Our history major son went into journalism as an autodidact and has done well and is a PR expert for local restaurants. Our daughter obtained a masters in linguistics with Deborah Tannen at Georgetown and is a teacher turned administrator in adult education. Hers is certainly a job requiring credentials. Our son’s, perhaps not. But both our kids knew they needed to at least get an undergraduate degree before they were done. (Our son learned the hard way. He flunked out of the University of Miami and then had what we call his “Blimpie’s” semester when he learned working minimum wage is no way to go through life. He was back at school that summer.) And by the way, our daughter-in-law is a vice president of marketing and makes a quarter of a million dollars a year and she does NOT have a college degree of any kind.

    For people who say you can’t get a job unless you go to college, that’s nuts. Over the road truck drivers make over a hundred thousand dollars a year, and I’m pretty darned sure that’s less stressful than practicing law. There are still all sorts of trades. There’s still computer programming. A college education may be a luxury but it’s a good thing if you can get it. But it’s simply not required. But one does have to get off one’s ass and work at something and get good at it regardless of whether you have a college degree or not. Which is as it should be.

    And, my brother and I also had great parents. Two of them.

  4. Have a look at where the jobs are. We used to need most of us in the fields producing food or making things – building roads or making pots and pans. In much of the world we’ve used a lot of resources slaughtering each other. None of these activities look like growth areas for employment. Machines, robots and AI have made most of us redundant.

    I blame my mother and her generation of kill-joys. As she lectured me remorselessly: ‘The Devil finds work for idle hands to do”. So, scared of, and ill equipped for the luxury of true leisure, we herded ourselves into soulless cubicles where we can torment each other, with demands for quite unnecessary work. Many of us may have ‘slept at home’; but we ‘lived at the office’.

    When I started work 50 years ago, keeping the books for an insurance company was pretty hard. It took at least six months to add up all the records and work out the reserves, and all through that period there was the inconvenience of having to keep the business running – new business, constant enquiries, and claims. Records were misfiled and lost. Instructions were misunderstood. Clerical errors were rife. Everything had to be done and checked manually.

    And now with modern computer systems we can (or should be able to) do all of this overnight, on multiples bases, and with comprehensive analyses.

    But unlike what happened with the mechanisation of agriculture, we haven’t decreased the workforce in financial services. We have simply found more to do.

    A future of increasing leisure is clearly achievable, and maybe inevitable. Making such a future positive for all will be a massive challenge, and not only for the education sector.

  5. Speaking of my career as a nurse anesthetist. The first step was to become a registered nurse. You went to a hospital-based nursing school to do that. Time- 2 years of hands-on experience. Then you attended a 2-year course of study, mostly hands-on experience, in anesthesia to be certified. Since then the entry degree for nursing is now a bachelor’s degree ( years). To gain entry to anesthesia school you need 2-3 years of ICU experience, the entry-level education became a Master’s degree (3-4 years) for a while. It is now a doctorate degree adding another year of ‘research’. The research projects are in actuality article reviews, they add little to the actual art and science of anesthesia.
    When I retired (2014) I was working alongside the newly minted doctorate-prepared anesthetist. We all did the same job with the same outcomes. Most of their income was spent paying off 100-200,00 dollar student debts. I have seen this phenomenon in other health care areas such as physical therapy and pharmacy.

  6. Another observation. On a recent trip to the middle east, I learned that the “Beduin” who offer you rides on their camels or a chance to take a picture with one of their camels earn 6 figures annually.

  7. Thanks, Jack! Glad I could help!

    As far as redesigning the education system goes, there are some basic skills like reading, writing, and arithmetic that most people agree are essential, along with skills that aren’t yet taught in schools like finance and social skills. Other basic competencies may vary by local or regional community.

    No matter where a person lives, though, there are some basic concepts that they need to be aware of, and which will help them figure out what they want to do with their life and how to do it effectively.

    All human problems boil down to four fundamental liabilities. What sort of problem does a student want to help people deal with? Do they want to alleviate scarcity? Prevent or respond to disaster? Shake people out of stagnation? Resolve conflicts? Or maybe they want to help people enjoy life by fulfilling one or more of eight basic motivations? I think these questions are worth asking when people are looking at careers, but they’re not the only factors.

    What mindsets does the student like using? Which ones they have an affinity for? That will inform how they like to solve problems and therefore what angle they approach a problem from. Would they address scarcity by organizing the allocation of resources? Analyzing better ways to grow food? Synthesizing new product ideas? Operating machinery to grow or manufacture goods?

    It’s good to play to one’s strengths, but it’s also important to shore up one’s blind spots, so they should have at least a basic competence in all mindsets.

    They’ll need to build up their attributes as well: all their skills can be measured in terms of their initiative and resilience (so they can start and continue their projects), and versatility and intensity (so they can handle different situations and make a real impact).

    People will need to practice these mindsets and attributes with specific skills in specific situations, but if they’re aware of the concepts behind them, it’ll be easier for them to continue learning and to generalize what they practice to other contexts.

    The Foundational Toolbox for Life started out as a basis for a better education system, and I still intend to make it one unless something that’s somehow better shows up.

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