Sunday, April 24, 2005

School Daze

I recently listed a few books I’ve read that were worth my time. “In Defense of Elitism” by William Henry confirmed what many of us believe. I quote from Page 156 and Page 157 “For American society, the big lie underlying higher education is akin to the aforementioned big lie about childrearing in Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegeon: that everyone can be above average . In an unexamined American Dream rhetoric promoting mass higher education in the nation of my youth, the implicit vision was that one day everyone, or at least practically everyone, would be a manager or a professional. We would use the most elitist of all means, scholarship, toward the most egalitarian of ends. We would all become chiefs; hardly anyone would be left a mere Indian. On the surface this New Jerusalem appears as to have arrived. Where half a century ago the bulk of the jobs were blue collar, now a majority are white or pink collar. They are performed in the office instead of on the factory floor. If they tend to involve repetition and drudgery, at least they do not require heavy lifting.

But the wages for them are going down virtually as often as up. It has become an axiom of union lobbying that replacing a manufacturing economy with a service economy has meant exporting once-lucrative jobs to places where they can be done more cheaply. And as a great many disappointed office workers have discovered, being educated and better dressed at the workplace, does not transform one’s place in the pecking order. There are still plenty more Indians than chiefs. Lately, indeed, the chiefs are becoming even fewer. If, for a generation or so, corporate America bought into the daydream of making everyone a boss, the wakeup call has come. The major focus of the “downsizing” of recent years has been eliminating layers of middle management---much of it drawn from the ranks of those lured to college a generation or two ago by the idea that a degree would transform them from mediocre to magisterial.

Yet our colleges blithely go on “educating” many more prospective managers and professionals than we are likely to need. In my own field, there are typically more students majoring in journalism at any given moment than there are journalists employed at all the daily newspapers in the United States. A few years ago there were more students enrolled in law school than there were partners in law firms. Inevitably many students of limited talent spend huge amounts of time and money pursuing some brass ring occupation, only to see their dreams denied. As a society we consider it cruel not to give them every chance at success. It may be more cruel to let them go on fooling themselves.

In February of 1994 the President asserted that America needs a greater fusion between academic and vocational training---not because too many mediocre people misplaced on the college track are failing to acquire marketable vocational and technical skills, but because too many people on the vocational track are being denied courses that will secure them admittance to college. Surely what we Americans need is not a fusion of the two tracks but a sharper division between them, coupled with a forceful program for diverting intellectual also-rans out of the academic track and into the vocational one. That is where most of them are heading in life anyway. Why should they wait until they area older and must enroll in high-priced proprietary vocational programs of often dubious efficacy-frequently throwing away not only their funds but federal loans in the process-because they emerged from high school heading nowhere and knowing nothing that is use in the marketplace?

If the massive numbers of college students reflected a national boom in love of learning and a prevalent yen for self-improvement, America’s investment in the classroom might make sense.”


This book was written 12 years ago so what Mr. Henry is saying are even truer today. We still seem often times to “be running in place” yet I am seeing some progress. Hillary Pennington a think tank guru said in an article in the JS on 4/10/05, “The fastest growing occupations require more than high school, but not necessarily a four year college degree. It is time to redesign high schools to help ensure that all students complete some postsecondary learning. For every 100 students who start high school, only 68 will graduate four years later, only 40 will go to college and only 28 will return after freshman year, and only 18 will graduate”. She goes on to say “An Accelerated Career/Technical College would give work bound students a head start on earning transferable college credits at the same time as they prepare for entry-level jobs”.

She writes about a Gap Year in place of a senior year providing a combination of work experience and community service. She says our education system was designed, at best to meet the needs of the mid-20th century industrial economy, a dramatically different world than the one we inhabit today. In comparison, Mrs. Margaret Spelling, the Secretary of Education, talks like she is coming from la-la land. I’m not sure she has a clue about any schools except the upper class schools her three kids attended. I believe I respected Rod Paige approach but didn’t agree on many of his issues.

This blog is already too long so I’ll be back tomorrow with some realities that are being left out like the teacher who told me last week that one of his “students” missed 61 days in school yet that kid will be tested at the grade level with his classmates and bring the overall test scores down I’ll tell you what I see is right and wrong about testing and some observations the effectiveness of George’s NCLB.

Thanks again; remember that developing higher skills does not necessarily mean being a rocket scientist.


Anonymous said...

I'm tempted to advise my young children to go to college for self fulfillment, but if it's money they're after, to go vocational. I suspect my plumber and mechanic make more than my husband, the lawyer (who went to ivy league institutions). I am thankful for all we have, but it isn't as lucrative as many seem to believe. (With over $100,000 in student loans this deserves consideration!) Vocational in this modern age deserves more respect. With the advent of technology and specifically computers, it takes a lot more knowledge to work on - say - a car than it did a generation ago. I think this might be true in many areas of manufacturing as well. As Americans continually lose the ability to make and fix things, the laws of supply and demand will force us to pay a lot more for products and repairs. Imagine paying more to fix a toaster (or plasma t.v.) than to consult with an attorney. In the case of the plasma t.v., this day has probably already arrived! The best and the brightest may well find more satisfaction in creating something than creating paperwork and breathing recirculated air 70 hours a week. Something to carefully consider while raising the next generation...

Casper said...

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