When did the pursuit of education change from freedom to slavery? Was it when Industrialism convinced us to leave the farms and run to work in the cities? Maybe. Was it when Progressivism convinced us the Utopian society was just around the corner if we could simply assemble the right child in our factory schools? Perhaps. Was it after WW2 when the babies that boomed overwhelmed the production capacity of our public schools and because we were given to the idea of educating all, we had to change from teaching wisdom and virtue to that of finding some sort of work for everyone? Likely. It is hard to say which bad idea most caused the bad idea, but today’s education is aimed at churning out good workers, not good people.
This change in how education is defined is killing us. I will map out the all too familiar scene for you, though you can probably say it in your sleep before I can:
In today’s world, we start kids at age 3 or 4 into time away from home to get a good education. That good education includes making a successful navigation through any number of markers, metrics, and assessments to get us into line to earn a high g.p.a. in high school. If the student builds the right resume, he can get entrance and probably some financial assistance at the college of his choice. If he does not happen to make the top 10% of his class (and about 90% seem to believe they are top 10 material), he then has to attend less than the best college but he still has to go to college.
College is where he will gain the certification for a high paying job. He can then find a job with help from his certifying facility (sorry, college), and start saving up for his children’s college fund. These days he needs to save a little extra for that online master’s he will need to earn to get on up the ladder. I will not lift up the veil on what kinds of things will happen along that college path in the way of assault upon the student’s soul. That is for other times. But suffice it to say that today’s educational aims are first and foremost practical, financial, and utilitarian.
The focus of a good education today seems to have two objectives in mind: certification and motivation.
By certification, I mean that most of the “use” of a diploma, degree, or “education” is to show that the one with it is prepared to do some specific and specialized activity, usually for higher pay than if he had only gone through high school. The general degree has fallen on hard times. Specialization is where it is taking off. And this seems to lead directly into the other objective.
Motivation is a big deal these days. It hides itself with terms such as relevance, “fast track,” or “in demand,” but it really is about exciting the student to find something he “wants.” Majors change with the wind. Students are recruited into this or that specialty only to find they were one of only several thousand who listened to that sales pitch four years ago and so now they are all competing for limited jobs in a glutted market. “I am my only special person. There has to be a special major just for me. Maybe Entrepreneurial Video Production with a Chinese Specialization is just that place for me.”
And thus now education is quickly headed down the tubes. It is not practical, because it has built a “specialist” who is not very marketable outside his own specialty. It is not proving much of a boon financially because so many college graduates are taking whatever job they can find, often outside their major, and thus at hourly pay (with staggering college debt to boot). And the utility of such an education would be hard to prove when it does not seem to deliver on its promises even half the time.
So there it is: the turn was made. Education used to be about becoming a more rounded, more fully human person. It has always prepared students for the workplace. It has just changed the means from that of broadening and generalizing the individual to a ever more narrowing of the student. I recently posted elsewhere on the upcoming SCOTUS decision on Fisher v UT case on reverse affirmative action by comparing that situation to the closing words of MLK Jr’s “I Have a Dream Speech” wherein he sets forth the criteria for judging a person: the content of his character. I tossed off the question, “What if colleges used the content of character rather than the color of skin in determining entrance to college?” as a rather quick and provocative one off. But what if they did? Or what if wisdom and virtue returned to front and center and “job getting” was simply a secondary effect?
And that brings me to my next blog: what about all this excitement for online learning? Is it the means for recovering the right path to a higher education?