August 27, 2008

7 Years of College Down the Drain?

In his new book, Charles Murray doesn’t just break down the “any child can do anything,” “soft bigotry of low expectations” illusions of modern education, but he makes a cogent argument for why few people should go to college—not simply because only a small percentage of high school grads can handle the intellectual rigor, but because college is generally a raw deal for most people in terms of debt and wasted time.

I go into more detail about all this at the aWEARness blog.   

Fifty years ago, it was perfectly normal for highly successful people to lack a BA (Harry Truman didn’t have one), but now everyone’s pushed to go to college. But what is this vaunted BA anyhow?

It’s true that without one, it’s nigh impossible to get a high-paying job, or even get in the door for a job interview. But then, does this mean that most employers think it necessary that all workers have spent four years of their lives in some Arcadian locale, played a little beer pong, and taken a course on the construction of gender in Milton? Of course not. The BA serves as a kind certification that one was bright enough to “get in” and diligent enough not to flunk out. Not bad. But then for most people, is this college experience really more valuable than working for a couple of years as a manager at a small grocery or doing an apprenticeship with a master electrician? Probably not.

Murray’s plan is to put greater emphasis on skill-certification exams and apprenticeships, which seems to me the makings of system that’s much better suited to average Americans—and much more practical than forcing everyone to attend a bunch of ‘organic chem’ lectures while on a hangover.

In the past year, we’ve seen how the notion that everyone should own a home (and that the government should subsidize the whole project) has had rather bad unintended consequences and created a lot of pain for middle-class families. Political programs in which more and more Americans are pushed into taking on loans and wasting time would seem to have implications than are no less harmful.

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