In Education, Success of the Few Does Not Mean Success of the Many

Posted on May 30, 2011



Just today, Slashdot featured a discussion on an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education that highlights the benefits (over one’s career) of having an education:

It is obvious that any type of education pays itself (most of the time) over the life of one’s career. Unfortunately, it seems that individuals lucky enough to reap the benefits of education believe that this is proof there is nothing wrong with our education system:

As a grad student in engineering that has seen nearly all his friends at the BS, MS, and PhD levels all able to find good paying, stable jobs, I had grown pretty tired of the stream of /. articles from Ivy League tenured professors of religion ranting about how our education system is all wrong.

No offense to the poster, but this is absolutely stupid (and very egotistical to say the least.)  It is not only stupid, it is also terrible. Horrible. Egotistical.

No. Such a person is taking the fact that education pays as a proof that there is nothing wrong with our education system. I’m sorry to say to those fool enough to believe so, but that’s not how logic works.  Consider this: I’m the recipient of post-grad education, which IMO was really excellent. I know that it opened a lot of doors for me and has allowed me to command a very (very, but very) good salary. The poster of such a quote seems to be also someone benefiting from an education.

And yet, since when success of a few signifies success of the many? In particular when it comes to an education system? Just because it worked for me or somebody else, that doesn’t mean it is without flaws (and very deep flaws in this particular case.)

It doesn’t change the fact our education system is wrong. All you have to do is take your average HS grad and ask him what the square root of 36 is, what a/b + c/d equals to. On a much less esoteric and far more practical front, what exactly our education system equips HS students with? What does pre-collegiate education prepare our youth for?

I’ve been saying this for ages, and I wish people were more aware of this. Our education system is wrong in that it makes no provision for vocational training at the HS level (as found in say, the German or Japanese models of education.) It also makes little provision to college-level vocational training (as in AS degrees.)

For every person getting a 4-year degree, we should be producing as many (at least) people with a A.S degree and/or a pre-college vocational degree with which to successfully make a livingwith publicly funded institutions.

This is not the case. To get a pre-collegiate vocational training, you have to be lucky enough to be close to one of the few HS’s with a vocational training program, or fork several thousands of dollars (sometimes tens of thousands) at a private institution. Vocational training seems not to be an interest for our departments of education.

Our education systems works on the assumption that the only road for success is in getting one or more college degrees. It ignores the fact that in practice, every economy has a threshold over which it cannot absorb more college graduates. Our education system, and in fact, our entire collective understanding of education makes no provision for building a skilled, blue collar work force.

What is worse, our society (including those who graduate with a college degree) has embraced this idea that if you don’t get a college degree, then you are a failure, too lazy or stupid. Though there is true in that education requires a level of effort, people spouse an oversimplification of our current educational crisis. It makes no analysis about the suitability of our educational system for the society as a whole (and not just to that section of it interested/qualified for a college education.)

It is absurd for a college educated person like the poster of such a quote to be completely oblivious to that fact. And just because some of us have been the recipients of a good college education (and that are bound to reap the benefits), that does not mean that is is working for society. That is not how logic (and economics for that matter) works.

Society >> a few of us.

College educated people should have (or should have had) sufficient analytical acumen (and a little bit less of humbleness) to come to that realization.

This type of thinking is not only erroneous, but evil and twisted. The only thing that can come out of this mentality is a society where an affordable life can only be attained with more than one college degree (and thus one where a college degree gets diluted more and more.) It would also be one with a permanently unskilled working class suffering permanent double-digit unemployment figures.