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What Good Is A College Education?

In a column about the debt burden of America’s college students, Hans Bader of the Competitive Enterprise Institute makes this point:

Much of college “education” is a waste of time. I learned more practical law in six weeks of studying for the bar exam and a couple summers of working for law firms than I did in three years of law school. I spent much of my time at Harvard Law School watching “Married With Children” or arguing with classmates about politics, rather than studying (much of what I did study was useless). Even students who were high on drugs had no difficulty graduating.

(Higher education is no guarantee of even basic literacy. When I worked at the Department of Education handling administrative appeals, I was dismayed by the poor writing skills of the graduate students who lodged complaints against their universities).

I used to work for a polling firm, and found that people with a couple years of college were frequently factually dumber about the world around them, and more politically-correct, than people who had not attended college at all, in their responses to public-opinion surveys. An electrician with no college degree is far more likely to know who his Congressman is and to understand the economy than some liberal-arts college dropout.

Bader is, I think, largely correct. While most Americans still believe the middle class myths about college education being the ticket to a comfortable life, the reality has been far different even without taking into account the impact of the recession and the long term problems in the job market. A Bachelor’s Degree doesn’t really mean much of anything anymore except that you manged to go to college, stay for four years, and graduate. Unless you’re actually headed to academia or graduate school, it’s unlikely that you will ever use most of the knowledge you gained in your four years of college, and while there may be some unquantifiable value to having studied Proust, it surely can’t be worth the debt burden that the average American college student is left with at the end of their four years.

Of course, the other side of the myth that I noted above is that many employers attach far more importance to a piece of paper from a university. Even for an entry level position, it would be far more difficult for someone to get their foot in the door in corporate America right out of High School. Return four years later with a piece of paper from the state university, though, its a different story, even though it’s unlikely that much of what that person learned in college really has anything to do with the job they’ve applied for or the career path they would be headed on. If we can ever get past the myth of the inherent value of a college education, then maybe so many students won’t spend the most formative years of their life wasting their time.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. mantis says:

    So Hans Bader was an admittedly crappy student who didn’t care about his education, and now he’s a paid liar for crap libertarian thinktank, earning a pretty penny in wingnut welfare for being an all-around useless windbag, and you think he’s largely correct? Not surprising.

    While most Americans still believe the middle class myths about college education being the ticket to a comfortable life, the reality has been far different even without taking into account the impact of the recession and the long term problems in the job market. A Bachelor’s Degree doesn’t really mean much of anything anymore except that you manged to go to college, stay for four years, and graduate.

    It also means you make more money, and you’re less likely to be unemployed. I thought libertarians were into that sort of thing. In 2009, those with a bachelor’s degree made above average salaries and had 5.2% unemployment. By contrast, those with only a high school diploma made below average salaries and had 9.7% unemployment. Obviously one group values a college education: employers.

    while there may be some unquantifiable value to having studied Proust, it surely can’t be worth the debt burden that the average American college student is left with at the end of their four years.

    The average student doesn’t study Proust.

    Of course, the other side of the myth that I noted above is that many employers attach far more importance to a piece of paper from a university.

    Some of them value not the piece of paper, but what it says about the applicant. He/she has more education than someone without a degree and has at the very least demonstrated an ability to manage projects, meet deadlines, and a commitment to completing something he/she started. Those are valuable things to most employers. I’m guessing you’ve never had to hire anyone, or if you have you base it on their knowledge of Ayn Rand fantasies.

    If we can ever get past the myth of the inherent value of a college education, then maybe so many students won’t spend the most formative years of their life wasting their time.

    Wasting their time working towards more stable careers that pay more, and maybe even learning something while they’re at it. Buncha dupes, I tells ya. Same goes for all those employers hiring the graduates. Morons.

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  2. This meme keeps cropping up, and I understand many of the critiques that fuel it.

    However, there is one test that I submit to Bader: if he hadn’t gone to college (and law school) would he have a think tank job at the moment?

    I am guessing not.

    And Mantis correctly notes that for all the flaws of higher ed, people with degrees live better lives, in the aggregate, than people who do not have them.

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  3. michael reynolds says:

    I think the geeks are starting to get this. My 13 year-old (currently “home schooled”) makes the argument that for things he’s interested in — web design, programming — college is essentially useless since by the time something reaches the curriculum it’s already obsolete. His tech education comes from the web and from attending seminars. Already he’s overqualified to be the IT guy at a company.

    And interestingly the geek-world’s outrage over the TSA and the WikiLeaks controversy have taught him more about government and the constitution than he’d be picking up in a social studies class. How many middle school kids go around ranting about the 1st and 4th amendments?

    My daughter, meanwhile, will never be admitted to Stanford. She’s not the intellectual my son is, but she’s a natural athlete, tough and aggressive. And she’s interested in practical things she can do with her hands: building, painting, cooking. (She’s already replacing me as our in-house cook, and we pay her to organize chaotic rooms.) What she’ll need is a practical education at a Johnson and Wales or equivalent.

    The one-size-fits-all educational system is doing nothing for my kids, just as it did nothing in the end for me (high school and college drop-out) or my wife (BA of sorts.) There’s almost no correlation between what we did in school and what we do now.

    But no one wants to really deal with the consequences of concluding that school (at all levels) is increasingly divorced from education. Let’s face it: school is an elaborate and expensive daycare system. And college is just where we park kids from age 18 to 22. If education is the goal then school is not the answer. School is the answer to “what the hell do we do with the kids while we’re at work?”

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  4. Steven,

    I get what your saying but Bader’s point doesn’t apply to him so much as it does the thousands of other college students who do their four years, get their degree, and end up in a job that has next to nothing to do with what they studied.

    And yes mantis is right about the statistics. As I noted in the post, it is far more likely that someone with a four year degree is going to get an entry level position in corporate America than someone with a High school diploma. Even though it’s quite likely that, objectively, the two candidates are equal in intelligence and in the skills that would be needed for the job in question. To me, that’s just a reflection of the myth that “everyone should go to college”

    There’s another point that I didn’t mention in the post but it needs to be said. Quite honestly, some people don’t belong going to college to begin with. Many of these people don’t end up graduating but they still have wasted a year or two of their life, not to mention money, because they were led down the wrong path by parents or High School Guidance Counselors, most of whom really don’t have much experience in actually doing anything I’ve learned.

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  5. Quite honestly, some people don’t belong going to college to begin with

    Trust me: of this I am well aware.

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  6. mantis says:

    I think the geeks are starting to get this. My 13 year-old (currently “home schooled”) makes the argument that for things he’s interested in — web design, programming — college is essentially useless since by the time something reaches the curriculum it’s already obsolete.

    Not necessarily true. Many colleges have newer and growing programs in technology fields that keep up with developments in their field. The one where I work (which shall remain nameless) offers courses in HTML 5, Silverlight, iPhone/iPad and Android programming, the latest in cybersecurity and forensics, ethical hacking, and more. We also have developed a pipeline for matching up students with startups looking for developers they would otherwise be unable to afford, giving the students experience using the skills they learn and a introduction to entrepreneurial business.

    That’s not to say that one cannot learn those things outside the classroom, but not everyone is as motivated to seek out the quality information among all the crap out there to teach themselves, and there’s something to be said for a structured environment where one must work with others and exhibit or learn some discipline and project management.

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  7. mantis says:

    Quite honestly, some people don’t belong going to college to begin with.

    No argument here.

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  8. Back to Bader, though: I find this whining about how awful college is to be problematic when most of the people who do the whining would not have been where they are in life if they hadn’t gone to college.

    It may well be that we need radical higher ed (or, indeed, as Michael notes, education in general ) reform. But part of the problem with this discussion is that is avoids the fact that a 4 year degree has never meant, say for certain degrees, vocational training.

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  9. michael reynolds says:

    What’s missing from the equation is the damage that schools do to kids. It’s fine to say that those with a college degree do better than those without — although Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg (and to a lesser degree, me) often do pretty well — but there’s no way to account for the lives and minds ruined by the educational system.

    We rely on drugs to “norm” kids to the system. We overwork them and deprive them of sleep, driving them to drugs to cope. We actively obliterate their imaginations in order to get them to fit in. We force an irrational system — age norming, assembly line, top-down, out-dated and politicized curricula — and then when we’re done the ones who somehow survive are declared winners. Are they winners because they kept their imaginations intact? Because they were original? Because they can now create the next big thing?

    No, they’re winners because they successfully submitted to or gamed the system.

    It’s circular logic. People who submitted reward other people who submitted because they value submission.

    And then there’s a Henry Ford (high school drop-out) who comes along, invents an entire industry, and creates middle management jobs for the more compliant.

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  10. @Michael:

    I take some of the points, but think you overstate many of them.

    Further, you are trying to argue based on rather exceptional examples.

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  11. mantis says:

    Michael,

    Do you really think that any kid can be Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Steven Spielberg or Henry Ford?

    I’m a product of public schooling, and I wasn’t drugged into it, I wasn’t overworked or driven to drugs, and my imagination was not obliterated in the least.

    Sounds to me like you have a great deal of animosity toward a system that didn’t work for you, because it didn’t work for you. I agree that college, and even formal school in general, isn’t for everyone, but your experiences are not everyone’s, and it’s supremely insulting to conclude that all students who are able to graduate are mindless, subservient, drugged up drones.

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  12. michael reynolds says:

    Mantis:

    That’s not to say that one cannot learn those things outside the classroom, but not everyone is as motivated to seek out the quality information among all the crap out there to teach themselves, and there’s something to be said for a structured environment where one must work with others and exhibit or learn some discipline and project management.

    I’d argue just the opposite, that there’s something to be said for the person who manages all of this from their own initiative. The kid taught himself HTML 5 in a few days — and within days of its release.

    When my publisher was putting out video that wouldn’t play on iPhones (rendering it all but useless to smart phone carrying kids, the intended audience) I objected. But they had no one who could do HTML 5. And they didn’t want to spend the money to retrain their people or hire new ones. So I paid Jake $100 bucks to take care of it.

    College doesn’t seem to grow entrepreneurs, it grows middle management.

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  13. Davebo says:

    So a man with a post graduate degree quotes another man with a post graduate degree to explain why college is so over rated.

    And yet democrats are elitists.

    It would be hilarious if it weren’t so freaking pathetic.

    Have you sent out any resumes lately Doug? Just for fun, leave off the degree and try it for a while. The joke used to be that, after your idol Reagan, receptionists had to pass a drug test to get a job.

    Now they need a degree in the mythical “business administration” realm which is worthless in itself. (And I apologize to anyone with a business administration degree, but your time truly was poorly spent.)

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  14. michael reynolds says:

    The problem is Steven, we can’t know how exceptional the examples are because we don’t ever try the alternatives. We subject 99% of kids to the existing system. We are only now beginning to experiment with alternative forms of education.

    We know that BB King, let’s say, was a drop out. (Elementary school, IIRC.) He ended up being . . . well, BB King. We assume he’s an exception. But we don’t know he’s an exception. Because we have no way of knowing how many potential BB King’s were destroyed by the system, or ushered along an easy path to mediocrity.

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  15. Steve Plunk says:

    I think Bader’s point isn’t so much going to college as it is about the outrageous cost and huge debt burdens many graduates face. It just costs too much for what you get.

    Remember too that college isn’t all what what you learn but that it teaches how to learn for the rest of your life. There is value in that alone but once again we find the issue being cost. The warnings of a bubble have been heard for quite a while and we may in fact see it soon enough.

    Just like with health care there has been too much attention paid to where to get the money to pay for it rather than looking at how to get the cost down.

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  16. mantis says:

    I’d argue just the opposite, that there’s something to be said for the person who manages all of this from their own initiative. The kid taught himself HTML 5 in a few days — and within days of its release.

    Like I said, not everyone is as motivated or self-sufficient right out of the gate. Many of them learn to be….at college.

    By the way, most self-taught programmers and developers I know create atrocious-looking, near unusable products that usually need serious reworking before people will use them. Design principles, usability, dealing with testing, feedback, and proper documentation are things students learn in the classroom in addition to logic, syntax and markup.

    When my publisher was putting out video that wouldn’t play on iPhones (rendering it all but useless to smart phone carrying kids, the intended audience) I objected. But they had no one who could do HTML 5.

    You don’t need to know HTML 5 to get a video to play on an iPhone. You just need the correct video format (stick with H.264 MP4). That’s real easy.

    College doesn’t seem to grow entrepreneurs, it grows middle management.

    I’d be happy to show you around a college that does. tehmantis [at] gmail

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  17. Drew says:

    I’m fundamentally with Mr. Taylor. And mantis would do well to pop a valium and go play with himself.

    As for Mr Reynolds, he often scolds me for citing “anecdotal” evidence. Well, well, well. Can we now call him Mr Hypocrite?

    But seriously, Milton Friedman pointed out the ridiculous practice of subsidy of college students in his book “Free to Choose” 35 years ago. Keggers and attendance at football games played by mutant, but college scholastically ineligible, “student athletes” should not come at taxpayer expense. But for those serious about their college training, it can be a life changer. And but for very few, there is no alternative.

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  18. sam says:

    Part of his argument is just warmed-over anti-intellectualism, which has become a staple of the right wing, “pointy-headed intellectuals” and what-not. Universities and colleges are associated with left-wingery and it consequent evils. I suspect it’s this is the part that’s driving all the others. I particularly like this bit:

    An electrician with no college degree is far more likely to know who his Congressman is and to understand the economy than some liberal-arts college dropout.

    These pious homages to the superiority of the “working man” — and note, it’s always someone who works with his hands — to the college-educated are de rigueur for the anti-intellectual Know Nothings of the right. It’s an essential component of the resentment fuel cell that drives the Palinistas, for instance. And it’s tedious. Not to say condescending to the working man, who, for all Bader knows, may well have a college education. I wonder how many long conversations Bader has ever had with a working stiff? I wonder if Bader himself was ever a working stiff? (Ah, no I don’t.)

    None of this is to gainsay the points made by Steve or Michael. But let’s delude ourselves about the political points Bader (and his fellow KNs) are trying to score.

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  19. @Michael,

    A couple of thoughts.

    First, I will stipulate that there are any number of problems with American education.

    BUT,

    1) I am not so certain why you are convinced that the exceptional are necessary crushed by the system. Yes, Jobs, Gates, et al. were drop out, but the system hardly crushed them,.

    2) To be fair, you also always personalize this discussion when it comes up, which is understandable on the one hand, but it is like me saying that everyone should get a Ph.D. because it has served me well. You are one example, I am another. The question becomes the aggregate.

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  20. just me says:

    I think there are some college degrees that are all but worthless when it comes to future income.

    However, I learned a lot from my college experience-both in my core major classes and several of the general education and elective classes. I think what is learned in college depends a lot on the time and effort of the college student and it is possible to graduate from college relatively uneducated.

    I do think there are occupations that want or require college degrees that don’t necessarily need them, and I do think there is a lot that can be learned more practically on the job than in a classroom, but I don’t think I would deem a college degree as worthless-although I imagine there are plenty of people who did indeed receive a worthless degree.

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  21. @Michael,

    To put #1 above another way: there are a lot of exceptional people who also went to school, so I am not sure that an argument can be made that all exceptional people are exceptional because they eschewed the system. Likewise a lot of people drop out and hardly go on to be BB King.

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  22. @Doug: to an employer the fact that you did go to college probably signals something useful, even if the employee never does anything with the rote knowledge they acquired in college, about commitment and the ability to persevere without as much hand-holding (although as Stephen Karlson and others would point out, the hand-holding is increasing as part of the dubious “completion agenda”).

    Everything I’ve heard from placement directors and the like, though, suggests that the skills (critical thinking, effective writing, etc.) that successful college students develop matter a great deal. And at some level writing a good paper on Proust isn’t that different from writing a good paper on widget production or a budgetary expenditure or something. Certainly that’s the message we seem to have been getting from the people who hire (or don’t hire) our graduates.

    As for Michael’s critique, if our students are overworked it’s probably because they have terrible time management skills. Students who don’t crack the book until the day before the exam, or don’t start the paper until the week before it’s due, are probably going to pull all-nighters. Then again, that’s also the norm in the “real world”; ask folks at Microsoft what it’s like in Redmond when the Windows or Office engineers are nearing the end of a release cycle. Or observe any state legislature in the last two weeks of its session.

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  23. Drew says:

    That was a bit odd, sammy:

    1. “Part of his argument is just warmed-over anti-intellectualism, which has become a staple of the right wing”

    2. “These pious homages to the superiority of the “working man” — and note, it’s always someone who works with his hands — to the college-educated are de rigueur for the anti-intellectual Know Nothings of the right.”

    As for #1. I suspect you, sam, would consider me “right wing.” But I have a BS and MS in engineering, and an MBA from the best business school in America. “Warmed over anti-intellectualism??” Really?

    As for #2. I worked in a steel mill for 7 years. And yes, I actually spoke with electricians and such. (egad!! But I bathed often, and escaped contamination, thank god…..) Many of these working men do in fact have a far more practical, and better handle, on how EVERYMAN responds to economic incentives, regulation, taxation and such than the pointy headed liberal arts grads, “educated,” let me restate that – stuffed with nonsensical mush into their heads – by a bunch of profs jealous and envious of the economic gains of their capable private enterprise counterparts.

    Let’s boil this all down: what do you think a “working stiff” – a guy who actually has to affect tangible results every day – thinks when he sees Nancy Pelosi say: “we have to pass the bill so we can see what’s in it?” Is this – your words – Palinist outreach to the “working man” really so outrageous?? Can you really blame anyone for observing pointy headed views??

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  24. sam says:

    “As for #1. I suspect you, sam, would consider me “right wing.” But I have a BS and MS in engineering, and an MBA from the best business school in America. “Warmed over anti-intellectualism??” Really?”

    Drew, dude, buddy — you didn’t write the piece, but to deny that there’s a pronounced strain of anti-intellectualism on the right these days, well

    Many of these working men do in fact have a far more practical, and better handle, on how EVERYMAN responds to economic incentives, regulation, taxation and such than the pointy headed liberal arts grads, “educated,” let me restate that – stuffed with nonsensical mush into their heads – by a bunch of profs jealous and envious of the economic gains of their capable private enterprise counterparts.

    QED

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  25. I believe it is a serious mistake to look at a college education like a trade school, but if that is what they have become then they should be scrapped in favor of trade schools.

    If you don’t come out of college with a more inquisitive mind and the wherewithal to satisfy it, then you should have went to a trade school. “Corporate” jobs cover a broad range of skills, but anyone who wishes to advance better have learned how to learn and adapt or they won’t be going very far.

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  26. I think the geeks are starting to get this. My 13 year-old (currently “home schooled”) makes the argument that for things he’s interested in — web design, programming — college is essentially useless since by the time something reaches the curriculum it’s already obsolete. His tech education comes from the web and from attending seminars. Already he’s overqualified to be the IT guy at a company.

    If you don’t mind my saying so (and I speak from 12 years of work experience in the industry), your son has the very distorted view of what the software industry is about. The actual act of programming isn’t where most of the value is and if that’s all your son knows how to do, he’s going to spend his whole career doing the equivalent of cleaning the toilets. The real skill is in analysis, architecture, and design, not the translation of that design into whatever language is the cool one at the momment (and even that doesn’t change as much as people think, most of the work is still in boring old C, C++, and Java).

    To paraphrse Dijkstra, software development is no more about programming than astronomy is about building telescopes.

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  27. floyd says:

    Some people can gain a great deal from a college education
    To some it is just a ticket for a promotion.
    Some people learn to read and write in twelve years.
    For some it takes sixteen.

    A degree which turns a talent into a useable skill can be worth the cost and pays a greater dividend that just the money it costs or produces.

    Why you go, what you bought, and what you do with it , is what matters.
    Some can go to scool and just get a “sheepskin, some seem to go further and morph all the way into sheep! Guess it’s a matter of “degree”.(lol)

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  28. michael reynolds says:

    Stormy:

    Oh, we both know that. This is foundational fun so far. His real interest is in design — the aesthetics not the coding — and for that he’ll need a foundation in art more than software per se. But again, what will middle school and high school teach him about that? Pretty much what they currently teach kids interested in writing about writing — nothing good.

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  29. Drew says:

    sam -

    Was that intended to be a rebuttal? Its simply a counterfactual. And one that appears to rebut your assumption.

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  30. sam says:

    Uh, how does what I quoted rebut my anything? Where’s the counterfactual in this? Would you not say that it has a more than slight tinge of the antintellectual about it?

    “the pointy headed liberal arts grads, “educated,” let me restate that – stuffed with nonsensical mush into their heads – by a bunch of profs jealous and envious of the economic gains of their capable private enterprise counterparts.”

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  31. michael reynolds says:

    Steven:

    1) I am not so certain why you are convinced that the exceptional are necessary crushed by the system. Yes, Jobs, Gates, et al. were drop out, but the system hardly crushed them,.

    2) To be fair, you also always personalize this discussion when it comes up, which is understandable on the one hand, but it is like me saying that everyone should get a Ph.D. because it has served me well. You are one example, I am another. The question becomes the aggregate.

    One difference may be that I am intimately involved in the question in real time. I have 2 school age kids. And I’m in and out of schools all the time — something like 75 in the last 3 months. And I make my living communicating with middle school kids. (The average age of my 1600 Facebook “friends” is probably 14 or so.)

    So this all takes on a degree of urgency for me. It’s not an abstract issue but a practical one affecting my home and my job.

    When it comes to education we tend to start from a set of unexamined assumptions. (That school = education, for example.) And we have a set of unacknowledged priorities. (That we need someone to take the kids while we’re at work.)

    I like to look at both of those and ask myself whether I am doing what’s right for my kids, and whether at the same time I’m understanding my customers, and whether there isn’t a better way. And I’m in the unusual position of having almost complete freedom to re-cast schedules, move here or there, pay for this or that, etc… And I am a businessman whose customers are all 14 — so I need to understand what their lives are like and what they’ll be like in 5 years.

    It’s not a subject I would have necessarily chosen to get involved in — it was sort of thrust upon me. And I don’t have a great many answers. I just know that the assumptions are unexamined, and in some cases wrong. And I dislike unacknowledged agendas because it skews the attempt to understand the system.

    I understand that numbers people want to look at the cost-benefit issue in college degrees. And of course partisans want to use schools to advance one agenda or another. My interests are not abstract, they are family and business. So with all due respect to everyone, it’s just possible I’m seeing a broader picture.

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  32. michael reynolds says:

    Goddamn it. Italics.

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  33. @Michael:

    I have 3 school age kids and my wife is a teacher (and, of course, I am a university professor).

    As such, my interest is far from abstract.

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  34. Seriously, I understand your audience, but I have taught hundreds (likely now thousands) of undergraduates and graduate students in almost 2 decades of teaching.

    As such, I can also make the claim:

    My interests are not abstract, they are family and business. So with all due respect to everyone, it’s just possible I’m seeing a broader picture

    I don’t deny that there aren’t any number of problems with public education (or education in general), but your arguments on this issue usually boil down to 1) you hated school and it didn’t help you and 2) lots of drop-outs have done well. This isn’t all that compelling an argument. Throwing anecdotes about your kids only go so far as well (I can throw out anecdotes about mine, so what?).

    Again, if generalizing form personal experience is all we have to do, why can’t I say that I have a great life so everyone should get a Ph.D. cause school was good to me? How is that any different from what you are arguing?

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  35. Fixed the itals, btw,

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  36. And, btw, I would second what Chris said above.

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  37. michael reynolds says:

    I don’t deny that there aren’t any number of problems with public education (or education in general), but your arguments on this issue usually boil down to 1) you hated school and it didn’t help you and 2) lots of drop-outs have done well. This isn’t all that compelling an argument.

    No, those are not my arguments.

    My argument is that we need to look at our unexamined assumptions and unacknowledged priorities.

    Is it the case that education necessarily involves schooling in roughly the way schooling is now done? I’d answer no.

    Is it the case that we are predisposed to conclude that schooling in roughly the current pattern is preferred for reasons that have nothing to do with the direct needs of kids? I think yes.

    Is it possible to imagine a very different approach that might work better? Sure.

    Is it likely that in a world where we have moved from teachers holding a sort of monopoly on data to a world where data is everywhere, all the time, that a teaching method that relies on the transmission of data top-down from teacher to pupil can be improved upon? I’d argue yes.

    Is there ample reason to question whether a test-driven educational system is often ineffective? Obviously.

    Is it necessarily the case that the current system benefits all or even most pupils? Maybe, maybe not.

    Is matriculation through the current system vital to success? Clearly not.

    Finally, if there are this many fundamental questions about the current system, shouldn’t we consider questioning the system more broadly? I say: yep. And that’s why I’m not confining myself to a cost-benefit analysis of colleges. I think the question is a lot bigger than that.

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  38. rodney dill says:

    Wow, this is quite an interesting thread. I think I’ll need some time to absorb the different points of view. It’s quite a mix of things that can make a person successful or not. You bring something to your education, and your education can help to extend your abilities. A piece of paper can certainly open a door that wouldn’t have been opened otherwise. I do believe there is a ‘education bubble’ just like the ‘housing bubble’ where people that may not get the payback out their education that they put into it, but the alternate lack of education, when you don’t have the compensating drive or connections can be a worse life choice. I have three daughters that have completed or largely completed their college educations. The oldest got a job in a down economy due in part to her education at a higher university noted for automotive engineering. They’ve all made different life choices so it would be interesting to revisit this line of thought in a couple of years. I have little doubt in all their abilities to succeed, but I’m not certain to the extent that their education choices will help them or be worth the cost. Personally I got what I would now consider a fairly mediocre education, but in a field (Computer Science) that was really taking off at the time, that I had an aptitude for, and that I enjoyed. I got a good deal but I continue to question how many degrees out there are now worth what the education system is charging for them.

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  39. michael reynolds says:

    I would just add that when we talk education we’re not talking constitutional law. Nothing about the existing system is chiseled on stone tablets. Every assumption should be open to question.

    And we should listen as well for the dog that didn’t bark: the damage that may be done by a system designed for the industrial age that has now been extended with few if any changes into the industrial age. We don’t go looking for unintended consequences, so the lack of proof is not in itself proof that no such consequences exist.

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  40. michael reynolds says:

    Second “industrial” should be “information.

    Sorry. Ironically I suppose I’m sitting here explaining Darwin’s finches to a 10 year old and distracted.

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  41. michael reynolds says:

    Just decided to work through my visions of a different approach to school. A fellow kidlit writer has been on me to do a short story for an anthology on the theme “Foretold.” Great. I really don’t have the time.

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  42. anjin-san says:

    Just curious Doug, what would you be doing in the legal field without college? Spending your nights cleaning up the offices of the guys who went and became lawyers.

    I have managed to have a pretty good professional career without a college degree. But I know that I have missed opportunities for lack of a degree. I would certainly love to go back to school if there was a workable way to do it. (online diploma mills do not interest me).

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  43. anjin-san says:

    > I continue to question how many degrees out there are now worth what the education system is charging for them.

    And here lies a huge part of the problem. Higher education is an industry, students are customers, and revenue is the name of the game. Bad model. At UC Berkeley we have a chancellor who lives for free in a mansion the school pays for in addition to his very generous salary. Meanwhile tuition hikes have put a Berkeley education out of the reach of a lot of folks. Colleges should be learning engines first, money engines second.

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  44. just me says:

    Education is expensive and it is now tot he point where the lower working class and poor can usually get a degree with little cost and the wealthy can get a degree, but anyone in the middle class to upper middle class is going to have a hard time paying even if they have a college education fund.

    I do think our educational system is screwed up and a bit to one size fits all. I don’t have a lot of beef with college instruction-in many ways I think my college education prepared me more for work in the real world than my high school education prepared me for college. I think our education model needs some adjustment and change.

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  45. James H says:

    My opinion, for what it’s worth:

    If you view undergraduate school, then graduate school, strictly as a vocational program, then a liberal arts education is certainly a waste of your time. And if you view it as an extended adolescence, then you’re wasting your parents’ money.

    But, any economist worth his salt will tell you there’s a bit more to utility than just something’s pure dollar value. If you gain an appreciation of Proust, obscure areas of the law, or Keynesian economics through your education … and you derive satisfaction from that … then that education carries a value beyond your paycheck.

    If you view college education solely as a vocational program, then go to community college, take the classes you need, and skip the rest.

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  46. James Joyner says:

    @Michael: Your complaints are mostly with primary and secondary education rather than college. And I share them, having had rather similar experiences in the 7 schools I attended before graduating high school (my dad was in the Army). For my personality type, having to sit still for hours each day, bored out of my freakin’ mind listening to the teacher explain obvious stuff or finishing the exercise in three minutes and having to wait the remaining 17 with nothing to do. But I did manage to persevere and do okay.

    And for all the greats you can cite who dropped out of school, surely there are more, in least in the modern era, who went on to college. Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, for example, did okay despite having gone to elite universities and law schools. Even creative types managed to not get crushed: Jon Stewart (William and Mary), Stephen Colbert (Northwestern) , Tina Fey (Virginia), Conan O’Brien (Harvard), and others come readily to mind.

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  47. I do enjoy how this concept gets dusted off every once in a while. It’s as if writers have a timer that goes off and *ding* it’s time to recycle a story from “x” number of years ago!

    Does a college degree guarantee anything in regards to a job? No.

    It does open some doors that would be closed without out. Plus, it shows your employers that you managed to keep your $hit together enough for 4-5 years to get a degree – even if it is in Ancient Dance Rituals of the Vikings.

    Meanwhile, time to dust of that degree in International Relations that I have used so much in my financial services job ;-)

    The breakdown is this: if you are smart enough to get into college, you should probably go. However, you should go on your own terms. Take a few years off from school after you graduate from high school. Travel, work, join the peace-corp, whatever. Figure out what your interests are, and then go do school to hone your focus – not the other way around.

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  48. john personna says:

    I’m going to set a high bar here. I’m going to say that k-12 education should produce citizens, capable of democracy, and lifelong learning.

    If you can achieve that, what would college be for? It can condense some sorts of learning, but while that is useful, we shouldn’t pretend it is the only path.

    Teach search skills, logic, and critical reading, in k-12. Then don’t worry so much about college as a last chance to fix what is broken.

    (my college prof friends tell me they are teaching remedial high school in the freshman year)

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  49. john personna says:

    “If you don’t mind my saying so (and I speak from 12 years of work experience in the industry), your son has the very distorted view of what the software industry is about. The actual act of programming isn’t where most of the value is and if that’s all your son knows how to do, he’s going to spend his whole career doing the equivalent of cleaning the toilets. The real skill is in analysis, architecture, and design, not the translation of that design into whatever language is the cool one at the momment (and even that doesn’t change as much as people think, most of the work is still in boring old C, C++, and Java)”

    Or, the kid could end up as the highly paid consultant who comes in to clean up after people who think “software engineering” isn’t about programming ;-)

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  50. john personna says:

    (Michael, I think a kid can self educate about programming, or software engineering, but it would probably help to have a mentor who “sets tasks” which round out what what he’s learning. Like, “you can do A” … “ok, now go do B”)

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  51. JKB says:

    Well, a college degree is like a union card, you have to have it to even be considered. As a credential it will give you precedence over those without even for unskilled jobs. Not to mention the racket in government and some corporate jobs that one must obtain an advance degree for promotion regardless of proven ability. But on the whole a college degree offers little in assurance of a good job or advancement. ” …approximately 60 percent of the increase in the number of college graduates from 1992 to 2008 worked in jobs that the BLS considers relatively low skilled—occupations where many participants have only high school diplomas and often even less.”

    One could argue that the esoteric features of a college education increase the potential for advancement. But it could be simply that those with drive for advancement are more likely to obtain a degree leaving the pool of advancement motivated non-degreed individuals quite small. Obviously, though, the non-degreed individual, having to find a way around the academic union, will enjoy fewer advantages and assistance than the degreed individual, i.e., they must often start their own small business since the umbrella of a corporate or government job is denied them due to being non-credentialed.

    As with all unions, we see the result of the academic union’s capture of jobs and efforts to exclude non-members has resulted in a decline in productivity in education. With the increased capture of low-skilled jobs, now “it takes 18 years of schooling (including kindergarten and the typical fifth year of college to get a bachelor’s degree) for persons to get an education to do jobs that a generation or two ago people did with 12-13 years of education”

    In short, a college degree will get you through the door but won’t necessarily get you a job. It can improve the potential for the unmotivated (high school graduate). It is not a guarantee to success or even average wages. If fact if two high school graduates of equal potential and motivation were tracked, one attending college, the other obtaining employment until age 23. The non-degreed individual would (depending on area of study for the degree) earn more than the degreed individual with no work experience. However, the non-degreed individual would quickly reach a roadblock unless they circumvented the academic union gatekeepers by starting their own business and competing on merit rather than credential.

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  52. michael reynolds says:

    James:

    I think one of the reasons people focus on cost issues in re: college is that the costs of primary education are hidden. Most of it comes from real estate taxes and state income taxes. Some of it is federal (borrowed Chinese) money. So we don’t get a big whomping bill at the end, but we’ve sure as hell paid.

    We spend 10,000 per primary school student per pupil. (Round numbers.) So 130 large to get a kid from kindergarten to graduation. Are we getting $130,000 worth of education? If we believe the various college professors in this forum we deliver kids to college who can barely read, certainly can’t write, and may have never encountered a syllogism.

    About the best you can hope for at the end of K-12 is a kid who can read and write and do basic math. (Awareness of history or much grounding in science is merely a dream.) But of course it’s not the school that teaches reading. In our house — and I suspect yours as well — it’s the parents who teach reading. When you start looking at it as your daughter ages, I think you’ll be surprised at how little the school teaches and how much it’s on you and your wife.

    Maybe I’m being too cynical, but it seems to me that after 13 years and 130k, the average graduating senior knows roughly what he knew by 5th grade. I’d be willing to bet that we could cram just as much useful information and inculcate as many retained skills in 3 years as we do in 13 and that the 100k difference is a babysitting fee and a lot of pointless sturm und drang about passing tests of promptly-forgotten “knowledge.”

    If we’re looking at the cost of college why not look at the ost of primary ed separate and apart from their core function: the warehousing of children. Why not ask if that 130k over 13 years makes sense?

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  53. mantis says:

    About the best you can hope for at the end of K-12 is a kid who can read and write and do basic math.

    Ridiculous. You are far too cynical, and completely divorced from reality. That is most certainly not the best we can hope for, and it certainly isn’t the best that k-12 education produces. I talk to college freshmen every day, see their placement tests, etc. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

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  54. michael reynolds says:

    but it would probably help to have a mentor who “sets tasks” which round out what what he’s learning.

    One of the most interesting things for me has been to watch the educational function performed by the extended online geek community. He doesn’t have a teacher per se, but he Tweets and plays against and Reddits in a sort of electronic community that in effect demands of him a certain level of education if he is to remain in that community. It’s a sort of dispersed teaching system.

    For example, the TSA/4th amendment thing. His community debated the issue and to stay in the game he had to acquire some basic knowledge that went beyond straightforward geekery. Is it a complete or fully coherent knowledge? No. But then neither is what he’d be learning in a social studies class.

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  55. @Michael,

    I would state that one hand you make legitimate points whenever we talk about education. I agree that we need to do better with writing and logic and other things,

    The problem becomes is that you range from making good points to things like:

    it seems to me that after 13 years and 130k, the average graduating senior knows roughly what he knew by 5th grade

    This strikes me an empirically not true.

    Further, simply stating that all we are doing is warehousing kids is also problematic. Might some circumstances be described as such? I suspect so. Do I think it is really what is going on? No, I don’t.

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  56. michael reynolds says:

    Mantis:

    Really? Too cynical? Then how to explain the level of general knowledge in the population as a whole? I’m sure you’ve seen the tests revealing that average Americans — almost all high school graduates — can’t find their own country on a map of the world, or identify the 1st amendment, or tell you who fought on which side in WW2? And those surveys presumably include college grads.

    Th average American — a high school grad almost certainly — can’t write a coherent paragraph, reliably perform basic logic, or explain how we determine longitude (a skill we’ve had for quite a few years now.) Most Americans believe in ghosts and angels. Most Americans have not read a book in the last year.

    What happened? Were they well-informed at age 18 and turn into imbeciles ten years later?

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  57. john personna says:

    I picked up a “science fiction” book at the library. It was basic “alien attack.” Do you know how we beat them in the end? Vampires.

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  58. michael reynolds says:

    Here’s a very simple, practical issue to look at going forward.

    The average middle or high school day starts at 8 AM and goes to 3 PM. (Give or take, your local schools may vary.) That’s seven hours. Add some after school activity. Add a half hour on the bus or walking, at either end and the kid’s day runs roughly 8.5 to 9 hours.

    Coincidentally, that’s the same amount of time the average parent spends at work. Is there any reason to assume that a 9 hour day is appropriate for a child? No. It’s an unacknowledged priority. It’s not 9 hours running from 8 AM onward for any particular reason, except that it’s conveniently matched to the parent’s work day.

    Having decided — for reasons divorced from the needs of kids — to define the school day as equal to the parent’s workday, we waste a massive amount of that time. To take one example: kids are forever shuttled between classrooms. In the case of a lab, sure. But why are we wasting probably 20% of the kids’ day just running him from class to class, assembly to study hall to library? It’s obviously inefficient.

    What if each kid had a laptop and all lectures were done via some sort of Skype? Then we’d have no particular need to relocate children all day long. Their physical location would be irrelevant. The hour and a quarter kids spend being moved from place to place could be given over to getting more sleep, or playing or even learning.

    In fact once you realize that you could run almost all classes via computer with location being irrelevant it becomes clear that a kid could be doing the same work in his living room or at the nearest Starbucks.

    Is there a valid educational requirement that makes that inadvisable? No. There’s a warehousing requirement. That’s one reason why no one is especially anxious to really re-examine the existing system and rethink it from the ground up.

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  59. @Michael:

    There are two key problems with your reasoning:

    1) The basic school schedule was developed back when most mothers were of the stay-at-home variety.

    and

    2) Most parents actually work well past 5pm (which makes the 3pm end of school time actually a bit problematic for them).

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  60. michael reynolds says:

    Steven:

    1) Just because mom was home didn’t mean she waned the kids home. Stay at home mothers did work, after all. And not every mom was home, quite a few worked outside the home, even back in ancient times. (My day.)

    2) It is inconvenient but there’s a conflict necessitating compromise between parent’s needs and those of teachers who don’t want to work a 10 hour day. And it sure is less inconvenient than having a school day that more closely resembles a teenager’s natural sleep cycle.

    Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that we had research showing conclusively that a 14 year-old should be in school no more than 3 hours, from eleven to 2 PM. Any chance that we’d actually change the school day? No. Why?

    We don’t really have to suppose anything because there’s ample research showing that students get far too little sleep and that this lack of sleep impairs their ability to learn. Kids put in 8 or 9 hours at school, plus extracurriculars that are now seen as necessary for the college application, and then 3 or 4 hours of homework. High school kids are working 12 and 14 hour days and getting six hours of sleep. Why? Because that’s good for them? Because it’s necessary to their education? No. Because the kid is the least important element in the system, coming well after the scheduling needs of parents, the ambitions of parants, the needs of school workers and the satisfying of various political agendas.

    When you deprive kids of sleep and time for a social life and time to just sit around and do nothing, you hurt them. We are routinely hurting children for purposes that have nothing at all to do with the actual welfare of the child.

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  61. mantis says:

    You constantly move the goalposts, Michael. First, you tell us the “best you can hope for at the end of K-12 is a kid who can read and write and do basic math,” but then when I object you respond with surveys about what the average person knows. Which is it? The best we can hope for or the general average?

    It’s nothing new that the “average” person knows less than people with extensive education (including self-education) would like, and I don’t think anyone here is arguing that everyone coming out of high school should go to college or learned everything they should have in primary education. And I don’t think anyone here is arguing that our education system is perfect or even all that great. What I object to, quite clearly I might add, is your general attitude and assertions that education utterly fails in all cases, everywhere. It’s completely absurd, and you know it.

    I share your dismay about the general state of knowledge among our fellow citizens, I really do. But I won’t join you in placing all the blame on the education system, and I certainly don’t agree with your apparent opinion that school produces nothing but dumbasses. It just ain’t so.

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  62. john personna says:

    Michael may have overstated his case, but I’d think any college lecturers here would agree that today’s college resembles our father’s high school.

    “Nowhere in the country does the need for remediation surface more readily than in California, home of the largest community college district in the nation (Los Angeles Community College District) and the large California State University system (CSUS). Although CSUS admits only students from the top one-third of their California high school graduating class, a 1995 report indicated that 43 percent of entering freshmen required remedial classes in English and that 42 percent required remedial classes in Math.”

    link into google books, which may not work

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  63. michael reynolds says:

    Mantis:

    “Best we can hope for” was careless language on my part. I meant something closer to “the most likely result.” I was being sarcastic and attitudinal.

    We are all free to hope, of course. And we should hope ambitiously.

    I never said anything like, “school produces nothing but dumbasses.” Many people make it through school without being reduced to dumbassery. I just don’t think schools do much to diminish the dumbassery. I think for the most part schools mark time while the real education goes on elsewhere. And sometimes schools actively harm students — sleep deprivation, stress, the destruction of pre-existing interests, teaching damaging habits of mind, etc…

    And I think a more intelligent, less tradition-bound, less serve-the-parents approach to school would produce an actual reduction in the level of dumbassery. I’m not quite sure why I (and society) am paying 130k to have my children systematically bored, exhausted, occasionally humiliated, and taught things which are quite often either irrelevant, untrue or actively destructive.

    The most common type of writing instruction in use at least in this state — the chunk method — is an example of active destruction. A student will be a worse writer when they are done than when they began. Not only that, but any interest they may have had in writing will likely be obliterated. Something that should be imaginative and fun and gratifying and individual is systematically reduced to industrial age uniformity and conformity. It’s awful to watch, and one of the main reasons I pulled my son out of his allegedly gifted school. It’s not a lesson plan, it’s a crime. And lest you think it’s just me, ask anyone who makes a living by putting words on paper. (Or pixels etc…)

    Or look at what happens with reading, especially in later grades. Teachers frequently discourage boys from reading the books they enjoy: action, series, comics. I don’t just mean that they assign mind-numbing fare like Silas Marner, I mean that they demand students — particularly boys — stop reading books they deem unworthy. (Librarians are on the other team, they get the importance of pleasure in reading.) The result is that a boy who reads voraciously at 10 cannot be induced to read anything at 14.

    Now, I’m not in a position to comment intelligently on science or math, but in reading and writing, schools are not only not teaching, they are destructive. And for this we spend 130k.

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  64. Grewgills says:

    Jumping in late and most of my points have been made better than i probably would have made them, but a few point are left.
    People seem to be breaking down schools into just 3 chunks: grammar school, high school, and college. That is not a sufficient breakdown. Early grades where kids are (or supposed to be) learning the fundamentals of our languages, primarily english and math. That is a very different exercise than the building on that foundation that happens in later grades and needs to be looked at differently, so at a minimum we are talking about 4 distinct levels.
    My own particular bone to pick is with math education. We seem to actively funnel math phobes into early childhood education. Ask any principal. This not only hinders early understanding of numbers and how they work, it legitimizes math phobia and innumeracy. While it is completely unacceptable in our society to say that ‘I can’t do that because I am just not good at reading’ it is entirely acceptable to say the same about math and if you do so in a crowded room you will likely get support for that statement.
    I don’t know if i can overstate the amount of time spent in math tutoring overcoming simple phobia of math.

    MR

    But of course it’s not the school that teaches reading. In our house — and I suspect yours as well — it’s the parents who teach reading.

    I can tell you from personal experience tutoring, teaching, and interacting with both students and their parents that most parents are not equipped to teach their children to read well or to understand numbers. Some of that stems from having only a passing knowledge of what they are now doing inherently, some from not understanding how to communicate that effectively to their children, some from lack of time, and some from elsewhere.
    Again you are extrapolating from an exceptional circumstance.

    I’m sitting here explaining Darwin’s finches to a 10 year old and distracted.

    Something else that most parents are not equipped to do well for a variety of reasons.

    Then how to explain the level of general knowledge in the population as a whole?

    As opposed to what exactly?
    Relative to an imagined world where every child’s education is tailored to their abilities and personality. Poorly.
    Relative to the vast majority of human existence or even to the past several hundred years. Spectacularly.

    To take one example: kids are forever shuttled between classrooms.

    It does give them a short break and a change of scenery, both valuable for them. Cutting out that 30-45 minutes a day would not save so much time as you suggest and would leave the kids in one room all day and would either have teachers shuttling in that time with all they need to teach a subject or have a single teacher for all subjects. Unless you have another alternative, we are better off shuttling them about.
    Add to that the distressing number of otherwise good early childhood educators and humanities teachers are math phobic and some borderline innumerate and we are much better off moving them to a different classroom for their math and science classes.

    What if each kid had a laptop and all lectures were done via some sort of Skype?

    Your tentative answer of having them stare at a monitor in one room for 6 hours, rather than moving from class to class over 7 is hardly compelling. Less movement, no change of scenery, and yet more screen time for kids that get more than enough of that already.

    In fact once you realize that you could run almost all classes via computer with location being irrelevant it becomes clear that a kid could be doing the same work in his living room or at the nearest Starbucks.

    Really, your children must be quite exceptional.
    What percentage of children do you think would perform in that circumstance and actually get much if any learning or work done in that time without adult supervision? If you are guessing much over 10% i think you are far off base.

    We don’t really have to suppose anything because there’s ample research showing that students get far too little sleep and that this lack of sleep impairs their ability to learn.

    That is a problem, but it is better answered by moving the school day back rather than making it shorter. As a bonus, most teachers would not mind shifting their days back by an hour or so.

    plus extracurriculars that are now seen as necessary for the college application

    They aren’t unless you are applying very high end and even then they can and should be limited to things that the kid is genuinely interested in.

    Kids put in 8 or 9 hours at school

    Closer to 7 at the 20 or so schools that i have attended, taught, or subbed at and some of that time is lunch and PE or band.

    3 or 4 hours of homework

    That should be less.

    I just don’t think schools do much to diminish the dumbassery.

    Then you need to get out more.

    And I think a more intelligent, less tradition-bound, less serve-the-parents approach to school would produce an actual reduction in the level of dumbassery.

    It would also be a lot more expensive and it is hard to get funding for what we have.

    The result is that a boy who reads voraciously at 10 cannot be induced to read anything at 14.

    Yet the school system does not change much between 5th and 8th grade. Something else does though and that has a lot to do with decreased interest in reading all but select publications. It has considerable other side effects as well.

    JP

    I’d think any college lecturers here would agree that today’s college resembles our father’s high school.

    The two primary reasons for that are a higher percentage people going to college now than then and rose colored glasses looking back.

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  65. michael reynolds says:

    Grewgills:

    I respect your experience in schools. Really. And I’m tired — long day at Knott’s Berry Farm — so I’ll just respond partially, if that’s okay.

    If you don’t think schools harm the reading interest of kids — boys in particular — go talk to your school librarians. In many schools librarians are in a sort of guerilla war with teachers, especially English teachers.

    When I talk to elementary kids I make a point of telling them that they should not allow anyone — I pointedly emphasize that — to tell them what not to read. I tell them that if they want to read Junie B. they should read Junie B. If they want to read Batman they should read Batman.

    Know what happens as I’m packing up my gear? The librarians sneak up beside me and in furtive whispers thank me for saying that because they have teachers forcing kids to return books the teachers don’t find age-appropriate. Teachers don’t get it. Librarians do.

    Do I think kids would learn as well via computer? No. I think they’d learn better. Because we’d be able to have one excellent teacher talking to 500 kids rather than one excellent teacher for 30 lucky kids and mediocre teachers for the other 470.

    As for extrapolating from personal experience, I have a kid with a 150 IQ and one scraping just under 90. I have more cash than most, absolute flexibility as to location, lots of free time, and still can’t find schools that help my kids learn. I pulled the 150 out of school because they were actively destroying his previously strong interest in math and of course teaching him the exact opposite of writing skills.

    The 150 taught himself to read. The 90 was taught by Lindamood-Bell. Schools did dick for either of them. We taught the 150 by reading to him. We taught the 90 by spending $100 an hour.

    By amazing coincidence schools did dick-all for me and my wife as well. We’re 4 for 4 in our house in finding school pointless, irrelevant or damaging. And if you Google famous drop-outs you’ll find we have an astounding amount of company.

    You acknowledge that schools do a miserable job of teaching math. I’d be exhibit A. So why do you assume they don’t also do a miserable job of teaching reading and writing and history?

    You know how I make my living? Writing books for kids, often in partnership with my wife. 150 or so books so far. Every week we get another letter from some college kid at Berkeley or Yale or Columbia thanking us for teaching them philosophy, changing their lives, making them better people. And of course making them into lifelong readers. So while I respect your service in schools, it’s possible that I know something as well about teaching children.

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  66. Grewgills says:

    Michael,
    Hope you enjoyed your day at the park.

    If you don’t think schools harm the reading interest of kids — boys in particular

    I think puberty is a much bigger factor in that than you apparently do. At that age if may be better to just have them doing active education and a bare minimum of sit down academics.That
    said I have seen very little in the way of teachers telling kids what not to read in Alabama, SoCal, or Hawaii. They are generally just happy to see the kids reading. When i was growing up teachers discouraged reading comics and magazines during school assigned reading times, but have not seen much at all of that in the past 10-15 yrs.

    The 150 taught himself to read. The 90 was taught by Lindamood-Bell. Schools did dick for either of them.

    Schools generally do much better for the kids in the middle than the ones at the extremes. Teachers tend to teach to the middle and the kids at the top can be bored and the kids at the bottom lost. That problem is only exacerbated by one teacher to 100s of kids. There is no perfect solution to this. We could go with the European or Japanese models where kids are tracked at early ages, but i dislike the idea of setting a child’s future before they turn 12.

    You acknowledge that schools do a miserable job of teaching math.

    The failure i see in math education is not general and across the board. It is in the very early grades, rather than in later grades where math instruction is done by math teachers.

    Because we’d be able to have one excellent teacher talking to 500 kids

    That is not a good format. With one teacher and 100s of kids the interaction is of necessity going to be in one direction. You do not teach children by talking at them, you teach by engaging with them. Difficult to do via computer, near impossible with 100s of students over the computer. Some kids will be able to deal with this, but they are the exceptional ones that will pick up the material even with a mediocre teacher so i don’t really see much of a benefit there.

    Every week we get another letter from some college kid at Berkeley or Yale or Columbia thanking us for teaching them philosophy, changing their lives, making them better people.

    That is great, but you do realize that teachers do get those same letters, as do school principals.

    I have more cash than most, absolute flexibility as to location, lots of free time, and still can’t find schools that help my kids learn.

    How many did you try?

    I don’t disagree with you that schools need reform and that they have not adapted as quickly as they should, but I strongly disagree with your assessment of their overall effectiveness, particularly given the task in front of them. I think by just about every reasonable measure we are a better educated society when looked at as a whole than at any other time in our history.

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  67. john personna says:

    me: “I’d think any college lecturers here would agree that today’s college resembles our father’s high school.”

    Grewgills: “The two primary reasons for that are a higher percentage people going to college now than then and rose colored glasses looking back.”

    That’s why I dug up a study.

    Again, 40% of the top third of high school graduates needed remedial English and Math.

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  68. michael reynolds says:

    I think puberty is a much bigger factor in that than you apparently do.

    Puberty is not getting worse witch each generation. The loss of young male readers is. And girls have puberty, too, but continue to read.

    The difference is that schools are matriarchies and teachers generally do not approve of the kinds of books boys like. Boys like action, violence, sex, intensity, books in series, comics. All things that a right-thinking English teacher sneers at. Teachers like Little Women, boys like Kick-Ass. Teachers tend to validate the choices made by girls and condemn boys.

    This isn’t the only factor, but it’s a major one. I have been told flatly by a major publisher that, “We don’t sell books to boys.” Oddly enough games and movies don’t have a problem selling to boys. In part because by the early teen years boys have been convinced that books are a sort of “good for you” medicine.

    With one teacher and 100s of kids the interaction is of necessity going to be in one direction.

    Not true. I deliver presentations at schools to groups of up to 500 kids. I have slides, music, video, tell jokes, deliver lessons, and then take Q and A until they run out of questions. Elapsed time one hour. Probably not useful for much under say 4th grade, but increasingly effective at older ages.

    A course delivered via computer could have all the bells and whistles. In could be both live for some portions and program for others. In earlier years you’d of course still have teachers available to support the lesson, but in later years that would be unnecessary. The program would be able to test initial recall and address rough spots. The program could be reversed and repeated, and be configured to go deeper for kids with an interest, adjust to learning styles, and even call in a physical teacher for remedial work.

    The program would be able to spot individual learning styles and adjust accordingly. A teacher in a class with 30 kids to handle would actually be far busier than a computer program which after all is not time limited and has no problem multi-tasking.

    We can create programs that include live lectures, all kinds of video and music, appearances by “stars,” games and so on, and are built with so many levels that the program will suit both slow and accelerated students. It’s not even terribly hard. You want some 6th graders to learn US history? I’ll drive down the street to Blizzard Entertainment and I guarantee you we can teach 6th graders history. And do it cheaper.

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  69. @Michael:

    You raise a legitimate point about boys and the books they tend to like. I do recall having English teachers frown on my beloved scifi. On the other hand, I still read and did so voraciously.

    I am going to have to call a bit of foul on your assertions about online learning v, in class and your generalization from your experiences,

    I have taught (and still do) online and in the classroom. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that in class is radically superior to online.

    I have taught large classes and smaller ones. Smaller ones are better than larger ones.

    And you cannot compare making a presentation as a guest speaker who is basically doing a fun event to teaching day-in, day-out.

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  70. michael reynolds says:

    And you cannot compare making a presentation as a guest speaker who is basically doing a fun event to teaching day-in, day-out.

    That is absolutely true. No argument.

    But you also can’t compare the resources I bring to filling that hour to what a teacher has available. I have several versions but on average my presentations cost me about $1500 to put together (mostly to pay the kid) and in fact (because of things my publishers gives me gratis) if paid for in full would cost ten times that. In any given 30 minute presentation I have 60 pix, videos, music bites, animations and so on.

    Obviously a teacher can’t spend like that. But it doesn’t change the fact that kids raised on TV/movies/games can be induced to pay much closer attention if you have all the bells and whistles. Why tell a kid about the horrors of a Civil War battle when you can show them? Why explain the function of mitochondria when you can show them some amazing 3-D animation?

    Of course traditionalists might argue that it’s good for kids to learn things in a boring fashion since it will prepare them for employee seminars down the road. But the truth is that kids are already being taught with amazing effectiveness by the “creative” community. Ask a 14 year old girl for the entire backstory of every character in Twilight. You’ll be amazed how much info they can absorb and retain. And they pay for the opportunity.

    Is there some reason why classes have to be taught by some old dude (no offense, I’m an even older dude) with a piece of chalk? No.

    Here’s what you could do if we broke out of the current model: kids could learn writing from Stephen King and William Gibson and Judy Blume. They could teach a computer-delivered and monitored writing course that would come with special effects, games, apps, enhanced e-books, movie clips. There’s not a high school english teacher alive who knows a tenth of what King knows about writing.

    So, instead of 10,000 English teachers teaching a boring curriculum in 10,000 expensive classrooms while drawing 10,000 paychecks for decades, you could have the actual masters of the craft teaching and maybe 1,000 editors grading papers on the human level.

    Option B would do a better job of teaching writing. Really. And it would cost a lot less. It would of course cost a bunch of jobs, but if education is about the students not the teachers, why would we make the choice for a less effective education?

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  71. john personna says:

    There was an article recently which made some claim like “2012 is the year work will change.”

    It went through the laundry-list of new technologies we use to organize our personal lives, and make ourselves (outside of work and school) less dependent on place. The claim was that the cultural factors holding back change in work were about to give.

    That sounds a lot like michael’s argument for schools, but sadly schools have cultural factors, entrenched bureaucracy, and even legal frameworks preventing change. Maybe we should agree with the conservatives and blow away the Department of Education. Just give vouchers to any school which qualifies to a state standard, and then let the states diverge.

    There is some risk in that, but I think the need for reinvention is greater than the need for stability.

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  72. But the truth is that kids are already being taught with amazing effectiveness by the “creative” community. Ask a 14 year old girl for the entire backstory of every character in Twilight. You’ll be amazed how much info they can absorb and retain. And they pay for the opportunity.

    I wouldn’t be amazed at all. I am certified (or perhaps certifiable) geek who know s a ridiculous amount of information about Star Trek, Doctor Who, the LOTR, heroes of the DC and Marvel universes, etc.

    I agree that there are any number of ways that education could be made better. I wholly concur about the needs to teach better writing.

    However, I think you make a major mistake assuming that it is possible to translate the passions that kids have for pop culture into a general education model. I agree that an interest in reading could be cultivated by allowing kids to read things that they like, and likewise allowing them to write about such things–no argument there. I am less convinced that there is the overall model for education there that you are suggesting.

    Back to the geekery angle: there is a world of difference between my teenage fashion with Tolkein’s elvish language and what it took to learn to be fluent in Spanish. The elvish was always a joy but at times learning the Spanish was a royal pain in the ass (but a necessary one).

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  73. john personna says:

    “However, I think you make a major mistake assuming that it is possible to translate the passions that kids have for pop culture into a general education model. I agree that an interest in reading could be cultivated by allowing kids to read things that they like, and likewise allowing them to write about such things–no argument there. I am less convinced that there is the overall model for education there that you are suggesting.”

    Well, what about home schoolers? If we make the assumption that at least of half of those “teachers” are lousy, how do we explain an edge in SAT scores? (At least that’s what the HSLDA is telling me after a web search.

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  74. john personna says:

    In these threads I keep coming back to the idea that a drive for learning, and then demonstrating accomplishment, is a human drive. It is in our nature, universal.

    Teachers and “education models” can compete on how to leverage that, or to make it efficient, but they sure as shit shouldn’t pretend to own it.

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  75. @JP:

    I am not sure what home schooling has to do with the point I was trying to make.

    However, it shouldn’t be surprising that home schoolers do better on SATs, as by definition they have parents who are active in their educations (which, I think, is perhaps the key variable in all of this).

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  76. In these threads I keep coming back to the idea that a drive for learning, and then demonstrating accomplishment, is a human drive. It is in our nature, universal.

    But is is decidedly stronger in some than in others.

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  77. michael reynolds says:

    Steven:

    I yield to no man in my geekery. When we wrote Animorphs we gave the main bad guys the name of Yeerks. Which you might guess is a slight corruption of the Elvish word for Orc. References and shout-outs to LOTR, Star Trek and all things Stephen King abound in my work. I’m only a grown-up according to the calendar, in reality I’m stuck at 15.

    However, I think you make a major mistake assuming that it is possible to translate the passions that kids have for pop culture into a general education model.

    I think the point would be to keep subjects from becoming boring in the first place. Math doesn’t have to be boring for a lot — maybe most — kids. It could be made not to suck. Some tutoring programs make it suck less. The Muppets were showing how fun basic counting could be something like 40 years ago.

    We begin by teaching math too early to a lot of kids and proceed to drain any possibility of joy from it. You know who got me interested in numbers way, way too late in life to do any good? Neal Stephenson. He communicates his own passion for numbers and it works. But how many math teachers or elementary teachers have a passion for numbers, get real joy from them?

    We couldn’t afford to have Neal teach in a classroom. But he’s a huge pedant and I’d suspect he (or his equivalent) could do for a math course what Stephen King might do for writing courses. That’s the disadvantage of teacher-in-class times 10,000. We both know that 9,000 of those teachers can’t teach.

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  78. john personna says:

    The point I’m making is that while home schoolers use SAT scores to defend their “proficiency” as teachers, we can skeptically use it as proof of something else. We can use it as evidence of the child’s own drive.

    For instance, you can say home schoolers have parents who are active in their educations, but shouldn’t we be skeptical? Are the hours of instruction (in the strict sense of the word) anywhere close? Or is it “go read this?”

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  79. @Michael:

    I think we can agree on the notion that we, generically, need to make education less boring.

    However, I still think you underestimate the problems associated with the mass classes you are suggesting and over-estimating the degree to which they would captivate all students. Quite frankly, when looking at mass education the boring problem takes a backseat to things like student behavior, parental involvement, proper sleep and nutrition for the kids and so forth.

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  80. john personna says:

    Neal Stephenson is a genius, but I think I still like his earlier (edited) works. ;-)

    Charlie Stross is an interesting one. Huge productivity and some genius work sprinkled through. What’s interesting though is that it isn’t all genius. Some is kind of schlocky. Perhaps he is really an alien hive mind publishing under one name.

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  81. john personna says:

    Let me rephrase my attack on formal education thus:

    If home schoolers had initially failed, and needed to develop better methods, on order to complete with institutional education on SAT scores, then we could say that the institutions had something going for them.

    But, if the home schoolers beat the formal education system, essentially out of the gate, then it might say something else.

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  82. @JP:

    The problem with the home schooling comparison is the self-selection problem. Home schoolers, by definition are a subset of the broader population and that tend to come from a specific segment of said population.

    To fully analyze the situation one would have to figure out who the home schooler are and how they compare to their direct peers in traditional educational settings.

    You will also find, I suspect, that private school kids do better on standardized tests.

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  83. michael reynolds says:

    JP:

    Neal Stephenson is a genius, but I think I still like his earlier (edited) works. ;-)

    I’m listening to the audiobook version of The Baroque Cycle. I’m 56. I’ll be collecting social security before I’m done. It’s not so much a book as a lifestyle.

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  84. john personna says:

    Steven, I’m probably influenced by a story of family friends who home schooled. We always thought mom was a little out there. Now, her kids have reached adulthood, declared themselves abused (AFAIK not in any sexual sense) and cut the parents off.

    That makes me think these expectations that home schooling parents self-select for their own competency is a little bit hopeful.

    Sure, run your data, but I think it will show something other than what you expect … kids learn, despite misguided efforts at home or in schools.

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  85. @JP: The problem is you are talking about a specific anecdote. I am trying to speak in the aggregate (the only way to ultimately talk about these things).

    I must confess, btw, I am back to being confused as to your point. Are you extolling home schooling or basically saying the method of instruction doesn’t matter–i.e., that the students who are going to learn are going to learn?

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  86. john personna says:

    Are familiar with the logical error called “arguing with missing data?”

    You don’t actually have data that average home schoolers are better. That is missing data, but you are using it to make your point.

    It is even more “missing” than my anecdote.

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  87. john personna says:

    “basically saying the method of instruction doesn’t matter–i.e., that the students who are going to learn are going to learn?”

    Yes, I’m suggesting that this might be more true than people expect, relying as they are on their own expectations of schools, and home-schooling parents.

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  88. @JP:

    I must confess, I thought at one point you were extolling home schooling over other forms of education.

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  89. john personna says:

    “I must confess, I thought at one point you were extolling home schooling over other forms of education.”

    Not in my memory. I did mention “unschooling” (as Mark Frauenfelder described in his book “Made by Hand”). I think that’s what made me start questioning what is really going on in formal education.

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  90. @JP: Ultimately, I think I misinterpreted one of your earlier comments and we have been talking past one another. We agree on this more than we disagree.

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  91. Grewgills says:

    I agree with what Steven has said. Michael, i think that what you suggest would make excellent supplemental materials for in class teachers to work with, particularly if we could convince Steven King et al to gift their time and talents. That said i still think the kids are much better off with someone physically in the class engaging them. Someone that can see the kids and know who is cluing in and who is not etc.

    Neil Stephenson is great. Every geek or borderline geek should read “Cryptonomicon” and i loved the Baroque cycle, though i only skimmed most of Eliza’s letters.

    More to say but gotta go.

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  92. michael reynolds says:

    Grewgills:

    Michael, i think that what you suggest would make excellent supplemental materials for in class teachers to work with, particularly if we could convince Steven King et al to gift their time and talents.

    Hah. The teachers would hate it. They hate it now when I talk to their students about writing. No self-respecting writer would ever endorse the imagination-killing atrocity of something like the chunk method. We tend to pretty much despise what’s taught as writing in middle school and up.

    Schools demand standardization. Standardization is pretty much the opposite of writing. If I knew a 10 year old who had some talent and might want to write fiction some day I’d probably tell him to stay the hell away from school, stay home and read, watch TV, play games and write whatever the hell he felt like writing. He’d have a much better chance of becoming a writer.

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  93. Grewgills says:

    Hah. The teachers would hate it.

    I know quite a few who would love it.

    If I knew a 10 year old who had some talent…

    Not many great modern writers are 4th grade drop outs. I don’t know that there is a single one. Neal Stephenson on the other hand grew up in a household of highly educated people, managed to go all the way through the supposedly imagination crushing grammar school and high school experience, then even graduated college yet somehow survived imagination intact and went on to write excellent and highly imaginative work. I seriously doubt that he would have written something like ‘Cryptonomicon’ had he dropped out in fourth grade to watch TV, play video games, read comic books, and written the occasional bit of fan fic. More likely he would still be living in his parents basement. Don’t get me wrong all of those are fun and children should not be discouraged from participating in them, but they do not make for a complete education.
    Honestly for every anecdote you can put forward of someone who dropped out and went on to great imaginative success there are dozens more of people who completed high school and even college before going on to highly imaginative and productive careers. Even most of the examples you cited were drop outs from Ivy level universities, who after having a high school career that got them in to an Ivy or West Coast Ivy then learned and made connections there before striking out on there own. Google and Yahoo came out of a Stanford computer class.

    No one is arguing that schools couldn’t and shouldn’t do better, but you exaggerate the problem.

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  94. john personna says:

    I seriously doubt that he would have written something like ‘Cryptonomicon’ had he dropped out in fourth grade to watch TV, play video games, read comic books, and written the occasional bit of fan fic.

    If I recall correctly, the guy was a computer programmer who worked up his first novel, Snow Crash, as a story board for a computer game. It was only as he tried to translate the story to the computer that he noticed that the story was more vivid in written form. Key outside the box thinking at that point. The rest is history.

    And I think that ties in to what I’ve said about “unshcooling” and unconventional paths.

    Whether a kid, left to his own devices, only plays video games probably has more to do with his view of life’s possibilities and risks than his educational paradigm.

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  95. michael reynolds says:

    Grewgills:

    Actually a staggering number of people in the arts are drop-outs.

    (Also, since Stephenson is pretty close to my age he was not subjected to current practices in the teaching of writing.)

    Jane Austen dropped out of elementary school. George Carlin was a HS drop-out. Agatha Christie was home schooled. Mark Twain was apprenticed out at age 11. Noel Coward attended a dance school. Charles Dickens’ education was 10 hours a day shining shoes. Theodore Dreiser did a single year in college. James Ellroy dropped out of HS. Henry George out at age 14. Eric Hoffer. Melville was in and out of school, mostly out. Anais Nin lasted until age 16. Dorothy Parker was expelled. Nora Roberts made it through HS . . . but of course she’s no George Bernard Shaw who said, “Schools and schoolmasters, as we have them today, are not popular as places of education and teachers, but rather prisons and turnkeys in which children are kept to prevent them disturbing and chaperoning their parents.”

    Here’s a nice little anecdote about Richard Leakey and his school experience:

    The Leakey boys had several nannies like their father before them. At age 11 Richard entered the Duke of York Secondary School (later known as Lenana School). The Mau Mau rebellion was just winding down, the settlers believed they had won a victory, and the mood reflected that struggle and that belief. On his first day Richard advocated for racial equality, like his father. Calling him a “lover of niggers”, the other students locked him in a wire cage, spat and urinated on him and poked him with sticks. The school administration blamed Richard. After he was caned for missing chapel, Richard resolved never to be a Christian.
    He skipped class frequently in favour of a business he started, selling small animals to be photographed by Des Bartlett. In December, 1960, Richard reached his 16th birthday and promptly quit the Duke of York. His parents gave him a choice: return to school or support himself.

    Austen, Twain, Dickens, Carlin, Shaw, Melville, Ellroy. I’ll bet not one of them could make a 3-D model of a cell using jelly beans, or write a paper exactly 5 pages long on the importance of Sacagawea,or or write according to the approved chunk method. And that’s just writers. The list of great musicians who dropped out of school is basically the list of great musicians.

    So no, I don’t think I am exaggerating.

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  96. @Michael:

    I am pretty sure that Austen, Twain, Dickens, Shaw, and Melville are are even older than you :)

    Further, they existed well outside the scope of the current conversation (I mean, heck, if you can Stephenson as an example because he’s your age I am not sure how you can go back to the 19th Century–and earlier–for your evidence).

    J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, Isaac Asimov, and Gregory Benford all not only finished school, but had advanced degrees.

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  97. BTW: my basic point is that just naming people who either did, or did not, have degrees isn’t really much of an argument one way or another.

    I would note, however, that prior to fairly recently, I expect that every profession (more or less) was populated by a staggering number of drop-outs.

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  98. john personna says:

    “Further, they existed well outside the scope of the current conversation”

    Steven, it sounds like you are making the argument that “since xbox did not exist, it was possible for self-education” ;-)

    I’m not sure I buy it, but the cohort of “unschooled” kids will be fodder for future comparisons.

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  99. john personna says:

    Or maybe “possible for [them to have] self-education” or something.

    … commenting post-ride and mid-lunch, sorry.

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  100. Steven, it sounds like you are making the argument that “since xbox did not exist, it was possible for self-education” ;-)

    No, I am saying that comparing drop-outs from a period of history when universal education was nowhere near the norm to the current period is problematic if the argument is about the effect of education on whether it crushes artistic aspirations.

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  101. And because it is more fun than grading, I checked the bios of some of the authors on the shelves behind me:

    Stephen Donaldson (BA and MA)
    Tom Clancy (BA)
    Jim Butcher (don’t know if he completed his studies, but wrote the first Dresden Files novel as part of a writing class that lasted at least two semesters)
    Roger Zelazny (BA and MA)
    Terry Goodkind (dropped out of college, suffered from dsylexia)
    George R.R. Martin (BS and MS)
    Robert Jordan (BS)

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  102. michael reynolds says:

    Steven:

    If school is a necessary pre-condition for success then even a relatively small number of exceptions would cast doubt on that theory. The fact that a huge number of exceptions exist makes it fairly obvious that school is not necessary.

    If it is not necessary, why are we spending $130,000 per student from K to 12? Shouldn’t we be exploring alternate strategies?

    In the case of musicians, as I mentioned, dropping out seems almost a requirement. I won’t bother with the list but it’s basically everyone who ever held a guitar. Why would such a large proportion of musicians, actors, directors, writers and so on have dropped out of school? (Most of them did their dropping out after the institution of universal compulsory education.)

    Having dropped out perhaps because of family exigencies, why do so few feel the need to go back?

    In another thread we’re looking at student evaluations of teachers and the consensus seems to be that they have some validity. Isn’t it possible that students reach the same sorts of valid conclusions about the value of schooling generally?

    At risk of extrapolating from personal experience (although you and Grewgills are both doing so, and both of you profit — well, you know what I mean — from the present system,) my son entered 7th grade at a gifted school, loving math. The school decided to teach algebra with a lot of very repetitive homework. A lot. And very repetitive. When Jake was offered the chance to move up to an advanced class, he declined, because it would just mean more repetitive homework.

    An example of a school actually destroying a student’s interest in learning math.

    But the damage was actually twice as great as that, since the time he wasted repeating lessons he had long since learned was deducted from the time he had available to pursue his true passion. Had I encouraged this to go one we’d have not only destroyed his interest in math but stunted his progress in tech.

    I don’t have an example handy on writing although a fellow author (who is also a school teacher) could give you chapter and verse and more examples than you could imagine. Suffice it to say that writers overwhelmingly despise what K-12 does to readers and young writers.

    Do many creatives make it through school while holding onto their talent? Sure. And lots of people survive near-death experiences. That doesn’t make near-death experiences a good idea.

    We do absolutely no investigation on the question of how many minds and how many great talents might have been destroyed by school. I obviously think it’s a lot more people than you do. But I think when you see that vast numbers of creatives drop out, that creatives generally despise school and in particular what school does with reading and writing, I think it’s reasonable to wonder if the problem isn’t a lot bigger than you think.

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  103. michael reynolds says:

    A brief analogy and then I’ll stop. Imagine that we have a medicine. We keep track of all the patients it cures. We do not keep track of the ones it kills.

    That’s how we look at school. We count the success stories, ignore the failures, and declare that we have a cure.

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  104. @MIchael:

    The frustrating thing about having this discussion is that you assert successful drop-outs as proof of your entire position and yet reject and evidence that is contrary to your position.

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  105. michael reynolds says:

    Steven:

    I’m doing no such thing.

    I’m not asserting successful drop-outs as proof of anything except that school is not necessary in many cases. That’s true from the point where a single successful drop-out exists, and becomes better-proven as the cases pile up.

    And I’m pointing out that when we only look at one type of question we’re likely going to miss something. In this case I mean that we never, ever ask if school has done damage.

    I’m certainly not denying that many people — maybe even most — do very well in school. But I don’t know of any way to prove that school was the cause of their success, or that they’d have been better off without school, because those aren’t the questions we ask.

    What we say is that the majority of people who are successful went to school. Okay. Sure. But that alone doesn’t prove much. It’s a correlation but with no explanation of causation. And no investigation of alternative explanations. And no attempt to find out whether a radical re-invention of school would create even more successful people. Or whether school pushes people toward a mean that leaves us with fewer extraordinary people.

    To me the proposition “school = likely success” is unproven, in part because it’s just accepted as axiomatic and never really examined. I think my medicine analogy is apt: we don’t make the effort to even investigate possible downsides because we accept the idea of school as an article of faith.

    Finally, my peculiar obsession with this is not ideological, or something I even thought about a dozen years ago. I assumed then that I was a freak of some sort who’d cleverly outwitted the system, and that was that. Then I had kids. And I very quickly realized that school was something I had to protect them from in order to allow them to get an education.

    It’s too big an expense, and too big an issue, too important to the future of our country, to refuse to look at the underlying assumptions with a critical eye.

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  106. Grewgills says:

    I’m not asserting successful drop-outs as proof of anything except that school is not necessary in many cases.

    School may not be necessary for the exceptionally talented that also have a drive to excel in the area of that talent.
    The musicians that dropped out and went on to great creative success generally found other musicians to work with and teach them, unfortunately many of them did not learn enough math and other management skills to negotiate their contracts well or keep the money they earned.

    To me the proposition “school = likely success” is unproven

    Well the statistics for employment and wealth and degree of schooling seem to provide some evidence for that hypothesis.

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  107. @Michael:

    To be fair, you started this thread (and have commented elsewhere) about how schools destroy our kids.

    To me the proposition “school = likely success” is unproven

    But, I think that it is proven. Especially if we are talking about the the difference between a high school graduate and a dropout.

    Yes, I can accept the proposition (as I have above) that schools could use reform.

    Yes, I can accept the proposition that some people don’t need school (although I do balk at the notion that a 10 year with a gift for writing ought to stay home, read comics and play video games).

    And yes, I can accept that school didn’t do you any favors and that home schooling is better for your children.

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  108. Hans Bader would have maintained a more defensible position if he’d limited his point to his cited example. I’ll do so for him.

    A three-year law school program is wasteful of time. You can almost certainly learn more about effective law by studying specifically for–and passing–the bar, and then joining a practice. Unfortunately, the market for lawyers has a disguised barrier to entry in that most law firms won’t hire non-degreed lawyers. (The cartel-like behaviour of the ABA extends this barrier.)

    So it’s clear that law school and other professional schools (journalism, etc.) only provide a glorified certificate. We should consider them no more significant than other trade school (web developer, plumber, electrician, automobile mechanic) certificates.

    The cancerous growth of the post-secondary education industry results from a vicious cycle. It’s led by the fact that some capable individuals use a university education to perform truly remarkable things in business. They then reap monetary and social rewards appropriate to their performance.

    The example of these individuals leads other people to believe that a university education will do the same for them. It also leads companies to believe that a university-educated workforce will make the companies more profitable.

    The confluence of these two beliefs is what drives the grown of the education industry, which must encourage these two beliefs at all costs if it’s to remain alive.

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  109. michael reynolds says:

    Steven and Grewgills:

    I propose a truce without prejudice on this comment thread and suggest that we each retire to savor his (or her, not sure if Grewgills is male or female) favorite beverage.

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  110. Grewgills says:

    Michael,

    I’ll take Bowmore.

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  111. @Michael:

    Fair enough.

    Cheers!

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  112. Hector Maquieira says:

    The main point of college is networking. It doesn’t matter what you learn, it’s who you become friends with.

    To the parent with the 13 year-old tech prodigy. You are 100% right he would learn more if he didn’t go to college and instead, worked very hard studying/working on his own. But this is not the point. If he can go to a great school like MIT, for example, he will meet and network with people who will allow him to do great things.

    This is how the idea that all this stuff you learn in college is worthless can be reconciled with the statistics that college graduates make more money.

    It’s not what you learn, it’s who you impress; that is the point of college and graduate education.

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  113. [...] an ardent, sometimes acrimonious, discussion going on in the comments to this post on the value of higher education at Outside the Beltway. Rather than adding my observations there where they’ll be lost in the din I’ll put [...]

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  114. VivaHST says:

    @ Steven. While this has been a fascinating debate to read, I do not feel I have anything to add. I just wanted to give an over the internet high five for reading George R R Martin. ASOIAF is my favorite book series.

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  115. Now if he just finish it!! :)

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