Disdain for the Less-Educated?

Is shunning those without college degrees the last acceptable prejudice?

Harvard government professor Michael J. Sandel has written a book called The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good? He previews it in an opinion column for the New York Times.

After a long setup about Joe Biden, who has an undergraduate degree from an R1 flagship university and law degree from another R1 university somehow being a departure from the Democratic Party’s tendency to nominate elites, Sandel argues,

Building a politics around the idea that a college degree is a precondition for dignified work and social esteem has a corrosive effect on democratic life. It devalues the contributions of those without a diploma, fuels prejudice against less-educated members of society, effectively excludes most working people from elective government and provokes political backlash.

[…]

The rhetoric of rising through educational achievement has echoed across the political spectrum — from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton. But the politicians espousing it have missed the insult implicit in the meritocratic society they are offering: If you did not go to college, and if you are not flourishing in the new economy, your failure must be your own fault.

At least economically, this is untrue. Our society pays skilled tradesmen very well. Of course, even those jobs tend to require formal postsecondary training and credentialing in a way they didn’t in the not-so-distant past.

The credentialist prejudice is a symptom of meritocratic hubris. By 2016, many working people chafed at the sense that well-schooled elites looked down on them with condescension.

While it’s true that Trump’s populist campaign was ultimately successful, it’s worth noting that, in a country where two-thirds of eligible voters lack a four-year college degree, the woman with two elite degrees beat the man with only one by nearly three million votes.

This complaint was not without warrant. Survey research bears out what many working-class voters intuit: At a time when racism and sexism are out of favor (discredited though not eliminated), credentialism is the last acceptable prejudice.

In the United States and Europe, disdain for the less educated is more pronounced, or at least more readily acknowledged, than prejudice against other disfavored groups. In a series of surveys conducted in the United States, Britain, the Netherlands and Belgium, a team of social psychologists led by Toon Kuppens found that college-educated respondents had more bias against less-educated people than they did against other disfavored groups. The researchers surveyed attitudes toward a range of people who are typically victims of discrimination. In Europe, this list included Muslims and people who are poor, obese, blind and less educated; in the United States, the list also included African-Americans and the working class. Of all these groups, the poorly educated were disliked most of all.

Beyond revealing the disparaging views that college-educated elites have of less-educated people, the study also found that elites are unembarrassed by this prejudice. They may denounce racism and sexism, but they are unapologetic about their negative attitudes toward the less educated.

I would have to see the surveys in question to know whether this is actually what they reveal. If, for example, “People who can’t find work should get more training or education” is considered “prejudice,” then I’m sure it’s widespread. But I’m more than a wee bit skeptical that people hate the less-educated in a way that they hate people of other races or religions. There’s no “junior college or less” equivalent to the KKK or Aryan Brotherhood.

For that matter, it’s rather well-documented that, despite being among the most overweight societies in human history, Americans have a visceral disdain for the morbidly obese. That “fat-shaming” has become a thing and people have been trained to deny it in surveys doesn’t change that reality.

In the U.S. Congress, 95 percent of House members and 100 percent of senators are college graduates. The credentialed few govern the uncredentialed many.

It has not always been this way. Although the well-educated have always been disproportionately represented in Congress, as recently as the early 1960s, about one-fourth of our elected representatives lacked a college degree. Over the past half-decade, Congress has become more diverse with regard to race, ethnicity and gender, but less diverse with regard to educational credentials and class.

This is a silly comparison. For the generations who were elected to Congress before 1960, a college education was exceedingly rare—available to the hereditary elite and the extremely gifted. The post-World War II GI Bill changed that and created the condition that Sandel laments: an attitude that higher education should be pursued by the masses as a means of upward mobility.

Nor is it shocking that essentially everyone in national politics has a college degree. First, the sort of person who is obsessively interested in politics is very likely to go to college. Second, the nature of modern campaigning requires an inordinate amount of time away from one’s occupation. College-educated people are much more likely to have the ability to take that much time off.

One consequence of the diploma divide is that very few members of the working class ever make it to elective office. In the United States, about half of the labor force is employed in working-class jobs, defined as manual labor, service industry and clerical jobs. But fewer than 2 percent of members of Congress worked in such jobs before their election.

Here, Sandel is adjacent to a point. Recall the vitriol directed toward the fact that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez once worked as a bartender.

Beyond that, though, we shouldn’t be that surprised by any of this. We elect an inordinate number of lawyers to Congress. While this leads to a skewed representation, it’s worth noting that they are in the business of writing laws. And one imagines some significant number of Congressmen worked in the service industry—just as entrepreneurs and managers rather than as front-line workers.

Some might argue that government by well-educated university graduates is something to welcome, not regret. Surely we want well-trained doctors to perform our appendectomies. Aren’t highly credentialed leaders best equipped to give us sound public policies and reasoned political discourse?

Not necessarily. Even a glance at the parlous state of political discourse in Congress should give us pause. Governing well requires not only technocratic expertise but also civic virtue — an ability to deliberate about the common good and to identify with citizens from all walks of life. But history suggests little correlation between the capacity for political judgment and the ability to win admission to elite universities. The notion that “the best and the brightest” are better at governing than their less-credentialed fellow citizens is a myth born of meritocratic hubris.

This is just a shameful piling on of logical fallacies for someone claiming to be representing civic virtue.

Does it seem plausible that those educated in matters of government, philosophy, and literature are better-equipped to engage in “reasoned political discourse”? Indeed, it does. Are there those without formal education who are more capable than most college graduates? Sure.

Is “civic virtue” a desirable quality in a lawmaker? Absolutely. Is there reason to believe going to college saps it? Not that I’m aware of.

Should we have more plumbers, electricians, and carpenters in Congress? Maybe. Surely, the couldn’t be worse than the sorry lot we have now. But, again, two-thirds of the electorate lack a college degree and half of them are “working class.” Given the bottom-up nature of the primary system of nomination, they have the capacity to make that happen if they so desire.

Sandel’s close is something of a non sequitur, perhaps a function of trying to shoehorn a book promo into what began as a commentary on the state of our political campaigns.

We should focus less on arming people for a meritocratic race and more on making life better for those who lack a diploma but who make important contributions to our society — through the work they do, the families they raise and the communities they serve. This requires renewing the dignity of work and putting it at the center of our politics.

It also requires reconsidering the meaning of success and questioning our meritocratic hubris: Is it my doing that I have the talents that society happens to prize — or is it my good luck?

Appreciating the role of luck in life can prompt a certain humility: There, but for an accident of birth, or the grace of God, or the mystery of fate, go I. This spirit of humility is the civic virtue we need now. It is the beginning of the way back from the harsh ethic of success that drives us apart. It points beyond the tyranny of merit toward a less rancorous, more generous public life.

We would all do better to acknowledge more the role sheer, dumb luck plays in our lives. Talent, health, attractiveness and the like play an outsized role in economic and social success and are only tangentially our doing. We often attribute to “merit” what is really good fortune.

But I’m not sure that it follows that we need to reorganize our society around this fact. I want my Harvard professors to be really smart people with multiple academic degrees. I want my football players to be really strong and fast. And, yes, I want my political leaders to be smart, well-spoken, and deeply trained in public affairs.

As to our governing ethos, the irony is that it’s the reverse of what Sandel’s setup would indicate. The party running the populist with only one measly Ivy League degree and representing the virtue of the working man is the ones whose policies most implicitly buy into the meritocratic myth Sandel decries. The party running the barely-educated sap with the measly state school baccalaureate and relatively mediocre law degree—but usually prefers those with multiple Ivy League degrees—advocates a much more redistributionist policies.

FILED UNDER: Education, Higher Ed, Society, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Jen says:

    His argument is weird and frustrating. I’ve long argued that Americans don’t value all work (they claim to, but don’t). While having an education is usually a path to increased income, not everyone wants to or needs to go to college.

    I was perplexed by the statement that he believed Europeans to be in the same vein, but my experience was in Germany, which wasn’t listed (he lists “United States, Britain, the Netherlands and Belgium”). Tradespeople go through apprenticeships, and generally speaking, all work is considered important, whether you collect garbage, work in a shop, or are a plumber.

    Americans in rural areas especially seem to have confusing feelings about higher ed. They all want their kids to go to college, but then are irked when in doing so the kids challenge long-held beliefs or want to permanently relocate to somewhere other than where they were raised (because that’s where the opportunities are). They get mad at all that “book learning” (I’ve literally heard that phrase used). It’s implied that an education replaces common sense.

    The opposite side of this article is the utter disdain a good chunk of this country has for experts.

    My BIL did not go to college. He owns his own company, employs at least a dozen people year-round, and is doing very well. It’s entirely possible that he makes more than my husband and I combined (we don’t ask/talk about it).

    We need to treat all work as important, we need to embrace apprenticeships, and we need people without higher degrees to accept that in some fields, common sense doesn’t cut it, we need experts.

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  2. James Joyner says:

    @Jen: Yes, agreed all around. I suspect the book is better but the column is just a hot mess.

    8
  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The credentialist prejudice is a symptom of meritocratic hubris. By 2016, many working people chafed at the sense that well-schooled elites looked down on them with condescension.

    Speaking as an under educated member of the working class, I can only say, “W wh what???” and the only answer I can come up with is that I don’t watch enough prime time FOX or listen to enough afternoon AM talk radio to have this idea relentlessly pounded into my head so as to counteract my actual lived experience.

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  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    We would all do better to acknowledge more the role sheer, dumb luck plays in our lives. Talent, health, attractiveness and the like play an outsized role in economic and social success and are only tangentially our doing. We often attribute to “merit” what is really good fortune.

    Here, here. 80% of life is showing up. Richard Rogers.

    I read that opinion piece earlier and my reaction was WTF! I believe you are being too diplomatic James.

    There is a weird dichotomy in our society as to what higher education is. As has been pointed out skilled tradesman go through an extensive training program, some of that is in classroom type setting, but a lot of it is on the job and learned from more experienced workers.

    A great book that attempts to resolve that dichotomy is Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft. Crawford a Ph.D in political philosophy and a self trained motorcycle mechanic, lives in both worlds. I recommend it to every yuppie parent, who is bothered that the child is more interested in the trades than college.

    7
  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    It’s been my experience that the educated elite, are in awe of the capabilities of skilled crafts people. Is the work of low skilled individuals dismissed, sometimes, but who among us hasn’t marveled at the server at our favorite restaurant manage several tables and get the orders straight and to the table still hot.

    6
  6. Kathy says:

    He’d have loved the Roman Republic. Not a single college graduate among any consuls, tribunes, aediles, quaestors, or even senators!

    Oh, about all of them had the very best education money could buy, quite literally, with imported Greek tutors being all the rage in the latter stages of the Republic. But none ever graduated from college, nor any other kind of institution of learning for that matter.

  7. MarkedMan says:

    I absolutely agree that far, far too many people disparage those who are uneducated. But it goes deeper than that. There is a huge disparagement in how people who are less smart are treated. It is totally accepted in this country that people who don’t have the ability to write to computer programs, or run a project with 500 tasks, or manage the books of a small business should be content with minimum wage jobs and poor health care. This is just bullsh*t and is a direct result of the relentless attack on unions.

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  8. Fog says:

    One of the problems here is that the college-educated are taught to do research and evaluate evidence for themselves – to employ the methods of scholarship. The uneducated never get that training. And someone who lacks the training to do real research is likely to fall for ridiculous conspiracy theories. As Goebbels noted, propaganda should not be aimed at the educated since they “are not persuadable.” In other words, the educated can make up their own minds.

    4
  9. Lounsbury says:

    At least economically, this is untrue. Our society pays skilled tradesmen very well. Of course, even those jobs tend to require formal postsecondary training and credentialing in a way they didn’t in the not-so-distant past

    There is a true and valid point – which is broadly true in the Anglosphere, but driven heavily by American discourse – that education discourse focuses on Uni and technical education is not particularly well organised nor respected. Policy and political discourse etc. tends heavily to focus in Anglosphere (in contrast to say the German model) on the academic versus the technical.

  10. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    I’ll completely agree. We’ve had a significant amount of work done on our house here (modernizing the utility plant for the most part), and watching those guys work is both transfixing and humbling. Wall of degrees aside, I couldn’t begin to do what they do – wouldn’t even know where to start, and it’s probable that I’d be dead or in hospital if I tried. They’re very impressive, and quite skilled.

    2
  11. Kathy says:

    Perhaps trade schools should confer degrees comparable to college ones? BA in plumbing, master’s degrees in auto mechanics, etc.

    I’m not kidding. I’ve seen plumbers, mechanics, electricians and others solve essential problems quickly and well. Quality of life in cities would be horrible without plumbers, it would literally stink.

    3
  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Kathy: Plumbers only need to know 3 things:
    Shit flows down hill.
    Don’t chew your fingernails.
    Payday is on Friday.

    Sorry, old old old joke. My carpenter id made me do it.

    3
  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    We don’t need no education
    We don’t need no thought control
    No dark sarcasm in the classroom
    Teachers leave them kids alone
    Hey, teachers, leave them kids alone
    All in all it’s just another brick in the wall
    All in all you’re just another brick in the wall

    I went from uneducated vacuum-pusher and shit-stain scraper to unknown author to known author in about 6 years. This meant going from definitely poor to not poor to kinda well-off in that same period of time. An ancient, rusted, hand spray-painted Dodge Dart, to a straight-off-the showroom floor Mercedes S Class. From a shabby rental, to a corner lot Victorian in a fairly posh neighborhood.

    I’ve looked at life from both sides now,
    From win and lose and still somehow…

    OK, I’ll stop with the lyrics.

    I have fun with it. It’s entertaining watching the slow dawning of realization in the eyes of a well-educated fellow as he discovers that I actually know more than he does – quite often about his area of alleged expertise. It’s a little sucker punch. Start with the aw-shucks, whadda I know, I’m a drop-out, durrr. Won’t you step into my parlor, Mr. Ivy League. I enjoy watching their credentialed self-esteem crumble as we uncover the difference between education and ability.

    We need experts. Really. And I have great respect for book-learnin’, I really do. But I have perhaps less respect for higher education than those who have it, and it’s fun to exploit that gap. Education, it’s great. It’s just not as great as people think it is. Many people emerge from higher education narrowed rather than broadened. And contra some remarks above I’ve never met anyone, ever, who was prepared to treat the educated and the non-educated equally. I mean, if the posh boys treated me as an equal I wouldn’t have nearly as much fun.

    4
  14. Mu Yixiao says:

    Sandel is making a rookie mistake. He’s following the fallacy that “sitting in class = educated”.

    I’ve met more than a fair share of people with post-graduate degrees that can’t tie their shoes or think their way out of a paper bag. On the other hand, I’ve met plenty of “uneducated” people who know more than I could ever hope to.

    “Education” doesn’t come from sitting in class and reading books. It comes from learning. Your average farmer these days has to be a horticulturist, a meteorologist, an engineer, and a computer operator.

    I can’t remember what show it was on, but it was one of those “educated city boys in the country” scenes. City boy sits down at the counter of the local greasy spoon, nods to the farmer next to him and says “Nice weather, huh?”

    The farmer goes off on a complicated schpeil… then looks back at the city boy. “Oh. You were just doin’ some small talk. … Yep. Pretty nice out.” 🙂

    6
  15. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Kathy:

    Perhaps trade schools should confer degrees comparable to college ones? BA in plumbing, master’s degrees in auto mechanics, etc.

    They do. They just use different terms: Journeyman & Master.

    4
  16. DrDaveT says:

    @Kathy:

    Perhaps trade schools should confer degrees comparable to college ones? BA in plumbing, master’s degrees in auto mechanics, etc.

    This has already happened, to a large extent, in the US. Community Colleges have morphed into trade schools, offering 2-year degrees and certificates for people who wish to become nurses, EMTs, police officers, electricians, etc.

    9
  17. gVOR08 says:

    After a long setup about Joe Biden, who has an undergraduate degree from an R1 flagship university and law degree from another R1 university somehow being a departure from the Democratic Party’s tendency to nominate elites,…

    As opposed to Tea Party populist Republicans like Ted Cruz, Harvard Law, and Tom Cotton, Harvard Law. (At some point do we get to question whether graduating from Harvard Law means what everyone seems to think it means? (Our own HL92 being an exception in Harvard’s favor.))

    3
  18. EddieInCA says:

    I work with alot of “uneducated” Grips. Those guys (and ladies) are magicians on a film/TV set. I’m often in awe of the stuff they can concoct on the fly to allow us to shoot a certain scene a certain way.

    Yet, the studio exec with two degrees in addition to his/her MBA doesn’t know what a Grip even is.

    2
  19. Mu Yixiao says:

    @EddieInCA:

    As a cable-rat, we called that “ghetto engineering”.
    As a hammer-rat we did “stock-room engineering”.

    (Former IATSE 470)

    2
  20. gVOR08 says:

    I would have to see the surveys in question to know whether this is actually what they reveal.

    Off topic, but a pet peeve. I hate seeing after poll results “margin of error of +/- 2.3%”. That’s the 95% confidence level on sampling error. Which is to say they’re confident that if they asked exactly the same question with exactly the same methodology that they’d get the same result within 2.3% or whatever. But they don’t even know if the question means what they think it means. Asking, “Will you vote for Trump or Biden?” will get different results than, “Will you vote for the Republican candidate or the Democratic candidate?”

    2
  21. CSK says:

    On the other hand…

    “I love the poorly educated.” — Donald J. Trump

    4
  22. MarkedMan says:

    @Fog:

    One of the problems here is that the college-educated are taught to do research and evaluate evidence for themselves – to employ the methods of scholarship. The uneducated never get that training.

    I truly wish I believed that. But my background is engineering. Almost all the people I work with have at least a Bachelors. More importantly, to troubleshoot, something that the vast majority of engineers do regularly, is a humbling experience because even our best theories go nowhere. To succeed you have to put aside what you want things to be and follow the actual evidence to the end. Yet somehow Engineering has more than its share of people absolutely certain that the earth was created in 7 days, 6000 years ago, or that cutting taxes on the wealthy increases overall revenues, or that flouride is a communist plot to sap the precious bodily fluids of our youth.

    I’ve met more than my fair share in the medical community too.

    4
  23. James Joyner says:

    @gVOR08: Yes. I’m naturally suspicious about people drawing complicated conclusions from polling data and the Spidey sense really tingles when there’s no way to check the poll in question.

    3
  24. Kathy says:

    I reserve my disdain for two kinds of people: those who think they know more than they do, and those who think their legitimate expertise in one area makes them experts, or even competent, in all areas.

    I admit my base of knowledge is very broad, but also shallow. For instance, I understand science well, but only at the level of science popularization as found in general audience books, and magazines like Scientific American.

    Often those who think they know more than they do are not well educated. For instance, those who “know” that immigrants are rapists and drug dealers, or other forms of prejudice.

    The second type can be problematic. A biologist might be competent to opine on medical issues, for instance. But often that turns out not to be the case.

    One more thing. I don’t equate education with schooling. About 90% of what I know of history I’ve learned in the past nine years, mostly through audiobooks and podcasts (also history blogs and websites). I also learned more science on my own, reading books and magazines as noted above, than in school.

    Electronic media, be it audio or print (if “print” applies to ebooks and online magazines), and video as well, affords the opportunity for continuing one’s education far beyond schooling. I think few people make use of these opportunities, or really even want to.

    3
  25. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Fog:

    One of the problems here is that the college-educated are taught to do research and evaluate evidence for themselves – to employ the methods of scholarship. The uneducated never get that training.

    I’m sorry, but that’s simply false.

    “That training” comes from trial and error much more than it comes from listening to a lecture or reading a book. In a college setting, that trial and error comes in the lab. In the real world it usually comes from necessity.

    Walk into any factory and talk to the maintenance crew (the ones that fix the machines). You’ll find that most of them don’t have college educations, but their diagnosing and repairing extremely complicated machinery. In a lot of cases, they’re also modifying machinery to fit the extant situation.

    They have to base their actions (repairs, modifications) on what is, not what they’re told.

    3
  26. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Kathy:

    those who think their legitimate expertise in one area makes them experts, or even competent, in all areas.

    I would say that there’s a caveat to that. There are a lot of skills that “translate” into other areas. For example: Cabinet-making requires an attention to detail, a lot of patience, and an ability to “read” the wood. Those are skills that, once learned, naturally integrate into other areas.

    When interviewers ask “Why do you think you’re able to deal with a lot of different people on this job?” I answer “I’ve tended bar and taught middle-schoolers.” 🙂 Neither of those make me an expert at engineering, but they’ve taught me how to listen and deal with a wide range of people.

    2
  27. CSK says:

    @Kathy:
    I’ve said this before, but believing that expertise in one area grants you expertise in all areas is a fairly common failing of many academics. Being a specialist in fifteenth century Scottish verse does not make you a specialist in twenty-first century geopolitics.

    4
  28. Roger says:

    This smells a lot like the same “Trump won because Democrats are ignoring the economic anxiety of salt-of-the-earth, hard-workin’ real Muricans” BS we’ve been hearing for the last 3+ years.

    I was raised in outstate Missouri. I’ve heard way more than my share of snide comments about educated idiots and clueless city slickers from the folks I grew up with. I happen to believe that folks who live in big cities on the coasts and got a degree are just as authentically American as folks who never left their small town in the middle of the country or went to college, so I find it just a little bit disdainful to suggest that you’re not a real American unless, like me, you grew up in flyover country and were taught by your grandpa how to shoot and fish. But that kind of disdain seems to be just fine, maybe even admirable. Condescension is only a problem when you’re condescending toward Republicans.

    This idea that Democrats disdain anyone without a college degree is the strawiest straw man you’ll come across. Democrats, not Republicans, push for a living wage for people with low-level jobs. Democrats, not Republicans, support unions and the apprenticeship programs that come with them. Democrats argue for support for trade schools and training programs for people who don’t have the skills it takes to prosper in an increasingly technological society.

    Some of the smartest, best informed people I’ve ever known never went to college and some of the biggest ignoramuses I’ve ever known did. I don’t think I’m the only Democrat to have noticed that. Do some Democrats look down on people without a college degree? Sure, some Democrats are asses, but it’s sure not the defining feature of the party. Here’s who we do look down on: people who choose not to educate themselves, either formally or informally, then insist that their ignorance has to be given the same weight as someone else’s knowledge.

    15
  29. Modulo Myself says:

    This is an oblique way of saying that to the meritocracy it’s unimaginable how people end up at an Amazon warehouse or a convenience store without any plan or ambition. And it is–nobody with an advanced degree wonders what their life would be like if they dropped out of community college and worked at the local fulfillment center, and for very good reason. It’s like not voting. The American political system does not have any clue how to get non-voters to vote. All it can really do is throw up a bunch of pseudo-outsiders and pretend vulgar culture-war populism represents the hidden desires of Americans.

    2
  30. grumpy realist says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: You’re reminding me of the GA pilot instruction: “keep the shiny side up and the dirty side down”.

  31. Michael Reynolds says:

    Part of my issue with the well-educated is how often it’s all past tense. They got an education. Like they got a bag of flour or a carton of eggs. Got it, did that, now there’s a framed degree on the wall, all done.

    One of the problems here is that the college-educated are taught to do research and evaluate evidence for themselves – to employ the methods of scholarship. The uneducated never get that training.

    Riiiight. Sort of like how I learned to glaze windows and I also never use that skill. Ever. If it were even slightly the case that college grads employed the methods of scholarship, what a very different world we’d have.

    I did do a semester of college – learned how to make a potato into a hash pipe and that Catholic girls are suckers for ‘bad boys.’ Useful knowledge, granted, but IIRC correctly I was supposed to be learning international relations or possibly philosophy.

    Some of my beef with formal education is what a hugely inefficient time suck it is. Anything anyone learned for a liberal arts BA I guarantee you can be learned in six months. Easy. A STEM BS would take a bit longer, what with the preponderance of actual facts and numbers and stuff, but still, what, a year?

    It’s all a wee bit of a scam. We’re being charged taxes and tuition for a remarkably inefficient system that takes 16 years to get a kid an education that more often than not has no relevance to their post-school lives. Would you put up with a contractor who took 16 years to do a job that could be done in two?

  32. JKB says:

    Well, first we see the oft conflation of credentials with being educated, and the lack of arbitrary credentials with being uneducated. Obviously, there is profit in the conflation of magic parchment with being educated.

    The idea is, of course, that men are successful because they have gone to college. No idea was ever more absurd. No man is successful because he has managed to pass a certain number of courses and has received a sheepskin which tells the world in Latin, that neither the world nor the graduate can read, that he has successfully completed the work required. If the man is successful, it is because he has the qualities for success in him; the college “education” has merely, speaking in terms’ of horticulture, forced those qualities and given him certain intellectual tools with which to work—tools which he could have got without going to college, but not nearly so quickly. So far as anything practical is concerned, a college is simply an intellectual hothouse. For four years the mind of the undergraduate is put “under glass,” and a very warm and constant sunshine is poured down upon it. The result is, of course, that his mind blooms earlier than it would in the much cooler intellectual atmosphere of the business world.

    A man learns more about business in the first six months after his graduation than he does in his whole four years of college. But—and here is the “practical” result of his college work—he learns far more in those six months than if he had not gone to college. He has been trained to learn, and that, to all intents and purposes, is all the training he has received. To say that he has been trained to think is to say essentially that he has been trained to learn, but remember that it is impossible to teach a man to think. The power to think must be inherently his. All that the teacher can do is help him learn to order his thoughts—such as they are.

    –Marks, Percy, “Under Glass”, Scribner’s Magazine Vol 73, 1923, p 47

    These days the universities seem to create hot house flowers instead of forcing an early blooming of a robust variety. There are still those who get a head start with a college education, as Ezra Pound said, “Real education must ultimately be limited to men who insist on knowing, the rest is mere sheep-herding.” On the other hand, the university no longer has the “monopoly” on knowledge. Those who want to learn, far and wide, can get access to books, knowledge, even the example of many professors and practitioners’ thinking process they can learn from via online writings, interviews and lectures.

    But this is an old “problem,” except that an increasing number of college graduates have no “college experience” of working, say construction during the summer (or any “menial” work at all) or living as a “poor” college student. Sixty years ago, the entering freshman likely had worked the farm, worked in the factory or such. A century ago, a student would have experience handling horses, etc., just to get to school. Those first jobs can very educational as to the “plight” of the workingman when the student gets to Congress. The expansion of the number of children with a privileged upbringing, like the very elite in the past, in college is a driving element of the problem.

  33. KM says:

    One of the things that complicates this argument is people who are genuinely do not see the value of education get lumped in with those who’s jobs aren’t traditionally viewed as “educated” or those who couldn’t get high education for whatever reason. A lot of people who are bitter about “college-educated elites” are not particularly intellectually curious, a trait typically associated with higher education. If you hated school because you don’t see why you need to learn any more math then multiplication tables or think learning history is stupid because it has “no real world value”, you’re going to hate people who insist you have that piece of paper to get a good job. Anti-intellectualism is a huge problem in this county, with people thinking they know what they need to know and anything else is putting on useless airs.

    I’ve found very clever non-college educated people in my line of work but more likely ran into people who thought high school was all they needed to know… and even then it was mostly useless fluff that kept them there against their will. Why learn world history? (So you understand why the ME is screwed for generations) Why learn environmental science or chemistry? (So you don’t mix vinegar and bleach when cleaning to make chlorine gas) Why learn probabilities or calc? (So you know just how bad the casino or lotto is screwing you over on the odds). Typically these folks are mad because they don’t WANT to learn and resent that knowledge of any kind is a barrier. Knowledge of cars, knowledge of the stars – it’s all the same when the impediment is you. They also despise non-educated tradesfolk for the same reason. They’ve got a high paying job because they learned plumbing or construction instead of just landing in whatever job they could get.

    It’s the willingness to learn new skills and ability to use them that differentiates between those who simply didn’t go to a traditional college and those who are truly less-educated by choice. One deserves disdain, the other doesn’t – we need to be careful which we are referring to.

    6
  34. Northerner says:

    @MarkedMan:

    That sums it up very nicely. Every political party seems to have given up on unions (and non-skilled workers), even the NDP in Canada (our left-wing party which was once very union oriented).

    1
  35. JKB says:

    One shift to watch is this change happening in higher education. More and more, the split is with those who are easily automated out of a job, even one that in the past required a college education and those who can do more than what they learned in school. Professor Leamer below, only attributes this change to higher education, but it is increasingly also happening in “working class” work, where those who can solve problems earn more than those who just follow learned procedures.

    But, I want to go to the other end of the spectrum, which is intellectual services. It used to be, if you wave your Bachelor’s degree, you’re going to get a great job. When I graduated from college, it was a sure thing that you’d get a great job. And, in college, you’d basically learned artificial intelligence, meaning, you carried out the instructions that the faculty member gave you. You memorized the lectures, and you were tested on your memory in the exams. That’s what a computer does. It basically memorizes what you tell it to do.

    But now, with a computer doing all those mundane, repetitive intellectual tasks, if you’re expecting to do well in the job market, you have to bring, you have to have real education. Real education means to solve problems that the faculty who teach don’t really know how to solve.

    And that takes talent as well as education.

    So, my view is we’ve got to change education from a kind of a big Xerox machine where the lectures are memorized and then tested, into one which is more experienced-based to prepare a workforce for the reality of the 20th century. You’ve got to recognize that just because you had an experience with, say, issues in accounting, doesn’t mean that you have the ability to innovate and take care of customers who have problems that cannot be coded.

    –Econtalk podcast with economist Ed Leamer, April 13, 2020

    1
  36. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy:

    About 90% of what I know of history I’ve learned in the past nine years

    I used to jerk around a Republican friend because he was a stereotypical Country Club Republican and I probed him trying to see how an educated man could believe the nonsense he believed. Like many CCRs he went all in Tea Party, because that became part of the gospel of his tribe. I discovered most of the explanation was simply that having a Masters in Accounting did not make him remotely educated in anything but accounting. It’s 50/50 he could have listed World Wars I and II in correct chronological order. Unless you choose electives with an eye to broadening yourself and read and discuss a wide range of topics, a degree does not make a person educated. One needs the sort of curiosity that drives you to read widely.

    3
  37. Michael Reynolds says:

    @KM:

    It’s the willingness to learn new skills and ability to use them that differentiates between those who simply didn’t go to a traditional college and those who are truly less-educated by choice. One deserves disdain, the other doesn’t – we need to be careful which we are referring to.

    I agree with that up to a point, but you may be overlooking the fact that many people simply do not have the ability to learn much. The left half of the IQ bell curve isn’t going to become rocket scientists. Their defensiveness when dismissed by the elites is not laudable but it is understandable. There’s bias on both sides, the smart kids sneer and the slow kids return that contempt because they don’t have much of a choice. Who gets the better end of that stick? Not the uneducated.

    Part of this is paradoxically, our egalitarian instincts. We tell kids that they all – every last one – not only should go to college, but can handle college. We’re insisting that vast numbers of kids do what they are simply not capable of doing, we’re driving them into brick walls. If we had a serious vocational training and apprenticeship system it might be different, but every single kid is hit incessantly with college, college, college, and they are presented with no alternative but a life of failure.

    Anti-intellectualism is real and it’s a problem, but it’s less of a problem than writing off anyone without a degree. This is intellectual privilege, similar to white privilege, an ability you have and I have but a whole big segment of the population does not have. An awful lot of us who frankly just got lucky in the DNA lotto seem to confuse that luck with virtue, to be dismissive, contemptuous, of anyone who can’t keep up.* Let’s not pretend that anti-intellectualism really takes a significant toll on the lucky. In terms of suffering bias I think the educated have by far the better field position as evidenced by the fact that we have all the money and most of the power.

    *I am not without sin in this.

    6
  38. mattbernius says:

    @Fog:

    One of the problems here is that the college-educated are taught to do research and evaluate evidence for themselves – to employ the methods of scholarship.

    So depends on the program. And in the US at least, these skills tend to be taught and valued much better at the graduate level than the undergraduate level (which honestly have moved towards vocational training even in 4 year institutions).

    2
  39. Monala says:

    @Michael Reynolds: well said.

    2
  40. Teve says:

    @Roger:

    Thursday, September 3, 2020 at 11:41
    This smells a lot like the same “Trump won because Democrats are ignoring the economic anxiety of salt-of-the-earth, hard-workin’ real Muricans” BS we’ve been hearing for the last 3+ years.

    I was raised in outstate Missouri. I’ve heard way more than my share of snide comments about educated idiots and clueless city slickers from the folks I grew up with. I happen to believe that folks who live in big cities on the coasts and got a degree are just as authentically American as folks who never left their small town in the middle of the country or went to college, so I find it just a little bit disdainful to suggest that you’re not a real American unless, like me, you grew up in flyover country and were taught by your grandpa how to shoot and fish. But that kind of disdain seems to be just fine, maybe even admirable. Condescension is only a problem when you’re condescending toward Republicans.

    Shit, when I was still a hillbilly kid in the early 80s I remember Jerry Clower stand up bits about educated people being ignorant fools with, of course, no ‘common sense”. There’s plenty of disdain from the less educated.

    4
  41. Teve says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I truly wish I believed that. But my background is engineering. Almost all the people I work with have at least a Bachelors. More importantly, to troubleshoot, something that the vast majority of engineers do regularly, is a humbling experience because even our best theories go nowhere. To succeed you have to put aside what you want things to be and follow the actual evidence to the end. Yet somehow Engineering has more than its share of people absolutely certain that the earth was created in 7 days, 6000 years ago, or that cutting taxes on the wealthy increases overall revenues, or that flouride is a communist plot to sap the precious bodily fluids of our youth.

    My degree is in physics but I went to a huge engineering school and had a lot of roommates who are engineers. There’s the Salem Hypothesis, which says that of the creationists claiming a scientific background a disproportionate number tend to be engineers.

    This is just a guess from knowing a handful of engineers and seeing people like Steven den Beste, but what I suspect is going on is that a lot of people who are engineers have a history of being The Smart Kid in class because they could do math sooner or better than most of their classmates in middle school and high school and such, but aren’t smart enough to know just how much data and experience and knowledge there is another field, so they just think whatever they know applies to every field. Obviously, they can figure things out better than everyone else, because they’re The Smart Kid.

    Just a wild guess.

    7
  42. Michael Reynolds says:

    @JKB:

    But now, with a computer doing all those mundane, repetitive intellectual tasks, if you’re expecting to do well in the job market, you have to bring, you have to have real education. Real education means to solve problems that the faculty who teach don’t really know how to solve.

    And that takes talent as well as education.

    Yes, which is why the future is socialist, redistributionist. X number of people can achieve education as glorified job training. A much smaller X can bring talent and independent thought to bear. Computers and robots are sweeping across the IQ bell curve, gobbling up the grunt work, moving on to the eye-hand coordination work, the minimally intellectually challenging work, and now even the somewhat more challenging work. Oh noes!

    Eventually there will be very few jobs a robot can’t do better, and it’s fantasy to imagine that humans will keep up. The robots win this contest. So we need to outgrow a whole lot of assumptions about work, because many people, most even, won’t be qualified to do a single profitable thing. We either let a vast number of people starve, or we redistribute.

    5
  43. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I agree with that up to a point, but you may be overlooking the fact that many people simply do not have the ability to learn much. The left half of the IQ bell curve isn’t going to become rocket scientists.

    Yes and no.

    Having been a teacher, and having seen “stupid” kids become “bright” when taught in the correct way, it has a lot more to do with how we teach than the ability to learn. There will always be those who “just get it”, of course.

    2 anecdotes:

    1) A couple that I met in China are, with the backing of the German Roundtable (a business org), running a training center and for-profit manufacturing facility where 100% of the employees are mentally disabled. This is not a charity. They’re charging–and getting–market rates by doing jobs that are too small or too detailed for big factories to fuss with. The training includes not only how to do the jobs, but how to handle situations when they don’t have explicit instructions.

    2) A very good friend of mine from high school was in all the “remedial” classes. He barely graduated, and joined the Army straight out of school. He could never “get” what was being taught. On the other hand, you can give him a machine he’s never seen and he’ll take it apart, tell you what it does, and put it back together with improvements. He spent 20 years as a security guard until it got automated. He got bumped over to maintenance, and quickly promoted to R&D. Now he’s designing parts that get used in US naval vessels.

    We used to be a lot better about “teaching how to learn”. Now everything is focused on standardized tests. We’re teaching the answers–and it’s hurting everyone.

    10
  44. Teve says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Part of this is paradoxically, our egalitarian instincts. We tell kids that they all – every last one – not only should go to college, but can handle college.

    I definitely don’t think that. Hell I think there’s a good fraction of kids who don’t belong in high school. But also, I think that for many things the classroom is absolutely the wrong environment for learning it.

    1
  45. Monala says:

    @Mu Yixiao: also well said.

    1
  46. Northerner says:

    @Teve:

    That is probably just an American thing. I know a lot of engineers (being one myself), and I don’t think a single one is a creationist (at least of the type that thinks the world is 6000 years old, there are a few who take the Catholic position that God started the big bang etc).

    I went from an undergrad in physics to graduate studies in engineering, and I’d say the average physicist is “smarter” (ie better at applied math etc) than the average engineer, but that’s a result of there being about 100 engineers for every physicist (a quick look at job availability will explain why). The top engineers are as “smart” as physicists (and earn far more — and in fact many engineers are people with physics degrees who decided to go the money route).

    However, I suspect both engineers and physicists, along with doctors and lawyers and just about every white collar job out there, and even musicians, writers and artists, will be replaced within a generation or two by artificial intelligence (I’ve no idea if machine learning can lead to consciousness, but it already leads to creative solutions in almost every field). We’re going to need a whole new basis for our economy (ie for deciding on how to share resources and products), and very soon.

    We’re also going to need a new basis for how we value ourselves and others.

    3
  47. Mu Yixiao says:
  48. Sleeping Dog says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Did they charge you extra for watching 🙂 or perhaps knowing that your an attorney built it into the estimate.

  49. Gustopher says:

    @Northerner: I’ve met a few religious engineers and scientists who basically subscribe to Last Thursdayism — God created the world on Such-and-Such day, but created an old world with a history dating back billions of years.

    Such-and-such day is usually a few thousand years ago, but could easily be last Thursday.

    It is hard to tell whether they actually believe in Last Thursdayism, or just enjoy that it is a pretty nice solution to the problem — untestable, and allowing faith and science to coexist without conflict.

    (The conflict then becomes whether God did this to be deceptive, or because worlds are old and have a history so of course he would have to do this.)

  50. Kathy says:

    @gVOR08:

    All that, and something that bugs me no end: educated does not automatically mean smart.

    I would stipulate that in a STEM field, any person with a postgraduate degree has a minimum level of intelligence that is perhaps well above the population average. But that is not necessarily so in other fields.

    1
  51. Gustopher says:

    I do have a bias against someone who thinks common sense solutions to problems work. It’s as bad as the well-educated attempting to apply what they know about squirrel mating habits (or whatever their area of expertise is) to economics.

    If the common sense solution worked, then it wouldn’t be a problem in the first place, because people would have just used common sense.

    2
  52. Teve says:

    @Northerner:

    That is probably just an American thing. I know a lot of engineers (being one myself), and I don’t think a single one is a creationist

    Well yeah, in so far as creationism is an American thing.

    I went from an undergrad in physics to graduate studies in engineering, and I’d say the average physicist is “smarter” (ie better at applied math etc) than the average engineer, but that’s a result of there being about 100 engineers for every physicist (a quick look at job availability will explain why). The top engineers are as “smart” as physicists (and earn far more — and in fact many engineers are people with physics degrees who decided to go the money route).

    When I graduated in physics I immediately became an engineer. For the money. But after a while the money wasn’t enough to make up for the misery and tedium. Dropped out of the game altogether and went back to working at a coffee shop. I later figured out that it was just a shitty company I had worked for, but by then my engineering career was derailed and since then I’ve just done a hodgepodge of other things.

  53. EddieInCA says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Some of my beef with formal education is what a hugely inefficient time suck it is. Anything anyone learned for a liberal arts BA I guarantee you can be learned in six months. Easy. A STEM BS would take a bit longer, what with the preponderance of actual facts and numbers and stuff, but still, what, a year?

    I can’t speak to other businesses, but in Film and TV, one of the worst degrees you can get is a BA or Masters in Film Production. These kids coming out all think they’re going to be the next Chris Nolan or JJ Abrams, but the reality is they’re going to standing in a parking lot with a walkie talkie and getting coffee for people for two years. That’s the reality. I tell them flat out that I will spend two years un-teaching all the stupid crap they were taught in film school. Most leave the business within a year. The kids that make it have it in their blood, didn’t get a film degree, and will sleep on the floor for the opportunity. The kids that have the film degrees are pampered little shits.

    3
  54. Northerner says:

    @Gustopher:

    I haven’t met any engineers who believe in a God created “Last Thursday-ism” (I’m in Canada and young earth creationism is rare here). I do know however who claims to believe that we’re just NPC’s (non-player characters) in some alien computer game, and another who claims to believe he’s an element of a Boltzmann brain.

    However, I think both of them are just trying to be funny (both are good engineers, which is lucky given they’d never make it as comedians).

    Most engineers I’ve met up here are basically a political and un-religious (or at least, refuse to discuss politics and religion at all — possibly a good idea in that no one will give your company work just because they like your politics/religious views, but many might be turned away if they dislike your politics).

    I haven’t met enough American engineers to have much of an opinion, though I don’t remember any speaking out about politics or religion either (of course, they were up doing business and so would shy away from that).

    Most engineers I’ve met tend to be very pragmatic in most aspects of their lives, including politics and religion. And very cynical about anyone claiming to know something for sure (bridges fall down when people are too sure about their design — test, test, and test again).

  55. Mu Yixiao says:

    A note on “education”.

    I’ve been a teacher in a few different environments, and I’ve dealt with the difference between “teaching people” and “being a teacher”. The former is a process, the latter is a bunch of paperwork and BS from administrators. 🙂

    Standardized tests have taken over as the golden standard of how well a school is “teaching”. So, over the past 20 years or so, American schools (starting heavily with “No Child Left Behind”) have started “teaching to the test”. This means teaching the answers, not how to learn the answer.

    One of the driving forces–and a common scare tactic–is comparing US schools against other countries. People will shout “We’re #35 in math!” and point to China as #1. Obviously we’re failing!

    Nobody, however, looks at the actual list. Things get a lot less scary when you do.

    First of all, on a lot of the lists I’ve seen “China” isn’t listed–Shanghai is. That’s like picking Arlington, VA and saying it’s the entire US. If numbers for the entire country of China were included, they’d drop much farther down in the listings.

    Secondly, the difference between #1 and #30 is usually about 10%. Quite often the countries doing better than us are doing so by 0.1 points (on a 550+ scale). On the 2018 PISA listing, the difference between #10 and #21 is 7 points (on a scale where #1 has 551).

    On a more important level, however, children in Asia are getting high scores because they are literally being taught to memorize the answers. I’ve talked to the students (current and former). They admit this. This isn’t just for math or science, either. It’s also for “reading comprehension”. They are told “This story means X”. That’s the answer. Period. They memorize it and regurgitate it on the test.

    Anecdote: I was teaching at a language center for adults, and was called over to the children’s division to help a HS girl who was going to an international school (a Canadian school in China, teaching in English). She had a book of poetry and needed help with a specific poem.

    I sat down and had her read the first line.

    Me: “So… what do you think that means?”
    Her: “I don’t know. Tell me.”
    Me: “No…. you tell me how it makes you feel, what it makes you think of.”
    Her: “No. You tell me!”

    After about 5 minutes, I gave up and walked away.

    Chinese students allowed to study at international schools are either top-level or wealthy and well-connected (usually both). And she couldn’t come up with an original thought.

    One of the reasons I talk about Xi Jinping being so scary is that he’s one of the few that can think creatively. The rest just do what they’re told. They ask for they answer, are given one, and that’s now the truth.

    It’s been changing over the past couple decades as the eastern provinces have become more wealthy and exposed to more western culture… but Xi’s working on shutting that down.

    America doesn’t need to compete with China and Asia on their terms. We need to go back to “teaching how to ask the right questions”.

    That and embracing the concept of learning from failure.

    5
  56. Mu Yixiao says:

    @EddieInCA:

    I can’t speak to other businesses, but in Film and TV, one of the worst degrees you can get is a BA or Masters in Film Production

    The three worst words you can hear when working on a live theatre production:

    Yale Theatre Degree.

    😀

    4
  57. EddieInCA says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Recently, we had a director direct an episode. She was just okay as a director. But the whole damn episode, she kept talking about the $400K she spent to get her Masters in Film from a well-known private university.

    She pissed away $400k. Her very successful well-known father is in the business. She could have walked into any studio, and gotten a TV directing gig with a decent short, just based on who her father is.

    Education does not equal smart.

    BTW, nothing says “struggling artist” like an $8000 Rolex and shoes that cost $1500, which she bragged about constantly.

    4
  58. Mu Yixiao says:

    @EddieInCA:

    $400k for film school? For what?!

    And she’s got well-known family in the business?

    Idiot.

    1
  59. Kathy says:

    @EddieInCA:

    If you work with someone like that again, take a page from MAD’s Dave Berg and recommend a $200 an hour psychiatrist.

    3
  60. Kathy says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    This means teaching the answers, not how to learn the answer.

    Ah, memories.

    let me preface by saying I understand math, but I’m terrible at it. That is, I understand the abstract concepts, but cannot do the math to save my life.

    In high school, math was divided in four parts, one semester each for two years. Math I was set theory and algebra, Math II equations, Math III analytic geometry, and Math IV calculus. The grade scale went from 1 to 10. The minimum passing grade was 7.

    I struggled to attain a 7 each semester, except for Math II, where I got a 9.6. How? Well, the tests were multiple choice, ten questions per test. So given any equation to solve, you don’t have to. Just substitute each answer in the equation until you have the right one. I finished those exams in under 15 minutes each. But that simple trick didn’t work in the other semesters.

    1
  61. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Super! Now all we have to do is figure out how to certify all of those people who will claim “I studied that on line.” Yeah, industry could handle it’s own testing protocols, but my guess would be that such a plan would devolve down to “put all the applications marked with a ‘C’ in the shredder instead of sending them to Mr. Trump.”

    2
  62. EddieInCA says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    I know too much about this because she wouldn’t shut up about it.

    5 years at Howard University at $55K per year. And two years at an Ivy at $60K per year.

    And just an average TV Director.

    1
  63. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Kathy:

    Math was a piece of cake for me. It just made sense. Algebra? Geometry? Trig? No problem. As long as I had a calculator for the trig stuff, I was good to go.

    Then I had Calculus in College (it wasn’t offered in HS). I barely passed Calc 1 (sliding scale, so my “football scores” allowed me to pass). I dropped out of Calc 2 after the first test. My score was very good…. for a hockey game. 😀

  64. flat earth luddite says:

    @Mu Yixiao:
    I’d have been a lot more impressed if it had been the student who figured this out, instead of the parental unit. However, the student did learn a valuable lesson in how to game any given situation.

    OTOH, my daughter was a brightish-but-ultimately-failing high school student nearly 20 years ago. Her senior year her GPA went from 1.1 to 3.8. How/Why? She finally listened to her dad and her Uncle Cracker that this was a game, and to get the results she wanted, she had to play by the “house rules,” otherwise the casino kicks you out. She did it just to prove she could, if she wanted to.

    3
  65. flat earth luddite says:

    @Mu Yixiao:
    I feel your pain. Failed calculus 2x, 3rd time a different prof taught me that I was estimating, not looking for a real number. Lightbulb flickered, switched majors.

  66. Mister Bluster says:

    Years ago a wise man told me:
    “Get a degree in philosophy. You will be unemployed but you will understand why.”

    11
  67. Mu Yixiao says:

    @flat earth luddite:

    Learning to “play the game” is probably the best lesson she ever learned.

    In university I had a “dramatic criticism” class taught by a hard-core (but lovable) prof*. I learned the way to do the class was to read the first and last act of the play we were studying, then skim the middle if there was time.

    Then… jump into the conversation at the start, comparing it to the situation at the end.

    Then shut up during the middle–except asking a few questions: “But how does that compare with his speech in the final act?”

    And do the compare-contrast thing at the end. 😀

    *On the first day of his history class, he had the students open the textbooks to specific places to correct a missed Oxford comma and change an en-dash to an em-dash.

    1
  68. Kathy says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    I found two things easy(ish) in math, quadratic equations (just use the formula), and derivatives. I can’t recall how to do either by now (one more day when I didn’t use algebra!), but I could back in high school.

    I also could not determine a square root, except when the solution is a whole number, without a calculator to do it for me.

    1
  69. Teve says:

    @Mu Yixiao: that boggles my mind.

    1
  70. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Mu Yixiao: Ayup! Something similar also works for writing skills screening tests (like the kind college students take to qualify for/gain exemption from English 101). The readers for the tests usually have to read about 50 exams an hour, so they look for about 4 traits. Once they see them, the student has “passed” even if the actual essay is inaccurate and nonsensical.

    2
  71. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    This means teaching the answers, not how to learn the answer.

    I’ve always found it more useful to teach students to recognize the obvious non-answers. But teaching the answers is another route.

    While I was teaching in Korea, I had the opportunity to read an interview with the Korean student who had the highest TOEFL score in Korea for that year. Her advice was, literally, to remember that TOEFL is just like any other computer game–the more you play, the better you will become. She went on to note all of the various places and search terms that would lead one to free practice opportunities.

    Test preparation cram schools worked on a similar principle there. One of my students was a public school teacher and had taught at a cram school where the students studied about 25 or 30 different actual test forms that had been used in the past. The theory was that with that much background, students are unlikely to see a question that they haven’t seen in some similar form already.

  72. Kathy says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    More memories. In junior high school, calculators were forbidden tools of evil to atrophy young minds. for trigonometry, and logarithms, we used books of tables.

    In high school calculators were freely allowed even in exams*. But that was a different school.

    If you scored an HP programmable calculator, you could write in the formulas for various functions and cheat your way in some areas. I never had one. Classmates who did, often rented them to others for exams.

  73. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Mu Yixiao: My experience with Calc was that I had pneumonia that winter and missed about a week and a half at a critical time with other absences as the residual bronchitis would flare up. I remember talking to my professor and telling him that the process didn’t make sense to me because the computations were easier by other methods. He gave me a problem that I set up to work on his blackboard, and because I was working quickly, I gave him an approximate answer (it’s about X). He pulled out his calculator and worked the answer. Subsequently, he told me that I was a one-of-a-kind in that calculus had been invented because most people couldn’t do what I’d done with enough accuracy.

    Overall, math was never my cup of tea, though. Like the Greeks, I was only interested as long as I was seeing new things. Learning how to hone the information into a skill set held no interest for me after arithmetic.

    1
  74. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    My experience with Calc was later revealed to be the result of a really bad prof (it was his first year teaching). When we got to u-substitution, I just couldn’t get it. It didn’t make sense. I asked the prof “how do I know what to substitute?” His reply was “After you do a few thousand of them, it just becomes natural.”

    What?! How do I do those first “few thousand” if I don’t know what I’m doing?

    A couple years later, I was talking with friend who a Masters in mathematics, and she said “Oh… that’s easy. You pull out smaller equations to simplify the full equation, then put them back in as it gets simplified.” That made perfect sense.

    If I’d been told that in the first place, I’d probably have been working in a lab for the past 30 years instead of out having an “interesting” life. 🙂 The pay would have been better, but I’d have missed out on so much. I think I’m rather happy that I flunked Calc. 😀

    3
  75. Mu Yixiao says:

    Okay. It’s old-people night at the wine bar, so I’m out for the night.

    1
  76. Teve says:

    @Kathy:

    More memories. In junior high school, calculators were forbidden tools of evil to atrophy young minds. for trigonometry, and logarithms, we used books of tables.

    my junior and senior level physics classes were open-anything. Bring books, bring notes, tables, graphs, whatever you want people.

    For two reasons:
    1 real life is open book. If you can use books to solve the problems you need to solve, then more power to you.
    2 this is complex shit. You either know how to do this stuff, or you don’t. And if you don’t, no book or note or graph or chart is it going to help you figure these three problems out in 90 minutes.

    2
  77. Grewgills says:

    @EddieInCA:
    I somehow doubt she paid the 400K. Not sure why her dad would cough up that money, as he certainly knows the same as you that his foot would be in the door for her.

  78. flat earth luddite says:

    More math memories of ancient days, writing on our clay tablets…
    No, seriously, slide rules. IIRC, programmable calculators became available my sophomore or junior college year. Cost as much as I made in a week night shift at 7/11.

    Could someone please wheel me back to my room? I think I’ve had enough sun today.

    1
  79. Kathy says:

    @Teve:

    In high school, for math calculators and sheets with formulas were allowed. Later on also in physics and chemistry.

    For biology and non-science classes, nothing was allowed. The thinking there was that the answers were to be found on the textbooks.

    They should have hired my old junior high school history teacher. She didn’t use a textbook (!), and her four question exams made you correlate what you learned in class, not just repeat it back. I recall one question in particular: How did trench warfare in the Western front affect the conduct of the war, and how did this differ from war in other theaters?

    We had learned all that in class, but not spelled out in those terms. So you had to dig up what you knew and apply it. I mean, the Schlieffen plan was wrecked, Germany had to adjust timetables and troops, while also having far more success in the Eastern front even though the Russians had mobilized faster than anticipated, and now France and Great Britain probably regretted having Russia as an ally, etc.

    Those exams were brutal. Lucky there was a 45 minute time limit.

  80. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Grewgills: Maybe he insisted she go to uni first so that she wouldn’t turn out to be one of those “show business kids making movies of themselves” types.

    So it didn’t work this time. How was he supposed to know?

  81. DrDaveT says:

    @flat earth luddite:

    No, seriously, slide rules. IIRC, programmable calculators became available my sophomore or junior college year.

    My HS chemistry teacher (late 70s) would provide free slide rules and teach you to use them, or let you do pencil and paper arithmetic. No calculators permitted, allegedly because they were still too expensive to be able to provide one for every student.

    The slide rule kids did a lot better on the tests. I didn’t figure out until much later that it was because they couldn’t accidentally use too many significant figures.

  82. Grewgills says:

    @DrDaveT:
    We weren’t allowed calculators in math class because, “No one is going to have a calculator with them all the time.” Not sure where those teachers are now, but I’ll bet they always have a calculator with them.

    1
  83. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Grewgills: Sadly, the thing I’m seeing in schools where I substitute teach is students who have access to the calculator all right, but can’t set up the problem and/or enter the numbers in the correct sequence.

    Also at the middle school level, students who need calculators to do single digit arithmetic. 🙁

  84. Bill says:

    I am not very smart and will be the first to admit it.

    During junior and senior high schools, I was a mediocre student in almost every subject but history and some science classes.

    My SAT score was about 900-1000. I don’t remember now. I did take the AP American History and scored a 4.

    I chose to go in the Navy and became a hospital corpsman. Later on I was trained to be an x-ray technician. That’s the work I performed for 10 years in the Navy and another 15 years almost as a civilian. I think I was good at my job.

    Because I suffered epilepsy as a child, I didn’t participate much in sports or was ever particularly good at them. I did read. Mysteries and history almost entirely.

    While I may sell quite a few books, I don’t think I am a talented writer. I have a good imagination but putting my story ideas into words is a chore for me most of the time.

    I may be smart in a few areas but for most everything else I am of average intelligence at best. Smart people have always impressed me. Dumb people I try not to look down on because I am not all that smart myself.

    3
  85. Northerner says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Henri Poincare (one of the great mathematicians of the 19th century) said math is done using a sense of aesthetic — the solution comes not from rational reasoning but because the path through the problem feels right. Rational reasoning comes in afterwards, to make sure the steps taken are valid.

    And then schools teach that rational reasoning as the way to solve math problems instead of as a way of ensuring the solution is valid. You end up with many students who can only solve math by plugging into equations, because that’s how they’ve been taught its supposed to be done.

    1
  86. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    To be honest I am not certain that they didn’t. The bills were eye popping, but frankly speaking, it was worth it. Everything is modern now and just effortlessly and unobtrusively works as it should. For a house that’s well over 150 years old, accomplishing that was no small task. My hat is off to them and then some. If they did indeed charge me a premium for watching, I’m not really bothered by having paid it.

    2
  87. DrDaveT says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Also at the middle school level, students who need calculators to do single digit arithmetic

    I did quite a bit of tutoring of middle school and high school math, and invariably it turned out that the problem was not that the kids didn’t understand algebra, it was that they had such poor basic arithmetic skills that they couldn’t DO algebra. You can’t factor quadratic equations if you don’t know basic flash-card multiplication tables by heart. You can’t do probability calculations if you can’t do arithmetic.

    1
  88. MarkedMan says:

    @Teve: That sounds right to me. I’ve worked with a fair number of scientists too, some of them quite religious, and I can’t think of a single one who’s world view was based on nonsense. Not all angels or “right thinkers” but not young earth fanticists it’s either.

    1
  89. MarkedMan says:

    @Mu Yixiao: since you brought up China, I will always remember the time I walked into a Shanghai conference room to find my colleagues on leadership team obviously flustered about something. Although they were talking in Mandarin I gradually realized it was a TV show about the top students in China every year for the past (I think) 30 years. In China there is a “best student “who is known every single year because every student is ranked numerically. The documentary looked back at what became of those students and it turned out they didn’t do particularly well, some had decent jobs but none were captains of industry and some were downright eccentric. Considering how much time and energy these colleagues were devoting to move their children up the ranking, this was pretty world-shattering.

    1
  90. MarkedMan says:

    @Gustopher: FWIW, that’s a heresy to Catholics, as is the similar notion that the dinosaur bones were planted by the devil. God does not seek to deceive and the devil cannot create.

    1
  91. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @DrDaveT:Yeah, but on the other side, you can’t require students to learn addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division tables because that’s evil rote learning and some students won’t be able to do it as well. At which point, I used to note that it might be important to know which students were actually innumerate, and the people I was having the discussion with would run screaming out of the building.

    2
  92. Gustopher says:

    @MarkedMan: There’s a vigorous debate about whether God would be being deceptive, or whether for a thing to really exist it must have a history.

    If you were created last Thursday, and did not have any memory of Wednesday, would you be you? Not really, because in large part you are motivated by your past.

    Is God being deceptive? Or is God just creating what you need to be fully you — Wednesday and the time before that.

    Or you limiting His abilities to create by saying the omnipotent God can only create new things with no history?

    Also, this is the same God who told Abraham to sacrifice his son. He can be deceptive.

  93. Gustopher says:

    @DrDaveT:

    You can’t factor quadratic equations if you don’t know basic flash-card multiplication tables by heart. You can’t do probability calculations if you can’t do arithmetic.

    My basic arithmetic is very, very sketchy.

    I could absolutely factor quadratic equations, and do back of the envelope probability calculations. And calculus. Basically, the higher level and more abstract the math was, the easier I found it. I’m out of practice, but it was easy enough at the time.

    Multiplying a matrix correctly or calculating a tip, and I’m useless if anything gets to double digits. I have about 2 digits of precision, and frequent errors even then.

    Statistics was hell.

  94. Mu Yixiao says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I gradually realized it was a TV show about the top students in China every year for the past (I think) 30 years.

    I can only imagine how that would have broken their world-view. I’m surprised it was allowed to be shown (and no, I’m not being sarcastic).

  95. Michael Reynolds says:

    @EddieInCA:
    Much the same in the restaurant biz where brand, spanking new CIA grads (the cooking school, not the spies) looking to make it as serious chefs end up peeling vegetables for a year or two in a brigade kitchen.

  96. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Bill:

    I have a good imagination but putting my story ideas into words is a chore for me most of the time.

    Dude, it’s a chore for all of us.

    1
  97. JKB says:

    @Mu Yixiao: These students figured out their tests were graded by AI — and the easy way to cheat

    The incentives of schooling is to get good grades, not to learn a lot about a topic. Do the latter and you will fall behind and not get good grades. Doesn’t matter whether the grader is human or AI. You study for the test, then move on as you’ve another test in another topic looming.

    Getting a good grade in a class on x is so different from learning a lot about x that you have to choose one or the other, and you can’t blame students if they choose grades. Everyone judges them by their grades — graduate programs, employers, scholarships, even their own parents.

    Paul Graham, The Lesson to Unlearn, December 2019

  98. DrDaveT says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Yeah, but on the other side, you can’t require students to learn addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division tables because that’s evil rote learning and some students won’t be able to do it as well.

    My reply to that was always “Until you are willing to make that same argument about the alphabet, I’ll assume you’re full of crap.”

  99. Mu Yixiao says:

    @JKB:

    The incentives of schooling is to get good grades, not to learn a lot about a topic. Do the latter and you will fall behind and not get good grades

    This is because we’ve changed the way we teach, and what we expect from students.

    For example: We used to have a lot more essay questions. Students would have to explain things to show that they understand. An essay question would be worth 5 or 10 points, and a missed fact would cost a single point. But grading them is more subjective, and much harder to get “data” on. Now it’s about having the right answer.

    As a teacher (back in the day), my favorite word was “Why?”–usually directed at the students. I didn’t care if they got the exact answer, I cared that they understood why their answer feels right (and why it’s is or isn’t right).

  100. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Teve: Clower’s son was my Science teacher–really great guy and quite funny. Especially his stories about his Dad

  101. SC_Birdflyte says:

    A required course for all freshmen when I entered college (1967) was a course in logic, called “Creative and Critical Thinking.” There are huge numbers of college grads who, to all appearances, never learned anything remotely comparable in their higher education.

  102. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: “…calculating a tip”

    Are you that guy who always leaves the tip of $2.375?

  103. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Kathy: Having taught history at the community college, the question your history professor gave you is an excellent one, as it can force you to think about what the war aims of all sides were in World War I.

    1
  104. Bill says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Dude, it’s a chore for all of us.

    Michael,

    Before my cancer battle, I wrote one of my short stories in a day. I think it is the one about the cannibal.

    My golf ebook, 69,000 words and over 200 pages in length, I wrote in around 4 weeks. Golf is a topic I am familiar with and I was trying to get my mind off the death of my newborn son. It was an easy write.

    Due to my cancer battle, I never write any ebook that fast again.

  105. al Ameda says:

    I’m finding the comments in this thread interesting.

    A significant part of my college experience is that I had little idea what I was doing until I realized that I was there to learn how to learn. Once I realized that I became a far better student.

    I was a liberal arts student and early on I decided on economics, but I also wanted other coursework was not so ‘social science-y’ where there was more structure, and there were objective answers to problems – so I decided that mathematics and statistics were the path for me.

    AND … 2 years of Calculus, Linear Algebra, Matrix stuff, Differential Equations, Power Series, Econometics and Quantititative Methods … later … I found that the teaching for that coursework was so good, so engaging, that I ACTUALLY learned how to better organize myself to solve problems, and it very much benefitted me in all of my ‘social scienc-y’ coursework where papers had to be written where, for the most part, there were subjective conclusions to be reached.

    Learning how to learn has served me very well in my career in financial management. These days more than ever, one has to adapt quickly.

  106. wr says:

    @JKB: Wow. A hundred year old magazine article and a Fascist poet. Talk about arguing from authority!

    PS — Any takers on how many of Pound’s poems JKB has read?

  107. wr says:

    @Mu Yixiao: “In university I had a “dramatic criticism” class taught by a hard-core (but lovable) prof*. I learned the way to do the class was to read the first and last act of the play we were studying, then skim the middle if there was time.”

    What a complete of your time and everyone else’s. If you didn’t give a damn about the art you were supposed to be studying, then it ain’t the college that’s the problem — it’s you.

    Sure, any smart people can figure out how to game a system to get a decent grade. Some people actually take classes to, you know, learn stuff. But yay you — you proved how much smarter you were than all those losers.

    1
  108. wr says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: “The readers for the tests usually have to read about 50 exams an hour, so they look for about 4 traits. Once they see them, the student has “passed” even if the actual essay is inaccurate and nonsensical.”

    Odds are if you understand and are capable of doing this, you shouldn’t have to take 101. So it works.