Obama’s Education Speech

Obama Schoolchildren Speech PhotoMatt Yglesias takes mock exception to President Obama’s assertion to our nation’s schoolchildren that “You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.” He notes that, “My father dropped out of tenth grade and has had a totally solid career as a novelist and screenwriter.”

Indeed, as several commenters point out, all manner of people drop out of school and wind up having enormously successful careers in business, the arts, and athletics.

Presumably, though, such people are covered by the president’s exhortation.   I’m sure Rafael Yglesias not only learned quite a bit at the elite private schools he attended for nine years but continued to work and train to become successful as a writer.   Certainly, Bill Gates didn’t stop learning after he dropped out of college to found Microsoft.  And even rock stars and athletes have to work and train and learn to excel in their chosen endeavors.

For especially talented and self-motivated people, formal education may actually be a hindrance to achieving their goals, since it at the very least requires divided concentration.  For most, however, that process will expose them to new insights and discipline that will improve their chances at figuring out what they’re good at and making a living doing it.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor 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. odograph says:

    “You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.”

    That is totally communist, get those kids back to the teletubbies … no, wait.

  2. kvc says:

    Of course we are assuming that they can get a good education in the public school system. There are two tracks that are used to push students through the school system: 1) Pass the tests and get them out. 2) Fast track to college. About 20% of the student population has a chance to find the programs that will prepare them for their future.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    As I wrote in my post this morning, I think there’s a more serious problem with the prescription. While it may be true that most people must get an education and work hard to get a good job, the converse isn’t true: if you work hard and get an education, there may be no job at the end of the process.

    Our problems in this area are both economic and educational. Our economic system isn’t producing enough good jobs and our educational system isn’t preparing students for what good jobs there are.

  4. DL says:

    I dropped out many years ago, and joined the Navy – best thing I ever did. I did go back, but always stayed seeking the truth, in spite of the leftist slant by the various professors. You learn more when you challenge them. I ended up as elected head of over 800 professionals having as an adversary, a superintendent of schools who also was a drop out.

    There is a time and place for everything.

  5. I have a tenth grade education and make a living as an intellectual of sorts.

    I took my son to school today and felt like I was betraying him. He learns more at home glued to his computer. But my daughter needs and loves school.

    We have deep problems with education that have little to do with funding or with the usual right vs. left battles. We’re teaching to the tests, pretending that the internet doesn’t exist, insisting on putting kids into giant buildings surrounded by expensive real estate, wasting time on extraneous nonsense like sports or chorus that ought to be non-school learning.

    I hate to be the one to diss Spanish, but who cares about kids learning Spanish? English is the lingua franca of planet Earth and the runner-up is Mandarin, not Spanish, not French.

    Schools are still obsessing over handwriting for God’s sake. Who writes on paper? Teachers are sending kids home with algebra problems as if Wolfram Alpha wasn’t going to solve it for them. They’re demanding kids sit in tattered, ill-equipped libraries and do research from out-of-date books.

    Meanwhile conservatives are busy gutting science curricula the better to wedge their bearded sky fairy into lessons and liberals are pushing a version of history that somehow involves Sojourner Truth at the crossroads of every major historical event.

    Idiots fighting the 60’s all over again and kind of missing the fact that “facts” are available everywhere, all the time and for free and that the key lesson is no longer “who sailed the ocean blue in 1492,” but how do we know who sailed the ocean blue in 1492?

  6. just me says:

    I think the exceptions to the statement probably aren’t nearly as common as the rule. Stat after stat indicates that the lack of a high school education limits job opportunity and pay. That doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions, but the reality is that people who are most likely going to find good work and good pay need to finish their education.

    I think most of the successful exceptions are people who probably were bored with school, but already had the knowledge and work ethic to succeed.

  7. just me says:

    I think the exceptions to the statement probably aren’t nearly as common as the rule. Stat after stat indicates that the lack of a high school education limits job opportunity and pay. That doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions, but the reality is that people who are most likely going to find good work and good pay need to finish their education.

    I think most of the successful exceptions are people who probably were bored with school, but already had the knowledge and work ethic to succeed.

  8. just me says:

    I have no idea why that double posted-sorry.

  9. Dave Schuler says:

    kind of missing the fact that “facts” are available everywhere, all the time and for free and that the key lesson is no longer “who sailed the ocean blue in 1492,” but how do we know who sailed the ocean blue in 1492?

    Michael, the terribly sad thing is that in all likelihood not one in 1,000 of the readers of this blog knows how we know “who sailed the ocean blue in 1492”. This is something I’ve been struggling to explain whenever the subject of history more than a century or so ago comes up.

  10. Alex Knapp says:

    Michael,

    People need to know facts in order to synthesize them and come up with creative ideas. You can’t just rely on your damn computer to do everything for you. I wrote an essay about that not too long ago.

  11. odograph says:

    We have tremendous opportunities to reinvent education. When people stay “stay in school” they are probably thinking of a physical place, and one that we are less tied to.

    The interesting thing is that those technologies can also make lifelong learning work as a positive thing. That is they can, and not that they do automatically. It’s not really lifelong learning to go just to Daily Kos (or The Corner) every day.

    The thing that’s nice about “school” is that it has some framework for coverage, to encourage a wider view.

    (That includes Spanish. It’s probably less important what second language you learn than that your brain gets, really gets, what it’s like to flip from one to the other. And it’s nice to be able to follow the Spanish in On The Road Again)

  12. Alex:

    I’m certainly not denying people should learn. I’m just not sure they should be learning what they’re learning the way they’re learning it.

    We can talk about “should” all the day long. But the fact is that we all have — and will soon have to an even greater degree — access to a vast virtual memory. It’s just a fact that it’s there. Just as it’s a fact that calculations, to pick one example, can be outsourced to computers.

    Assuming that civilization doesn’t collapse and return us all to the days of scribes and foolscap, Google’s not going away. I find myself shifting memory to Google all the time. Why do I need to memorize my editor’s phone number when it’s on my phone’s memory and failing that, on Google?

    Why do I need to know 1492 or 1860 or 1941? Those bits of data are available to me any time. What I need is to know a larger picture. I need themes and abstractions and panoramas.

    What is it that the human mind can do that Google cannot? It’s not memory. We have lousy memories. The chemical and physiological memory in our skulls is perfectly capable of “remembering” things that never happened and forgetting things that did.

    There was a time when, if you wanted to hear music you had to play music. Just as there was a time when if you wanted to eat you had to plant corn. We’ve outsourced music and food production. No longer our problem.

    Of course it would be great if we were all musicians and farmers as well as doing the other things we need to do, but it’s not practical, and it’s not going to happen.

    We are right now in the process of shifting memory from gray matter to silicon. That’s going to continue. How many more years do you think it will be before we have Google available in something small enough to fit inside our ear? Or play images directly to our retinas? Or simply be incorporated into our synaptic web?

    It may not be good for us, but it’s happening anyway.

  13. Dave Schuler says:

    BTW, Michael and Alex, you might want to check out some of my posts on visualcy. They strike a related note.

  14. What is it that the human mind can do that Google cannot?

    Is this a rhetorical question, because if it’s not, it’s patently absurd.

    Google cannot synthesize information into a cogent argument. Google cannot determine which is the factual, accurate or complete information (see Google bomb). It can determine what is most popular, or what is most linked. It can determine from what you’re searching for what you might be interested in.

    But it cannot make the judgment that a human mind makes about what information is most relevant to the argument at hand.

    As to Wolfram Alpha, “why should kids learn algebra when Wolfram Alpha will do it for them?” is a similar question. Sure, WA will put out the figures. But it also has glaring weaknesses (last I searched, U6 wasn’t accurate in the least). Knowledge will not go forward with a bunch of “intellectuals” whose sole exposure to math (or science) is through Googling what other people have figured out through a computer algorithm.

  15. anjin-san says:

    Google cannot synthesize information into a cogent argument

    Well, neither can bithead for that matter…

  16. Grewgills says:

    …Just as it’s a fact that calculations, to pick one example, can be outsourced to computers…
    …why should kids learn algebra when Wolfram Alpha will do it for them..

    So that they understand what they are doing when they utilize the tool. We allow kids in school to over rely on calculators and computers.

    The chemical and physiological memory in our skulls is perfectly capable of “remembering” things that never happened and forgetting things that did.

    Google does that quite well too. I’ve learned all sorts of things that never happened from the internet.