Victory for the NEA

Monday, October 02, 2006
Jeff Jacoby has written a very good column entitled Dumbing down democracy which provides stark evidence concerning the appalling civic education provided by both high schools and most colleges and universities. His assertions are drawn from data collected in a survey conducted by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and the size of the sample involved - 14,000 freshman and seniors - and survey design are sufficient for the data to be considered representative of the matriculating population.

The results are completely unsurprising to anyone with knowledge of the current focus of high school education. I'm quite sure that the students involved could regurgitate pap concerning the importance of diversity, tolerance and acceptance at length as well as being able to demonstrate an extraordinarily high level of self esteem which the survey proves is totally unfounded.

The NEA is producing as fine a herd of docile mushheads as they could ever hope to see but they seem to have forgotten that apathy feeds on ignorance. As these collegiate sheep have their fine fleece of ignorance sheered by life's vicissitudes they are going to become somewhat less docile and perhaps willing to engage in a little payback at the ballot box.

The devaluation of a high school degree and especially a college degree may be the reason that more male high school seniors are deciding that matriculation at a four year school is an economic error. The 'unseen hand' may be working with its slow but steady efficiency in marking the value of a college degree to fair market, making those seniors decision one of rational economic interest rather than an indicator of the educrats inability to provide a meaningful educational experience involving thinking rather than feeling.

The differential in lifetime income between a college graduate and a high school graduate is still very substantial but it is a comparison of the mean of one versus the mean of the other. It is quite possible that a fair number of male high school seniors are uninterested in subjecting themselves to a feminized system of instruction solely on the basis of a beneficial economic return whose first fruits don't show up in the bank account until ten years after graduation. That is especially true given the fact that a three year apprenticeship program in many trades pay a second year apprentice far more than most college graduate will receive for their first years work.

20 comments:

truepeers said...

thinking rather than...?

I'd have a tough time justifying university to many young people. Yes, since they haven't learned much in high school, it's time to knuckle down and do some serious studying about human reality (including transcendent realities). And having four years to get going in a good library is invaluable. But given the cost of tuition, just how invaluable? Most public libraries in big cities will allow you to study the liberal arts while you devote your day time to acquiring a marketable skill you can't otherwise acquire in your free time.

However, universities will have to increasingly erode the left-liberal hegemony because it's all too clear to many parents and the public debate that the tenured radicals have less and less worth teaching every year. Don't be surprised if conservatives are prominent in the schools in thirty or forty years. Some young intellectual types might well focus on becoming one of the new wave.

Skookumchuk said...

Parallel.

Institutions.

Some religious schools, the military academies - which have much more rigorous English courses than many Ivy League schools that lack a core curriculum - and others.

But despite our having these options, what the NEA is accomplishing constitutes a profound national tragedy. There is only one consolation, a small one. Later in life, if they are naturally curious, they will see what they missed. There is nothing so beguiling as the discovery of a truth that has been concealed. When it is concealed by a nomenklatura, the thrill of discovery is even greater. Who was that Thomas Edison guy, anyway? So Jefferson said that? This is where I come from. Why didn't we learn about any of this before?

Knucklehead said...

Hmmm...

The Industrial Age grew legs as legions of middle class men (primarily men) got themselves a basic education and started applying their cleverness.

Heargraves, inventor of the spinning jenny, was a carpenter. Arkwirtght, inventor of the spinning frame, was a barber. Whitney was a farm boy.

Savery was a bit upscale but not, to my knowledge, part of the royalty. Newcomen was an ironmonger. Watt's family was well off enough but, IIRC, from rather rude beginnings.

I don't mean to short any of the greats of the Industrial Revolution but the point is that it was largely driven by young men with aptitude and energy but, often, not a huge amount of formal education (the steam guys were reasonably well educated for their day but typically in a practical sense).

Anyway, perhaps we're ready for another round of that sort of thing. In Shop Class as Soulcraft (The New Atlantis), Matthew B. Crawford makes a case for the crafts as financially and mentally rewarding.

Given the sort of thing Debra Saunders tells us about in Higher ed's senior moments (JewishWorldReview) about how seniors at some of the nation's most prestigious universities know less about US history and civics than do freshman (the schools seem to be doing "negative" education), is it any wonder than increasing numbers of young men seem to be opting out of college?

Skookumchuk said...

knucklehead:

I don't mean to short any of the greats of the Industrial Revolution but the point is that it was largely driven by young men with aptitude and energy but, often, not a huge amount of formal education... Anyway, perhaps we're ready for another round of that sort of thing.

That is easy to visualize. America - the Anglosphere really - has a soft spot for the garage inventor and the maverick innovator. Bert Rutan, guys like that. I can't imagine types like that in Euroland.

But my real question I guess is where do we create the next generation of historians and philosophers, the next generation of English teachers? People who come from some new place, not the current PC swamp.

Rick Ballard said...

TP,

"Thinking rather than feeling." Thanks for the catch.

I've got a baseball team of grandkids who will be making the decision as to whether the college game is worth the candle and my advice to them will remain constant. As far as I can tell they all have sufficient intelligence to pick up a degree (although two or three are probably marginal) - that being the case, I tell them that they have to continue to think of school as a very long corridor with many locked doors - they were born with the keys and they damn well better not lose any or throw any away because they're heavy because they cannot know what treasure lies behind the door until they have unlocked it.

Skook,

I keep thinking of the parallel system as nurturing the kids who will contend for leadership roles with the 20% of the college seniors who actually passed the test.

offworld said...

I am well above average in many respects but I grew disinterested in university. I had to pay my way so economic considerations figured in my decision to leave my studies. I realized that, at least at my second rate public university, an additional 2+ plus years of part time study would merely delay and add little to the accomplishments I sought. The carefree life of the mind seemed like an expensive luxury better suited to the early retirement I seek.

I have worked in many corporations and startups, earned a very high income at times and only once found a door closed to me due to lack of a degree. It was the wrong place for me anyway.

My years in college awakened me to the life of the mind and helped foster a love of learning. That, the self-exploration and friendships from that time form 90% of the value. I definitely felt a decreasing marginal return with every year. I acquired my professional skills on my own and never looked to university for that.

As incomes for men have gone down relative to women and as having a family has become less attractive economically and emotionally for men, it is no surprise that men are less interested in college. Even as college now assures women of a middle class lifestyle independent of a man, it no longer assures a man much of anything -- not anything really important. Financial security, social status, love of a good woman, a decent household -- all these things are things you must work hard for once you are done with your four to six years of school and none necessarily require a degree.

Skookumchuk said...

knuck:

I think you had a busted link. Here it is.

A wonderful article. This is very deep water. The shift from wanting to see how mechanical devices work, in delighting in how they worked, to assuming that people don't want to see how they work, that the workings are ugly, is something I've pondered for a while. We've gone from whirling brass ball governors to the black box. Only a few vestiges of that old sensibility remain - in grandfather clocks, maybe. Why so few?

Skookumchuk said...

knuck:

I very much liked this bit:

But still, the physical circumstances of the jobs performed by carpenters, plumbers, and auto mechanics vary too much for them to be executed by idiots; they require circumspection and adaptability. One feels like a man, not a cog in a machine. The trades are then a natural home for anyone who would live by his own powers, free not only of deadening abstraction, but also of the insidious hopes and rising insecurities that seem to be endemic in our current economic life. This is the stoic ideal.

MeaninglessHotAir said...

I was discussing with my officemate today the value of the "Studies" departments, as in "Women's Studies", "Blach Studies", "Ethnic Studies". In general, Designated Victims Studies. He claims that it is a shame because naive young students enter these programs, thinking they're just the same as all the other programs—after all they receive the same sanction from the university as economics or chemistry—only to find that they have a worthless piece of paper.

My rejoinder: aren't almost all of those degrees worthless pieces of paper? And while college can be a fun place to hang out for 4 years, except for a few exceptions like engineering and architecture, do we really think any of these degrees have value? Latin, mathematics, english?

Knucklehead said...

Skook,

Thanks for fixing the link. It is, IMO, a very interesting article. I've long wondered about craftsmen. When I do projects for myself I always wind up profoundly disappointed - I know where the flaws are. When I see the work of a real craftsman I search, enviously, for the flaws and seldom find them. Would that I had the patience for such things.

I suspect we may slowly but surely enter an age that begins to revalue craftsmanship. It'll be a while though.

Knucklehead said...

Skook,

Thanks for fixing the link. It is, IMO, a very interesting article. I've long wondered about craftsmen. When I do projects for myself I always wind up profoundly disappointed - I know where the flaws are. When I see the work of a real craftsman I search, enviously, for the flaws and seldom find them. Would that I had the patience for such things.

I suspect we may slowly but surely enter an age that begins to revalue craftsmanship. It'll be a while though.

BTW, OT but oddly related somehow... I ran into a friend I hadn't seen in a while this morning. I knew her youngest son had transfered from a university in FL for a local college following his frosh year. He wanted to play football and it wasn't going to happen for him at the large D1 school. He hasn't cracked the starting lineup at the D3 school yet but he keeps working at it.

The biggest surprise for the kid, however, wasn't the difficulty cracking the lineup. The biggest surprise was how much more rigor was required for his classes. This is not a lazy or disinterested student. School had just never demanded much of him before.

We really need to find some way to reintroduce something that approximates academic rigor into our schools. We also need to find some way to reintroduce respect for craftsmen and tradesmen.

Rick Ballard said...

Knuck,

Maybe this will help gain some respect for marble masons:

Wages $ 30.80
Vacation 4.00
Union Administration 1.49
Total Taxable Wages $ 36.29
Health and Welfare 4.85
Defined Benefit Pension 3.64
Defined Contribution Pension 3.62
International Pension .40
Promotion .01
International Masonry Institute .10
Apprenticeship .35
Total $ 49.26

That's a $100K annual package for a guy that knows what he's doing and shows up. True, it will take a kid about five years to get a journeyman's card - but he starts at 50% and a $50K package for a high school grad isn't bad.

That's the current NorCal package.

Skookumchuk said...

Knuck:

Sorry, I was out in the garage, trying to seal the pores on a wooden spindle. I'm doing a few things simultaneously. Restoring a bookcase of my grandparents, and fiddling with their old music stand. I'm also carving a shotgun stock - in my spare time.

Of course when you compare yourself to the great ones, who will come up short. I don't care. I try to plod along and learn as much as I can. Planning, patience, practice.

It is interesting. There are now a few specialty toolshops in the greater Seattle area. They'll have a few antique tools, and the tools of our father's generation - hand drills, augers, planes.

There are days when I think I won't rest until I've built every stick of furniture in the place and given to charity every bit of Chinese sweatshop or otherwise uninspired bit of furniture we own. We shall see if this in fact happens.

Once we get a piano, my wife can play and I can use my restored music stand to keep such favorites as "She's a Bird in a Gilded Cage" and "Father, Dear Father, Come Home With Me Now", making my regression complete. I might even start shaving with a straight razor and a shaving brush. But I'll probably draw the line at bowler hats.

At least I'm enjoying myself. :-)

Knucklehead said...

Skook,

Once we get a piano, my wife can play and I can use my restored music stand to keep such favorites as "She's a Bird in a Gilded Cage" and "Father, Dear Father, Come Home With Me Now", making my regression complete.

Maybe I should make the leap toward developing craftsmanship skills on the Steinway sitting in my living room. The serial number says it is a 1920. But it has been restored somewhere along the line and the model no. is no longer marked where it should be. My best guess, based on size (which I am not certain how to measure properly) is that it's a Model A, probably an A III.

Plays wonderfully (or so say the folks who know, I'm tone deaf). But the finish is faded. I'll start with that. I break out the sander and Dremel and pick up a couple cans of Minwax and fix 'er right up!

Get the girl a piano, willya! It is tough to get points with any longevity from one's Better-Two-Thirds but I gotta say... early on a got her a brandy-new Young Chang upright. The only thing we could afford but they are (or were anyway) very good value. She was most appreciative. But that was nuttin' compared to snarfing up that Steinway when the opportunity presented itself. Oh, boy, them were the days!

Knucklehead said...

BTW, (sorry, lost track of hattips that should be paid), If We Really Hope to Improve Mathematics Education might be of interest.

This is the stuff our good friends at have been complaining about (and fighting against) these past coupla years.

Knucklehead said...

For some reason...

The sentence

...our good friends at...

should have been ...our good friends at Kitchen Table Math...

Skookumchuk said...

Yes. Time for a piano. I was leaning toward a player piano myself... but you are correct: it would be a long-term points scorer. In so far as anything can be...

My Dad had a friend who had a steam calliope on the side of his house next to his garage. I wonder what the neighbors thought about that.

But the prospect of circus music blasting through the air every Saturday at 6AM is so intriguing I just might pursue it. Anybody here have one for sale?

Knucklehead said...

I have an acquaintance who is right fond of recovering old organs. He went so far as having "Save the organs!" T-shirts made. He's a man of subtle humor.

Skookumchuk said...

He should get together with my piano tuner brother in law. Of course, he thinks we should spend 80 kajillion dollars on a Bosendorfer.

The upside is that I could perfect my Victor Borge impression.

Assuming I learned to play first.

offworld said...

I spent about 6 months in between jobs a few years ago, doing manual labor for a friend's contracting business. It was exhilarating and liberating in many ways. I was by no means a craftsman, though I worked with a few talented fellows. The comraderie was wonderful (when I was not left to work on my own) and I found the physical exhaustion mentally refreshing. I could spend much of the day lost in my own thoughts while doing tasks, measuring and calculating, doing philosophy, designing software in my head or sometimes just thinking nothing at all, sometimes out of doors. I could eat like a horse and drink all the beer I wanted in the evening without getting fat. On the whole, it is an attractive low wage trap. It is honorable work though and quite real in terms of visible accomplishment compared to many corporate jobs. Good thing it paid less than 1/10th of what I make with my professional skills or I'd still be doing it.