Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Future Uncertain and Marginal Product

A while back, in The Coming Crisis In Citizenship, I noted a study suggesting that our colleges and universities are, perhaps, failing us. Evan of The Future Uncertain is, like many of us, determined to keep launching flares into the darkness. He uses those giant ones that get blasted out of mortar tubes and float down on parachutes to keep the terrain lit as well and long as possible.

He's had a much deeper look at the issue of educating our young citizens than I did. As is every post of his I've delved into, Is the Marginal Product of College Negative? is far ranging and quite detailed.

For those who share my interest in our nation's educational efforts it is, IMHO, well worth reading in full (but have some time to spend!)


loner said...

For what it's worth...

When I entered the University of California, Berkeley in Fall 1976 my vague plan was to major in History and then go to Law School. When the youngest of my brothers entered the University of California, Berkeley in Fall 1988 his concrete plan was to major in Chemical Engineering and then get a job.

That, I submit, is the transition that continues to cause all this angst about the role higher education plays in educating Americans. And you know what, my younger brother was required to do more course work outside his field of study than I was because the Regents were concerned that higher education was becoming too narrowly focused.

The job market changed. The communications and transportation revolution greatly impacted the ability of employers in this country to provide to high school graduates jobs which would allow them to live a middle class life.

I worked in alumni relations while I was at this great public university. It was, when I attended, the best value in higher education in the world. It may be still, but those who attend pay many times more than we did and those who raise money from alumni, corporations and friends are many, many, many times more numerous and raise many, many, many, many, many times more money. They have to.

The Western Canon, great resource that it is, is not a be all and end all in the commercial atmosphere in which we live. That is an uncomfortable fact of life. The British, God bless them, could afford to be patronizingly civil when not being brutal (and the other European colonialists could afford to be just plain brutal,) but those days are gone. Today, we compete in a world which includes many areas where it is highly profitable to do business, but which don't give a damn about open inquiry. It's a pity.

Often when looking at a mass of things for sale, he would say to himself, "How many things I have no need of!"

—Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, book II, section 25

The philosopher who reportedly often said that to himself was Socrates.

chuck said...


I don't think it too much to ask that students have read the Constitution and maybe have some idea how their state/county operates. Otherwise they are just so much detritus on the civic stream no matter how technically adequate their education. Even programmers have to leave the cubical sometime. But not before morning, of course.

loner said...


I know I took Civics in the eighth grade and something else having to do with governance (what they called it I don't recall) in the tenth.

I don't remember much from the Political Science and History classes I took while in Berkeley. Interestingly enough I do remember the morning and evening lectures given on the Saturday of orientation weekend in August 1976. The morning speaker was a member of the History Department. The evening speaker was the Chairman of the Political Science Department. I've often written about what the evening speaker had to say, but I've never hit the Publish button on any of it. Someday, maybe. I'm not likely to forget seeing as I've remembered for thirty years.

Before I even took up residence in the state of Pennsylvania I found two things of interest. The first was that there was another level of governance (than I was used to) within counties—the township. The second is that the state controlled the sale of alcohol. I wasn't a big drinker by then, but I wasn't sad to be living close to the Delaware border. No sales tax in Delaware, by the way.

Now I've relocated from a state with an income and sales tax (California) to one with no income tax and across a river border from another with no sales tax.

The important stuff.

...and so it goes.

MeaninglessHotAir said...

I've often written about what the evening speaker had to say, but I've never hit the Publish button on any of it. Someday, maybe.

What a tease!

loner said...


Want a tease? I'm working on three reviews. Let's see what comes of that.

The morning (introductory) lecture was on why we'd chosen Cal (Stanford didn't want us) and how we'd find that we were happy they didn't. He was very funny and was generally regarded as the most entertaining lecturer on campus.

The evening (issues of the day) lecture was on international terrorism and the foreign policy complications that could and probably would arise from it in our Cold War-dominated world. This lecture changed the way I thought about the world in that I never again thought of terrorism as an elsewhere issue. The professor was a "conservative" in the days when the labels had meaning separate from general or specific support for a party and/or a politician. Never saw or heard him again while I was in Berkeley. No one would think him a "conservative" now.

My comments on terrorism are generally for my own use in working out complications in my thinking and frustrations regarding how others think. They rarely survive a first preview.

I'll send you an e-mail any day now and yes, I did read the material from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I even sort of understood it. Don't tell anyone, but I was part of the group who salted a script "Cal" into the Stanford Stadium field prior to the 1977 Big Game. The paint didn't quite hide it from view. Go Bears!