Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Extra Credit

The New York Times reported here (you may need to register to see it) that the costs of college are rising too high for the average American family.

The story caught the attention of The Delaware Libertarian, which posted a story about it here. Here's a little snippet of what they said:

"Ultimately each individual is responsible for their own higher education. But it should never be beyond reach for anyone willing to apply themselves and work hard."

While I would agree with that statement to a point, I think that it is important to focus on the real problem at the center of this issue: America has a worsening obsession with college and it's causing irreparable damage to our nation and our economy. A half-century ago, very few people went to college straight out of high school. The American economy of the 1940s and 1950s depended upon well-educated, well-skilled young adults coming almost completely out of a public educational system who could then learn (usually on the job) how to make, fix, install, and construct almost everything imaginable. Those who did go to college did so with a clear understanding of why they were there and exactly what they would do when they got out. They became the engineers, the architects, the teachers, and the research and development scientists who made the decisions and plans that were carried out by the massive numbers of skilled hands coming out of the well-organized systems of community public schools. Was it an elitist pyramid? Yes, certainly. Did it work? You bet your iPod it did!

Today we have almost two entire generations of Van Wilders, a teeming workforce that casually saunters into the "real world" not from high school after twelve or thirteen years of purposive schooling, but from sixteen to twenty years of sub-par and unfocused academic underachievement. The result is a nation of mostly inept managers who have a very limited supply of skilled workers to follow their doltish instructions and bring about their myopic plans.

Now, without a doubt, there are plenty of students who buck this trend and truly make something of their time in college. Typically, though, these students unnecessarily end up in graduate school as a way to stand out from the crowd of average college grads and the American economy doesn't get the grace of their work and skill until they are more than 25 years old. I was, admittedly, a part of this very problem. By that time, their bumbling peers have managed to scrounge up enough "professional work experience" to land ahead of these people in the corporate game of life and end up "middle managing" the creativity and innovation right out of our last hope for global economic dominance.

The concept of equal opportunity, or equity, is a fundamental and necessary one as a truly free society. Everyone should hold the same hope of achievement as an individual, regardless of his or her race, color, creed, or any other involuntary trait. That said, I'm not sure that the Bill of Rights actually says "the right to go to college, no matter one's grades or vocational goals (if any), shall not be abridged."

Really, though, we as an American people (and as parents of the next generations of Americans) need to recognize being "just a high school graduate" is truly alright and is not a bad thing for a person to be. In all this fretting over the costs of college, I see the very making of the economic crisis that lies right in our laps. We can't just all sell insurance to one another and expect that our economy will boom. We need and use things, not services, and some-where some-one has to make some-thing in order for our modern society to live. And if we want a bright and shiny future for our kids, that some-one had better be them.

Instead of a nation of Van Wilders, let's make a nation of Will Huntings: young, independent-minded blue-collar laborers who can, through their own hard work and the support of solid public systems (free libraries, free public schools) choose their own fate and be proud of their own daily successes, whether in the factory or in the white house.

1 comment:

Delaware Watch said...

Do you really think that we could be competitive in a global economy w/o having at least as many students in college as we do today?

While I agree that not everyone should attend college, I think that the right to a college (not a mandate) should be available to every citizen. Why not?