Thursday, September 15, 2011

Where is our education system going - and why?

A series of four articles in different publications caught my eye over the past couple of days. They should be read in the sequence laid out below - but above all, they should be read. They'll open your eyes to a whole new perspective on education and what it means for today's students. If you're one of them, or you have children who'll be wanting to study at university, these articles are essential, critical reading. I can't recommend them too highly as food for thought.

1. From the Economist: "Angst for the educated: A university degree no longer confers financial security". An excerpt:

The supply of university graduates is increasing rapidly. The Chronicle of Higher Education calculates that between 1990 and 2007 the number of students going to university increased by 22% in North America, 74% in Europe, 144% in Latin America and 203% in Asia. In 2007 150m people attended university around the world, including 70m in Asia. Emerging economies—especially China—are pouring resources into building universities that can compete with the elite of America and Europe. They are also producing professional-services firms such as Tata Consulting Services and Infosys that take fresh graduates and turn them into world-class computer programmers and consultants. The best and the brightest of the rich world must increasingly compete with the best and the brightest from poorer countries who are willing to work harder for less money.

At the same time, the demand for educated labour is being reconfigured by technology, in much the same way that the demand for agricultural labour was reconfigured in the 19th century and that for factory labour in the 20th. Computers can not only perform repetitive mental tasks much faster than human beings. They can also empower amateurs to do what professionals once did: why hire a flesh-and-blood accountant to complete your tax return when Turbotax (a software package) will do the job at a fraction of the cost? And the variety of jobs that computers can do is multiplying as programmers teach them to deal with tone and linguistic ambiguity.

2. From the Belmont Club blog: "The Miseducation of the First World", which analyzes the article above and expands on it. An excerpt:

What globalization implied, once embarked upon, was the destruction of whole series of gates which defined the privileges of established Western society. Once down that road you either destroy all the gates and accept both the costs and benefits of globalization or you keep all the walls of the city up. But embarking on “globalization” while maintaining the guilds and social contracts of a welfare state does not seem to work. You get the worst of everything. And once globalization takes hold, credentials become progressively worthless. The only thing that retains its value is real skill, real human capital.

In that regard future generations may wonder at how careless the current leadership were of that precious resource. Keeping people in a prolonged welfare performs a “pickling” function which ultimately destroys human minds. The inner city ghetto residents, the growing British chav population and the hapless students who’ve gone $50,000 into debt for 5 year course in media studies alike share one thing. They’ve consumed an enormous amount of good money to destroy their perfectly good minds. They’ve bought themselves a one-way ticket to nowhere and the trains going in that direction are still many and full.

3. From Progressive Review: "Building little republics in a collapsing empire". An excerpt:

There are several factors speeding the shift away from democratic devolution, not all of them political:

  • For example, there has been a huge increase in the number of lawyers in Congress and elsewhere in the federal government. Lawyers tend to be technocratic control freaks more than ideological ones. But the effect is much the same and has helped to produce more federal laws since the late seventies than we had had in our first 200 years.
  • The explosion of MBAs have also helped, up from around 5,000 a year in the 1950s to around 150,00o in the past decade.
  • The takeover of the liberal movement by a grad school elite that sees itself as far brighter than much of the country, of superior virtue, and which believes that as long as you can manage something you can make it work. In many ways. Barack Obama - bringing us into our third decade of uninterrupted presidency by a Harvard or Yale graduate - epitomizes this approach not just in his manner but in his obsession with data, assessment, tests and legislative complexity. The foregoing not only fail empirically; they annoy the hell out of much of the rest of the country. Further, the liberal elite with increasing frequency can be heard speaking of less powerful and educated Americans in a manner reminiscent of white southerners of a pst time talking about blacks.

4. Again from Belmont Club: "The Miseducation of the First World Part 2", responding to the third article mentioned above. An excerpt:

... the greatest loss has been in freedom, which can be rephrased as the ability to proceed UNODIR — to go for it UNless Otherwise DIRected — which alone creates the conditions for creativity and initiative. It was evident even to Jefferson that there would be the temptation to grow Washington at the expense of the states. He wrote after passage of the Constitution with its 10th Amendment that “to take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specifically drawn around the powers of Congress, is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition.”

. . .

Centralization destroys freedom. It destroys initiative. It makes everything subordinate to the survival of the great god whose monument towers to the very heavens and which exists for reasons no one can remember and yet does no one knows what.

The discussion ranges far beyond education, but nevertheless comes back to the question of what we're educating our children to become, and how we're educating them to make and shape and form the world of the future, even as that world is making and shaping and forming them - and us.

All four articles are highly recommended reading. I'd like to thank Richard Fernandez of Belmont Club most sincerely for linking to the other two articles, and getting the discussion rolling.



raven said...

"wretchard" Richard Fernandez's screen name. is a superbly sharp guy- truly one of the shining stars of the internet.

Anonymous said...

I am curious if this trend applies the same way to the major engineering degrees. The type of work engineers typically do it not something easily done by computers (at least in chemical plants where I work). I wonder how those trends apply if you separate out different education disciplines. Have engineering and technical degrees seen the same increase in graduates? Do they expect the same automation problems?

However, I do agree with the concern about the people populating our political institutions.


Dad29 said...

Kirk also had something to say about education:

And it won't make "trade-school" advocates very happy.