Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Disclaimer #1- I writes what I thinks. I am formally trained as a teacher, a labor doula, and whatever you want to call someone who on a daily basis springs out of bed, attaches a cape, and spends the next 18 wakeful hours lactating/ cleaning/ changing diapers/ tormenting the dog/ fielding the press/ budgeting/ cooking/ summoning Captain Planet/ singing invented songs to the baby and dog/ and trying to boss other people around. Mainly my siblings. Who now ignore me. Where was I going with this? Oh yeah- do not quote me for any sort of term papers or medical journals- I do not have a $30,000 piece of paper that says I can officially philosophize. I do, however, have a $30,000 piece of paper that says I can give standardized tests to children, but will be sued to within an inch of my life if I give them a hug.

Disclaimer #2- While I no longer have the energy driven by the radio discussion from the previous morning, I do have the energy produced by the contempt I feel after watching A&E last night on mute with closed captioning- primarily to have a little light to see what I was doing to feed Bambina. A&E was airing some sort of show that follows around meter maids. Are they called meter maids? Meter officers? At any rate, this show and this show alone makes me weep and wail and gnash my teeth and cover my body with ashes. I live in utter fear now, knowing these yahoos are driving about.

Disclaimer #3- I may ramble. Bambina-lina is asleep, but I still need to rush, as she may wake up at any moment.

Where, oh where, oh where can I continue this line of thought? I'm not going to touch the industry issues surrounding production and importation and the arrogance in presuming that the USA can actually (snort) be the leader (Oh lordy, can I even say it) of the (chuckle) "knowledge industry." When the Math Regents passing grade in NY State is 55%... nope. Not going to go there. None of us have the time.

Farming? Nah. Another day, I will rant about genetic engineering (and as a Biology minor who actually did take classes involving this, I am slightly more prepared) and we can all talk about the issues involving the many many MANY problems with the quality of our food, the quantity of fake food that is killing so many, and the pharm industry and kookalooka crapazoid surrounding the hilariousness that is ethanol.

I think I will take this in a slightly more personal direction, and loop off of the "Almanzo" dilemma. What do we do with him? Even more importantly- it is significant that Almanzo is a "him." Males are having an outstandingly difficult time in this current era of college education. This is not just me spouting off- this is something that all corners of the educational world are finally admitting to. While we've greatly enhanced the learning opportunities for girls, we've gone right ahead and committed the crime of "robbing Peter to pay Paul" in the sense that we've had a deleterious effect on boys instead of merely enhancing the girls. As such, we have a nation chock-full of very confused young men. Now, not all young men are confused- some are successful, and feel that they've found their place and are fitting quite well. The amount of young men who finish high school and suddenly feel as though they've fallen through a trap-door into some kind of limbo where they have no place is staggering. Where my grandfather and his peers could easily leave high school and find employment in line work that would feed and clothe and house their families, their grandchildren are finding themselves at a stand-still.

Let's look at some high school graduates. Let's sort these high school grads into four categories:
Cat A- Are "college material," desire a college education, and understand their strengths and interests;
Cat B- Are "college material," do not necessarily desire a college education, and understand their strengths;
Cat C- Are not "college material," do, however, desire a college education, understand their interests and strengths;
Cat D- Are not "college material," do not desire a college education, and still understand their strengths and interests.

Cat. A is all set. They fit the criteria for entering college, and make it happen. Go them.

Cat. C is also all set. While they do not fit the criteria for entering college, they can still use their money or find the federal or state or private funding to get them there. At college, they will find something that interests them enough to limp along until graduation. After which, it will not matter- they have the degree, and can join the rest of the mooing crowd into the workforce.

Almanzo, from my sixth grade class, is Cat. B. He can certainly get into college with his grades. He will almost certainly be heavily encouraged by his school to apply for grants and loans and college applications, as college is the Thing To Do, whether he likes it or not.

As for Cat. D- we'll call this individual "Boog," after someone who was in my graduating class. This unfortunately-monikered boy was somehow still enrolled in high school when I was hired, two years into my bachelor's degree, to substitute teach at my old high school. Talk about awkward. At the time of my subbing, he was about to be aged out of the high school program anyway. He just did not have the grades, nor the desire for the grades or any other post-secondary education.

Almanzo and Boog. Boog and Almanzo. What do we do with you two? How can you enter adulthood successfully and perhaps enjoy a family as well? Importantly- who defines what "success" looks like?

Probably, if they both work hard, they can manage. It will be without the accoutrements, for sure- Buffalo Bills tickets will not be just a credit card swipe away, unless they want to spend the rest of their lives buried in debt (which a great proportion will end up doing, if you believe the money reports). Their spouses will probably have to work, whether they want to or not. Where do they fit along this "knowledge industry," though? How will the rest of the world view them- and how will they be trained to view themselves?

When we, as teachers, support the mindset that college is THE means to an end, rather than one way we can achieve our goals, where does that send the non-college crowd? When we make college abundantly accessible- what does this do for the people who do desire an ongoing education? What happens when lecture halls are filled with a mix of people who want to be there, and people who don't feel they have a choice? As our country increasingly mixes and mingles with the rest of the globe, what does this sort of graduating class do for us?


mark8484 said...

What a confused culture. It's not easy to classify, because the burden to classify and explain this period is for future generations to look back on and criticize. In the mean time, enjoy this phase of transition, as we march the cattle onward.

gs said...

You went a bit sideways between part 1 of this post and part 2, which I have to say has thrown my thoughts, begun after reading post 1, a little off kilter. But here I go:

Regarding post 1, this is personal for me. I work in a department of about 40 engineers. I am the only, solitary engineer in the department who does not have a college degree -- I squeaked in 30 years ago just before they made a degree a requirement. But I am also the most highly paid engineer in my department. Basically, this is because I have proven my worth, and my employer pays me what it thinks I am worth.

The practice of excluding people from consideration for employment solely because they are not degreed deprives people of the chance to prove their value.

On the other hand, I don't think companies require college degrees for any of the reasons you cited (same foot, equalize, open minds, etc.), though those are the reasons they give. I think the real reason the degree is required is to give the employer some confidence that the employee has a work ethic. Earning a degree requires a lot of work that for the most part requires self-motivation. Slackers drop out. Therefore graduates aren't slackers. So, I believe, the logic goes. It seems like an incredibly wasteful way, both in time and money, to filter the workers from the slackers, but, hey, it wasn't the company's time or money.

Of course there are still a certain number of slackers who make it through college and are terrible employees. And the flip side is that there is a pool of potentially hard workers who didn't go to college, for whatever reason, and who are not being tapped. Regarding these latter, I think that companies' opinions are either (a) sure there are good people there, but it's too hard and too expensive to find them, or (b) you mean there are competent people without degrees? No! After all, I'm competent and I have a degree!

To be continued...

gs said...

Part 2 of your post starts off with an interesting disclaimer: "I do not have a $30,000 piece of paper that says I can officially philosophize." You seem to be saying that one cannot really philosophize with a college degree in philosophy, but then go on to express a philosophy that people can become accomplished without a college degree. Were you being ironic?

Anyway, I was struck by something about your categories A through D: All four consist exclusively of people who "understand their strengths and interests." So there are actually four more categories, E through H, that have the same criteria as these, except that the members do not understand their strengths and interests. Where do these fit in? I am particularly interested because I would have been Cat E, and I see many bright young people today who are just at a loss for what to do with their lives.

You end part two of your post with three paragraphs chock full of questions, and nary an answer in sight. I don't have answers either, but I do know that while Almanzo and Boog should be able to work, at the same time they can only expect to be paid according to the value that society places on the product of their work. If Almanzo is happy picking citrus in Florida, more power to him, but we can't pay him the same as a civil engineer unless we are willing to pay an awful lot more for oranges.

While there are some jobs that rightfully require college degrees -- medical doctor comes right to mind :) -- the middle ground might be to look for types of jobs that today require degrees, but that don't really have to. Journalism? Computer programming? The litmus test might be to compare what is learned in college with what is actually used in a real job. The higher the correlation, the more important that degree is. The lower the correlation, the more we can be open to people without degrees. I'm pretty sure that most graduates with degrees in Computer Science have learned practically nothing in college that applies in their first postgraduate job.

Enough. It was just my own experience as a degree-less person in the world of the degreed that made this interesting for me.

Clara said...

Whew! That's a ton of things to think about- all quite important.

Yes- I was completely derailed by the abrupt end of naptime, so Part 1 had a different angle than Part 2. There is just so SO much that goes into that train of thought, and I had to go with that day's train!

I think that you offer an extremely interesting and important point of view particularly because you are in a professional career that requires a college degree. I know of one other person in a similar circumstance, but with one big difference- he rose to a high level in a professional job without a degree, the job disappeared, and now he is stuck in a strange mire of fantastic experience, but no degree. Age also plays a tangental role, but when he fell off the original train, he is now stuck. What do you do with someone who is highly qualified, has experience that is perhaps older than the person doing the hiring, and yet- no degree?

No, companies don't base their hiring on what would equilize, etc. I tend to think that's the argument that universities give to justify their worth. I think companies look directly at the stockholders, and the competition, and see what would make them look better. I think universities make a lot of arguments based on a load of, frankly, ridiculous crap. Or maybe my own alma mater. That leads into the next question:

Yes! It was totally tongue-in-cheek, the disclaimer about philosophy and the lack of a degree (and therefore lack of professional authorization) to postulate philosophical questions and musings. I will never understand why philosophy is an actual degree. I can understand philosophy classes as part of degrees in Theology or History, but what do Philosophy majors do when they graduate? Live on a mountain top in Tibet? Teach Philosophy to more people who will go on to teach Philosophy, and so on? When I arrived at SUNY Geneseo, and looked over the courses and what was required, the whole Philosophy issue boggled my mind. And amused me, as Phil. majors tended to be scornful of majors that focused on a career, and felt superior in their non-focus on an end-goal. Yet, they were working on a degree, rather than living off the grid by a pond and writing the next Walden.

Maybe that ties into the pervasive questions of worth and what is percieved as useful or desireable in this current culture. This "knowledge industry" that some are pounding. Will those Philosophy majors be somehow regarded higher than my garbage man? Even if the Philosophy major graduates, and ends up managing a Borders Books for the rest of his days- by the mere fact that he went to college and got a degree, is he a more valuable member of Team America?

I agree wholeheartedly that Almanzo and Boog should be paid according to what they do and how they do it. The "how" is crucial, especially as that seems to be going by the wayside. When I taught in NY, teachers were required de facto to belong to the Teachers Union. You did not get a paycheck unless you joined. Once teaching and tenured, you could come to school every day and babysit all 24 of your students while they tore the room apart, and the teacher next door could be doing lessons that were pure gold, and inspiring her 24 students to self-driven goals, and at the end of the pay period, everyone's paychecks were all the same. Similar in IL, although joining the union wasn't necessary for a paycheck (and as the only non-union teacher in a school with 62 unioned staff, I was Enemy #1 to the rep, who rarely spoke to me.)

There is no way that Almanzo and Boog could do menial labor and earn as much as someone who is in a more highly skilled profession. That's a slippery slope to communism-style thinking. However, where can they be regarded in the knowledge industry? If Almanzo decides in two years when he graduates high school to bite the bullet and head over to Alfred or Cornell and patiently and dutifully crank out an Ag Sci degree, with all of the pomp and circumstance and loans required, and heads back to the farm, will he be more highly regarded than if he merely stayed and worked? His end result is the same, only the college route is by far more expensive.

Maybe I should do another part- especially regarding the missing categories. I intentionally omitted the "undecideds" from Part 2 mostly due to time. I have two siblings who have entered/ will enter college as undecided. I also have friends that landed on a major in desperation, only to graduate as undecided. It is something that does tie back into the web of this strange new "knowledge industry." Do people now flounder because they may have an interest, but it doesn't seem socially redeemable? Is there a category of people (and I think the answer is YES) who feel that they should be able to buy all kinds of goodies and toys for themselves and live the life of Sex and the City characters without actually doing work?

Where did all these selfish people come from?

My view- you work hard, and then you can play. The harder you work, the more you can play. Locke wrote that a person owns himself, his work is an extension of himself, therefore he owns his work, and should be duly compensated. This worked well when people produced things that were useful. Now- How can one weigh knowledge against knowledge, and who even determines what "knowledge" consists of?

And on, and on, and on...

Looking forward to more comments!

gs said...

=There is just so SO much that goes into that train of thought, and I had to go with that day's train!=

This has nothing to do with you, but every time I hear "train of thought" it reminds me of the classic insult from a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon: His train of thought hasn't left the station.

=the job disappeared, and now he is stuck in a strange mire of fantastic experience, but no degree. Age also plays a tangental role,=

Yeah, that would be me, too, if something happened to my job. I've already decided that if that happens, I'll go into business for myself.

=I will never understand why philosophy is an actual degree.{snip} what do Philosophy majors do when they graduate?=

You piqued my curiousity, so I went to Google and typed in, "what do you do with a degree in philosophy?" It seems that this is a sensitive question for just about every college in the country that offers a Philosophy degree, because they all have pages on their Web sites that address this very subject. And they all say the same thing, which can be summarized thusly: You can do anything. Because a Philosophy degree sharpens your skills in "critical thinking, argumentation, communication, information management, design and planning, research and investigation, and management and administration." And "these skills are absolutely essential for success in virtually every career path - this is especially true in today's information age." (Notice how the knowledge/information angle got worked in :). The long list of specific positions for which you, Philosophy graduate, would be qualified include prison administration, congressional staff member, reporter, and script writer. I am not making this up.

=Will those Philosophy majors be somehow regarded higher than my garbage man?=

Totally off topic, but in the Dilbert comic strip, the World's Smartest Man is Dilbert's garbage man. When someone asked Scott Adams why the World's Smartest Man would want to be a trash collector, Adams replied, "How would I know? He's the World's Smartest Man. He's way smarter than I am. How can you expect me to understand how he thinks?" Which I thought was a neat point.

=If Almanzo decides in two years when he graduates high school to bite the bullet and head over to Alfred or Cornell and patiently and dutifully crank out an Ag Sci degree, with all of the pomp and circumstance and loans required, and heads back to the farm, will he be more highly regarded than if he merely stayed and worked? His end result is the same,=

Not necessarily. He may learn about new farming technologies or products that will make him a better farmer. Perhaps he will go into biofuels. If nothing else, some education in business skills might allow him to better manage the farm's costs, or perhaps determine whether or not a loan to expand is a good thing.

There's a flip side, too, to higher education, and I will close with this true story:

When I was growing up in New Hampshire, there was a boy a grade ahead of me named Peter D. His parents owned a seafood restaurant in town, D's. The parents where working people, salt of the earth, and their restaurant was a simple place, serving simple food, but that food was awesome. We used to get takeout fish-and-chips from there every Friday night as a special treat. I still remember how much flavor that fish had. They also had a small catering business.

Like all parents, they wanted a better life for Peter, so they worked to put him through college. He came back with a degree in Business, and the parents put him in charge of the D's and retired. But Peter had a college degree and bigger plans. He took out loans and in just a few years had opened new restaurants in Concord and Manchester, and then in other cities. They had upscale decor and big signs and advertising budgets. D's was on its way to the big time.

Then came the Reagan recession. People cut back on eating out. Peter had spread himself very thin with his loans, and he had no margin. D's went bankrupt, losing everything, even the original restaurant. Peter's parents lost everything they had spent their lives working for. All they were able to salvage was the catering business, so they came out of retirement and rolled up their sleeves and went back to work.

I gues the moral of the story is that it's possible to have more education than sense.

=Locke wrote=

Ah, ending on a Locke quote.... You Philosophy major, you! ;)

John said...

employers don't just use a degree as a means to weed out the slackers, but it is now considered mandatory. i worked with a technician that had a two-year degree and was hired as a 'contract', but was never offered a full-time position, because he did not have a four-year degree, even though, he had proven himself time and again.

there is no value placed on experience anymore, partly because it can not be quantified. it is a shame, because most will testify that they learn more in the real world, than they do in the class room.

finally, the push for a college degree could be related to the quality of today's high school education. one could extrapolate into the future, and predict the need for everyone to have a phd because college is becoming so watered-down.