One proposed solution for alleviating the economic distress and raising the income and wealth level in this country is improving the education system. It seems that there is agreement across the political spectrum on this general point. There is little or no agreement on how to do this, or even what we mean by education.
Economist Thomas Sowell writes to the latter point in a column published yesterday in the Jewish World Review, where he is a regular contributor. See this link (also reprinted in the Dallas Morning News today here).
“‘Education’ is a word that covers a lot of very different things, from vital, life-saving medical skills to frivolous courses to absolutely counterproductive courses that fill people with a sense of grievance and entitlement, without giving them either the skills to earn a living or a realistic understanding of the world required for a citizen in a free society.”
Sowell is right, of course. I would add that “education” in the broadest sense means learning how to think and the basic tools of the process; that is the “3Rs.” Learning a specific skill, whether it’s plumbing, computer programming, or brain surgery, is what I would call “training.” Both are essential for real life success, but good education is a necessary prerequisite for training in most particular skills. Furthermore, a highly developed ability to think can keep one from being trapped when a particular skill becomes obsolete in a world of rapid technological advance. More to Sowell’s point is what passes for education today fails to provide either specific skills or an ability to think. He continues:
“The lack of realism among many highly educated people has been demonstrated in many ways.
“When I saw signs in Yellowstone National Park warning visitors not to get too close to a buffalo, I realized that this was a warning that no illiterate farmer of a bygone century would have needed. No one would have had to tell him not to mess with a huge animal that literally weighs a ton, and can charge at you at 30 miles an hour.
“No one would have had to tell that illiterate farmer’s daughter not to stand by the side of a highway, trying to hitch a ride with strangers, as too many college girls have done, sometimes with results that ranged all the way up to their death.”
There is much complaint among the general populace about the “elites” mucking up education, the economy, and the socio-cultural milieus by using government power to impose with their pet notions on us all. Some of this may be overstated, but there is a lot of truth in the gripe. The faculties of most universities justify their existence (and obtain government grants) by coming up with all kind of schemes for social and economic engineering. Most full time academics would describe themselves as liberal or progressive. When wondering why, keep in mind that nearly all of them came directly from high school to college and then into graduate school and barely saw the world outside of academia. As students, they aimed to please the professors, even if their own ideological bent leaned right. Once into the professoriat, they lobbied for tenure. Once tenured, they danced with who brung them – thus a self perpetuating oligarchy. Many of those who do not stay in academia, go into government employment. Of course, students with rightward ideology tend to seek the real world and can’t wait to get out of school, thinning the ranks of rightist academics even more.
“The dangers that a lack of realism can bring to many educated people are completely overshadowed by the dangers to a whole society created by the unrealistic views of the world promoted in many educational institutions.” Sowell continues.
“It was painful, for example, to see an internationally renowned scholar say that what low-income young people needed was “meaningful work.” But this is a notion common among educated elites, regardless of how counterproductive its consequences may be for society at large, and for low-income youngsters especially.” (My emphasis.)
Sowell continues by rhetorically asking what is “meaningful work.” In short, he answers, that the average ivory tower intellectual would answer “work that is satisfying.”
“At the very least, many intellectuals do not want the poor or the young to have to take ‘menial’ jobs. But people who are paying their own money, as distinguished from the taxpayers’ money, for someone to do a job are unlikely to part with hard cash unless that job actually needs doing, whether or not that job is called “menial” by others.”
Recall the furor that Newt Gingrich caused by having the temerity to suggest that inner-city high-school students might benefit (and make a few bucks to boot) by performing janitorial services for their schools. I wrote in this blog not too long ago about a student who did just that to defray his tuition – and later became a lawyer, army general, Congressman, and President of the United States.
Sowell concludes by observing that “Telling young people that some jobs are ‘menial’ is a huge disservice to them and to the whole society. Subsidizing them in idleness while they wait for “meaningful work” is just asking for trouble, both for them and for all those around them.”
Many of our most able leaders worked in the so-called menial jobs on their way up. Many of those drudge jobs were an education – its called the School of Hard Knocks” with graduate work at Screw U. In recent years, most have gone into business rather than politics – why put up with the abuse on the political campaign trails, although that is really nothing new.