I was surprised when Jan asked me to guest blog and wanted me to take on a Spin Cycle. Of course I was immediately shocked that Jen’s subject for the week would be something I knew about. I said, “The Spin Cycle is the Retail Inventory Method?!?” Fascinating stuff, but the topic turns out to be education. Even odder that such an educated person would think I could even compete with her on this subject (Dr. Oz is still changing his shorts after last week). As a disclaimer I take full responsibility with everything offensive in this post and all credit goes to Jan for being so well edjumacated at picking good guest writers. Oh, and for the record, although I have more education, Jan is much better educated than I.
There are so many ways to go with this subject because an education is the most valuable thing in the world for all of us; yet it is highly over-rated. Like I tell our kids, everything we know is ultimately self-taught. Nobody can teach us if we aren’t willingly and actively learning. We all know people who refuse to learn – sometimes never starting, many times stopping so far before maturity, let alone death. We all learn and retain experience differently and in different ways and most of what we learn is learned outside the hallowed halls of academia. Most of the best educated people I know are self taught and most of the knowledge we rely on every day isn’t available with a degree – there isn’t even a degree available for the Retail Inventory Method (can you imagine?). Why does it take a college degree to drive a bus fly an airplane, but only a high school degree to be the mechanic who keeps it in the air and keeps us alive?
And this is where I think education is overrated: the system fails us from elementary through post-graduate school. We Americans want to pride ourselves on universal education while we herd our children off like sheep to institutions that are bogged down in bureaucracy and politics. Where hard working teachers have their hands tied by regulations and standardized testing. I am not a particularly religious person, but I don’t think anyone can teach without teaching principles and values – and of course the “public” school must honor and respect everyone’s values so much that they can’t teach any values. I give teachers all the credit in the world for fighting through this for our kids and trying to teach and reach them, but they know that passing tests and learning aren’t the same thing.
For the price we pay for this system you would think we were getting a great return. In Ohio the average spent per student was $10,173 in 2008. On average there are 25 students per teacher. Let’s apply some simple math here: do any of us think the teacher is making even a reasonable fraction of $250,000? How many of us would drop everything and become a teacher for half that (the other half would cover overhead)? So you tell me why we don’t have privatized elementary schools or voucher systems? Do we really think we couldn’t do better than Big Brother? Do we not want choice?
So now we have a high school graduate (many still don’t have even an 8th grade education – but they are moved along graduated). Our anxious seniors are getting increased pressure to go to college to compete in a global economy – often unprepared. Parents will spend a life’s savings and kids will mortgage 20 years of loans to earn degrees that bring them no economic benefit. It always seemed silly to me that one couldn’t go get a two year degree and actually learn a trade or skill – say computer programming – and still be able to turn around at the end of two years and progress to a Bachelors degree. Wouldn’t that make them better prepared for a specialized field? No child, you have to spend the first two years of a four year degree (which you are paying for now) on liberal arts. You know – all that stuff they have been teaching you over and over and over again for the last 13 years in the public school system. Only then can you get a four year degree. Oh, and they will let you take meaningless four year degrees like Psychology when to get economically justifiable work in that field you need a Doctorate. Why wouldn’t a good business or trade degree better prepare the average person for a global economy, or better enable a student to pay their way through school to eventually help some poor sucker off the couch?
And let’s go all the way here and question the closed associations (the AMA or ABA for instance), unions, and other barriers that prevent very well educated intelligent people from contributing in a free global market without the right “educational” credentials. Why can’t Gary Taubes write one of the best researched and most educated books on diet and not be a Doctor? Why does my barber need a state sponsored “license”? If I get a stupid looking haircut I just won’t go back. The USDA insists on being present and adding an undesired cost to my meat when it is butchered by the people I choose to process my meat. I don’t need USDA to tell me they are trustworthy nor do I need to know whether or not they have a degree to know they are very intelligent people – especially when it comes to cutting my meat! I like to surround myself with intelligent and educated people…some of them have even been to college.