Should Everyone Go to College?

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While most Americans do not have college degrees, the percentage of Americans holding a Bachelors degree (or greater) has been steadily increasing (reaching 30% in 2012). One reason is degree inflation: people now need college degrees to qualify for jobs that once only required a high school diploma. Another reason is the fact that a college degree is supposed to increase a person’s earning potential. To a lesser degree, there has been a push for people to get at least some college education. In fact, President Obama has repeatedly pushed for this. In general, the assumption held by many people is that people should go to college if they can.

While I am a university professor, I do think that it is worthwhile to address the question of whether or not everyone should go to college. Not surprisingly, I think people should become as educated as possible. However, this is rather different from attending college and this distinction is sometimes lost.

There are, of course, the somewhat cynical answers to this question. It might be claimed that everyone should not go to college because some people are simply not intelligent enough to go to college. While honesty compels me to admit that there is some truth to this, honesty also compels me to admit that people generally overestimate the amount of intelligence required to get through college. While a certain level of intelligence is required, getting through college is often more a matter of persistence and showing up than of intellectual might.

It might also be claimed that everyone should not go to college because not everyone can afford the cost of college. On the one hand, this is a reasonable answer. After all, people who cannot afford to go to college should not go to college, just as someone who cannot afford an expensive sports car should not buy one. On the other hand, the question could be looked at another way. To use an analogy, consider the question of whether a person should seek treatment for a disease. Even if the person cannot afford it (and thus, in one sense, should not seek treatment), it still makes sense to say that they should seek treatment for the disease. Likewise, even people who cannot afford college might be people who should be going to college.  That said, the cost of college is clearly something that a person should consider when deciding whether or not she should go to college.

Continuing with the matter of cost, a rather obvious answer is that not everyone should go to college because, as a practical matter, it would not be possible for society to provide the educational resources needed for everyone to attend college. The obvious reply to this is that countries like the United States do provide universal public K-12 education and hence it would presumably not be impossible to extend the education system to cover an additional four years, especially if people are expected to pay at least some of the cost themselves. However, even if society committed to making it so everyone could go to college, this does not entail that everyone should go to college.

In terms of arguing why everyone should go to college, one option is to make use of the arguments as to why everyone should complete high school. These include the usual arguments involving being educated for employment and being educated to be citizens of a democratic state. There is, of course, an easy way to counter these sorts of arguments. As a counter, it can be argued that for most (or at least some) people a high school education would suffice for these purposes and hence not everyone should go to college.

However, even if high school would suffice for some people, it can be contended that this does not prove that not everyone should go to college. After all, the fact that basic food, water and shelter would keep a person alive does not entail that everyone should not have more than the very basics of survival. Likewise  the fact that a high school education provides the basics  does not disprove the claim that everyone should go to college. By analogy, just as everyone (or almost everyone) would benefit from having more than the basics, the same would hold true for college as well.

The obvious reply is that the fact that everyone would benefit from having more than the basics does not entail that everyone should have more than the basics. Likewise, even if everyone would benefit from college, it does not follow that everyone should go to college.  After all, this would require that people should do what would be beneficial for them and perhaps this is not the case.  There is also the concern that college might not benefit everyone. If this is the case, then it would seem reasonable to claim that everyone should not go to college. On the face of it, this would seem to be the most fruitful avenue of consideration.

In general, it could be argued that people should go to college if doing so would be beneficial to them. As noted above, it could still be countered that even if something is beneficial, it does not follow that people should do it (the usual “you cannot get an ought from an is”  line of attack can be used here). However, it seems sensible to lay aside this somewhat esoteric problem and focus on practical matters. In a practical sense, it seems reasonable to hold that people should make a decision about whether to go to college or not based on the benefits relative to the costs.

In practical terms, the main question for most people would be whether or not a college degree would result in a better job, which is often defined in terms of better pay. In general, a college degree results in better pay than a high school degree. However, there are well paying jobs that do not require a college degree and thus the money motivation does not yield the result that everyone should go to college (especially when the cost of college is factored in).  There is also the matter of job satisfaction: there are people who rather enjoy jobs that do not require a college degree. Some of these jobs do require a great deal of skill, education and intelligence and they should not be looked down on as inferior to the jobs that require a college degree.

There is also the matter of the role of college in preparing a person to be a citizen of a democratic state. However, as was noted above, perhaps a high school education suffices for this. After all, people with college degrees do not seem to thus be automatically better citizens than people with high school degrees.

As a final point, there is the value of college in terms of developing as a person and other intangibles such as knowledge for the sake of knowledge. There are two obvious counters to this. The first is that people do go to college without college contributing very much to their personal development. The second is that people obviously can undergo personal development and learn a great deal without a college degree. That is, as noted above, a person can be well educated without having a formal college degree. Although most of my friends are college educated, I also have many friends who did not complete or even attend college. However, they are generally well-educated.

Thus, it would seem that it is not the case that everyone should go to college. This is not to say that college is without value, but it is to say that not everyone needs to walk the same path to their life goals and their education.

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12 Comments.

  1. Not everyone needs college, but success demands skill and knowledge. What may be more important than college is the courage (resolve) to follow one’s intuitions as to what is important and to realize their participation in every enterprise is important. :grin:

  2. “Some of these jobs do require a great deal of skill, education and intelligence and they should not be looked down on as inferior to the jobs that require a college degree.”

    It depends on what is the sociological meaning of a college degree (or more what did it use to mean). It generally did not mean the person was a better intellectual than those without college degrees. It meant the person belonged to a higher social class, and so they deserved better pay and conditions than those without a college degree.

    Universities originated as seminaries, places to train priest. They then became finishing schools for fine young men – places to go to get cultured. In the industrial age their function shifted, but the finishing school element never really vanished.

    “One reason is degree inflation: people now need college degrees to qualify for jobs that once only required a high school diploma.”

    The qualifications arms race. This isn’t bad just for people without qualifications. Degree inflation has led people without degrees study for PhDs to access jobs that before only required a degree. I don’t think that’s healthy in any respects. And even many people who do gain PhDs are finding themselves very embittered. Qualifications can close off as many, and sometimes even more opportunities than being without qualifications.

    A discussion I was following on a science board. A young pharmaceuticals graduate was working for a particular pharmaceuticals company, and they were wondering why they couldn’t progress – and what struck them as funny about the culture of the company. An older pharma graduate came on and explained the hidden rules of social class within the company. The PhDs were the upper-class, they got to do all the sexy work, those with just degrees did all their grunt work. And the young graduate was advised not to try to talk to these aristocrats, as this was a breech of social etiquette. The jobs in company that involved moving barrels around and mixing buckets of chemicals, although they paid very well, were strictly reserved for another social class, the uneducated school leavers. If a graduate or a PhD is out of work and in need of a job, they will be excluded from these positions. In certain environments having diplomas can be a handicap. The young graduate was advised if they wanted to progress materially, drop out of work and spend three to four years on a PhD.

  3. Rather than eight years of education after primary school, four years should be enough. Two years could be given to a mix of academic and technical skills and the final two years to a skill that would depend on the ability of the student whether technical, manual, or academic. If a person is talented a corporation is often willing to fund further education in a specific skill.

    Learning should be a lifelong process but not everyone, including college graduates, are interested. They watch Netflix programs or read best selling novels. They are not interested in the purpose or meaning of life.

    The internet was not mentioned in this piece,how it can democratize education. With more information available the programming that is instilled by a formal education, or by a culture, has competition.

    Research has shown that over the centuries the human brain, especially the male brain, has become increasingly bifurcated and analytical. Cognition is valued over perception. A student in college may spend all night cramming without assimilating or questioning anything. The student of a Zen master has to go beyond concepts. It is interesting that perception has a wisdom definition whereas cognition does not.

    There is a story of a dignitary visiting a reputed wise man and wanting to impress the wise man with his erudition quoted many learned thinkers. The wise man gazed at him impassively and when he had finished said: I am waiting to hear you.

  4. Vina,

    “Research has shown that over the centuries the human brain, especially the male brain, has become increasingly bifurcated and analytical.”

    The research, not Dr Diederik Stapel by any chance. How much Stapelism is out there?

    I’m not sure where you might get a brain that was hundreds of years old in good enough condition for that kind of analysis. What if the male brain has become decreasingly bifurcated instead increasingly bifurcated. How can they tell.

    Was Hypatia’s brain bifurcated. Did the ancient mathematicians of Greece, Babylon and India have less analytically minds, then the men of today.

    The term renaissance means rebirth. The rebirth of art, science and knowledge. After the fall of the Roman empire, civilisation degenerated. The strange orientalist view of history is that all the brainy stuff of modernity emerges from the white European upper-classes. This isn’t true. The Arabs were hundreds of years ahead of the Europeans, in maths, chemistry, and everything else you could imagine. In the dark ages the Arabs made perfume, and the Europeans kept pigs.

    “Cognition is valued over perception.”

    Yes. Because perception is to believe the world is flat because it seems so. Cognition is to know it is not.

    Perception isn’t to be trusted. Eurocentric beliefs come from the fact that only in the last few hundred years has the European world been wealthier and more technologically advanced than the other spheres.

    Perception causes all kinds of distortions. Europeans were not entitled to the land of the Native Americans, because the Natives were not using the land properly. And the Americans taught the Europeans how to farm American land, and not the other way around. Europeans had never seen a squash, a pumpkin, an ear of corn, or even a potato until they arrived.

    And I’ve heard the same distortions with the Arabs and their oil. That the Arabs didn’t know what it was and had no use for it, until the civilised Europeans arrived. What do people think they were putting in all those oil lamps in One Thousand and One Nights. Where were they getting their solvents to make perfume. How come we still use the Arabic and Persian names in modern chemistry.

    Engineers are not suffering from autism. And middle-class girls who can bear to read 19th century romantic drivel and not want to claw their eyes out, can get very high marks in exams on 19th century romantic drivel. For young working class men the same texts verge on cruel and unusual punishments.

  5. JMRC

    The reference to the brain was from Dr. David Darling, PhD. I am not familiar with how Neurophysiologists do their research. Their conclusions are based on the distinctive functions of the left and right hemispheres of the brain. There does appear to be a difference in how people perceive things. It is easier for some people to understand things literally than to understand when metaphor is used. A professor I knew did not understand what Heraclitus meant by ‘the sun is new each day.’ He thought Heraclitus was referring to the physical sun.

    It is true that sense perception can be fallible. Perception in an inner sense is also a faculty that when brought to bear on a topic can shed light on whether it feels right or not; if enough time is given to study and assimilate it. Cognition was meant in the sense of committing to memory, or having an opinion on something, without discernment.

    It is more likely that conditioning, rather than perception from a lot of soul searching, is responsible for the mistreatment of people.

    The ancients generally used mythology, metaphor, and symbol more than a literal or analytical approach. A text could be read on two levels, non-initiates would get the literal or surface meaning, and initiates would perceive the deeper meaning. It was a balance between perception, and the abstract or literal.

    I agree that the ancients,going back to ancient India, had greater knowledge than they are credited with. How the ancients perceived things is sometimes denigrated as folk wisdom.

    That romantic 19th century literature appeals more to women than men is probably because feeling is uppermost in women. With reason uppermost in men, it is understandable why they would not relate to it.

  6. Vina,

    “The ancients generally used mythology, metaphor, and symbol more than a literal or analytical approach.”

    No, they had very literal and analytical approaches. They didn’t build their buildings on metaphor. Maths is a symbolic language. The Pythagoreans were very analytical. We still use their maths. We still use the Babylonians maths. 12 hours in a day, 60 minutes in an hour, 60 seconds in a minute. We got that from the Babylonians.

    “That romantic 19th century literature appeals more to women than men is probably because feeling is uppermost in women. ”

    No. The novels were entertainment with a specific intended target market; Twee middle-class women. In certain forms of entertainment the characters are modelled to be aspirational forms of their intended consumer. So the consumer can have a vicarious thrill.

    I know women who find these books as risible drivel as I do. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with these women. If their brains are more male, or anything.

    These books are relatively easy, even a pleasure, to consume by a certain kind of twee middle-class young woman. For anyone else they’re emetic. And this is a reason so many twee young women get to do English degrees.

    “With reason uppermost in men, it is understandable why they would not relate to it.”

    No. Men are as irrational and emotion driven as women. Many are even far worse.

    And historically, men can make a fair hand of writing romantic drivel.

  7. JMRC

    The fact that the ancients used symbol, and metaphor in texts did not mean that they did not use mathematics and I did not imply that that was the case. It is without question that they were very advanced in mathematics. Sacred geometry was a specialty and many of their buildings reflected that specialty, which was an art as well as a science; a combination of abstraction and the knowledge that was elemental to it. They figured out the duration of the equinoctial cycle and calculated the duration of the universal cycle based on the relationship between the length of the solar year and a multiple of pi.

    I did not intend to get into a discussion on romantic fiction and did not bring the topic up. I do not pass judgment on people’s choice of reading material, whatever their gender.

  8. Rational Hoplite

    Professor LaBossier –

    Another excellent post, sir. Thank you.

    I recommend to readers of this post the following:

    - LIDZ, JW Pork Barrel Education (2011), vide (http://www.jwlidz.us/portrait.html, and http://www.amazon.com/Pork-Barrel-Education-Lowering-Standards/dp/1456562339.

    Professor Lidz is not only a dear friend of mine, but the man I credit most with rescuing me from middle-class intellectual mediocrity — and from myself. For all of my residual and current mediocrity, I hold Dr Lidz blameless.

    - CRAWFORD, MB (2009), Shopcraft as Soulcraft. Vide: http://www.matthewbcrawford.com/ and http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/shop-class-as-soulcraft.

    Most reviewers, it seems to me, have missed the point of – or rather: have not discovered the best insights to be found in – Crawford’s book. This gentle critique applies, too, to Francis Fukuyama who reviewed it for the NY Times (though it was this review which brought it to my attention).
    The book shows how important “agency-feedback” is, and how trade-craft, handicraft, and skilled manual labor provide this. Crawford also provides a number of valuable clues and markers for those interested in the difference between “being well-trained” and “being well-educated”, between being intelligent, knowledgeable, informed, and insightful, Shopcraft will most reward those who have considered analytically and without prejudice these things. (In this context it pairs nicely with Gardner’s “multiple intelligences” hypothesis — cf. http://howardgardner.com/multiple-intelligences/.

    * * *

    “The impression is widely prevalent that too many young Americans are going to college”. These are the words of James Rowland Angell, who was president of Yale University. These are the opening words of his essay “The Over-Population of the College”, which – after a thick wad of advertisements for schools and colleges, announcements for new books, and a color print (“Portrait of a Lady in Green” by Maurice Fromkes) – is the first article in the October 1927 issue of Harpers. I’m fortunate to have found this issue among my collection of magazines from the late 19th and early 20th century; but here’s the URL to the issue in question: http://harpers.org/archive/1927/10/.*

    The answer to Professor LaBossier’s question – now, if not also in Angell’s day – is: Yes.

    The university with which I was last associated (as an adjunct professor) was teeming with students who were not quite sure why they were there, but who had gotten it into their heads that a BA or BS would put them on the fast-track to the sort of life they wanted and/or believed they were entitled to. I am not too proud to admit that, back in the day, I wasn’t too different from them in this respect – minus the vapid materialism and preoccupation with beer. (About these students and this institution, see my comments in BLSN’s post “So you call yourselves philosophers?” and the thread it spawned.)

    During the first week of classes – the let’s-get-to-know-each-other stage (class size was capped at 25 souls) – I asked students (among other impolite and possibly indelicate questions) what distinguished them from the students sitting – right now! – in a lecture theater at Harvard, Yale, or Stanford.

    Some said: Money – they could never afford to go to Harvard. Some said that the difference was one of raw-intelligence – the Harvard kids were smarter. I recall a student disagreeing, and stating that it wasn’t that the students at a name-brand school were smarter, but those students had worked harder to get there. Some did not engage and join in the discussion. Most seemed horrified that their instructor was confronting an embarrassing fact: They were not at a top-flight institution, and they knew it. Those embarrassed about this would often turn out to be the better students; those who had not sense enough to be troubled by the revelation tended to major in communications or early childhood education. Draw your own conclusions.

    This is a topic about which I have lectured, and have written (but not published) a little, and I therefore fear that I will post rather more than I should, and in so doing once again trespass the boundaries of propriety. I will instead confine my remarks to something that might be at least a little original.

    Faculty at that institution were, for the most part, graduates of top schools and excellent programs. I have no reason to doubt that the distribution of excellent and inspiring lectures at that university was much different from that of the premiere-league institutions fifty miles north in our state capital (it is blessed with many). I hope it is admitted by the readers of this forum that demonstrated scholastic achievement and an impressive paper trail does not consistently correlate with a talent for lecturing.** Few faculty were themselves graduates of schools like the one they were now teaching at, and the lamentations we exchanged with each other in passing and between classes revealed that we were in broad agreement that many of our students were a disgrace to the ideals of higher education.

    Few lecturers, however, thought it their place to raise specifically that subject with the students themselves. Many seemed content instead to lower their expectations and to bring the content down to the students’ level, and to be a little accommodating with the distribution of B-grades. The reigning conspiracy seemed to require little of us: As long as the students believed that they were part of the front-line of advancing social justice and sustainable development, and were committed to making a “more verdant, just, and peaceful” world (there’s mention of little else in commencement-exercises speeches these days), that’s good enough. Whatever we say or do, the result is predictable: Some students will defy the gravitational pull of their origins and unmitigated liabilities, and rise to modest heights, while the remaining majority will settle into the roles that their unexceptional education and non-nurturing upbringings pre-appointed for them. After all, there’s a reason why they were at *this* school, and not one of the first- or even second-rate institutions up the road.

    I have jumped the gun, here, and my remarks lack the sort of background and context they require in order not to seem like just another rant. Apologies. The issues Professor LaBossiere raises, however, should encourage readers of this forum to ask of themselves a number of questions — not, perhaps, about teaching philosophy as such, but about what we might need to do if we take seriously the cultivation of our students.

    If you’re at a Stanford or a Columbia, a Colby, Bates, or Bowdoin, perhaps there is less need for lingering a while on the differences between training and education, between being intelligent and being both intelligent and educated.
    But if you are faculty at some backwater community college, or some non-ranking satellite of a state university system, the situation is a bit different. Perhaps it is worth reminding your students that for all the many reasons why they are at the school they are at (rather than a Brown or a Middlebury), the fact is they are already at a significant disadvantage just by being there. Just “being in college” does not mean one is in fact better-off, or out in front; and students who are not at the very best schools are the ones who need most to contemplate this.

    The one redeeming benefit to students treading water at a diploma-mill is that the bright, keen, and hard-working students will have a fighting chance at distinguishing themselves from the mouth-breathers and airheads – a chance to show that they could probably hold their own at a better institution, given the chance. But they wer not given the chance — or, what is more likely, they did not work hard enough to earn it. It is easy to be fond of these gems, these diamonds in the rough. Showering such stand-outs with praise, plying them with recommendations for further reading, or giving them the spotlight in the campus philosophy club (etc.) is fine, and that seems to be the way they are in fact “rewarded”. But what would help them even more, I think, is some straight-talk about their situation.

    Those who probably shouldn’t be at university (for one reason or another) are often found in heartbreaking in abundance in the non-elite colleges and universities of our nation. Recommending to appropriate students their reasonable and credible alternatives – trade school, the armed forces, or a stint in the Peace Corps, etc. – is, I believe, entirely consistent with our duties as educators. I have many times been told that the problem lies elsewhere (a particular school’s admissions policies, for example), but that once the kids have enrolled, registered, and are in class, it is not within the scope of our professional remit to do anything other than encourage them, be supportive of them, and deliver professionally and effectively the course-content. I disagree.

    A student once spoke these words to me: “Dr X, can I aks you a question?” “No, I replied, but I welcome you to *ask* me a question. *Ask*, Miss Y. ‘Ask’… ‘ask’…”. An awkward silence followed, and it was marked both by a feeling of shock, embarrassment, and even a little hostility. True, this was not Diction and Elocution-101. What business of mine is it if Miss Y pronounces the word ‘ask’ as “axs”?

    But it is my business, because if I wish for Miss Y to have a fighting chance in a world where she will be judged for that unfortunate habit, then some effort should be made to disabuse her it. It does not reflect well upon her, and it distracts from whatever virtues or merits she has, and I do her a wrong if I do not address it. One should not draw the line between matters-philosophic and matters extra-philosophic, and say that any student-development issue beyond the documented course-content and syllabus is a paedagogic ne plus ultra.

    That, I hold, is the difference between an educator and a trainer – and a mercenary Privatdozent, too. We must aim, always, to improve our students. That is the point of “contact-time” and “classroom hours”, and the absence of it is why on-line education is an inferior form education. That the focus is and must be on the documented course-content does not mean that we are at liberty to ignore other issues, at least when such issues are in plain-sight, emerge during class-time, and are broadly within our remit as educators. If I go to the doctor for what I think is a sprained wrist, is it wrong for the doctor in the course of the clinical encounter to remind me that I should quit smoking, or should remember to take an iron supplement? Or would it not be a shabby doctor indeed who went right to work on the wrist and ignored every other signs of dysfunction or health-compromising behavior?

    As an undergraduate I worked as 30 hours per week as a baker. Every so often – twice a year over the course of three years, roughly – it fell to me to train new bakers. How they spoke, whether they smoked during breaks, or whether they should eat less and read more — all of that was irrelevant to my duty to ensure they learned how to bake the four kinds of bread the bakery sold. I was a trainer: There was a specific target (to bake bread effectively, efficiently, and safely), and there was a process that admitted of little wiggle-room, innovation, or variation. Their graduation from my baking class was contingent upon their successful and compelling demonstration that they could in fact effectively, efficiently, and safely bake bread, and my assessment did not include an essay portion requiring them to fill a few bluebooks with reflections upon the sublime aspect of the bakery’s massive commercial mixer, or sage thoughts on the adage “Man cannot live by bread alone”.

    I did not train them for their sake, or with a view to their broader edification. I trained them for the sake of the owner of the bakery; and, while their training did benefit them (they could now take those skills and work elsewhere), we trained them for *our* immediate advantage, not theirs. I drilled them; I did not aim to cultivate them or improve them. And, though it was clearly foreseeable to me that their mastery of these new skills would be a benefit to them, their “improvement” was not my concern.

    That, in a nutshell, is what distinguishes education from training, and if university is a place for education rather than for the garnering career-skills or vocational training, then there are too many students in university.

    And there are probably also too few real educators in our universities, too.

    * That same month The Jazz Singer came to the screen, and both Lawrence Kholberg and Gunter Grass were born (so were actors George C Scott, Tom Bosley, and Roger Moore. Germany was both shaken and stirred). Buck v Bell was handed-down, and a rising Mao Zedong formulated his “Three Rules of Discipline” (don’t expropriate anything from the peasants or workers; turn-in the authorities anything confiscated from landlords; obey orders). Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/October_1927.

    ** A former prof of mine studied under Vlastos, and was for a time the boy-toy of an up-and-coming Martha Nussbaum. (My copy of The Fragility of Goodness came to me from him, from her.) The man lacked neither credentials, nor “cred”, nor brains; but he was a wonderfully boring lecturer. At the same campus, a man you have never heard of and have surely never read left such a deep impression upon me that I cannot but think of him without something approaching reverence. So it goes.

  9. Rational Hoplite

    Professor LaBossiere — I apologize for mistyping your name. There is no excuse for that, and if moderators have editor-protocol access to submissions, I welcome them to make the corrections.

    Apologies for my Zombie-fingers. RH

  10. Rational Hoplite,

    “But it is my business, because if I wish for Miss Y to have a fighting chance in a world where she will be judged for that unfortunate habit, then some effort should be made to disabuse her it.”

    So you chose to humiliate her. Would you speak the same truth to power, or do you reserve these truths for the powerless.

    Her unfortunate habit was sounding lower class and maybe black. You didn’t explain to her that the world she is in discriminates, excludes and includes on the basis of class, race, gender. A world where the upper classes can humiliate the lower without fear of sanction.

    GW Bush went to more than one elite universities. The man very literally filled books with Bushisms and stupidities. And gave us more a than a decade of nightmares and mayhem. What the hell did he learned at that fancy schools ah his.

    “I wasn’t too different from them in this respect – minus the vapid materialism and preoccupation with beer.”

    In vino veritas. Many a fine truth has come to me through beer.

    Would your students be better served by reading Ruby Payne, than Plato?

  11. Rational Hoplite

    Thank you, JMRC.

    I am not sure what the point is of the power/powerless observation comes from, but I would be happy to have you explain it to me.

    desertintel@gmail.com

    I do not know who Ruby Payne is, but I thank you for introducing me to the name — I will Google it, and I expect I will be better-off for now being able to juxtapose her (I assume it is a her) with Plato. Thank you.

    I suspect I am a very poor writer, and that I have not succeeded in communicating effectively the point I wished to. I apologize.

    1. The kids who end up at top-notch schools tended to work hard to get there — legacies, prodigies, and savants excepted, I suppose. Many too, I know, have benefited from having well-schooled and/or well-educated parents. Many traveled extensively with their parents during their childhood and youth, and grew up watching, reading, and listening to “smart-media” — more NPR and PBS and less TNT.

    The kids in universities and colleges – like the one I recently taught at, and like the one from which I took my BA – tend by and large to see the world and the people in it through a very different prism. Our parents did not attend or graduate from university, and many of us were told, simply, “Go to college and get better jobs than we have, so you can have more stuff than we have”. It was not explained to us how this all works out, and many of us were left to assume that the nailing-down the BA/BS is simply a right of passage; that course-to-course success had nothing to do with learning anything but was like playing Whack-a-Mole with the credit-count; and that neither career-skills training or personal edification had much to do with the whole damned thing. (The position of my father, who dropped-out of the school I eventually took my BA [Summa] from: “All those required courses are bullshit, just get ‘m out of the way. Most professors are assholes — just give them their strokes, get by, and get the hell out”.)

    2. These are generalizations and over-simplifications; but, having taken a BA from my local diploma-mill, and a PhD from one of Britain’s medieval universities, I do not believe that I am too much exaggerating.

    3. Regarding philosophy specifically, I suspect that lecturers at elite universities have warrant for assuming that their charges are literate, know how to write, and are probably enthusiastic ludic readers who are ready for the challenges of philosophy. Children who have professor-parents, a doctor, lawyer, or statesman in the household, often have a formidable head-start. (Fact: Most faculty and the university I last taught at sent their children to B- and A-grade schools, despite a generous policy of incentives to have their students study at the institution where they themselves taught. Draw your own conclusions.) Students at non-ranking schools are much less ready for philosophy, and for the challenges of higher education generally.

    4. I prefer engaging and teaching these sort of students — those who need to be waken from their dogmatic slumber, and probably taught what the word ‘dogmatic’ means, too. They deserve not to be handled with kid-gloves, or condescended to, or forgiven because the ratiocination from behind the veil of ignorance didn’t take them fully into account.

    They deserve to be told that Harvard grads tend not to need to look for jobs on Craigslist or in the back of The Boston Herald. They deserve to be told that their lack of opportunities for meaningful internships – at the right places and under the right people – will put them at a notable disadvantage when the job-hunt begins. Whereas one’s classmates at MIT come from all over the world, these kids are sitting next to people they went to high school with. (Not only are they denied opportunities for learning more about the world that lies outside the irregular polygon described by their area code, the bad habits of social and intellectual provincialism have little chance of being either examined or expunged.) Few will ever cotton-on the the fact that pre-professional development and actual professional advancement depends largely upon one’s network of connections, and referrals from sympathetic and well-placed persons — which perhaps is just as well, because their alumni-network would be of precious little use to those with high aspirations. Allowing that most of their professors *are* from top-notch schools, the absence of straight-talk from them is tantamount to perpetuating the sort of classist hegemony that I suspect you are opposed to.

    And, yes: These students are entitled to be corrected when they misspeak, just as they are entitled to having their written work corrected — or perhaps I should simply pity them, and help perpetuate the intolerable conspiracy that by reinforcing a eusocial love-all/serve-all communitarian view of the world I am advancing their best-interests? This is cannot do. Had it not been for a couple of professors upbraiding me – embarrassing me, frankly, for not taking stock of my potential, or for mindlessly defaulting to the schemas and tropes of my socioeconomic background – I would not have experienced the kind of growth that I did in university.

    I am not always confident that the unexamined life is not worth living (“worth” in what sense?), or, that it wouldn’t be nicer to be a satisfied pig (owned by a vegetarian farmer) than a dissatisfied Socrates. I am a poor evangelist for philosophy *qua* career, even as I am a passionate advocate of *being philosophical*. But this is obiter to your remarks, and my attempt to reply thoughtfully to them, so, let me wrap this up.

    In one class, I asked students to tell me what they were good at — what they did well, and what they were proud to say they did well. (This was in the context of exploring the differences between training and education.) They were puzzled by the question — which puzzled me. “You know — something you do well. Play and instrument, for example. Who here plays an instrument, and believes they play it well?” (Crickets chirping.) “Ok, well how about painting, or drawing, or, art in any medium”. (Crickets.) One girl raises her hand. “I’m a really good-listener, and, like, all my friend say I’m good at listening to their problems and stuff”. I asked her if that was a skill – something she learned, and could teach others. “No” she said, “It’s kind of like a gift — like, maybe from God, or my mom, ’cause she’s a good listener too”. One boy finally piped-up. “Ok, this is going to sound weird, right, but I am really good at stringing lacrosse-heads”. He explained that someone taught him how to do it, but that it takes time and patience to do it quickly and well, and that by golly he is pretty darned good at it now, and takes pride in it.

    Bingo. But how sad it was to think that so few could quickly identify something they were good at, and knew they were good at it, and took pride in that fact. Perhaps their postmodern and unexceptional upbringing and schooling had succeeded so thoroughly in convincing them that “making a difference” was enough, that “being a good-listener” was a skill, and that a PC world-view was sufficient for leading a rewarding, fulfilling, and virtuous life.

    The real Miss Y in this case was one of my hardest-working students. Ultimately she seemed pleased that her middle-aged white male professor was unafraid to demonstrate and to take an interest in her personal development. She was aiming for a career in law – possibly law school, she said – and it would not have served her interests to persist in poor habits of speech —- whatever their provenance. (Have not some of us, at least, admonished students for peppering their speech with “like” and “um”? Was Miss Y’s “axs” really so different?)

    It is perverse to assume that I was engaging in some sort of mean-spirited gentrification, and I am afraid I understand very imperfectly your reference to GW Bush.

    But, like, we may be in total agreement that the man is, like, um, kind of a tool.

  12. When I took a systems analysis seminar a long time ago, the professor opened with, Systems characterizations can be achieved many ways, the two most common being analysis, from the inside out, and synthesis, from the outside in. either method can an apparently valid assessment, but beware the unpredictable. For me this is applicable to students as well. From the outside each seems to have certain talents and predilections, but in my years of teaching adults and middle-schoolers I am humbled by the times my assessments were invalid. I am convinced students need two elements: opportunity and courage. Society can provide the first, but I believe the second is the student’s responsibility… quite often helped by another–peer, teacher, adult–who encourages their efforts to discover.

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