29.5.18

THE QUEST FOR SUBSTANCE.

Minding the Campus offers today's nugget of good news.  "College for Everyone? Even the Left Has Doubts."  There's a lot of nuance in that "doubts" and yet read the article and follow the links.
The old view was that “access” to college would change everything. The poor and dispossessed would become financially secure and self-possessed. A college education could and would transform the prospects for myriad individuals shut out of the American dream and would at the same time transform America by tearing down barriers of race and class, and by making the nation more competitive on the world stage.

None of this was ever plausible. It was a species of magical thinking that confused cause and consequence. People carry umbrellas in the rain. But carrying an umbrella won’t make it rain. Most successful people have college degrees. But awarding college degrees doesn’t make people successful.

Achieving worldly success involves quite a few things. If the economist Bryan Caplan’s analysis in his recent book The Case against Education, is to be trusted, high on the list is the signal that the graduate is willing and able to conform to social expectations. Middle-class students who complete college may have a built-in advantage in their willingness to conform. The American middle-class these days certainly doesn’t send legions of 17-year olds off to college who have read deeply or widely, who know much about their civilization, or command well-honed skills in writing, mathematics, history, or any other traditional subject. But they excel at conformity. Ask what they think on any social or political issue, and they will answer with the uniformity of a Roman legion declaring loyalty to Caesar.

This is by no means to discount the elite students who are on fire with intellectual ambition, or the practically-minded students who are on fire with their determination to earn degrees in finance, engineering, or the hard sciences. These are, together, the graduates of American colleges and universities who drive the “lifetime earnings” premium through the roof. They are, however, a minority, and mostly they are from the middle-class.
No kidding.  But just watch the advocates for Business as Usual spin that "excel at conformity" as just another manifestation of privilege.  That's fine, they'll self-deconstruct.

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