smason edit.jpg (23187 bytes)Look At It This Way
by Dr. Steve Mason

We make some of our greatest gains
When we see old things
In new ways

School Daze

When WW2 ended, millions of men were suddenly demobilized out of the army and back into civilian life. As a result, the labor force was suddenly besieged by mobs looking for work. To absorb this influx, the government came up with a plan to put former soldiers on hold by paying them to go to school.

The GI Bill seemed like a great opportunity and indeed it was. First generation college graduates were able to move up the socioeconomic ladder and become part of the American Way. Interestingly enough, the public was already primed to see a good education as the royal road to a good job even though it was mostly an illusion. It came out of an earlier time when Hollywood films showed Mickey Rooney wearing a raccoon coat and living a big house with his father the judge. In truth, such a scion would have been a success regardless of what he did or didnít study.

The fallacy is that a good education leads to a good job. In truth, an education teaches one how to live. It does not teach one how to make a living. Thatís what training does. Doctors and lawyers, auto mechanics and computer programmers are trained. Reading Beowulf has nothing to do with it. Itís the basis for the joke: Four years ago I couldnít spell Engineer and now I are one.

And yet, by the second half of the 20th Century, the college diploma had become the middle-class equivalent of a union card. It added a little maturity and suggested a willingness to work in the present for gains in the future...a trait that potential employers especially value in potential employees.

So by the start of the 21st Century, a college degree was seen as essential baggage for anyone just starting out in life despite already being a third of the way through it. Whatís more, costs had gone up just as relevance had gone down and that has resulted in a 25 year-old with no experience, $50K in debt and a degree in Gender Studies. Clearly, the idea of a good education is ready for revision.

Look At It This Way

Today we have an educational system that runs the gamut from make believe to world class. However, for the majority, itís nothing about which to write home...assuming you can write. Comparing the US to other countries weíre 24th in literacy putting us behind Poland and Ireland. And this ho-hum showing doesnít come cheap. Teachers make somewhere between $62K in Alabama and $81K in New York for approximately 180, 5.5 hour days. The total bill for K-12 was $536 billion during 2004-05...exceeding that for national defense. 

My question: Why not drop Pestalozziís pedagogy, scrap costly brick and mortar buildings, eliminate teachers and provide serious, teachable students with programmed study units on-line? Take the educational system out of the welfare business. Babysitting and providing perhaps a third of total nutrition for some kids may be well and good but it has nothing to do with education. Isnít it time to move into the 21st Century?

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