The Credentialed Society

by John Derbyshire

Nice thread on the over-credentialing of society. I said pretty much all I have to say about the ed-biz rackets in the education chapter (Chapter 6) of my tremendous book We Are Doomed, summing the matter up thus:

Education is a vast sea of lies, waste, corruption, crackpot theorizing, and careerist log-rolling. If, as H.G. Wells asserted, “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe,” we have lost the race, and had better brace ourselves for the catastrophe.

I do take exception, though, to the several commenters jeering at us NRO elite types as being desperate to get high-elite credentials for our own kids even as we scoff at the real value of those credentials. According to one such:

But yet every member of the NRO team here would 100 percent guaranteed want their child to do the arts degree at Harvard rather than the plumbing course in college … why? Because when the elite conservative commentators are talking about the need for kids to go to technical colleges they are talking about YOUR kids of course, not theirs.

Rhubarb to that commenter. Other NRO-niks may speak for themselves — Mark Steyn has already done so — but I personally would be delighted for my kids to learn some useful trade like plumbing. If either of them had turned out to be intellectually brilliant, I would of course have encouraged them to follow an academic path as far as they could, and would have made the necessary sacrifices. As it happens both Nellie (18) and Danny (16) are in the bright-but-not-brilliant comfort zone of IQ, 115–125, and their best shots at useful and fulfilling lives will be to acquire some durable marketable skills a.s.a.p. Fritzing around for four years with something like Art History or International Relations would be an utter waste of time, and also of money if I were willing to spend it, which I’m not.

(Some years ago my wife and I were in the audience at a comedy club. The comic — not a big name, though he was pretty good — was picking on audience members and interrogating them, trying to get jokes from the exchanges. He got his biggest laugh with a pleasant young woman who owned up to being a student. “What are you studying?” the comic asked. “English literature,” replied the gal. He: “Oh, so your parents are rich then?”)

Nellie has inherited a full set of working-class genes from her ancestors. (I used to tell the kids, till they got sick of hearing it and screamed at me to stop, that they are “half English coal-miner, half Chinese peasant, 100 percent American.”) She has a terrific work ethic. The kid loves to work — currently at the local Chip’N'Dipped store. She actually declared at one point last year: “I don’t want to go to college!” We talked her into it, though, and this fall she’ll attend a local state college. She has no idea of any particular direction she wants to go in, but we’re hoping something will occur in the first year or two. With a work ethic like hers, she’ll excel at whatever she ends up doing. We’d just prefer it was something a bit higher up the occupational-status ladder than putting chocolate chips into cookies.

Danny has set his heart on joining the military. He’s immovable on this, simply won’t consider anything else. He has two more years of high school, then he’s going to sign up. This has been the subject of some family debates. I’m perfectly fine with it — often wish I’d taken that path myself. Mrs D has somewhat of the traditional Chinese attitude, encapsulated in the phrase  好鐵不當釘; 好’不當兵 — “You don’t use good iron to make nails; a good son doesn’t become a soldier.” This is a bit paradoxical since, as I gently point out, her own father was a career soldier. So was my brother, who spent 22 happy years in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. The upshot has been, we have done our parently duty, forcing the lad to consider that (a) the military might not take him for some reason, or (b) the military life may not be what he has imagined, so that he should have good grades in reserve. The way things look, though, he’ll be taking the King’s shilling (I mean, whatever the U.S. equivalent is) around July 2013.

(The blogger Half Sigma has been following this thread and has interesting things to say about credentialing, and about STEM versus liberal arts majors as class markers.)

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