Magazine | May 19, 2014, Issue


Courses to Success

A professor in college once told me that the first step in choosing your career is deciding whether you prefer to spend your life working with people, things, or ideas. I agree with Charles C. W. Cooke that college is not for everyone, especially those who like to work with things. Yet his article “Drop the ‘Dropout’” (April 21) contains two flaws. First, he cites only one piece of anecdotal evidence that “credential-based snobbery” is widespread among Americans, the PoliticsUSA headline about Governor Scott Walker. Therefore, he creates a “straw-man argument” based on the fallacy of inductive reasoning. The only people I ever meet who display this kind of credential snobbery are insecure degree-holders who are not sure if they are smart. On the contrary, I sense a widespread sentiment, even among educated colleagues, that America needs a skilled work force with more plumbers, electricians, and mechanics.

Second, his argument seems to assume that the only purpose of a college education is to acquire a high-paying job leading to success in a material sense. No one denies that the world is filled with highly creative, successful college dropouts. Yet I argue that a college education can “lead to a better life” even for carpenters or factory workers. A true liberal-arts education creates a love of learning for its own sake. Both my parents were high-school dropouts. Yet my love of knowledge was stimulated in college by some great professors, to whom I owe a debt of gratitude. They exposed me to great thinkers and ideas in economics, history, theology, psychology, and sociology, the subjects in which I took most of my courses. I didn’t graduate with any “practical skills.” Yet a love for reading created by exposure to great ideas gave me the impetus to develop writing skills and become, first, a journalist, and later in life a successful author and professor. The opportunity to attend college was among the best things that ever happened to me.

David E. Sumner, Professor of Journalism

Ball State University

Muncie, Ind.

Charles C. W. Cooke responds: If there is indeed “a widespread sentiment, even among educated colleagues, that America needs a skilled work force with more plumbers, electricians, and mechanics,” it is certainly not being conveyed to the nation’s young. The United States is approaching $1 trillion in student debt; the unwavering rhetoric of the political class is that everybody who wants to go to college should go to college; and yet, on the one occasion when the president managed to make the case in public that “folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art-history degree,” he was forced to apologize after a professor in that subject objected.

Providing that one’s teachers are useful, being exposed to “great thinkers and ideas in economics, history, theology, psychology, and sociology” is certainly worthwhile. Nevertheless, the system is not set up for dilettantes; it is set up to create “the work force of tomorrow,” or whatever other hollow platitude is regnant at the moment. Perhaps the most notable thing about the Occupy Wall Street movement was its complaint that so many had been through college but could not now find a job. Where do we think they got the idea that such a job would be forthcoming?

NR Staff — Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

In This Issue


Politics & Policy

Using Race

Each time the federal government of these United States comes close to emerging from its eternal psychosis on the question of using a crude system of racial classifications to condition ...
Politics & Policy

Liberal Slumlords

When Donald Sterling, the notoriously racist billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, was caught on tape saying hateful things about African Americans, it sparked a torrent of news coverage, ...


Books, Arts & Manners

Politics & Policy


In “Among the Euro-Weenies,” a classic report on European attitudes toward America in the 1980s, P. J. O’Rourke describes going to dinner in London. “Your country’s never been invaded,” sniffs ...
Politics & Policy

Old School

I’m, like, digging Charles Murray’s new book, which grew — at the suggestion of his colleague Karlyn Bowman — out of in-house tips on grammar and usage for super-smart kids ...
Country Life

Into the Woods

Every month I get a haircut; every decade my property gets a tree cut. This was a regular feature of old-time husbandry, as reflected in fiction or correspondence where one ...


Politics & Policy


Courses to Success A professor in college once told me that the first step in choosing your career is deciding whether you prefer to spend your life working with people, things, ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ The latest scandal lesson: When you’re talking to a mistress a quarter your age, be sure to be decorous. ‐ Speaker John Boehner said that the reason his House Republican ...

Hashtag Diplomacy

From the Twitter account of State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki, April 2014: “The world stands #UnitedforUkraine. Let’s hope that the #Kremlin & @mfa_Russia will live by the promise of hashtag.” From ...
Politics & Policy


ONE LIVED AND ONE DIED Young men and cars offer the joy of coming of age with the risks of tragedy. There is the monstrous injustice of the death, banal statistical references, and life goes on. And ...
Happy Warrior

Bigots by Birth

If you’re like me — a hominid American with external gonads and a melanin ratio that gives your epidermis a pinkish hue — then I’ve got some bad news for ...

Most Popular

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Political Clans Choose Public Life

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Two Truth-Tellers, Brave as Hell

Yesterday, the Human Rights Foundation hosted an event they called “PutinCon” -- a conference devoted to the Russian “president,” Vladimir Putin: his rise and his deeds, both at home and abroad. Participating were both Russians and well-wishing foreigners. It was, above all, a day of truth-telling -- a ... Read More
Economy & Business

The Swamp: Navarro Nucor Edition

The Wall Street Journal has a story today about the ties between President Trump's trade adviser, Peter Navarro, and the biggest steel company in the U.S. -- Nucor Corp. It is particularly interesting in light of the stiff steel tariffs successfully pushed by Navarro, which he championed ever since he joined the ... Read More


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Rolling Back Dodd-Frank

The Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would roll back parts of Dodd-Frank. The vote was 67–31, with 17 members of the Democratic caucus breaking party lines. If the legislation passes the House and is signed, it will be the largest change to the controversial financial-reform package since it became law in ... Read More
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Samantha Power Regrets

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