Education and Government21 Dec 2009 09:39 am

In the previous post I discussed how statistics show that American’s are not as educated as we are led to believe. In the US less than 70% of students who enter elementary school end up with a high school diploma. In this post we will try to see how a practical, logical analysis of the role of education in modern society contradicts what we are being told regarding its importance and benefits.

American’s are being told that today’s competitive marketplace demands that citizens who want to “get ahead in the world” need at minimum a college degree and most likely an advanced degree. We are bombarded with the message that American workers are the most skilled in the world and the fast pace of American commerce and technological advancement demand higher education.

Let’s take a s look at how honest this sentiment and appraisal of the role and benefit of education is for the general public. First we’ll look at the economic and practical benefits of advanced degrees for the professional career traditional college track and then will look at the economic and practical benefits of higher education for the vocational trade workers.

The problem with the advanced degree equals financial wealth and security promise is that it contradicts both historical economic trends and the laws of supply and demand so dear to our system of capitalism. Our society shows no signs of wanting or becoming a society able to financially support a highly educated populace.

During the last two economic downturns the term over qualified was used to explain the reason why many highly credentialed potential workers were unemployed or having to accept low paying jobs outside of their field. Though this problem is less talked about it is more prevalent than ever.  The structure and composition of our work force shows no indication or ability to become a professional career dominated  system.

We currently do not have millions or even tens of thousands of jobs sitting fallow waiting for advanced degree applicants to fill those positions. Likewise we are not waiting for more Phd’s and masters level graduates to hit the work force before we create such positions. The reality of the situation is advanced degree graduates are finding it increasingly difficult  to find jobs fitting their educational status at all, let alone in their field of interest.

Since the early 60’s there has been a steady trend of a higher concentration of wealth going to a smaller and smaller percentage of people. This trend shows no signs of abating and in fact is gaining momentum. The prospects for wealth and job security for those of us acquiring an advanced educational degree is on the wane even if the percentage of people receiving advanced degrees were not to increase.

Advances in technology and informational technology will continue to erode the importance and need for a number of advanced degree professionals. I’ll just give two quick examples to support the point.

One is the number of medical procedures that will be best or only performed or executed by robotics and machines is only going to expand. The demands regarding accuracy and sensitivity for most recent and projected medical procedures far exceed the capabilities of human surgeons and medical practitioners.

Second, computers and information systems are far more capable of researching and organizing information. Researchers in all fields of the professional world including CPA’s and lawyers are becoming increasingly dependent on information technology to do the bulk of their work for them. The technology if not a direct threat to make their jobs totally obsolete at least will drastically decrease the number of professionals needed in each field.

A constant complaint I’ve heard these last 30 years from students functioning at all levels of educational competency is that education has nothing to do with the real world, that they will never use the majority of what they are being taught. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard a student ask, “why should I learn this?”, or “When am I ever going to use this when I’m working?”

In many ways students are correct in assuming that their jobs will never require their knowing how solve a quadratic equation, know the periodic table,  or be able to identify the structure of the judicial system of Maori Indians.  Likewise understanding the various forms of poetic meter, or the major river systems of South America will seldom get them a job or make them available for a job promotion.

Yet, what is gained through our general education system is more abstract and logic based. The information is not important in itself but it is helping a student develop important practical skills and abilities. Some of which include problem solving, logic, critical thinking, pattern recognition, empathy and understanding, perspective and analysis just to name a few.

Much of the benefits of a well rounded education has to do with providing students with tools, skills and abilities that will help them be successful in all levels of life. Not   just at the work place, but interpersonal relations, parenting, and dealing with the increasing complexity of life in the modern world.

This shows a general benefit of education, but does not directly negate the students concern that most of their education does not directly apply to the career of job they will spend the majority of their adult life doing.

This brings us to the core of the push for advanced degrees, and its accompanying rational that many do not succeed in today’s work world because they are undereducated and unsatisfactorily credentialed. The solution as always whether you’re a computer technician or a health care professional is that your job security and pay scale are dependent on advanced degrees.

Let’s take a look at one of the central messages of education proponents who state that the sophistication and complexity of the high tech world makes a college education imperative, and once you get a degree in technology your career path is secure.

No one can argue that technological disciplines of all kinds are in a perpetual state of rapid growth. Yet, this fact both supports the need for a degree and limits the benefits of a technology based education.

First of all, no general technological education of any type, will rarely prepare you for a specific job in the field of technology. The skills and specific processes needed for each job is changing so rapidly that any education you receive will be outdated in a very short time. Since so many jobs involve skills and knowledge that are so specific to that job alone, learning on the job is far more beneficial than learning in a general classroom.

Advances in automation, robotics, information technology, and artificial intelligence are occurring at a mind numbing speed. Many technologies are claiming a new generation level of advancement as quick as every few months. In such an environment how much staying power or relevance does a degree have?

Most advances in automation, robotics, information technology, and artificial intelligence reduce the need for human workers. These technologies often reduce the need for workers and a job force and therefore a degree in these fields will not necessarily improve job security or result in a lucrative career.

The fact of the matter is that more and more jobs are becoming unnecessary and unprofitable. Machines work for free and never need to sleep or have off time. The competitive nature of capitalism always goes towards maximizing profits and lowering overhead.  In the modern world of technology and information, human labor is seldom the means to maximizing profit.

Robots and machines do tasks, learn new processes and work at optimum levels far better than humans.

Professionals such as doctors and lawyers have been keeping up with advances in their field by reading journals and getting additional training for decades.  Now any technologically based worker must do the same. There is no degree which will end education, and most education has to occur on the job because of the specialty of information and skills indigenous solely to that task.

Yet, no amount of education is going to allow humans to perform many jobs at the quality of robots and automation. Robots will become increasingly superior to human workers in doing precision work, repetitive work demanding identical duplication, and the ability to quickly identify and solve problems.

Robots, likewise will be unparalleled in their ability to identify flaws and variances of quality in materials, their ability to monitor and fix other machines, and not get bored with tedious work or vigilance.

The promises of wealth and job security being heralded by the media is true for a few industries. These industries include banking and education.

The watering down of public education has made a high school diploma almost no better than being a drop out, and therefore, made a college diploma almost mandatory to get any job above minimum wage.  This means that our free public education is worthless and forces those with economic ambition to have to pay for the education they need to make a well paying job even a possibility.

College and private educations have become these expensive and necessary toll booths giving a potential worker hope for a decent future on the road of life. Those who are yet employed or underemployed often have to borrow money to pay for their education.

Over the last few decades it has been the educational and lending institutions and not students which have benefitted most by the perceived need for higher education. The costs of higher education have skyrocket as well as the net worth of colleges and universities during this time period. Likewise the percentage of students graduating with significant amounts of debt has exploded.

The only real obstacle to expanding wealth for lending and private and higher education institutions has been bad investing. Isn’t it ironic that the standard advertising tag line for most higher educational institutions is something along the lines of “investing in your future”. It probably would be more accurate to say “investing in our future”.

As is the case in many aspects of our society, deception and sales techniques dominate the messages we receive. Honesty and integrity, like human labor, are not the best means of maximizing one’s profit potential. Therefore, in a profit based system of economic competition honesty and integrity will have little value.

In general deception sells more than truth. So what do you expect from a society whose primary goal is economic expansion through the maximizing of profit?

Now remembering that my friend might be a real education.

Jim Guido

2 Responses to “The Great American Education Hoax: Part 2”

  1. on 21 Dec 2009 at 6:44 pm MaryBeth

    Kudo to the post and interesting comment, i also bookmarked your RSS feeds for more updates.

  2. on 22 Dec 2009 at 11:44 am Ellen

    Interesting and kinda disturbing…especially as I live in a culture that places the value of education on a pedestal.Problem is, i have been wondering about the prospects of being overqualified or even qualified in no particular field…See here on the islands when you are a child, your teachers tell you, dream big! You can do whatever you want! You can reach for the stars…unfortunately they DON’T tell you what jobs are offered or rather needed for the country so here now, we have college graduates(who mind you, are in DEBT!)running around in fields that aren’t particularly needed and does not contribute towards making a better society…i could go on and on with this…I do not think the powers-that-be even want people to gain knowledge…like u said, the gap between the poor and rich is getting even wider…to bad though…money doesn’t bring happiness, neither does education…it just helps u to survive!This article was very enlightening!

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