Monday, July 09, 2007

Credential Society vs. Babies

Yesterday I started writing about Randall Collins' The Credential Society. Collins offers a strong critique of the way we continuously ratchet up the educational credentials needed to even be considered for a job. Collins argues that we invest so much in educational credentials because we need a way to create arbitrary breaks in the status structure, so that some groups (the ones with the credentials) can monopolize the better jobs. The actual education, he argues, has little relation to doing the job.

Collins makes a strong proposal to abolish compulsory credential requirements ("you must have X degree to be considered for the job"). He fears, though, that what is likely to happen is that credential inflation will continue, which will inspire a further round of ratcheting up.

In one way, credential inflation is just a relative game. If a job that took a high school degree before now takes a college degree, then everyone just competes to move up a step, without changing relative position. The same number of people, drawn from the same classes, end up with the job as before -- it just takes them longer to get there.

There is one calendar, though, that it more imperious than the academic one: the biological clock for babies. Now that all positions are legally open to women, women as a group have been doing very well in competing in school to prepare for the top positions -- doing better, in fact, than men. However, highly credentialed women face a conflict that highly credentialed men do not face nearly as much: how to fit in having and raising babies with the endless credentials chase?

Credential inflation hurts women more than men for irreducible biological reasons. Babies are reason enough to consider fighting the credential society.


tribalchurch said...

This is very interesting. As I work with college students at GWU, and they try to figure out where they're going for grad school, my head hurts with all the stress they have. I find students will sacrifice just about everything for education, and I often wonder if it's worth it.

Gruntled said...

One good thing about the American credential system, vs. the European version, is that you can get off and on the credential escalator many times -- to have kids, for example.

Jon said...

I was thinking about this aspect (US vs. Euro) before I saw your comment. I think one way to eliminate credentialing is to weed harder earlier. In Europe (and Asia) national curricula and entrance exams provide social stratification and professionalism in a way that is different from US credentialing. But I prefer the US system precisely because there are infinite second chances and opporutnities: you can always go to college if you want, and you can always do a second degree if you are willing to work for it.

MensaRefugee said...

As long as we prevent employers from using Cognitive Testing freely via Griggs Vs. Duke Power et al there will be no economic backbone to any attempts to stop the progression of the Credential Society.

I love the Friedman/Sowell etc characterization of the process - one person stands up in a stadium - better view. Everyone stands up - no better view, and no one enjoying their seat anymore.

Gruntled said...

In the Griggs case, Duke Power wanted to use IQ as a credential. This would lead to the same kind of IQ certification race that we now have for school certificates.

Dana said...

And of course, there are those who want us to be credentialed in order to have babies.

Interesting thoughts. I hadn't thought of it in that light. I just always look at my short experience with teaching. I entered the classroom through Teach For America. Most principals say these young graduates do as good and better than their first year teachers who come through traditional certification programs.

With a degree and a six week crash course, they outperform traditionally credentialed educators. Yet the first thing we do in education reform is try to make sure we have a certified teacher in every classroom? Actual performance isn't as important as the slip of paper which is supposed to be an indication of potential performance?

Gruntled said...

Teacher credentialling is particularly bad, because the state imposes a number of required courses that actually interfere with getting a liberal arts education, without adding much practical value in the classroom. I am all for Teach for America as a better workaround.

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