Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Murray is Right: Too Many Go to "College"

Here is another good back-to-school subject.

Charles Murray has written another provocative book, Real Education. A few months ago he gave a summary of his argument in the Wall Street Journal.

He argues that liberal arts education is for the intellectual elite. Our society is already good at seeing that the smartest kids get channeled toward the best colleges. We are not so good at channeling the vast middle of kids to vocational education. We do not give vocational education the same status. This inflates the value of college degrees socially and economically, and forces liberal arts colleges to try to provide job training for which they are ill equipped.

I am a sociology professor at a liberal arts college. Murray specifically slams a B.A. in sociology as telling you nothing about what the degree holder knows. I agree. In a liberal arts education, where you went to school matters more than which discipline you studied most.

And if you don't need a liberal arts education, or aren't ready for one now, by all means don't go to college just for social reasons. Vocational education, if it really teaches its craft, is honorable education, just as craft works of all kinds is honorable work.


Anonymous said...

You state that as a society we are good at channeling the smartest kids into the best colleges, but not so good a getting the vast middle into vocational education. Where does that leave smart (but maybe not the very brightest) kids who don't get into the top schools but instead attend state universities or community colleges?

Gruntled said...

This is a free country. I am in favor of people going to school where they want to if they do the work. You can get a good education at a state school, even a good liberal arts education -- you just have to do more of the work yourself. All kinds of colleges, but especially the non-selective ones, have many students with no passion for a liberal arts education. They would be better off getting job training. At least at that stage in their lives.

Jon Kay said...

Well, but, since Taylor's a grumpy old elitist who hasn't noticed the world's changed since he grew up. he's kinda 1/3 right.

Those who're more into car repair or plumbing (the right criterion, of course, is interest rather than elitist test placement), should be given support both in class existence and encouragment for following vocational tracks. It should be made clear that the top end of the scale is lower to them, though.

The other place where he's wrong is that society's needing more and more education from its people, as a constant trend over time. In the near future. we as a society can benefit from having over half our workforce college-educated, to get the new and better post-factory jobs.

Notice, one thing I'm convinced that'd help is if colleges could develop better ways of advising and helping with degree choices. It's alot easier to have passion for something you're good at.

Still another thing that'd help is if big organizations could stop giving terrible misadvice on future job paths. Both my wife AND I suffered from that, and now we're doing it to the next generation with the myth of future excess computer science jobs.