Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Vocational School vs. Liberal Education

A couple days ago, I wrote about Murray's first or three articles on education, in which he discussed the limited good which he believes education can do those at the bottom end of the intelligence curve.

This time I'd like to address his second article, which dealt with the middle segment of the intelligence curve: those who are average.
Begin with those barely into the top half, those with average intelligence. To have an IQ of 100 means that a tough high-school course pushes you about as far as your academic talents will take you. If you are average in math ability, you may struggle with algebra and probably fail a calculus course. If you are average in verbal skills, you often misinterpret complex text and make errors in logic.

These are not devastating shortcomings. You are smart enough to engage in any of hundreds of occupations... But a genuine college education in the arts and sciences begins where your skills leave off....

There is no magic point at which a genuine college-level education becomes an option, but anything below an IQ of 110 is problematic. If you want to do well, you should have an IQ of 115 or higher. Put another way, it makes sense for only about 15% of the population, 25% if one stretches it, to get a college education. And yet more than 45% of recent high school graduates enroll in four-year colleges... enough people to absorb everyone down through an IQ of 104....

No data that I have been able to find tell us what proportion of those students really want four years of college-level courses, but it is safe to say that few people who are intellectually unqualified yearn for the experience, any more than someone who is athletically unqualified for a college varsity wants to have his shortcomings exposed at practice every day. They are in college to improve their chances of making a good living.... Large numbers of those who are intellectually qualified for college also do not yearn for four years of college-level courses. They go to college because their parents are paying for it and college is what children of their social class are supposed to do after they finish high school.... They, too, need to learn to make a living--and would do better in vocational training.

Combine those who are unqualified with those who are qualified but not interested, and some large proportion of students on today's college campuses--probably a majority of them--are looking for something that the four-year college was not designed to provide....
Some of this ties in with complaints I've had ever since I was in college.

I knew when I started college that I wanted to work in the corporate and small business worlds. And yet, I never even considered taking a Business or Marketing degree. There is a lot, I believe, you can learn in a class format about these topics. But there's not four years worth of stuff to learn.

What response you believe should be taken to this situation probably depends upon your level of idealism. Should all college students be pushed to take at least some liberal arts and sciences courses during their time at college, or should college for those who are primarily looking for employment credentials be shortened down to a 1-2 year process with an internship thrown in for good measure?

Personally, I'm a big believe that virtually everyone can and should acquire the most basic rudiments of a college level understanding of science, mathematics, philosophy/logic and Western Culture. However, one must also acknowledge the reality that at just about all colleges, the sort of basic courses which are used for non-majors are not only un-inspiring but downright dreadful. One gets little real understanding of Western Culture out of "Western Civ. I" nor much understanding of science from "General Science of non-Majors".

Clearly, no amount of educational theorizing will get us the perfect world that we so demonstrably do not have. And though I hope (though can't prove) that people of "average intelligence" are more capable of learning than Murray suggests, I'm certainly willing to cede that by the time people reach college age they are pretty set in their ways, and many simply do not want an extensive education. Taking that as a given, it seems reasonable to seek alternatives to the time and expense of a four year college education for those who are really looking for something rather different.


Anonymous said...

I'd have to comment, though, that both desire for more extensive education and ability to achieve that education are, to a certain degree, developmental. Just as the mind is better suited to algebra when it is 18 than when it is 12, it is better suited to certain types of theorizing when it is 28 than when it is 18. I experienced such a "leap" myself in grad school.

It also strikes me as patently unfair any time someone tries to determine not only what a demographic group wants, but what they need or are capable of achieving. There are many, many influences here, and while I do not believe that everyone should feel compelled to go to college, as is the state of things now, and I don't particularly want to have to teach those who are only attending because of social pressure to do so, I would not want to be the one to deny or even discourage the committed "average" who desperately wants to be a pediatrician because he knows he could help children. I have a particular student in mind with this one.

This actually touches on one of the problems I have with some versions of literacy theory, which suggest that literacy is not all that important and by stressing it, we are effectively oppressing those that do not possess it. They (the theory suggests) could be perfectly happy, productive, useful individuals without worrying about literacy, or at least advanced literacy. Now, it is possible that our over-emphasis on education is unfair to some. But isn't it equally unfair to predetermine what someone is capable of achieving? And who, if not the intellectual elite, gets to make this decision, thus securing their own position?

Having said this, I wholeheartedly agree with your conclusions! Just not with the meanderings of Murray!

Anonymous said...

This is giving me a very bad feeling about college-- basically, that it with be high school II.

I went into the navy for five years after high school to get money and grow up; I dearly hope to become a qualified teacher so that my children don't have to deal with the low quality learning that I had.

If college is more like high school, will I even be able to GET higher education? Fill in the gaps that I know are there?

Darwin said...


Well, it all depends on where you go and what you do there. It certainly can be high school II. But it doesn't have to be.

As my Dad used to point out, with sufficient determination you can get a good education even at a very mediocre college, or a mediocre education even at a very good college.

As far as I can tell, _wanting_ to get a good education (and being willing to put work into acheiving one) puts you a good part of the way along the road towards getting one.

Out of curiosity, what subject area are you thinking of going into?

Fidei Defensor said...

Interestingly enough I have to write an essay on a similar topic, the importance of liberal arts education. The phrase liberal arts, was meant to mean the pursuits of free (liberated) men that is to say men of wealth, power, and leasure, who did not need to go into the so called "serville arts" such as blacksmithing or brewing or shoe making, etc.

I have worked my share of menial jobs, janitor, fliping burgers, dishwashing, etc, and maybe I didn't spend enough time at them to do them mindlessly, but in my limited experence, even those sorts of lowly jobs offer mental (and physical) challanges all their own requring plenty of resourcefullness and problem solving in their own rights.

As for college, I agree with you on the whole business thing, people who are majoring in business (outside of accounting majors) have it VERY EASY, compared to those doing history or English or something. Doing power point presentations on diversity in the workplace and learning how to "network" (I am talking in terms of with people not computers) is hardly as intellectial as the reading, research, and writing demanded of students in the humanties, students in the sciences have it hard to, but I am not even qualified to speak to that.

The main advantage to tech school/trade school etc, the "serville arts," education, is that you don't get the standard dose of the liberal re-education. When you go to tech school you want to learn HOW to be a carpenter, electrican, plumber, etc, you don't have to hear WHY society is an oppresive patriarchy and George Bush hates black people, etc.

To look at the bigger picture, we have seen with the demographics, secularists don't reproduce (on a level comparable to devout Catholics, Evangelicals, etc,) they need to WIN converts, hence control of the media and education is important.

Most professors do a fine job keeping their politics out of their work, I don't mean to give them a bad rap at all, these are passionate people doing their best. Still the overall atmosphere of colleges, what gets promoted (vagina monologues), what gets funded (free contraception), etc, the tone of the textbooks, the groups most vocal on campus, the list goes on, makes it so that unless a person is very set and confident in their views, they will get altared to an extent. So Bob or Sally from nice conservative small town up north gets to college conservative and leaves liberal (though I feel that marriage, children, and full time emplyoment bring a lot of those types back into the fold.)

Wow what a rambling comment, hope it makes some semblence of sense!

Anonymous said...

Fidei defensor has hit on something that my grandfather lamented in education, my husband has mentioned from his days at Tulane, and I have actively tried to avoid in my classes, though the textbooks are against me. In English in particular, it seems my colleagues have such an inferiority complex due to the supposed inutility of what they teach that they strive for so-called "social relevance" at every opportunity--to the detriment of their students. Personally, I'm not interested in their voting records, I'm interested in the quality of their thought. And that's what I think is (or should be) valuable in Liberal Arts education!

Anonymous said...

I've been discussing this topic with my parents, both of whom teach on the college level. My mom teaches English at a community college; Dad teaches accounting at a business school. Because community colleges must take any high-school grad who applies, her classes are full of unprepared, unqualified, and often unmotivated students. It makes it much harder for her to work with the students who ARE qualified but maybe need the extra help to prepare them better....these students habitually repeat Freshman Comp at least twice!