The Cargo Cult

…of credentials.

[Update a few minutes later]

More thoughts from (uncredentialed) Mark Steyn:

The justification for this absurd prolongation of adolescence is that it opens up opportunities for the disadvantaged. But credential-fetishization has the opposite effect. Remember Ronald Reagan, alumnus of Eureka College, Illinois? Since then, for the first time in its history, America has lived under continuous rule by Ivy League – Yale (Bush I), Yale Law (Clinton), Harvard Business (Bush II), Harvard Law (Obama). In 2009, over a quarter of Obama’s political appointees had ties to Harvard; over 90 per cent had “advanced degrees”. How’s that working out for you? In my soon to be imminently forthcomingly imminent book, I point out that once upon a time America was the land where guys without degrees (Truman) or only 18 months of formal education (Lincoln) or no schooling at all (Zachary Taylor) could become president. Credentialization is shrinking what was America’s advantage – a far greater social mobility than Europe. We’re decaying into a society where 40 per cent of the population do minimal-skill service jobs and the rest run up a trillion dollars of debt in order to avoid that fate, and ne’er the twain shall meet, except for perfunctory social pleasantries in the drive-thru lane.

We’re looking at education upside down: We should be telescoping it, not extending it.

But think of all the academic bureaucrats! Won’t someone think of the academic bureaucrats?

12 thoughts on “The Cargo Cult”

  1. Five brothers and sisters:

    Oldest: Mathematics graduate degree – Software Engineer
    Next: High School diploma (barely) – Went “into construction.”
    Next: Masters in Journalism – Heritage Foundation Fellow
    Next: Law School – Attorney for US Army
    Next: Journalism degree – Major Daily Newspaper Editor

    Guess who makes more money than the rest of the bunch combined?

  2. Me, I design rockets for a living, dropped out of college while pursuing a BSEE.

    Mind you, I would have had a lot less _struggle_ had I finished the damn degree.

  3. I hate it when leftists or fanatics do it, so I’m going to take Steyn to task for it, too.

    What’s a “tie” to Harvard, exactly?

    Plainly it’s not graduating from it, or he’d have said that.

  4. It reminds me a little of the flap over Bush’s 2005 nomination of Harriet Miers, who hadn’t been a judge, wasn’t a law professor at Harvard, and hadn’t written a book on Consitutional Law. She was just a very good lawyer who practiced in the trenches.

    The media was awash in elitist criticisms that she was completely unqualified to sit on the Supreme Court.

    Yet most Supreme Court justices never had a law degree, as probably half sat on the court before a university invented something called a law degree. Many of the justices never went to college, as college wasn’t a requirement for passing the bar exam. For most of US history law “school” was a set of non-degree lectures you could sit in on (like lessons in foreign languages or dancing) to prepare you for the bar exam.

    Eventually Harvard offered a one-year degree, then later a two-year degree, and the elitism was set in motion. Now you need to be a Harvard or Yale expert in Constitutional law to even be considered for the high court, even though Constitutional law was until very recently only offered as a single, three credit-hour course at either of those institutions.

    In fields that are based on hard science, where there is measurable, independent, real-world verification of accomplishment, this kind of nonsense doesn’t happen so much. So we haven’t yet descended to the point of handing out Nobel Prizes for Science based on claimed Ivy League expertise in Calculus II.

  5. The Ivy-League elitism strikes me as a very east coast phenomenon. Maybe primarily just a New England phenomenon. Here on the west coast we just aren’t all that big on “name” schools period, especially for those of us who inhabit the engineering industry. I work for a leading UAV manufacturer, and here a degree from Cal Poly (a state school) is considered just as good as a degree from MIT (only one of my co-workers studied there).

  6. The same thing applies even more so to “business” schools. Remember Mike Griffin? He had, among other things, an MBA. i heard his first speech as NASA Administrator. He was quite angry about the report. Along the way he admitted he didn’t understand the cultural material because of a lack of knowledge of psychology. What? I didn’t expect as much as, for example, a psychologist, but to have so little that he did not understand major parts of the report disturbed me. Awhile later I encountered a business school leader with a B.S. in mechanical engineering, an M.S. in the same field and a Ph.D. in counseling psychology. I asked her about that. She told me that, while MBAs could get a well rounded education, most of them did not. Good grief, no wonder the field of business (or as I am now saying “busy ness”) is so screwed up.

  7. Charles Murray has argued that one reason for this is that employers can no longer legally give predictive aptitude tests. (You can still give nonpredictive, i.e. worthless, tests which produce results that have zero correlation with race, socioeconomic background, et cetera.) Furthermore, changes in employment and minimum wage and benefits law have made it very expensive to “test” new employees through hiring them and then firing them abruptly if they don’t work out.

    Additional changes in discrimination law have made it very risky to rely on word of mouth or personal recommendation, a.k.a. the evil old boys’ network, and for a former employer to provide a frank evaluation of the quality of would-be employee.

    Consequently, employers have turned to the best available proxy for intelligence, self-discipline and motivation, which is the ability to wade through a four-year college degree.

    Following the Law Of Ironical Consequences, this has resulted to far greater obstacles in the way of poor and disadvantaged workers than was ever the case in the “bad old days” of frank employment evaluations, employment at will, and aptitude tests. Now being poor or from a crappy culture really is a lifetime sentence of privation — it’s much harder to escape your origins by doing well on a single honest test or for your first employer. That’s Democrats for you. More powerful than an atomic bomb. What a pity we can’t drop them on Iran.

    And, following the Corollary Of Doubling Down On Stupidity, the expanding rich-poor divide, now far greater than in the bad old unregenerate days of the 50s, produces calls from the usual suspects and their useful idiots for still more meddling of the same sort. The flames grow higher, Igor! Hand me that pail of gasoline, quick!

  8. “Won’t someone think of the academic bureaucrats?”

    You don’t want to know what I (as a college-educated person who got my degree before the age of “Studies” programs) think of the academic bureaucrats. Or maybe you would.

  9. “He had, among other things, an MBA.”

    Chuck, about 30 years ago I started to get an MBA (one course at a time, paid for by my company) while I was working. Then I worked with a few hot-shot MBAs.

    As soon as I had taken the courses that interested me and that I thought might actually do me some good in business, I quit the program. I didn’t want to end up like those self-centered full-of-their-own-wonderfulness jerks.

    Gedaliya – bet it’s the one who “went into construction.” 😀

  10. Many years ago (late 1980s), I read a column by Tom Peters (the “In Search of Excellence” guy). He noticed that there was a strong correlation between the decline of American industry and the increase in the number of people with MBAs. He didn’t think that was a coincidence. From what I remember of the article, he stated that one problem is that too many MBA types are focused on short term (next quarter) gains rather than thinking for the long haul. While correlation doesn’t prove causality, perhaps Peters was right.

  11. Harriet Miers wasn’t a bad pick because of SMU law–she was a bad pick because she would have been Souter Mk. 2.

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