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The edumacation perplex

By Michael J. Smith on Monday December 5, 2011 08:36 PM

My fellow Lefties, it seems to me, mostly exhibit a very muddled way of thinking about the Credentialling Sector (CS for short). The subject recently came up -- for the thousandth time -- on one of my mailing lists. Sample exchange:

Curly: Before the introduction of fees, the British University system was on the whole a subsidy to a narrowly-drawn group of privileged middle classes.

Moe: So better now to make it really expensive?

Moe is exhibiting here what I think of as the Mother-In-Law Argument, since I once knew a mother-in-law who specialized in it.
Me: Our civilization has its flaws.

Mother-in-law: Oh, so I suppose you'd prefer chattel slavery and human sacrifice, Mr Wise Guy?

It is weird how anything like a structural criticism of the CS -- anything that goes beyond tinkering with fees and the relative abundance of discount seats(*) -- is quite problematic for many on the Left. The underlying agenda of grading and sorting in the name of meritocracy seems to be quite acceptable to many of us. Curious.

Needless to say I weighed in to this effect, and felt the rough edge of Moe's tongue:

It's always amusing when highly educated people demean the importance of formal education for others.... For most people, college is a good experience.
(Moe is an Ivy alum himself, poor devil, so his overestimate of my educatedness is understandable.)

This got me ruminating. There was certainly nothing 'formal' about my education, though I did spend some time at a couple of well-regarded institutions. It was very catch-as-catch-can, and I learned at least as much from my fellow-students as I did from my teachers -- though four or five of those teachers are people that I'm very glad I met.

Moe has a point, though. College was (mostly) a good experience for me too. But that was because I viewed it as an opportunity for shameless self-indulgence, and spent my time and the family's money, such as it was, on things like mediaeval music and Celtic philology. I was fortunately able to treat the credentialling sector as if it were a romp through Arcadia. The degrees meant nothing to me at the time, though of course they did come in handy later on.

I certainly would want anybody to have the same experience who wanted to have it; and I would want it to be entirely unaccompanied by grading and degree-granting and entirely funded by the public purse. Treat it completely as an amenity, like the national parks.

What I very much object to is the credentialling sector's gatekeeper role, and the idea that everybody has to submit to it for, what, sixteen to twenty of the best years of their lives. Unfortunately that seems to have become the essence of the thing in the world we actually live in.

It's a bit like the police and prisons, isn't it? Many of us Lefties probably believe that as a practical matter, almost any society we can envision would need some kind of law-enforcement and some kind of sanctions for bad actors, but then none of us has any use at all for the actually existing police and prison systems. Nobody on the left is interested in the pay and pensions of prison guards and cops.

College used to be a playground for the sons of the elite, and then for a short moment it became a playground for some 'umbler folk like me, if they chose to treat it that way. But now it's a feedlot on the way to the corporate slaughterhouse.

Under those circumstances, fuck it. If it could become a playground again, I'd support it to the hilt. Hell, I'd go back into teaching.


(*) Referred to, in the peculiar thieves' argot of the CS, as "scholarships" and "financial aid".

Comments (10)


how dare uppity proles get the education I got!

don't they know their place?


An 'F' in reading comprehension for you, Smiley.


smiley can't comprehend becauase his knee is jerking so violently he can't pay attention
to what he's skimming let alone
try to ruminate a spell

just exactly how is humanity bettered with a few more discount seats

why the chuch in its hay day
was quite the advancement institution
thru its monastic archipeligo

but for every peasant'artisan shop keeper child that system of insular outfits radicalized
--think luther and munster et al maybe here
the last great crop of such --

the church's monastery system
produced generations of nasty spiritual straw bosses for the feudal establishment

yes luther was right
away with all that monastic humbug and its loathesome parasitism

the hideous bloated tic infestation
the monaseriies were by 15 hundred
bares a direct analogy to our university complexes


"uppity proles "

revolt against the exploitations of
their job site

not demand a seat in a lecture hall

if we are to advocate
for a few more proles on campus

better we suggest scholarships based on economics not blanket subsidies
that might lower tuitions in general

i love father's
national parks model

but as good a recipe as that may be

its for cook shops over the event horizon

btw father is certainly beyond just well aware of this "futuristic george jetson aspect of it all

that is if it is to be george jetson's world

not bobby vaughn's teenage cave man future

hail the symbol maker's apprentice either way
in the black hole of "some day "

Al Schumann:

Good ole' Smiles. I can't afford to pay the Credentialing Sector to verify my command of stuff I already know and skills I already have. So no corporate job for me, even if I want one.

It's just as well. The credential doesn't relate to job skills or knowledge anyway. Possession of one is an implicit promise to respect the daily care and feeding of the org chart. I can't promise that. I have too much work to do!


Love the "mother-in-law argument," though I think of it as the dad argument.

Me: We shouldn't have invaded Iraq.

Dad: Why don't you move to China, if you don't like it here?

Makes me laugh every time I think about it.

But it isn't this b/w. There are still major elements of the system that exist to preserve and share human endeavors like medieval music, class analysis, and how to read and write and think. Those aren't in charge, given much leeway, or on the ascendance. But neither are they dead and gone. So why make the mistake of chucking the whole endeavor as if they were?

Hell, even if the school system were utterly and completely gone, why not insist on starting it over?

No doubt, the whole "go back to school" thing, repeated once again today by Zerobama in Kansas, is a rotten trick designed to confuse the public, perpetuate Social Darwinism, and stave off proper demands.

But there is still a baby in this polluted bathwater.


MD -- 'Starting it over' is just what I'd like to do, given my druthers. Mediaeval music and class analysis don't need anything like the topheavy enforcement-oriented bureaucracy of the Unis to get themselves passed along and improved upon. All they need is ways for those who know something about the topic to connect with those who'd like to know something about the topic. Plato's Academy was a clump of shade trees on a hill. And the three R's were arguably better taught in Abraham Lincoln's day than they are now.


As present trends continue, I suspect people are getting a hands-on learning experience in class analysis and class consciousness, far better and more meaningful than they'd be getting from a tenured uni prof.

Cz, the tension between street and book is as old as the left, as you know. The "organic intellectual" thing is half cop-out.

Without insisting it's the only possible way or denying that it carries its own risks, I find it to be a foolish pose to pooh-pooh the endeavor of formal study and teaching of the skills and history of class analysis. We ought to be pushing to make this a big part of the schools, not repeating the old canard about the street being the always better teacher. The street is reality, but reality doesn't leap straight to mind from it, especially when TV and corporate marketing are two-thirds of street experience.

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