Education Reform

A comment on the previous post from reader Codex, re: teaching:

Even if the job itself isn’t worth the candle, the next generations are.

Which is most fundamental level of the problem, the kind that causes alkie-level cognitive dissonance: The next generations not only aren’t being served by the “education” system, K-thru-PhD, they’re actively being harmed by it. It’s negative value, and the insane cost of tuition is the least expensive thing about it.

I’ll try to confine my remarks to the university system, since that’s the one I know well, but the point applies across all levels. As we know, most problems stem from improper definition, so let’s get Confucian up in here. The school system we’ve created, K-thru-PhD, conflates what should be two distinct fields, education and training.

Education means “learning how to live.” The goal of an education is to produce the proverbial “well-rounded individual” — a citizen.

Training is the acquisition of job-specific skills, or their foundations. The goal of training is to give someone a livelihood, to produce a technician.

My own ex-career — “professor,” for lack of a better term, though “university instructor” is a much more accurate description of it in practice — is a good example of how these things get hopelessly muddled. As traditionally understood — meaning, in the system we copied wholesale from the Prussians circa 1850 —  a professor had three primary “job functions,” as the HR people used to say: teacher (technician), teacher (educator), and historian (technician).

I’m going to commit a historian’s sin here, and omit almost the entire backstory. The history of “education,” of the university system, whatever you want to call it, is long and complicated and fascinating, but not really germane. Like all human institutions, “educational” ones grew organically around what were originally very different foundations, the way coral reefs form around shipwrecks. Oversimplifying for clarity”: back in the day, “schools” were supposed to handle education (as defined above), while universities were for training (ditto). That being the case, very few who attended universities emerged with degrees — a man got what training he needed for his future career, and unless that future career was “senior churchman,” the full Bachelor of Arts route was pretty much pointless.

(At the risk of straying too far afield, let’s briefly note that “senior churchman” was a common, indeed almost traditional, career path for the spare sons of the aristocracy. Well into the 18th century, every titled parent’s goal was “an heir and a spare,” with the heir destined for the title and castle and the spare earmarked for the church… but not, of course, as some humble parish priest. It was pretty common for bishops or abbots, and sometimes even cardinals, to be ordained on the day they took over their bishoprics. See, for example, Cesare Borgia. Meanwhile the illiterate, superstitious, brutish parish priest was a figure of satire throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance. A guy like Thomas Wolsey was hated, in no small part, precisely because he was a commoner who leveraged his formal education into a senior church gig, taking a bunch of plum positions away from the aristocracy’s spare sons in the process).

That being the case — that schools were for education, universities for training — the fascinating spectacle of some 18 year old fop fresh out of Eton being sent to govern the Punjab makes a lot more sense. His character, formed by his education (in our sense), was considered sufficient; he’d pick up such technical training as he needed on the job… or employ trained technicians to do it for him. So too, of course, with the army, and the more you know about the British Army before the 20th century, the more you’re amazed that they managed to win anything, much less an empire — the heir’s spare’s spare traditionally went into the army, buying his commission outright, which meant that quite senior commands could, and often did, go to snotnosed teenagers who didn’t know their left flank from their right.

Alas, governments back in the days were severely under-bureaucratized, meaning that the aristocracy lacked sufficient spares to fill all the technician roles the heirs required in a rapidly urbanizing, globalizing world… which meant that talented commoners had to be employed to fill the gaps. See e.g. Wolsey, above. The problem with that, though, is that you can’t have some dirty-arsed commoner, however skilled, wiping his nose on his sleeve while in the presence of His Lordship, so universities took on a socializing function. And so (again, grossly oversimplifying for clarity) the “bachelor of arts” was born, meaning “a technician with the social savvy to work closely with his betters.” A good example is Thomas Hobbes, whose official job title in the Earl of Devonshire’s household was “tutor,” but whose function was basically “intellectual technician” — he was a kind of man-of-all-work for anything white collar…

At that point, if there had been a “system” of any kind, what the system’s designers should’ve done is set up finishing schools. The “universities” of Oxford, Cambridge, etc. are made up of various “colleges” anyway, each with their own rules and traditions and house colors and all that Harry Potter shit. Their Lordships should’ve gotten together and endowed another college for the sole purpose of knocking manners into ambitious commoners on the make (Wolsey might actually have had something like this in mind with Cardinal College… alas).

But they didn’t, and so the professors at the traditional colleges were forced into a role for which they were not designed, and unqualified. That tends to happen a lot — have you noticed? It actually happened to them twice, once with the need for technicians-with-manners became apparent, and then again when the realization dawned — as it did by the 1700s, if not earlier — that some subjects, like chemistry, require not just technicians and technician-trainers, but researchers. Hard to blame the “system” for this, since pf course there is no “system,” but also because such a thing would be ruinously expensive.

Hence by the time an actual system came into being — in Prussia, around 1800 — the professors awkwardly inhabited the three roles we started with. The Professor of Chemistry, say, was supposed to conduct research while training technicians-with-manners. As with the pre-machine gun British army, the astounding thing is that they managed to pull it off at all, much less to such consistently high quality. They were real men back then…

As should be obvious, though, that system is fatally flawed when considered as a system, and it’s even more so in the case of a self-consciously anti-aristocratic society like America. Again, had anybody been planning this, what should’ve happened was the wholesale conversion of the Ivies into finishing schools on the Oxbridge model, since they were already set up with all that Harry Potter shit anyway.* The state schools, meanwhile, should’ve been what they were always intended to be — technician training centers — with the character formation stuff getting punted down to something like “high school plus.” Your standard grade school curriculum should’ve stopped with the Three R’s plus wood shop — that is, a modernized quadrivium — with an extra year or two optional for a modernized version of the trivium —  History, Literature, that kind of thing.**

Alas, what actually happened was the compression of all that into “college.” And here too, as with the British “system,” the remarkable thing is that it managed to work at all, much less to such a consistently high level. If you haven’t lately, go re-watch Animal House. A silly frat story, but ignore the jokes. Focus on the classroom scenes. Even Bluto is wearing a collared shirt, for pete’s sake, and the rest of the pledges wear neckties to class while reading Paradise Lost in freshman comp.

Professor Donald Sutherland (whatever his character’s name was) fails grievously in his socialization mission — introducing the kids to pot, sleeping with a student — but those scenes were recognizable to the film’s intended audience…. which, let us recall, was seeing it in the theaters in 1978. Hanging out socially with the professor was something people did back then, or were at least able to do, despite being random nobodies. Sutherland was bad at it, but his three-in-one role was not only expected, but actually carried out…

…and, sadly, still is. College as I have taught it — and I did it for many, many years — is pretty much nothing but socialization. Not in the sense that you get a bunch of students together and hang out with them — most profs I know, being the kind of socially awkward autistic dorks that make “gamers” seem well-adjusted ladies’ men, would commit suicide first — but in the sense that all the “schoolwork” consists of nothing but recitations of the catechism. You don’t go to college even to learn a skill, much less anything so gassy as “critical thinking.” All you learn is the catechism, how to fill out Social Justice Mad Libs. This isn’t a side-effect of a “college” “education;” it’s the entire point.

A first step to meaningful education reform, then, would be to figure out what education actually IS. Most people don’t need it, or much of it. All they need is technical training… and the attempt to shoehorn the one into the other means that nobody gets either.




*You can tell a real Ivy grad by their auto-signature. It’s not enough to list your graduation year the way pompous parvenus from “selective private liberal arts colleges” do — “Martha Cumdumpster (’09) wishes to announce xyhr commitment ceremony with xzhryr partner, Sally McArmpithair (’07).” Real Yalies, at least, etc. list their “college” (“Silliman ’09”) and Harvardians their club affiliations.

**I am of course aware that this is the reverse of the Medieval course of study, but the Dark Ages can suck it. We’re headed back there at light speed in any case.

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15 thoughts on “Education Reform

  1. Martinian

    High school teacher here.

    As I see things, the problem is K – 8 has utterly abdicated any responsibility for Skills Training in favor of maladaptive socialization. The way it seems to have achieved this is by claiming that Critical Thinking Skills(TM) & Self-Esteem(TM) outweigh anything concrete/practical. Handwriting? Gone. Spelling? Nonegsisant. Mental Math? Just type it into a calculator. punctuation and other mechanics? nope Procedural algorithms? No, you have to *understand* what you’re doing and realize that there are multiple ways. But you can bet that they’re loaded to the gills with Recycling, Diversity, Political Engagement, Feelings & Sex, etc.

    As a result, the kids by and large do not know basic facts and processes and, what’s more, they’ve never really learned any strategies to retain large amounts of key information. The upshot is that an enormous amount of time has to be wasted on remediation, or if there isn’t enough time or teacher skill/patience to do that, we have the glorious miracle of Social Promotion.

    Step Number One in any recovery of education must be the wholesale expulsion of Single, childless, OnlyFans/CatLady-in-Training primary education harpies.

  2. Codex

    Hence “homeschool or die” and no plans for college any more. The assortive mating is the puzzle that concerns me most, especially for any capable young lady who wants to go the Lillian Gilbreth route.

  3. The Kaigat Of Wands

    Prefacing this with the note that it’s not intended as any sort of self-promotion, I am intelligent but also lazy and easily bored, so I’m not suggesting that this little story makes me anything special. It perhaps might be interesting as an insight into how things were. Being English my first serious exam, before everything changed, was the 11+, at age 11 this determined whether you went to a grammar school or a secondary modern (technical) school – unless of course you were a member of the elite and headed for Eton/Harrow etc.
    Only about 10-20% of children passed this exam and went to gramamr school, as I did. The whole school, ages 11-18, only had about 400 students. At age 16 you sat a further exam which determined whether you would leave school or stay until 18 and most likely go to university. I passed, along with about 20-30 others, against an initial intake of about 60 at age 11. Remember even that 60 was only about 10-20% of the pool of 11-year olds, so we were heavily streamed.
    For that final 2 years you took 3 subjects, in my case History, French and Latin, and that’s all you studied, nothing else. You sat a final exam at 18 and then in almost all cases went to university.
    Universities, therefore, and classes were much smaller than they are now. The one I went to had about 4,000 students across all disciplines and including post-grad. Today it has about 28,000 and there are many more “universities” in the UK than formerly.
    Of course my generation – 60s/70s – and the ones immediately before and after are largely responsible for throwing it all away, so perhaps it wasn’t such a great system. I guess you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

    1. Severian Post author

      That was indeed a lovely system. I heard teachers daydreaming about it, back when teachers were responsible for actually educating students…

      Even in my day (late 1980s / early 1990s) there were alternatives available. Our state had “advanced” and “honors” programs — later called AP (advanced placement) programs — above and beyond the standard curriculum; the standard curriculum had lots of “vo-tech” stuff like wood shop. It was taken as given that those in the “honors” track would be going on to college, so the education was rigorous. I can attest to its quality — admittedly I went to a third-rate state school in one of our less intellectual states, but my friends who went to the big name schools and the snotty “small private liberal arts colleges” all agreed with me that freshman year was a snap; high school was much harder…

      Alas, this was the dreaded “ability tracking,” which is of course rayciss , so it wasn’t long before all that was gone, and the smart kids had to sit in huge classrooms to be terrorized by Shitavious and he homies. Nothing good can last.

  4. WOPR

    We sent the WOPR unit to a Christian school for K thru 12. It was decent educationally. But, the unit did get a few old school teachers who helped instill some good habits. They still did some of basics that Martinian talked about. In Kindergarten they had what they called a Victory Drillbook which was simply lists of similar words on a page. You had to be able to read off so many on a page in a set period of time. The unit was doing the minimal until she decided she wanted the prize. Then it was a lot of drilling. Of course, that with the phonics turned her into a very good reader.

    Anyways, the way to avoid the HS boredom is to get into college classes early. We started the unit off early her sophomore year of HS. By taking one class each semester for three years, plus a few AP tests, it knocked off almost a year of college. Plus, by having the kid take the basics early on, which were easier than when even I was in college, it provided a chance for some parental oversight.

    1. Severian Post author

      That’s the way to do it. I AP placed out of 2 years of college, which, combined with some scholarships and work study, meant I could goof around and take whatever struck my fancy and still graduate on time.

      Of course, the Poz was creeping in even there. I held off taking the last four classes for my major until the very last minute, hoping there would eventually be classes other than “Lesbian Eskimos in Comparative Perspective” or suchlike.

      (No dice).

      1. WOPR

        She knew what she wanted to major in in college and knew where by the end of her junior year of HS. So, we talked with an advisor at State U and figured out what was best to take her senior year. Luckily her senior year was a joke because college chemistry almost broke her. We barely saw her from three months. But, she learned from the experience which was the main thing. And she wasn’t doing it her freshman year away from home.

        I have to give Steve Sailer credit for always mentioning doing that on his blog.

        It always seemed like college history classes came in three varieties. The first was no one had any interest in it, but people signed up for it because it was the least bad choice (Women in American History, ugh). Next, the class looked interesting, but the professor took such a leftist or boring slant as to be a killer. Finally, the good history class that never fit into your schedule and if it did was filled up already.

        1. Severian Post author

          That’s about it.

          At one point, one of Flyover State’s sillier initiatives was a proposal to offer “African-American” versions of classes — US Colonial Era, say, and “African-Americans in the Colonial Era.” Even a fair number of the faculty laughed at this — it’s the exact same class we’re already teaching!

  5. dave b

    The only was to reform our educational system – kindergarten through college level and grad school for anything other than STEM – is to burn down all the buildings, salt the earth, and prohibit the government from ever being involved with any aspect of education ever again. Grad school STEM may be salvageable with certain changes. The teachers present an issue. Urban teachers for sure need to be dealt with in some permanent way – banishment, Soylent Green, I dont know but the collection of screeching morons who make up the teachers union in any big city is a drain on the universe.

    1. Severian Post author

      When I’m dictator, I’m making a few simple changes that will eliminate 75% of our problems. Near the top of the list: anyone who takes a paycheck from ANY public entity shall be forbidden from unionizing, AND lose their franchise for the duration of their employment plus five years.

      Most of these morons are useless, and they know it. They’re on the government tit because they’d starve otherwise. Which, ok, fine, but the exhibits don’t get to vote on the management of the zoo. You want to vote, get a real job, sweetheart.

      1. dave b

        I think a simple change to the voting rules would revolutionize this country. Only a small subset of citizens should be allowed to vote. White men because multiculturalism doesn’t work no matter what and we were founded by white people so everyone else can suck eggs. White women but only if they are married to a white man.
        Or, alternatively, anyone can vote if they have worked full time for 5 years. No college students, no welfare parasites, no soyboys living in mamas basement because they are too pwwecious to get their hands dirty.

  6. Southern Belle

    The negative impacts of all this is showing up and being recognized in Britain. I read an article a week or so ago where Members of Parliament asked a university professor to explain why whites were not reaching their potential. His answer was blunt and amounted to this: white privilege, racism, and giving preferential treatment to other ethnic groups have caused whites to give up. I was surprised and elated at the exchange. Maybe there is a glimmer of hope out there after all.

    1. Severian Post author

      Did you actually see the video? I ask because I simply can’t believe a professor said that without a smile on his face — I know lots of academic types who might agree with that statement, but they think Whites giving up is GOOD.

  7. Southern Belle

    True, there was no video. However, Britain is not as diverse as we are and they still have a lot of national pride so it might be valid, it was in the Telegraph. The Brits I know would have said it with a smirk, they can be contrarians to going trends. Of course, he might not be a professor anymore!

  8. Joseph Moore

    Haven’t read the comments yet, will get to them.

    For 20 years, I’ve told other parents that I’d sooner my kids played in the street all day than attended any graded classroom model school. They all seemed to think I was kidding or exaggerating.

    Step 1: Burn it all to the ground. Everybody from the Secretary of Education down to the janitor is fired, effective yesterday. Sell the buildings; if you can’t sell them, burn them down (Salting the earth is optional). No funding. No mandatory attendance. Nada. Gone.

    Step 2: Cold turkey for mom, dad, whatever parental units are responsible. The kids are YOURS. Join the billions of people over the last dozen millennia and figure it out. (Good news: how to educate your young is pretty well explored issue. Lots of successful approaches. We’re merely taking ‘hand them over to the state’ off the table.)

    Step 3: Adults who can actually teach anything of value will be able to make a living at it, although more commensurate with the value of what they teach than was the case in the recently exterminated state system. That few K-16 ‘teachers’ are included in this group, filtered as they were by a teacher ed system designed to eliminate any thought or independence, is a feature, not a bug. That’s the point.

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