The Case Against College

Yesterday: Witch Hunts    Tomorrow: Illiberal Education

Twitter: @GreatBooksDude


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Ohhhh, now, don’t even get me started!  A Presidential Medal of Freedom for Ernie Banks and Dean Smith?  Banks, a Hall of Fame baseball player for the Chicago Cubs–who never won a championship?  Because he’s from Chicago, Mr. Obama, you feel it appropriate to bestow upon him an award for those “who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors”?  What a fucking joke.  And your justification–“This year’s honorees have been blessed with extraordinary talent, but what sets them apart is their gift for sharing that talent with the world,” Obama said. “It will be my honor to present them with a token of our nation’s gratitude.”–makes me especially sick.  Ladies and gentlemen, we have an IMBECILE as President of the United States of America.

I could go at length into why I think this a disturbing use of the highest award offered to an American citizen, but I have shit to do–like, say, the need to post on a book.  Today I have chosen the 1975 (this is the date on my version) masterpiece by Caroline Bird, The Case Against College.  Bird was a hardcore feminist–men, this doesn’t mean she performed hardcore feminine duties–who felt that the push towards a mandatory college degree was imposing conformity and reducing the place for individualism in a society that badly needed it.

What is most compelling about the book is its use of numbers and financial data to back up its point.  Bird masterfully interprets the statistics showing that college graduates make more than high school graduates by noting that while this is true, the college graduate only passes the high school graduate, when you subtract the opportunity costs that the college graduate pays by not working for several years and the actual costs of the education, in their young 60s.  By that point it may well be a waste.  And don’t tell Bird that colleges prepare students for success: Bird finds that young people who teach kids, or learn a craft, or travel abroad, or take an idea and go for broke with it are all better prepared for professional success than are those who go to college, where they are told what can’t be done and discouraged on a variety of fronts.  Bird uses interviews she conducted with several college students, graduates, and drop-outs to bolster her more humanistic points, so that she has both the statistical framework and the human element in the same place and making the same points.

The numbers have certainly changed since Bird’s day, but I’m not a hundred percent sure that the high school graduate doesn’t make more over the long-term than the college graduate at present, and that it isn’t by an overwhelming margin, and that Bird’s case isn’t even stronger today than it was in the 1970s.  Certainly my own experiences support hers, and that really says something, because for me to agree with a feminist on anything is really breaking news.  But now it has become a necessity for any reasonable job to have not one college degree, but multiples of them, and the costs of the degrees have multiplied exponentially.  And often these pieces of paper prove absolutely nothing about the actual learning an individual has done, how prepared they are for work, what their intellectual and social abilities are, and what kind of work ethic they have.  People get them, and there are no jobs available to them.  Or, in my case, you get them in a down business cycle and your graduating class is passed over by the time the market returns to normal.  People tell me I need another degree–to what end?  What did I learn my first four years of postsecondary education?  You think that’s where I read the classics?  Grow up.

This is a book that I feel more parents and more adults should read.  It is not a book for a high school student, especially an American one who can’t read anything with any substance.  It is however a book that can have a substantial impact on a mind that is open to fact and reasonable interpretation.  It is not for everyone.  It is for those who care about the way things do work and the way things can work and who are willing to take the time and put in the effort to contemplate ways to improve the society in which we live.

More of the same tomorrow.



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