Willful blindness at Quick and the Ed

Liam Julian

Flypaper does not relish the role of policing The Quick and the Ed, but that blog's latest item simply demands rebutting.

Kevin Carey comments on a piece, written by an adjunct professor, in the most recent Atlantic that supposes that perhaps pushing all students to college is a bad idea. (We commented on the article here.)??Carey writes:

One thing's for certain: this piece will be catnip for those who like to adopt the contrarian too-many-people-are-going-to-college-these-days position. This is an especially attractive stance for elitists and/or people who spend a lot of time searching for opportunities to loudly begin sentences with some variation of the phrase "I know it's not politically correct to say this, but..." as if this denotes intellectual bravery of some kind.

Why this impugning of motives, this name-calling? Beyond being trivial, beyond being unspecific, it is also logically suspect. One can (and many do) make the point that to assume everyone needs college, that jobs that don't require college??degrees are plain undesirable, is??the??elitist stance. Carey bolsters this claim when he writes:

After all, without college, what are Ms. L and her struggling classmates supposed to do? Live out the rest of their lives hardly able to read and write? Find some menial job quietly providing service to the likes of Murray, Bennett, and Wolfe, who enjoy three PhDs and a J.D. between them?

This paragraph, inter alia, overlooks the fact that most Americans do not currently possess college degrees, that a majority of the nation's population throughout history has never possessed a college degree, and that such degree-less people do not all lead lives of quiet desperation, serving dinner to conservative pundits. Millions can and do lead quite wonderful lives without a B.A.

Those who believe that all students should go to college might retort: "Sure, millions lead fine lives without a B.A., but wouldn't their lives be better with a B.A.?" Maybe (assuming they want one in the first place), but some people just aren't qualified to receive a college degree. Elitism? No--realism. Carey himself notes (see above) that Ms. L, a struggling student profiled in the Atlantic piece, can barely read and write. Logic seems to demand the admission that college is not a place for those who are largely illiterate.

Carey doesn't subscribe to this logic, though. "After all, without college, what are Ms. L and her struggling classmates supposed to do? Live out the rest of their lives hardly able to read and write?," he asks, as if a university campus is the appropriate venue to teach students how to read and write! Such a claim is truly baffling and defies reason.

A college diploma holds no inherent value, and if we continue to push unqualified students into university classrooms, a diploma's value will dip and in 10 years, ed reformers will be mounting "All kids to graduate school" campaigns. Carey reveals this degradation of standards in his blog post:

In one of Professors X's two classes, English 102, "we read short stories, poetry, and Hamlet." How about not reading poetry and Hamlet? I have nothing against Shakespeare, but Hamlet was written over 400 years ago and isn't easy to read. How about picking some high-quality prose from the last century, or even this one, which is available for free in abundant supply from publications like The Atlantic, and use that to teach the course? ??????

"How about not reading poetry and Hamlet" because they aren't "easy to read"? Is this serious? Carey is supposedly discussing a college class, not 3rd-grade remedial language arts. And if Ms. L and her peers can barely read or write, how far are we willing to degrade college curricula to accommodate them? The blatant rejection of reality inherent in Carey's sentences is astounding.

I could go on, but this a blog post after all, not a book.

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