I agree with VDH


In VDH’s list of modern taboos [and there are far more than those, but hey, it’s a good start], I see he’s pointing out someone is missing an outer covering:

4) The Ivy League is a Naked Emperor

By Ivy League I do not mean just Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, but the entire concept of high-priced elite schools like a Stanford, Duke, or Columbia as well. We know a BA from such institutions does not ipso facto any longer, as it once may well have, guarantee knowledge or competence. We know the race/class/gender craze has watered down the curriculum, and ensured therapy and empathy trump recall of facts and adherence to the inductive method. And we know that one’s first two years will probably mean instruction largely by graduate students and lecturers.

Had we national exit requirements, I am convinced those leaving a Hillsdale College or St. Thomas Aquinas or St. John’s would do better than the average Yale BA.

A motivated undergraduate student, who picks the right professors and classes, can get as good an undergraduate education at San Jose State as at Stanford. Certainly, the four years are not worth $200,000 in room, board, and tuition— if education is the goal.

But wait! If, in contrast, networks, influence-accumulation, and contacts are the objectives to ensure a child remains, or enters into, the elite class, then the investment in such undergraduate schools is very much worth it—but should be considered analogous to a debutante ball, the social register, or the Grand Tour.

Does anyone believe that the present professional classes of Ivy-League certified technocrats in the administration understand the law, the economy, or the government any better, by virtue of their university educations, than a does a country trial lawyer, a military officer, a CEO, or any of the others who were educated elsewhere, or received training in the rather rougher arena of the real world?

I am fortunate for a wonderful graduate education in the PhD program at Stanford, but I learned more about the way the world works in two months of farming (which saved a wretch like me) than in four years of concentrated study.

In short, the world does not work on a nine-month schedule. It does not recognize concepts like tenure. It does not care for words without action. And brilliance is not measure by vocabulary or SAT scores. Wowing a dean, or repartee into a seminar, or clever put-downs of rivals in the faculty lounge don’t translate into running a railroad—or running the country. One Harry Truman, or Dwight Eisenhower is worth three Bill Clintons or Barack Obamas. If that sounds reductionist, simplistic, or anti-intellectual, it is not meant to—but so be it nonetheless.

I also give a thumbs up to St. Johns – no, not the university in Queens, the small liberal arts college in Annapolis. They have a true liberal arts curriculum, as opposed to the ersatz hodge-podge you get at Harvard. [One of my fave friend-of-a-friend stories involved a grad student TAing freshman calculus… and a particular convo with students ending up with the TA yelling “Whoever told you guys you were smart?!”. I’ve had my fill of over-educated know-nothings, too. The lovely thing about math is you really can’t bullshit it.

Speaking of which, here’s how math is done in real life:
A fun journey to mathematical results

I have my own video on the process, which is a little less evocative than the above.]

It is getting to the point where credentials are meaning nothing more than you’re willing to follow a specific set of rules of a specific game. Because college degrees, even in specific subjects, even in specific colleges, are losing the meaning that one actually knows anything, there is often another set of hoops one must jump through in terms of professional exams and credentialing. The academy is rife with cheating [and as noted before, when the internet can even do you math homework for you… it gets to be a silly arms race between teachers and students]; how can any potential employer trust the result of this process?

I like the idea of exit exams, just because I’m involved in an education process that’s somewhat similar [as a teacher, though I used to be a student]. I teach seminars for actuarial exams — and I don’t set the reading, syllabus, exam, or grade anything. I simply teach the material. A different group does the other parts. I have competitors in teaching, and we all argue over who is most effective in teaching, who has the highest pass rate, etc. The exams are blind-graded, so there is no favoritism shown to particular people.

I have remarked upon making college degrees based on this model, and I’ve seen some people craft programs where it’s almost like that — they take a whole bunch of CLEP exams to get college credit at some accredited college, and for some people that just means one year of full-time class taking to get a 4-year degree. It would be nice to get to the point where no butt-in-seat class time is needed for a good degree.

About Meep
Meep is a member of the Irish Catholic mafia, having a suspiciously high number of green-eyed, red-haired friends. While she doesn’t have red hair herself [except when she goes into the sun (rare for any vampire)], she does have green eyes. She’s a raving Papist and is a life actuary on the side [i.e., she counts dead people]. An amateur pain-in-the-ass [willing to go pro!], she likes covering retirement, mortality, math, and education issues.

1 Comment on I agree with VDH

  1. Interesting proposal. Of course, it’s anathema to Obama’s approach to higher education, so that’s a big factor in its favor.

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