Monday, July 14, 2014

The Education Delusion

Hermann Nitsch
[Guest post by Makeda.]

Recently I have run across a number of articles in American newspapers which emphasize the importance of higher education and reassure us that there is no crisis with the way it is being financed. The fact that such articles are written by PhDs speaks to some of the unfortunate aspects of the problem. I am probably being too kind in assuming that the authors of these articles are deluded; I could just as easily accuse them of being high-ups in a massive Ponzi scheme.

The Washington Post published recently published an article by Donald Heller, an academic and a dean, who asserted that the $1.2 trillion-plus in student loans, with a 15% default rate, is no big deal. Now, even social scientists are supposed to understand that correlation does not equal causality, while some facts he mentioned, such as the fact that college grads are more often employed than high school grads or drop outs, may just indicate that they have more active personalities, not that college allowed them to learn some special skill that made them better baristas. A college degree may or may not pay off over a lifetime, but the debt will certainly come due. While $29,000 (which Heller asserted was an average debt for undergraduate training) may seem like pocket change to an overpaid college administrator, it translates into the inability to afford food or rent for many a college-educated debt slave. Not to be outdone, the New York Times published an article about the “education debate” in which David Leonhart, a journalist of some acclaim and accomplishment, offered what many commenters saw as an advertorial for the higher education industry.

It is interesting to think about how our country produces so many educated fools. Education has been democratized to some extent, and standards have fallen. Today a high school diploma is available to students who can barely read. Mediocre students tend to funnel towards the humanities or social sciences, where mediocrity has become a form of high art. Under the tutelage of professors in these fields who are at best mediocre and at worst ignorant or fraudsters, a new generation of academics is being minted right now. Professors and students alike tend to hide behind large words and awkward turns of phrase.

In science, we use precise terminology to describe specific, observable phenomena. The constant discovery of new organisms, organelles and organic compounds necessitates an ever-expanding vocabulary. Academics in certain other disciplines seem to use highly specific jargon to disguise their lack of new ideas or even the absence of any sort of logic. I do some academic editing, so I know this situation has come full circle—to the point where students of the humanities are unaware that it is only their disciplines that are engaged in the use of specious language to obscure simple concepts. When explaining to one graduate student how he could not make certain assertions about traumatic brain injury based on current science, he told me he didn’t need to understand biology or neuroscience to write about them, he only needed to “understand the discourse.” His liberal arts training, that kind so often claimed to open minds, clearly had the opposite effect: it closed his to reality.

Perhaps this has made him happier? After all, reality can be a pain, so why not just ignore it and engage in “discourse.” Here's a sample: “The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure. It has marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power..." wrote Judith Butler, who happens to be one of the top philosophers of our day. Do you have any idea what she means? Does she? Exactly! But don't worry; nobody will ever ask her, or you, to act on it in any meaningful way. All that can be expected of you is that you drink it in, partially digest it, and regurgitate it.

When the physicist Sokal purposely published an article in a prestigious journal for the humanities, which he later revealed to be absolute nonsense, it should have been treated a polite wake up call for the humanities to get rid of the obfuscating mumbo- jumbo and post-modernist blather that clouds so much academic work in these disciplines. Unfortunately, little has changed, and increasing numbers of academics continue to publish works with tenuous connections to reality in ever-less-read journals and books. It is now not unheard of for an academic text to have a publishing run of under 100 books, but even 100 books might be generous given the complete lack of relevance to anything at all of the topics some academics choose to investigate.

When and where the subjects and methods of inquiry are of little relevance, the personalities involved in academia become even more central to their success. Much in the same way that no man would pick a trophy wife based on her ability to solve differential equations rather than on her appearance and demeanor, academia today tends to select for people of little intellectual ability, but with personality traits that are seen as most fitting for academic departments. These traits include embrace of the obligatory optimism of the privileged, which automatically translates into enthusiasm for evangelizing education in the face of pitiful realities.

The list of pitiful realities is too long to include here, but I will highlight just one: the number of people with graduate degrees who rely on food stamps is growing every year. While some might argue the financial consequences of the latest downturn for some uneducated folks have been as dire, this is not a relevant comparison. Hardly anyone who could get a graduate degree would contemplate working as a hamburger flipper instead. The relevant comparison would be with people who invested their time to train for specific trades. A union electrician or carpenter, a construction supervisor, a scrap metal dealer or a plumber usually achieves a six-figure income without incurring any significant educational debt, yet there are plenty of linguists, historians, lawyers and even medical doctors who can only dream of being so lucky.

Academic career paths conform to the same shape as many vaunted professions: it is a pyramid, with little room at the top. Anyone who tells you that upward mobility and advancement are likely outcomes of obtaining higher education is suffering for some sort of vision or logic problem, for it is easy to see that most people will be stuck somewhere near the bottom of the pyramid. The opposite argument—that one progresses through the pyramid—flies in the face of reality. Do you know of any workplaces in America that need more managers than actual workers? Most of us by definition will be humble workers trying to eke out a living in the face of ever-increasing demands and the bizarre whims of ever-richer managers who wll be at best indifferent to our fate.

In my own field the apex of the pyramid is now reaching into the stratosphere. A mere two decades ago the Boston Globe chided a doctor working as a hospital administrator over his generous salary. The doctor made about $300,000 a year while nurses at the hospital he managed made $30,000 a year. Today such numbers seem quaint. Many nurses lost to retirement and attrition have been replaced with an army of “techs” who make 9 or 10 dollars an hour without benefits, while healthcare administrators are paid salaries in the millions. Many high level administrators don’t even possess the credential of being a medical doctor, nurse or scientist; after all, why would our managers ever get their hands dirty with the actual real painful work of medicine when they can manage it from oak-paneled board rooms?

Defenders of academia claim that a similar process has taken place within American universities, and that an evil class of administrators has taken over their precious collective body. To the extent such a process has happened, it may have been due to the weaknesses of the academy and academics. Ironically the liberal arts are not intellectual enough. The average café in the Middle East often has more honest conversation about ideas and social realities going on than many graduate departments of the humanities in the US. Ask some average, practical-minded Americans how they feel about academics, and they will admit that these emperors have no clothes. At best, academia is seen as providing a refuge for people who can’t cope with the real world—a sort of collection of mental institutions and halfway houses for the intellectually differently abled, if you will. The question is, as a society with so many poor people, increasing numbers of them direct products of academia, should we continue to support these academic institutions by entrusting our children to their care? Shouldn’t the real intellectuals (should any still exist) be the first to publicly question the validity of this arrangement? Where are the great minds of the day, and why won’t they speak about this loudly and publicly? Instead, the pages of this nation’s papers which have been crowded with nonsense by half-wits claiming that more and more debt-enabled education will make this a stronger nation.


ExtraT said...

This article is completely off the mark. The author does not grasp the purpose of education, the social importance of humanities, and the close links between education, economics, politics, and culture. If you want to talk about nonsensical statements, you better check those of politicians, supreme courts, State Dept. There is so much rubbish in those that could make your head explode. And those are the statements that matter since they affect our way of life. If you had education in humanities you would probably agree with me. The author is pushing the neocon/neolib agenda for education, possibly without realizing it. Check the discourse on Naked Capitalism, todays article "Philip Pilkington: The Great Unwinding – Some Thoughts on the Incoherence of Mainstream Economics", and the comments on it made by highly educated humanities/soc. science people. This level of discussion is what the society needs if you want it to function. And it only comes with studies in humanities. BTW, I am a scientist by trade, PhD physics, MS math.

Unknown said...

I'm disappointed by the poor quality of this post - I consider it to be a quite superficial criticism of the liberal arts in academia. I say this as someone with lots of professional and academic experience in science and technology.

Your quote from Judith Butler is a straw man argument. While many of us might recall similar examples of academics making weak, silly, confusing, obscure, irrelevant and jargon-loaded arguments, that's not any kind of valid criticism against the entire establishment of liberal arts education.

In fact, as an engineer and scientist, I'll argue that the liberal arts are far more important for our future than an education in technology and science. Today, we are engaged primarily in an ideological battle against economic inequality and environmental destruction. We need MORE general education in the liberal arts, not less.

Otherwise, we'll see yet another generation of people with little or no knowlege of history, philosophy, literature and the arts who will be largely at the mercy of increasingly sophisticated and well-funded right-wing media and propaganda institutions as they consolidate control over of our cultural, economic and political power structures.

Science and technology are great - I'm a big fan and that's where I spend most of my time and energy. But science and technology work well only in a very limited and restricted domain of human experience, and as a scientist and engineer, I never lose sight of that fact.

Dmitry Orlov said...

The idea that an American degree in humanities is conducive to developing the ability to think critically and independently is.... hahahaha ahaha haha hahaha haha... too funny! Thanks, I needed that.

Dmitry Orlov said...

I don't want people to think that we are singling out humanities for unfair ill treatment. An engineering degree is mostly unmotivated cramming for tests, any "knowledge" so obtained tends to be obsolete by the time one graduates, and I've worked with quite a few briliant engineers who were much farther ahead specifically because they hadn't bothered with completing any degree programs. Then there is the additional problem with college graduates in tech fields: they often seem to think they know what they are doing by virtue of having gone to college, while this is rarely the case. So, while $30k in debt to train a dog walker or a barista is a travesty, but $30k to train a Java coder or Javascript/HTML5/CSS3 jockey or an IT knuckle-dragger is hardly much better.

Degringolade said...


I can't say as I disagree with the article all that much. At best it is a "so what" article.

The "humanities" taught at modern US Universities have always been weak. Yeah, the sun has always been hot.

But the real lessons of this article are the comments. I think that there is some degree of Stockholm Syndrome in the comment section. I could be wrong, and the idea itself is, of course suspect.

But I think that you will be getting a lot of pushback from those who take pride in their academic credentials and have incorporated the same into their self-image.

The rest of us poor schmoes who just wanted to get through and get their ticket punched may have a different take on the process.


Unknown said...

To those of you arguing against Dmitry's post, I don't see him here attacking the idea of a quality education in the humanities, so much as attacking the pathetic heap of vapidness and obfuscation that the humanities have largely become in contemporary America. I myself got a philosophy degree years ago, and don't regret it. Pouring (and puzzling) over the ideas of Plato and Aristotle, and the genius of Kant and Hegel, have enriched my life (if not necessarily my bank account!). But so much of the contemporary humanities have dismissed intriguing and important thinkers like these as 'dead white males', and substituted in their place lots of gauzy post-structuralism, much of which really does sound as bad as the Judith Butler quotation Dmitry gives above. It's sad...

Unknown said...

My two year programming technology degree and business courses from a community college were much better taught and much more useful than my philosophy, history,and religion courses that gave me my bachelor's degree at a land grant college and a short experience at an ivy league college. However, the humanities education I received was really the start of a lot of good things and I have seldom regretted this so-called waste of time. I received "courage in dead ends". However, I received this courage at a far less relative cost than my children's educations and crushing debts.

Unknown said...


I myself don't feel any Stockholm Syndrome to defend academia or my own credentials. Instead, as a former adjunct professor, I feel mostly sadness at the decline of academic institutions in the US.

What really worries me is the vulnerability of younger generations who may be lacking almost any exposure to the liberal arts. I'm thinking of my son and his 20-something friends weighing the risks and benefits of a college education right now.

Unfortunately, not everyone has a love of learning or is likely to seek out and acquire an education on their own. Our current educational system leaves a lot to be desired, but what do you think will be the likely alternative for the majority of people in the future who don't get even a little exposure to it?

Do you think they will be better able to resist political propaganda, media side shows and corporate manipulation?

That's not what I'm seeing. Instead, I see generations who will read less, write less and understand less in an increasingly complicated and oppressive world.

Anonymous said...

"The question is, as a society with so many poor people, increasing numbers of them direct products of academia, should we continue to support these academic institutions by entrusting our children to their care?"
After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Master of Science degree, the answer is "no". Education in America is an expensive joke played on the 99% by the 1%. Pavlovian Conditioning is a better description of what students in America are subjected to. Part of the conditioning is the conviction that failure to hold down a job is a personal failure rather than a systemic failure. Wage Slaves across this land all seem to believe 'If YOU don't have a job it is YOUR FAULT'. They don't blame the corporations that automated production with software and robots, they don't blame the h1b visa workers, or the overseas slave laborers. And because they blame themselves they lose their house and car and end up living quietly in tents sending out resumes instead of marching in the streets. Americans have been successfully brainwashed into total submission by the educational system, with help from the propaganda/mass media, just as intended by the 1%.

"None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free." - Goethe.

Unknown said...

Become a transit operator (bus driver) in a major city, and leave the posturing for the intellectually differently abled. That's right, time to get real.

You will have people risking their lives running through traffic just to be on your bus. How's that for a daily affirmation!!!

Your passengers are a constant source of entertainment and you have a front seat in the theatre. Optionally, play a cameo role, go for the gusto and be the star.

You would be hard pressed to find a more drama-filled occupation. Google "transit fight", "bus driver uppercut", or some such.

You can return home every day and your family can proudly declare that you earn an honest living.

You only need a high school education, and the on-the-job training is paid for.

You can choose to work mornings, afternoons, evenings, or if you are a night owl, choose the graveyard shift.

Your potential gross earnings can top $100,000 with all the overtime that you can opt for.

Your cost for medical/dental benefits are among the lowest of all occupations, and your generous pension will pay dividends that last a lifetime.

You won't find a more rewarding return on investment--and the experience, priceless.

Mister Roboto said...

What allows the situation described by this post to continue is a uniquely Baby Boomer American phenomenon I have derisively termed "Snoogy Want!", in which things are true simply because you have some kind of emotional investment in their veracity. All you need to do for something to be absolutely true is to have an ego-fantasy about it, and you're good to go!

Such an utter, systematic, and willful disconnect from reality guarantees that when things really start falling apart, it's going to be freaking ugly.

Paul said...

My disenchantment with our education system in the UK began in secondary school at 16, when the Ordinary Level GCE courses in the Arts challenged in some measure your native intelligence.

'A' Levels at 19, instead of presenting greater challenges, invited us to regurgitate what literary critics had pronounced.

And on top of that, there were fashions in literary criticism, the leading light on Shakespeare being T S Eliot.

Well, he had a genius for words and extraordinary metaphors, the latter, normally the preserve of slang and the vernacular, albeit more ribald than Mr Prufock's creator, but he had the soul of an insect; so how he could pronounce of the merits of Shakespeare, who certainly understood power, but also the whole range of human sentiment and behaviour.

The attempt to cash in on the cachet of empirical science was always going to be too much for the journeymen academics in the non-Science faculties, and they have indeed taken scientism, quite rife within the scientific field, anyway, to new, laughable much more risible depths.
Psychology, economics, neuroscience... all tosh for the consumption of the uncritical.

The mainly doctoral types who post to the Uncommon Descent blog, a (genuine) scientific and metaphysical blog, are wise to your insights, here, Dmitry; notably Denyse O'Leary, but others, too. Neuroscience(!) is her favourite Aunt Sally.

The regular chorus of Establishment sychophants lauding the prevailing, putatively paradigmatic, but wildly gratuitous conjectures, O'Leary calls the 'Aren't I good?' girls, with occasional references to pom-poms.

k-dog said...

As inequality grows social mobility declines as the linked graph shows. America on the far right of the graph, already low in social mobility, becomes more unequal every day, resulting in ever less social mobility.

Education has always been held up as a great equalizer in America; allowing as the American myth goes, for the talented poor to climb the social ladder and become new productive affluent citizens.

To the extent this was true in the past may be debatable but regardless times have changed. Competition for jobs is now fierce and hiring has been become far more 'picky'. In tight job markets discriminatory practices evolve. There is less to go around, somebody has to be eliminated and methods evolve to make it happen.

Discriminatory practices evolve because with multiple qualified candidates easy ways must be found to discriminate between candidates so only one remains to consider. Discriminating between qualified candidates in fair ways is difficult and beyond most human ability; unfair ways are found and accepted as 'the way things are done' instead.

Eliminating people based on age is rampant in the American employment system and eliminating the long term unemployed from consideration because they haven't worked for a while is now common. Hiring in America is done by emotions; and fairness is a delusion.

Traditionally education was somewhat of an equalizer in America where the myth of great social mobility thrives despite easily demonstrated facts to the contrary. But that education will provide any social mobility in the future in what is now one of the most unequal countries on the planet is doubtful. Education needs a healthy growing economy for social 'jumps' to happen. With growing scarcity the equalizing effect of educational achievement will mute and any temptation to hire out of social class will die.

But that education will continue to be claimed to be a great equalizer long into the future in America is certain.

So dig yourself into debt to better your life? Think about it very hard.

Caveat Emptor

Anonymous said...

I was disappointed to hear about Judith Butler spouting nonsense. I had actually given her a good writeup in the "Philosophy 101" section of my book Post Peak Medicine ( as I thought she had some useful things to say on the relationship between philosophy and the collapse narrative. But I guess now I'll have to demote her.

Unknown said...

The author of this post could have benefited from more exposure to the best in the liberal arts traditions. He also needs to learn how to write with more clarity and cohesion. Yes, the cost of higher ed is outrageous, there are a lot of subpar insitutions, and various disciplines are disfigured with jargon, but a true liberal arts education is invaluable. Meanwhile, I know a lot of engineers who are small-minded know-it-alls who almost always fail to comprehend the big picture. I've learned to expect better when I visit Club Orlov!

Mack's Track's by tom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
FiveGunsWest said...

I completely agree with the article. Having been a military brat I have been schooled all over America and the world. The american "educational system" is laughable at best, at least if you are white or poor. It is no laughing matter for the kids put on the cradle to prison super highway by a complicit educational system that is eager to put young people in prison. The folks that have a problem with the article all seem to hold degrees in the humanities and therefore take umbrage. Nice post.

Terrace said...

Better to read Ivan Illich's Deschooling Society than this (frankly sub-par) post.

Anonymous said...

I hope I'm not the only one to have noticed this:

"Pouring (and puzzling) over the ideas of Plato and Aristotle, and the genius of Kant and Hegel, have enriched my life (if not necessarily my bank account!)."

The word is poring.

Considering the subject of the day, this is not trivial. This is an item that should not be an issue for somebody who has completed elementary school.

This is a kind of thing that's a recurring problem. I see it constantly. Supposedly educated people fall down tripping over very simple things.

This frequently turns up in examples even more gross than the dead simple mistake of choosing the wrong word (which often ends up being "the homonym problem", such as pour versus pore). I could not even begin to guess how many times I've read things written by people who supposedly have a bachelor's degree that reveal what pretty much qualifies as functional illiteracy.

Me? I'm just an uneducated dope, by some standards. I completed a high school education that included a vocational education program, with a certificate in electronics handed to me with my high school diploma. I followed that with one year in a small technical school in an electronics engineering technology program (yes, I'm a tech college dropout).

Maybe more significant is the story of my long dead grandfather (born 1908) who, the story goes, left school following 8th grade to become an apprentice, then becoming a machinist. He eventually retired early (due to the illness that killed him slowly a couple of years later) from a position as a supervisor for a large manufacturing operation in the glass industry.

Now, I suppose, to be in that same position (that he held until his retirement in the late sixties), a minimum of a bachelor's degree is probably required, not that it really IS required to do the job, but because of some vague corporate management notion that this is a minimum prerequisite to ensure that somebody is functional.

In practical reality, I suspect that my grandfather would have compared well with most of the people in such a job today, if not better, in terms of useful knowledge and general intellect. That includes spoken and written use of language, for one thing. I remember him being a generally inquisitive man, having a broad interest in technology, among other things, and generally living the notion of "continuous learning" long before that became a fashionable bit of lingo.

I think of him as a stark and noteworthy contrast to a lot of people today, who might be regarded as "qualified" by virtue of having the minimum degree, even while they basically just did whatever minimum was necessary to get the piece of paper in question that would then be "the job ticket". There are probably many people around now who would be inferiors to my grandfather, even while they had some kind of derisive attitude about him being some sort of peasant dope, because of being a dropout in "the trades", you know, one of those icky "blue collar" people.

Moving on... one thing that strikes me on a regular basis is the whole phenomenon of people getting some form of business degree, Business Administration or something else, who then end up as some sort of corporate critter of the kind I refer to as "professional managers" or "professional executives". What I mean by that is the kind of character clogging businesses across America and creating or aggravating all sorts of dysfunctional messes while carrying the notion that managing any business is the same as managing any other business (bidness is bidness), never managing to grasp that it's not, and they manage to mismanage the stuff under their domain, not having a clue of what's going on in the work at hand.

(split... see part 2)

Anonymous said...

(... continued...)

Also, something was already said about something important, about education, that also gets back to that idea of "continuous learning". It's relevant in many things, but certainly should be understood by anybody in any form of technology or engineering.

It was summed up by one thing I still recall clearly from my high school electronics class, from my teacher, who started out as a radioman in the Marines in World War II, and then was a technician for the phone company for years before becoming a teacher.

He gathered us all one day to take a break and give us a little short speech, late in our senior year. (This class was a 3 hour/day class over junior and senior years.) What that came down to was impressing upon us a simple idea. That was that, after we completed this 2 year program and got our certificate from the state, we were not all done with our education. He wanted to make sure we all understood that completing this program was just a beginning point, a foundation, for whatever we decided to go into after that. Whether we decided to go on to college and earn an associate's or bachelor's degree, join the military and go through the specialist training for some electronics related job, or go straight to some employment in electronics, given the nature of the field, with all the assorted branches of electronics technology, and continuous developments, we were going to be doing more studying, learning, and that this was never going to stop. We would never be DONE.

To wrap up:

I see comments above suggesting that the writer of today's piece has some problem with the idea of what might be called a "liberal arts education", that seem to have completely missed the point being made. I think it's clear that the writer doesn't necessarily think there is anything wrong with a "liberal arts" education, it's that what is considered a good "liberal arts education" is simply often so ridiculously bad.

For that matter, there might be a pretty good argument to be made that we're maybe a little short on people with a really GOOD "liberal arts education", meaning that we have a bit too much of people who, like described above, simply go for "the job ticket degree", and simply ignore and neglect anything teaching them a broader set of knowledge and thinking and communication skills relating to the wider world than whatever specific tasks they might do in a future job.


beetleswamp said...

You nailed it D. The humanities departments these days are for people who feel they ought to go to a university but have no idea what they want to do. I was lucky to have a class with visiting professor Albert Wendt who specializes in 'postcolonial studies' that opened my eyes about neoliberalism. Other than that I had one Journalism prof who showed us that news was mostly lies and one History prof that actually talked about the genocidal tendencies of some of my ancestors in a concrete way. Everyone else just seemed to be cashing checks and training us to take tests, swallowing bullshit and regurgitating consumerist propaganda. The worst one was Economics, where the guy went on an on about how important it is to understand a system that never seems to work and actually makes things worse for a lot of people. It would be nice if there was a way to get straight to the good stuff and skip the meaningless effort, social grooming, and crippling debt.

Anonymous said...

William Knight, we need education in the liberal arts, yes, and plenty more of it, and not just this captive onanistic tribal indoctrination that passes for it these days. Comparative social studies ought to be taught starting no later than fifth grade. We also need education in systems analysis so that people know when to tell the dandies to stop their overweening jabbering and get their asses into the fields, and to hopefully put paid to the idea that ritually and regularly choosing to piss off up to 50%-1 of the population is a solution to the collective action problem rather than an excuse to force others to cater to the bourgeoisie's need to be entertained.

If people had any sense, rhetoric would be answered with blanket parties.

James Newlin said...

> An engineering degree is mostly unmotivated cramming for tests, any "knowledge" so obtained tends to be obsolete by the time one graduates

I agree with Dmitry completely. I'm an engineer, and I don't use any of the skills I learned in university. They teach whatever seems interesting to them, whether or not you'll ever use the training. I had a professor just tell me it's all a game, that all the tests and reading were for nothing but to get the diploma.

Graduates who succeed later are the ones who were already on a good path before they got to college - this is true. If you're the kind of person that will succeed anyway, you can just learn on your own.

Not to mention, my pay sucks and I was only able to pay off my debts because I got some inheritance. I would have done better never having gone, and it was the biggest mistake of my life going to school.

James Newlin said...

I was told by a hacker that if you can't learn CS without a degree, you have no business in CS. This is probably the case for all engineering. However, there are laws that require the degrees, and not all engineers can work without having that degree.

Unknown said...

I don't always agree with Dmitry, but in this case I certainly do, and I'm surprised to see how many people have a negative reaction to his criticism of the educational system that turns out so many graduates with a "BA in BS" (as I like to put it).

I'm guilty myself of having such a degree. In my case, it was psychology. I couldn't help but notice that a lot of my classmates who wanted to be psychologists were in fact studying this social pseudo-science to figure out their own personality problems. I found it scary to think that some of them would get advanced degrees and go on to become counselors to other people with emotional problems probably less severe than their own.

My psych degree proved useless - I had to support myself as a casino worker in Las Vegas. But I noticed that I had an affinity for languages, and I eventually got a master's degree in linguistics. That was moderately useful in that my studies included a good course in phonetics, which made it easier for me to figure out the pronunciation system of Chinese (a language I've eventually learned to speak fluently). The piece of paper from my university eventually landed me a teaching job in Taiwan - I was lucky. But I feel embarrassed that I studied so much bullsh*t and learned so little to get a ludicrous diploma that made me a "professor."

I've got a niece who is now majoring in psychology, and another who will be starting her studies in philosophy in September. I fear for their future, but maybe they'll meet a nice guy on campus with a real education that leads to a real job. One of my nieces worked in a restaurant, so at least she knows how to cook - maybe that will help her recruit a husband.

I also have a nephew who is studying civil engineering. Not sure if that will lead to a real job, but I've encouraged him - at least he's not studying total crap like I did.

rapier said...

The world has little or no economic need for the Humanities. I know the article is about academia and its particular foibles but the heart of the matter is the need, or not,to study Humanities.

I say screw economics. All hail the life of the mind. For those so motivated at a younger age to engage in ideas for their own sake I say do it.

There is a semi serious movement afoot to remove Humanities from Universities and colleges. I say remove Business.

Mr. Moai said...

Spot on Dimitry, especially about the deliberately obtrusive language. Its not just that it can't be understood, its also that art academics love to use it to gloss over holes in their argument. Many science academics similarly use math to obscure their message by citing equations with no explanation of it's integration into the larger theory explicitly expressed, leaving much room for interpretation. I've seen many papers that are half math with little regard for explaining what the math is expressing via a plot. I wish scientists writing papers would actually state their assumptions as is taught in Physics 101.

There have been several news stories in the last year or two where academics have submitted "dummy papers" filled with glaring errors, omissions, and outright falsities to hundreds independent journals with the majority being accepted without comment. One of the major issues today is the continued unflappable faith that academia is always honest. Both art and science relies on industry and government for patronage and is highly manipulated at the funding level. There are also many private institutes that provide studies for the highest bidder (Mellon Institute, Heartland Institute, ect.)

Don't even get me started on the USA's unique blend of the caste structure for funding and Prussian education for indoctrication in our educational system.

As an engineer and a philosopher I have to say: the current basis for both art and science today are a limited view of reality encompassed by Logical Positivism coming out of Germany in the 20s. The basic jist of this philosophy is that the observable is real and the subjective is illusion. In this cultural context the arts are highly devalued as "illusory work". The problem is that it is possible to glean information through intuition / non-local sensing of that is not directly observable which presents itself as subjective impressions. This is what feeds the true artist. Despite this 6th sense being shown in many laboratory experiments (Russia is at the forefront here), we continue to cling to the failed philosophy of logical positivism and the idea that ego is the root of consciousness.

sunfyrlion said...

These days, those who cannot do ... teach. Especially in the US.

Most PHds are nothing but smelly stuff, Piled Higher and Deeper.

They do not live in the real world. They will be among the first to go when the SHTF. No useful skills or survival skills in the urban jungle.

Mack's Track's by tom said... Doug Casey video( 13:04) opinion about College education

Unknown said...

If the future lasts long enough, it will be very interesting to see what happens with respect to higher education in general, not just the humanities. It would appear that there's never been a better time to become an autodidact, what with most of the accumulated knowledge of mankind now available with a few keystrokes.

And the university,which once was a place where young people got exposure to important books and ideas, has been in decline most of my adult life, as far as quality goes.

I was fortunate, even as the graduate of a second tier state school, to have been exposed to a number of very good teachers. I learned a great deal from them that had little to do with the curriculum, and more to do with critical thinking and world view.

My children, whom I've sent to college at an expense of ten times (each) what I paid, seem to be getting the bottom of the barrel. The very worst thing I've seen is the so-called "internet class", a highly touted idea that really is just a way for colleges to sell more "hours" for less outlay. Take a cookbook syllabus, add a lazy professor, make him/her protected behind an email firewall, and let the students teach themselves. What could go wrong with that?

Most knowledge, real knowledge, is valuable in some way. Yes, even a "liberal arts" degree could be worth having, if kids got what they were paying for, and if the cost was reasonable, which it hasn't been for a long time now. I got a highly technical education, and I often wish I'd had the time, money, and opportunity to learn more about art, literature and history. It would have been a wonderful luxury.

Niemand said...

Well stated. And I'm struggling through a PhD in Engineering that seems to be an exercise in measuring how much pointless activity I'm willing to engage in.

PoMo is of course a universal joke. It makes one miss the bad writing in Orwell's Politics and the English Language.

North America allows such shit largely because of its allergy to identifying its implicit assumptions, and worse yet, its allergy to applying the modus tollens. Try applying it in an argument, and witness the vitriol.

Unknown said...

I see lots of criticism of US academia in these comments, plenty of which is justified. But I see very little in the way of helpful suggestions, other than "forget about a college education" or "just learn it on your own".

That won't help the vast majority of people in the US. Maybe Club Orlov readers don't care about the fate of future generations of poorly educated Americans. Well, you might want to, because the consequences of an increasingly ignorant and failing empire ain't gonna be pretty, either at home or abroad.

I also haven't seen much insight from comments here about WHY education in the US is so poor. If you look at places like Finland, where educational standards lead the way, you'll discover they've made education a top national priority, and have allocated their resources accordingly to produce excellent teachers.

That's what we need to do here in the US, instead of losing our precious resources to financial parasites and the bloated, cancerous and corrupt defense industry and security state. Now there are some worthy targets for real criticism.

James Newlin said...

Ukraine says Malaysian airliner shot down, 295 dead: agency

New blog post, ASAP!!

Jacob Gittes said...

@William Knight: Your insights are common sense but rather trite. Industrial civilization is collapsing.
I suggest that nations founds institutes for:
Steam engine repair
Animal husbandry
Backwoods medicine
Herbal medicine

Anonymous said...

Just a reminder about the USA for those thinking of becoming autodidacts: most places won't hire you for the good jobs with self-taught knowledge. You must be properly filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, numbered and most importantly, credentialed in order to get a job. For example, a brilliant self-taught chemical engineer, who understands every published journal article in the area and can argue to pros and cons of every theory will never be allowed near a high-end job in the field, while a Ph.D. who knows a tiny fraction of that knowledge will get the job because s/he has the right credential.

Higher Education might be a delusion, but it's the pet delusion of those currently in power so you ignore it at your own peril. That's why I'm actually back in grad school, getting a master's degree I really didn't want, so that I can be hired for a job for which I already possessed all the skills (acquired on the job elsewhere) but for which I didn't have the right academic background and couldn't get hired, even by people who knew I had the skills. They couldn't justify it to their bosses when another candidate had the delusional magic words on their resume: "Degree in X."

Just one more person's perspective on the matter.

Mr. Moai said...

William, here is a large part of what is wrong with the educational system:

A more in-depth analysis of the US educational system:

James Newlin said...

Dmitry -

Water shortages have been in the news recently. Do you think there will be a push to make it legal to harvest rainwater, or will they push even harder to keep it illegal?

Anonymous said...

Mechanized Education at it's finest - America, F*ck YEAH!!! :)

It's not just the humanities, it's spreading Every Where and in between. And it starts at the top.

Glenn said...

Hi Dmitry,

I think education is important but the institutional form has become a substitute for content.

I have the same take on government.

I don't know if you are aware that there is a very positive reference to your "Reinventing Collapse" in Ugo Bardi's new book "Extracted", A Report to the Club of Rome.

Congratulations for the well deserved recognition of your work.

wiseman said...

All fair points but as someone said no one hires autodidacts. The reason corporations ask for a degree is so that they don't have to go through millions of applications themselves, they rely on the public schooling system to separate wheat from the chaff. It's another story that the system is broken.

All this angst about the current system overlooks the fact that most of us still live in the matrix and to get through life one must learn to live by it's rules, just as an animal must obey the rules of jungle.

D.Mitchell said...

As someone that has suffered long tirades from professors at fancy overly expensive schools on the ideas of "post humanism" and "transhumanism" I hate to agree, but I do. I am in debt up to my eyeballs with a piece of paper that would serve me better as toilet paper. The circle jerk of mouth flapping in the ivory towers has almost no relevance in everyday life or for a career.

It's a waste of time and money for someone like me that can make it without a fancy paper that says I'm a certified non-dumbass. I met so many man children, 24 and a Freshman on Mommy's dime. Slinking by with a 1.74. What kind of man will he be in 6 years? None.

I used to quip I was more man than most of the boys in my class, going to school full time, working full time, homeschooling my 5 kids full the same time. Meanwhile my class mate slinks in 10 minutes later than me because he stayed up all night playing Halo, but the teacher gives him a pass. I'm 5 minutes late because I had to go to the food bank to feed my children, and I have to retake the entire class.

Yeah, there's that too... the Good Ol' Boys club, where good enough will get you by if you have a penis. Higher Education is nothing more than a four year social club which you buy into for later job connections. That's it.