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Guest Posts

Guest Post: I’m Not Impressed by Your College Degree

The education system in the United States has devolved.  Rather than a stepped system of progressively difficult intellectual challenges that temper a mind into a force of reason, our schools have become clone farms producing unthinking labor pawns.

Elementary education seeks to make sure our children learn and develop the basic skills needed to function in society.  It is important for kids to practice the social interactions they’ll need throughout life and to master the fundamentals of reading, rhetoric, and reckoning upon which they are graded.  It is at this very first level that our system makes its first error. 

By a gradual creep of standardized tests, teacher evaluations, and school performance ratings installed to fairly disburse the thin funding our public schools receive, we built a mechanism that blames educators when students fail.  Doing so creates a system in which teacher and school are best served passing the student, even if it’s not in the best interest of the student.  Teachers teach their students answers, not knowledge, because the school knows that its funding is connected to the answers, not to the knowledge.  The people that could fix this problem - involved parents - do not, because they are content with the good grades and steady progress that their child is showing within the system.

Complacency remains throughout primary education.  Teachers do not promote reason or encourage thought.  They toss softball questions at the students who have been trained to gently bat the appropriate response in return.  This creates an illusion of discussion, but rarely is it allowed to become a debate.  To debate would be an invitation to question the black-and-white, true-or-false, question-and-answer system that the teacher depends upon.  If debate occurs, thought develops, opinions form, reasoning is activated, and suddenly questions don’t have one answer, they have many.  Solutions are geometric rather than linear.  Geometric solutions don’t fit on standardized tests.  System failure.

But these are the ails of the primary education system.  By college, those students meant to stay at the bottom are filtered out, and only those with serious academic interests are able to advance and become productive contributors to our economy, right?  Not quite.

Our broken primary education system infects the universities in two ways.  First, it delivers students that are neither rigorously conditioned nor inclined towards higher learning.  Second, the same driving force that puts students through primary education regardless of their ability to reason is working at the college level as well.  That force is funding.

Modern universities are not the hallowed halls of learning that we imagine them to be.  They are middle men.  A student makes a commitment to pay for four or more years of “education,” getting money, usually, from years of parents’ savings or borrowing on a very long-term loan.  In exchange for that high price, the school sells the student the promise of a career with a higher wage than would be had without the college’s product.  The college has a greater interest in passing students than failing them, regardless of that student’s ability, because passing students keep paying.  They also have an interest in passing those students with high grades, because it provides the illusion of a quality education, which people will line up to buy.

There was a time that the rubber-stamp degrees and grade inflation would have been impossible because the workforce would have found those graduates to be sub-par.  But sub-par is the new par, and employers prefer to simply set a standard for entry and then shape qualified applicants to their specifications.  What is that standard for entry?  A degree.  It doesn’t matter what kind or from where, just have one.  It doesn’t matter because the companies don’t really care how well a student is educated, only that they will commit and conform.  They want a person who has done what they were told, without asking why, for years on end, until a goal was achieved.

When a student in the United States graduates, that student has learned little of value unless that student was inclined to seek knowledge on his or her own accord.  Teachers, administrators, members of boards of education, some parents, and many students (particularly college students) will take issue with that statement.  Who am I to level such criticism against the curricula or hard-working faculty of our country’s learning institutions?  I haven’t been a student, officially, in over 15 years.  I quit community college.  What gives me the right?

I’m just a guy who thinks about things.  I’ve also found that when I compare myself to college graduates that I’ve met, I tend to be more well-read, have a greater vocabulary, and possess a broader understanding of a wider variety of subjects.  I’ve laid eyes upon chronic spelling and grammatical errors written by degreed individuals.  I’ve listened as college graduates demonstrate limited comprehension of the basics of geography, history, science, and U.S. law.  I’m not bringing these things up to prove how smart I think I am.  I’m bringing them up because a degree is supposed to mean that the person holding the degree possesses all of that knowledge and possesses additional specialized information. It means no such thing anymore, and thus diminishes the degree.  All degrees.

Modern education has become meaningless in every way except as a golden ticket.  Though an extended education may be worthwhile for highly specialized fields, most workers would be best served through apprenticeship and self-study.  The men who designed the pyramids or the Roman Colosseum did not hold structural engineering degrees.  Why should someone today need one to build a fast food restaurant?

Guest Post: Jake Negovan on Free Agency in the Workplace

Sometimes somebody can say what you want to say better than you can. That is the case with today’s post. Today, I’d like to introduce friend and colleague Jake Negovan, his thoughts on free agency in the workplace, and how it can benefit both workers and employers. Jake is a columnist for the San Antonio Current and regular contributor to Red, Brown and Blue. I’m honored that he took the time to write a piece for this blog. For more articles by Jake, visit his blog here.

I am a major fan of professional basketball and spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about it. If you are not familiar with the NBA or the names LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Dirk Nowitzki, Joe Johnson, or Amare Stoudemire, you might not realize that 2010 is a big deal for something called “free-agency.” July 1st begins the NBA’s free-agency period, when players previously under contract with a team are no longer obligated to continue with that team and can field offers from others. Ideally, this means that the top-performing players are free to utilize market forces to put themselves on teams that will pay them well and collect championships in addition to providing geographical comforts the players desire.

Sounds like every job hunt, right?

Ok, maybe. But there’s an important difference, and it’s not the amount of money. It’s the terms. The NBA free-agents are going to choose an employer and they’re going to choose the duration of employment. You, too, can make the same choice as a free-agent employee (sometimes called a consultant or freelancer). This is a choice that few of us make when seeking work, usually because we don’t realize that it’s an option. Most employers don’t realize that it’s an option either. As the free-agent, though, you have the power to make it so.

When you take employment for a pre-specified duration, you’re doing a service to both parties. You establish yourself as a specialist, chosen because you have the expert knowledge and talent to accomplish a particular task. You’ll do the job you were hired for and then leverage that successful experience to land a more lucrative assignment, either with your current patron or another company. As you move from one assignment to the next, your professional profile increases and your network grows as you find yourself in new environments and circumstances. Employers also benefit from utilizing free-agent employees. Not only are they generally free from the overhead associated with benefits for a full-time permanent hire, they have less reason to fear attrition of focus and work-ethic from someone who knows exactly when their job ends. A free-lancer doesn’t have the luxury of coasting for a paycheck.

Educating your current or potential future employers on the benefits of free-agent employment is a powerful bargaining strategy that can net you more money, experience, opportunity, and freedom. The only thing they could lose is you.