Critical Thinking

At the risk of being all Kleinheider all the time around here, I couldn’t let this post slip by without saying something.

Kleinheider says:

Funnelling a bunch of folks who cannot extract any real value from the experience does not result in them becoming smarter or more successful, it just gives them a piece of paper.

We need to direct our people towards the amount of formal education that will be most useful to them. That may not mean college or it may not mean college at the “appropriate time”, we should not fret over this. Life is not a competition.

The four college degree has become in essence, the 13th — 16th grades. In the end, that does not benefit the people attending college or society as a whole.

Isn’t it something how as more folks get the opportunity to go to college, we start to hear this idea that there are some folks who don’t need college, for whom college is of no benefit, folks who cannot extract any real value from the experience?

Just who are these folks?

I’m just going to be honest with you because I feel like shit and I’m dizzy.  I hate this shit because no one has the balls to just come out and say “Yeah, B., those folks are people like you.  The people you love and care about?  They don’t deserve the same shit I’ve got because you all are a waste of resources.”

A college education is no guarantee of a better life, but come the fuck on!  Just come on.  How in the fuck are folks supposed to make a better way for themselves without it?

How many high school graduate children of high school graduates do you suppose are members of the Belle Meade country club?  How many high school graduate children of high school graduates do you suppose are living in tony suburbs parking their SUVs in the garages of their McMansions at night?

College is not about literally preparing you for the job market.  College is, and always has been to some extent, about training you for a middle-class (or higher) existence.  Here’s where you learn how to read and write like an educated person (i.e. middle-class), here’s where you learn what to read and what’s worthwhile to write about.  You make friends, some of them will be successful and they become your network, the people you can call on when you need a job or a favor or a campaign contribution or whatever.

It is nearly impossible to move yourself up a class without this knowledge.  You must look and sound like you belong before you actually do.  Where is one supposed to get this knowledge along with the irrefutable credential that one has earned it except for at college?

To start some nonsense notion that “not everybody needs a college education to get by in life”?  When you are a fucking bloody capitalist pig?  Talk about self-serving.

Let’s just continue to be honest.  Capitalism depends on there being poor, desperate people.  It’s built into the system.  The system doesn’t work if there are fifty bosses and one worker.  It’s got to be a triangle with there being a few really wealthy powerful people on top, and then a few more less wealthy, less powerful people beneath them, and so on down the pyramid until at the bottom you have a whole lot of poor, powerless people doing shit tons of work the people above them have enough money and power to opt out of.

That’s how it works.

There’s only so much room at each level and the game is rigged to make moving between levels seem simple and do-able while, in real life, it’s very difficult.  Again, a college education is no way to guarantee that you can move up, but it is one of the few ways that’s plausible for most people.

We like to believe that capitalism=meritocracy, that the market will insure that the best people rise to the top and are rewarded.  But the truth is that bosses depend a lot on smart people who aren’t ever going to be bosses.  A lot of work in this country gets done by people who are too smart for the jobs they have, but don’t have a way out of those jobs.

I could start naming names right now of all the folks I know who are too smart for the circumstances they find themselves in.  Many of you are reading this right now.  Life is not fair; it’s not set up to be fair.

And for these fuckers to come along and whip up this idea among 18 year olds that college isn’t for everyone?  That’s just a further injustice, another way of guaranteeing that bosses will have employees too smart for their circumstances to exploit.

It’s dishonest to pretend it’s anything else.

For real people, the surest way of improving their lives is to go to college.

To suggest that some folks have a better idea than those individuals who it is that can benefit from college?

Well, let’s just say I don’t want to hear from Kleinheider any more about liberal elitism.

10 thoughts on “Critical Thinking

  1. My childhood friend has turned conservative in the last 10-15 years and works at a state college. All I hear about is how most of the needs based students don’t belong there. When I ask why the answer is they’re more interested in socializing and dating than getting an education "On my tax dollar" though no proof is offered. Ironically my friend went to college partying and dating all the way, barely graduated, got married, had 4 kids and now works in a clerical position. Not exactly the best use of her education.

  2. I never finished college, and at this point I probably never will. College is sometimes all of those things you mentioned. The colleges I went to were like that. But now "college" has become commodotised to the place where many of the degrees are not functional. How do you think places like The University of Phoenix and all those other online degree mills will affect a person’s network or the genteeling process we used to believe came solely from college? I could name off the top of my head at least 10 people I have known who have college degrees but could not tell you anything they learned from college other than how to rack up student loans, get wasted or feel like society’s waste has become their burden. I think the grand idea of College has become far removed from the actual college experience that many people have. I also think the Grand Idea of the benefits of College have become far removed from the actual benefits of college that many people receive.And to answer your question, I know of at least three members of Belle Meade Country Club who have (only) High School degrees.

  3. I agree that not everyone "belongs in college." In all my years of teaching, though, almost all the students I taught who fit into that category fit into one of two subcategories: "doesn’t belong in college yet and needs to come back after growing up" (most of the kids who drink their way through fall into this subcategory) and "doesn’t belong in college with the academic preparation s/he has" which mostly applied to adult immigrants who hadn’t gone to high school in their native countries. There was one student who just didn’t belong in college, period. She wasn’t dumb, and had great people skills among her circle of friends, but she just didn’t understand why anyone would want to learn anything. I decided that if I told her to drop out and work retail, where she would probably be highly successful and certainly be much happier, I would get fired. But it was heartbreaking watching her.

  4. *How many high school graduate children of high school graduates do you suppose are living in tony suburbs parking their SUVs in the garages of their McMansions at night?*[Sheepishly raises hand]Although some would say West Meade is the opposite of tony.

  5. Hmmmm….I didn’t look at the quote quite that way. I think he is talking about the intersection of college and fulfillment in life, which do not always meet. I can see what he is saying. I mean, if what will make you happy and fulfill you in life is to earn your cosmetology certification and open your own salon, then why waste a bunch of money and time on a Bachelor’s degree when that won’t help with what will ultimately make you happy? Society should, instead, help you get that cosmetology certification and make sure there is the availability of small business loans to help you get started, right? I myself am a social worker. I don’t make great money and I don’t belong to a country club, but I do feel that my degree is one of the most valuable things I have, not because it has helped me get ahead in a material sense (although I suppose it has) but because it has helped me do what I love to do.

  6. Sometimes I think you are trying to drive traffic to Kleinheiders site. :)I know people that have degrees that I wouldn’t let run a beauty salon. Perhaps the problem is that we don’t place enough value on those that actually do physical labor. The trades are shrinking, and this is not of the good. In fact, thank your lucky stars that there are immigrants coming here that embrace that work. (really wasn’t trying to segue into an immigration thing, Betsy, it took me where it took me) I wouldn’t discourage people from seeking a degree, but I do wish there were more trade schools for those that have no ability to complete college, but have a desire for a better life.

  7. Ha, Mack, you’re so cute when you’re right. I need Kleinheider like Indiana Jones needs his fedora. You’d still fuck us without it/him, but it wouldn’t be the same.And I agree that there should be trade schools or other means of furthering one’s education.But I’m sorry, once we start talking about Charles Murray saying that there are just some folks who aren’t fit for college? Puh-lease.If any individual wants to decide that college is not for him or her–before going, while at, or after–more power to them. But Charles Fucking Murray wants to start some national discussion about how "some folks" shouldn’t be encouraged to go to college?Yeah, I bet he does. I bet he does.As for you, Slartibartfast, I assume though that you hope your children will go, don’t you? And, I assume, based on things you’ve said in the past, right here, that, if someone like Charles Murray said, "Well, we have enough of those kinds of people in college already" while looking at your kids, you’d probably punch him in the nose.Coble, though, as you surely must know, I have serious problems with colleges being middle-class finishing schools. I don’t actually think that should be their job at all.BUT it is what it is and it is one of the easier ways for someone to achieve some level of social mobility.And I think it’s fine for society to say "Hey, you know, maybe college isn’t the right answer for everyone. Here are a bunch of different opportunities." But what makes me angry is the undercurrent of "Let’s us from the outside divvy up society into folks who ought to go to college and folks who ought not." Especially with Mr. "Bell Curve" involved.

  8. That’s pretty much what I was thinking, Aunt B. I read Dean Dad’s article first (nm beat me to it by a long shot! Stupid me-not-being-able-to-post-from-work), and then was glad to see it taken up here.I am all for getting the amount of education that is right for your personality and goals. I know a number of people who fell into each of nm’s categories, and a number of people who would have done beautifully in trade schools (some of whom actually went, others of whom went to fabulously expensive private liberal arts colleges and spent all their time building sets, hauling wood, and otherwise working on being a carpenter/woodsman. Obviously, that’s a very specific example, and he was happy doing it, but still). And I definitely agree that we don’t place nearly enough emphasis on non-traditionally-prestigious jobs. I don’t mean just trades, I mean care work and administrative type work too. I have some very long rants about this kicking about in the back of my head, and I’m sure I’ll manage to post them sometime.All that said, I drives me up a wall when someone starts talking about it the way this guy does. "Different people benefit from different learning environments and we should support that" is not the same as "Some people don’t belong in college and are being a drain on the system while they are." The latter may be trivially true, but the strongly elitist (classist, ableist, and ofttimes racist) undertones make me want to break things. Tying it to something as problematic as IQ just makes it worse.Let’s give a really specific example. Anyone heard of Doron Blake? Let’s leave aside the immense creepiness of his conception right now. Anyway, I went to school with that guy. And by Mr. Bell Curve’s theories, he would be the person for whom college would be most beneficial. After all, he’s got an absurdly high IQ and the educational backing to make the most of it from the get-go.That’s the first problem. He’s absurdly smart and already well educated. If anyone could skate by on his background alone, it would be someone with these qualifications.He was also much as the articles painted him:

    Doron Blake is a puzzle. On the one hand, he is the very model of the patchouli college student—that irksome guy in your freshman dorm who burned incense at all hours and sang the most godawful folk songs. He’s a vegetarian. He wears a wispy mustache and a soul patch. He is majoring in comparative religion and describes his own spiritual beliefs as a hodgepodge of Wicca, Taoism, and Buddhism. He plays piano, guitar, and sitar. For fun, he is reading the Harry Potter books and the Narnia series.He’s shy. He’s been at Reed College for six months and hasn’t made any friends. His six friends—including the woman he considers his soul mate—are all back East, and he misses them terribly. He stutters. He insists he is uncomfortable talking to strangers (though he seems perfectly comfortable talking to me for hours about every aspect of his life).

    (Heh. Watch me just totally out myself as having gone to Reed. Nice. Ah well…given all the other information I post about myself, I’m sure you could’ve found me with ease without it, too)There’s your second problem. What is this guy going to get out of college? The things he would most need are those socializing aspects (which, in his defense, he did get. I was never terribly close to him, and only read about this stuff after I left, but he was a friend of a friend… well, a friend of a boyfriend’s housemate, and he definitely seemed to have managed a social circle), since he clearly doesn’t need much more in the way of academia. While I am highly in favor of the "college as a place to grow up" model, I think that, given the way the (original) article is phrased, that’s not an aspect of academia that "counts." Certainly, a person who doesn’t need the ‘training’ but does need to be exposed to their peers and learn to interact and socialize and learn time management is as much of a drain on the system (if not in terms of resources such as financial aid, then certainly by taking up a slot that could have gone to a kid who "really" needed it) as a person less qualified who takes more resources to educate.The third problem is everything Dean Dad said. The model is just wrong.

    "Murray’s position is based on the assumption that IQ is fixed, precise, and correlated perfectly with the potential for academic success. (To be fair, he concedes that high IQ people with low motivation can fail as well.) That doesn’t fit the basic fact that IQ scores have been rising steadily for decades to such a degree that the tests have to be re-centered every ten years to keep the average at 100. (Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad is Good for You makes some interesting arguments based on that.) Nor does it fit what most of us know about margins of error on standardized tests." – Dean Dad

    Not only is IQ not fixed, precise, or correlated perfectly with the potential for academic success, it is also highly problematic in other ways. And it was designed to be contextual.

    "‘Intelligence’ is a word, which is to say a string of letters (or, if spoken, a string of phonemes). The meanings of words are not found under rocks or fished from streams. Rather, the meaning of a word is simply a matter of how people use it. Although it can be very confusing and counterproductive if the same string of letters is used in different ways by different people, there is nothing necessarily dishonest in that. What is dishonest, however, is to pretend that Alfred Binet and Theophile Simon meant one thing by ‘intelligence’ when in fact they were very careful to say the opposite. And hence the problem. Because what IQ testers have done is convince everybody that the Binet-Simon tests—the basis of all IQ testing—supposedly measure an innate (genetic) and fixed (unalterable) mental ability, even though the authors of these measures defined their construct ‘intelligence’ as stuff learned in a particular culture, at a particular time, which is a diametrically opposite definition.Debunking the myths of so-called IQ research, cultural psychologist Michael Cole has recently pointed this out, quoting the French authors:“…Binet and Simon offered a definition of the quality they sought to test for: ‘It seems to us that in intelligence there is a fundamental faculty, the alteration or lack of which is of the utmost importance for practical life. This faculty is judgment, otherwise called good sense, practical sense, initiative, the faculty of adapting oneself to circumstances. To judge well, to reason well, these are the essential activities of intelligence’ (Binet and Simon 1916, p.43).”[1]“Good sense,” which the French researchers equated to “practical sense,” is not an innate faculty, naturally; it is acquired. It is the sort of thing people develop if they have certain experiences growing up. Binet and Simon constructed tests to measure the degree to which a kid had developed this “practical sense,” or, what is the same, the degree to which a child was “adapting…to circumstances.” So it is important not to be distracted by the words “fundamental faculty” above, because what Binet and Simon were interested in was “the alteration” of this “faculty,” which they perceived to be “of the utmost importance for practical life.” It follows that the Binet-Simon tests are useful merely for telling us who has absorbed more of what the local culture demands that people learn, and who has absorbed less. Nothing more.To leave no doubt about this, consider how carefully Alfred Binet himself explained what the point of his work was:“…to ascertain a particular level [of intelligence] is not interesting unless one adds an interpretation of what causes that level. So we must ask each time what is the influence of the family and social environment. A child from a good family, who converses often with his parents, will have greater awareness than a child left to his own devices; the first will have, especially, a richer vocabulary, and more complete notions of all sorts of things. Our tests provide reference points most relevant to the primary school population in Paris. If you take, for example, children from wealthy families, it is absolutely certain that they will answer better on average and will be one or two years ahead of primary school children in general. Children from rural areas perhaps will do less well [than the Parisian average]. Children from Belgium, from where French and Walloon are both spoken, will do less well still, especially in the language items. Our colleague Rouma, professor at the Ecole Normale d’Instituteurs in Charleroi, has brought our attention to surprising inequalities in intelligence that he has documented with the use of our tests, and which depend on the environment.”[2]According to Alfred Binet, a child’s level of intelligence is caused primarily by “the influence of the family and social environment.” But “family” does not mean heredity here, given that “a child from a good family” is one “who converses often with his parents.” And such a child, Binet says, “will have greater awareness than a child left to his own devices,” leading to “a richer vocabulary, and more complete notions of all sorts of things.” He was just stating the obvious: when parents educate their children more, the kids learn more, and hence they become more ‘intelligent.’ That’s how Binet used the word. Children from wealthy families would have, on average, access to a higher quality educational environment, so Binet considered it self-evident or, in his words, “absolutely certain,” that “children from wealthy families…will answer better on average.”In other words, children will learn whatever it is that they are locally taught, and whatever is locally available for them to soak up. The argument is not supposed to be subtle. What follows? That Binet did not create a test that would measure the ‘intelligence’ of kids everywhere in the world because kids in different parts of the world were growing up in environments that demanded that they learn different things. Each locality thus required a different test. Accordingly, Binet produced a test for the culture of the Paris public school: “Our [intelligence] tests provide reference points most relevant to the primary school population in Paris.” Naturally, he expected that “Children from rural areas perhaps will do less well,” because these kids were growing up in a different environment (i.e. they were not growing up in a Parisian public school). The same applied with greater force to children growing up in a different country: Belgium.As Binet went out of his way to explain, the causes of differences in performance in his tests were environmental. He said,“ascertaining a level [of intelligence] does not tell us whether a child who is lagging behind is in a phase of intellectual relaxation, of either short or long duration; it does not tell us either whether his intellectual impairment is caused by a blockage of his nasal cavities because of a problem with his lymph nodes. Any such investigations must be done around the test; they are important and require the most careful, detached, and objective attention. Far be it from us to turn this into an assembly-line process!”[3]We shall have occasion later to consider in detail the “assembly-line process” against which Alfred Binet warned, but for now let us focus on everything else he says above.Binet’s reference to “a phase of intellectual relaxation, of either short or long duration” reveals that, as he defined the word, the ‘intelligence’ of a child was not a fixed thing—it could wax and wane. Moreover, a child who did poorly could be doing so for any number of reasons, and Binet chooses the example of “a blockage of his nasal cavities”—the most prosaic example imaginable—to underline his point. You will notice that one possible cause of lower scores that Binet did not even think worth considering was heredity. As Edwin Black points out, Binet insisted that “Heredity was in no way a predeterminer of intelligence,”[4] because in Binet’s theory the construct was almost entirely environmental. In fact, when others spoke of intelligence as innate and unalterable Alfred Binet reacted negatively and forcefully.“In a book written for popular consumption, Les Idees Modernes sur les Efants (1909), Binet commented specifically on the claims of others that intelligence might be considered both innate and immutable. ‘We must protest and react against this brutal pessimism.’”[5]I take it that I have made Alfred Binet’s views clear. Let us now examine a very different definition of ‘intelligence’—that of British psychologist Cyril Burt:“By intelligence the psychologist understands inborn, all around, intellectual ability. It is inherited, or at least innate, not due to teaching or training; it is intellectual, not emotional or moral, and remains uninfluenced by industry or zeal; it is general, not specific, i.e., it is not limited to any particular kind of work, but enters into all we do or say or think. Of all our mental qualities, it is the most far-reaching.”[6]Whereas for Binet “heredity was in no way a predeterminer of intelligence,” Burt by contrast said that ‘intelligence’ was “inborn…inherited…innate,” which is to say predetermined by heredity. And lest he be misunderstood, Burt asserted that intelligence could not be altered in the least, as it was supposedly “uninfluenced by industry or zeal.” Alfred Binet was by contrast interested in “the alteration …[of] the faculty of adapting oneself to circumstances”: in other words, the alteration of the faculty of self-alteration!" – Francisco Gil-White

    (Formatting removed by virtue of laziness)So yes. Low IQ can mean a lot of things. But it does not necessarily mean that a person cannot succeed. And to credit it in the way he does, one opens the doors to a very, very narrowly constructed world. Larry Summers’ assertions, for instance, fit this same model. And personally, that strikes me as stupid. There is more to potential, more to success, more to study than just IQ. Motivation, background, support systems, context… they all matter. Giving a person what they need is great. If what they need is a trade school, I will be the first person there, with my tax dollars in hand, to make that happen for them. But I’m not willing to sweepingly deny people things that they need or want on the basis of a testing system that is both inherently unfair and not nearly as closely predicative as they would like us to believe.(Can you tell I did a lot of research on this? Intelligence testing was one of those subject I wrote a lot of papers on in school, including my own independent cross-test, multivariate comparisons. They were crude, because I was young and didn’t have a large population, but the research was good.)

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