Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

A Little Light Housekeeping

with 7 comments

So, okay, let me try to address some of this stuff in some sort of at least half-assedly systematic way.

First, the issue of employers continuing to demand college degrees even after the standards for high school graduation have been raised, if only to whittle down the number of candidates, fails to take into account what should be obvious–if we raise the standards for high school graduation, fewer people will graduate from high school.

The reason high school graduation standards were dumbed down in the first place was to make sure more people graduated from high school.  We made a commitment to bring the rate up to as close to 100% as possible, and when we found out that we were having no success in actually raising the skill levels of our student population, we just changed the standards and declared them “high school graduates” anyway.

The result was that even fewer people reached the skills level we used to associate with high school graduation, because it’s not possible to dumb down the curriculum for one set of people without dumbing it down for others.  When you do that, it gets obvious that you do that, and the pressure is on to dumb down every new wrinkle so that more people will be able to “achieve” it.  Gifted and talented programs are either eliminated entirely or given criteria so subjective and squishy that who gets in is a matter of whose parents exert the most pressure.  Honors and  AP programs are run at levels good whacking hunks of the student population can handle.

Of course, this tends to vary with location.   There are a number of public high schools down on the Connecticut Gold Coast that deliver high school educations the equal of anything in the  Thirties, and the equal even of competitive selective entry prep schools like Exeter.  They happen to be in communities with virtually no “affordable housing,” in other words, with no poor people and not many working class people either.  

These are places where the median price of a house is better than half a million dollars, nearly all the parents will have gone not just to colleges but to “name” colleges and most will have advanced degrees.  There’s no pressure to dumb down the curriculum because there’s no need to in order to get 99% of their kids to graduate–and 85% to go on to four year colleges. 

Bring the standards for high school graduation up, fewer people will graduate from high school, employers will be able to use a high school diploma for sorting purposes and pretty much get–just the same people they’re getting now by  demanding “college degrees” in things like marketing and business administration.

As for first tier American colleges, I agree that not having gone to one does not cut you off from great success, if you’re the kind of person with the ambition and the talent to go after it.  In fact, there’s something called the “second tier advantage”–the people who are mostly likely to make really spectacular successes of themselves tend not to go to first tier universities, because entry into those has become so cutthroat that there isn’t much room for the Steven Spielbergs of this world, the kids who fail everything but X because X is what they love. 

Spielberg, by the way, went to Cal State  Long  Beach.

And dropped out in his sophomore year.

But most of you seem to think that a “first tier university” has to mean the Ivy League.  It doesn’t.

Cheryl says she’s never met anyone who’s gone to a first teir US universit, but she’s wrong.  If you include the people she’s met online, she knows at least three, me,  Janet from  RAM–and Robert.

The University of Indiana is a first tier university, although it’s in the bottom half of the first tier.  The University of Texas at Autin is not only in the first tier, it’s in the first half of the first tier, and well into it.  

In fact, Texas/Austin  is one of what are called the Public Ivies–Michigan, UCLA, UC-Berkeley, UNC-Chapel Hill, Illinois, I don’t remember what else.  The Public Ivies are Public Ivies only in their colleges of arts and sciences–that is, in the division which teach the liberal arts–but since it’s the liberal arts we’re talking about, those are their relevant divisions anyway.

The first tier includes the Ivy League, but also the  Seven Sisters, the Little Three, the Public Ivies and a little handful of other places (Chicago, Johns Hopkins, Duke, Stanford, Northwestern).

The days when the division was between “name” private colleges and “just” state schools is long gone.

And I agree with Robert–I think getting a useful skill is definitely the way to go for most kids.  What I was arguing was whether or not they were in fact getting those skills.  and, by and large, they’re not.   The “practical” majors offered by schools that claim to specialize in them do not in general help people find work, and really do not help them find work they can count on. 

They’re largely aimed at the very kind of white collar desk job that’s increasingly being exported to India and other lower-wage countries.  The kid who goes $20,000 into debt to get a “business admistration” degree from his local state college has been ripped off, big time.  He’d have had a better income, and more assurance of it, if he’d become a plumber.

But I’m not,  I’m really not, suggesting that everybody should run off and spend God knows what kind of money getting degrees in philosophy.   I’m trying to do two things.

First, to defend the study of the Humanities as absolutely necessary to know (not just “want to know”).

Second, to encourage it outside the channels of academia, which is where it was for most of the history of Western civilization.

But I think I’d better leave Theophrastus and the birth of science, along with other things, until tomorow.

I’m at that point ini the book where I’m making sure the explanations make sense, which m eans this thing is virtually done.


Written by janeh

June 12th, 2009 at 9:57 am

Posted in Uncategorized

7 Responses to 'A Little Light Housekeeping'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'A Little Light Housekeeping'.

  1. Well, if Indiana University counted as first tier in 1975, then I can only reiterate advice to get a “marketable” skill regardless. In contrast to her experience, my History classmates and I were able to go about campus without fear that we would be kidnapped by recruiters with high-paying job offers.

    Which does not mean a lot of “practical” majors aren’t rip-offs. But the accountant, the architect, the engineer and the master of a foreign language, to name only a few have mastered useful trades, none of them incompatible with studying history, literature or philosophy.

    Another thing to keep in mind: the English-speaking world–at least the United States and the “white Commonwealth” have been exceptionally fortunate in recent years, and we’ve gotten forgetful. One of the reasons GONE WITH THE WIND continues to sell in many languages and cultures is that it speaks to a common experience. Civilizations have an ugly habit of popping like soap bubbles from time to time, and many who have entered adolescence with wealth and privilege before they are old will be trying to convince some country to accept them on any terms. It does no one harm to learn how to wire a house, build a straight and sturdy wall, keep a good set of books or speak a foreign language well.

    These are also things a border guard can’t steal.


    12 Jun 09 at 5:48 pm

  2. Jane, I googled “first tier universities” and found it referred to the top 50 in a US news magazine. I have no way of evaluating that report.

    Robert, I was working for an aerospace company in Los Angeles back in 1970. Congress had an “anti-defense” fit and made big cuts to the budget. Result was 250,000 engineers and scientists out of work. I moved to Australia after a year of unemployment and 1 job interview. So its not just revolutions and civil wars or foreign wars …


    12 Jun 09 at 6:46 pm

  3. And Cheryl knows (in the Internet sense) me. I attended University of Michigan in the Dark Ages (1973) though I left after 2 years for reasons that now seem stupid. I was invited into the Honors College, so I took freshman classes advanced even for UofM. Honors Calculus (big mistake), logic, and Great Books, which I remember and profit from to this day.

    This is where I discovered that being among the smartest people in my high school didn’t even get me into the top 25% in the Honor’s College.


    12 Jun 09 at 11:15 pm

  4. I guess I do know – at least in the Internet sense – people from major US univeristies – although to be fair, I doubt I would have thought of any except Yale Harvard, and perhaps some smaller ones like Oberlin as being in that category – which just shows some of my ignorance about the US system.

    And Lymaree, that discovery of yours is/was particularly well-known here, especially back in my day when the consolidation of rural schools was just beginning and there were a LOT of people who were among the best in their schools and who got a real shock when hitting the bigger world! Someone who knew more about it than me pointed out that the best of these rural students caught up really fast – I guess those would be the ones who had the ability but lacked the broader and deeper education.

    Calculus was my downfall at one point in my life. Years later, I noticed it was available by correspondance from the same department of the same university – these were the days when ‘correspondance’ meant ‘by mail’ and I signed up for it. I’m not a wee bit obsessive, of course, not me! Got an A, and although I’ve never needed to know calculus, that was a bit satisfying. I think being able to take my time at it, and having grown past the mental block I had about it helped.

    And Jan, congratulations on finishing the book – and where exactly do you think the humanities are going to fit if not in academia? The distance education places you mentioned before are part of academia (if not a central and often not an esteemed part) and don’t reach more than a small minority of the population. If you want to change the culture so the humanities are valued, you have to reach everyone, including those who can’t or won’t actually study them in any depth. This isn’t impossible – a lot of popular music is valued and enjoyed by people who aren’t really musically talented; same with sports and even religion and science – lots of people practice and value religion although they know they’ll never be saints, and people who haven’t studied any science since junior high often believe scientific claims (even as mediated by the popular media, which really drives me crazy as a lot of them get the science dead wrong). You know, scientists says ‘We’ve found out something about nerve cells that might eventually help us understand diseases like MS’ becomes ‘Scientists have cure for MS!’


    13 Jun 09 at 5:52 am

  5. google to the rescur http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/college

    My undergrad school (University of Rochester (NY)) and grad school (Carnegie Mellon) are both listed as first tier so that adds to Cheryl’s list.

    And I’ve never understood why people find calculus difficult! Perhaps physics majors are not a random sample?


    13 Jun 09 at 6:42 pm

  6. Well, well. Check it out. My university (the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities) is in the first tier. Count me too, Cheryl!


    13 Jun 09 at 7:03 pm

  7. Ha, Cheryl, I might take your statement as some comfort if I’d gone to UofM out of a rural high school. Unfortunately for my ego, I graduated high in my class (could have been higher if I’d ever worked a day at anything) from a 2000-pupil high school in a high-ranked suburban district outside Detroit. Even though I was in “advanced” classes, no AP back then, and even took community college science class (got an A there, too) when I ran out of science at the high school level, I coasted through. Got into UofM on my SAT scores and residence.

    Then I met all those scary smart people who had to work hard to get into the university from out state. Humbling? Pretty much. Then I went into Honors College, where the top 5% or so gathered. Yipes. Perhaps if I’d had any study skills at all, it might have gone differently.

    As for calculus being hard, well, it might have been easier if the prof hadn’t written the text book, and it hadn’t been the 70s. Every time I (the only woman in the class) asked a question, he’d look vague, avoid eye contact, and tell me it was “in the book.” No, it wasn’t in the book. Unless you’re a math savant, learning goes easier when someone is actually willing to show you how.

    But I’ve gotten over the bitterness. Mostly.


    13 Jun 09 at 9:10 pm

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Bad Behavior has blocked 571 access attempts in the last 7 days.