Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

The Draft

with 10 comments

So, just a couple of words here and there.  It’s Tuesday.  I’ve started to really hate Tuesdays.

Robert wants to know who all the draftees are.  Mostly they’re kids who are bright enough, and who have families that are themselves bright and aware enough to know that a “good” job requires a college education.

They would not consider being a plumber a “good” job. They wouldn’t consider being a carpenter or a mechanic “good” jobs either.  There are definitely Vo-Tech high schools out here.  One of the most famous in the state is just a few miles away from the place I teach. 

But the only people who go to the Vo-Tech are the ones too stupid to do the college course, and they’ll be stuck in dead end jobs that go nowhere.  They won’t ever get rich, or run a big corporation, or become President of the United States.  If they want any of those things, they’ll have to backtrack and make up the “real” schoolwork they lost tinkering with machines and go to college.

The pressure on these kids to go to “college”–even fake-college where the work is nothing at all like actual academic work–is enormous.  It’s so enormous, that the local community college offers lots and lots of certification programs in various Vo-Tech fields, including automotive mechanics. 

But since it’s “college” and the end is an “associate’s” degree, even the kids wanting to be mechanics have to take a raft of General Education courses, including not only Composition but also Composition and Literature, and a third course in the Humanities, usually a water-down thing in philosophy.

I’ve been thinking about all this while watching the news lately, and the firestorm over the winning of the Republican nomination for Joe Biden’s old Delaware Senate seat by one Christine O’Donnell. 

I am not a fan of Ms. O’Donnell’s.  The woman seems to me like a complete idiot. 

But of all the charges the press and pundits have leveled against her, the one with which I do not sympathize is that she never finished college.

Granted, going to college these days is sort of like Robert’s thing about having a credit card.  It’s available to so many people on such a debased basis, it looks a little odd if you didn’t.

But there’s nothing in the Constitution that says that the President of the United States, or a Senator, or a Congressman, or the Secretary of State, or anybody else, has to have “gone to college,” never mind graduated.

And it bugs me that we are increasingly at the point where the entry to any profession at all–including a lot of the old Vo-Tech things–now requires the same structure of training. 

Kids get drafted into college programs because they get told–not without reason–that if they don’t go, they can’t do anything with their lives except drudge away at degrading, menial work while they give up any hope of a successful future.

For me, to get to the point where we put a de facto educational requirement on running for public office is something worse than the old literacy tests. 

But beyond that, given the state of higher education in the US today, it represents a move to homogenize the political culture in truly astounding ways.

Fifty years ago, different universities–including different universities in what we now call the first tier–offered vastly different environments in which to work and study.  Vanderbilt was different from Columbia which was different from CalTech.

These days, while the social environments of those three places may differ significantly, the intellectual environment will be nearly cookie cutter.   They all promote the same social and political agendas.  They all enforce the same policies on everything from diversity to sex. 

A posted an article here a week or so ago by a man who outlined the present political problem in the US by saying that both parties are run by those of their members who are upper middle class, and the upper middle class are always more like each other than they are like anybody else in the country. 

The only difference between them is that the Democratic upper middle class openly looks down on everybody else, while the Republican upper middle class pays lip service to its middle and working class party members while trying to manipulate them into supporting policies that are not in fact in their best interests.

One of the ways to end the problem of the draftees is to end the stranglehold of formal education on what is becoming just about everything.  We forget that it’s only recently that law and medical school became “advanced” degrees.  For much of their history, they were what people did instead of a regular university course.

But in the end it would require fixing the high schools, and we’re not going to do that, for reasons too numerous to mention on a day whenI have to leave the house early.

So I think electing a few people who have not “gone to college” might be a good start, if only to bring home to everybody the fact that there is no such requirement for participating in the political process.

Written by janeh

September 21st, 2010 at 5:51 am

Posted in Uncategorized

10 Responses to 'The Draft'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'The Draft'.

  1. I’ve often thought that medical schools should admit students after maybe a year of post-secondary education – which our local one did, when it first opened, in order to increase the range of people for whom such an education is available. And at a recent anniversary celebration, a lot of these former students arrived, now at the peak of their careers, unharmed by their ‘early’ start. People would get more use out of their medical degree, too, if they didn’t have to get at least a bachelor’s degree and sometimes even a PhD first. I think early admission is still on the books, but it doesn’t appear to be used much.

    And then there are the companies who narrow down the too-large field of applicants for labourers’ jobs by requiring high school graduation certificates.

    It’s really ludicrous. And better a good plumber than a bad philosopher, as someone said.

    So I got to work fine, and very early as I especially on bad days. It isn’t bad yet, but we’re still waiting for Igor, which has been UPGRADED. Hurricanes are supposed to be downgraded in status as they get closer to eastern Canada!


    21 Sep 10 at 6:08 am

  2. My parents, in what appears to be an almost unique move for middle class parents, allowed my brother to go the tech high school (which combined academics that weren’t too shabby with vo-tech training). He trained as an automobile mechanic, then did a year at Denver Automotive and Diesel College. He moved his way up and over and is currently the president of an international dental surgery company.

    My other brother has a 6th year certificate (master’s plus) and is a teacher, and I have a PhD.

    Somewhere not too deep down, he still thinks we are “smarter” than he is, but he is incredibly successful and relatively rich and gets to travel all over the world.

    I do try to tell parents this and encourage them to let their kids figure out what they want to do and then help them do it, rather than assuming everyone should go to college…. I suspect I am shoveling water against the tide, there.



    21 Sep 10 at 10:38 am

  3. Yes, I knew a lot of people who desperately wanted their kids – especially their sons – to be the first in the family to go to university. Or just to go, even if he wasn’t the first. From these, you’d get the pleasant, polite, reasonably bright and hardworking students whose hearts weren’t in going to university at all, and who hadn’t the faintest idea what they were supposed to study when they got there. They’d have probably done a lot better in a good technical course doing something that interested them, rather than being automatically slotted in the ‘university’ track because of their brains and families.


    21 Sep 10 at 10:45 am

  4. All this discussion strikes very close to home for me. I am the first person in my extended family to graduate from college. My father and his brother attended, but didn’t graduate.

    My son is, frankly, far more intelligent than I am. He inherited his father’s excellent memory and combines the best of our intellectual traits. He could follow any profession he wanted to, if we’re talking intellectual gifts alone.

    But we desperately tried to find something, *anything* for him to be passionate about as an adolescent, other than sitting at his computer and playing games endlessly. Obtusely, he showed talent but no inclination to do any kind of computer or games programming.

    We paid for flight lessons, and he earned his private pilot’s license on his 17th birthday. We thought, okay, he wants to be a pilot, he can go to Embry-Riddle and earn a degree. He flunked out (quite deliberately) his first semester and did not return. He hasn’t flown a plane since.

    He knew his living at home depended on his attending school, so I guess he was one of Jane’s “draftees” at least to some extent, at the local community college. This went on for 3 years…he passed many classes, but flunked enough not to earn a degree. He couldn’t transfer to the Cal State system, which used to be automatic for CC students, because they’ve drastically cut their admissions. Somehow he never got his application in on time, or right, or something. Passive-aggressive? I guess.

    Finally I insisted he screw the academic classes and enroll in vocational ones, the airframe and engine maintenance classes leading to FAA certification and certain employment. It turns out the CC has one of the premier training programs for this in the US.

    It’s not going to make him the President of the US. He may or may not become the CEO of his own company. But, he’s excelling at the classes. He’s happy at what he’s doing, for the first time in years. He went and got a job handling freight at a local airport, after school hours, so four days a week he’s in class from 7;30 – 2:30, and working from 4-8pm. Fridays, it’s just class.

    I think part of the issue with kids being forced into college is that for the entire history of the US, each generation has experienced a progression, with immigrant’s children doing better educationally, economically and politically then their parent’s or grandparent’s generations. Now, with much reduced immigration (or perhaps a larger resident population so immigration doesn’t influence society as much) many of the younger generations either cannot or do not wish to exceed the accomplishments of their ancestors.

    My son’s great-grandfather was an immigrant from German Russia who worked at an industrial bakery. His grandfather was a plumber/handyman who rose to maintenance supervisor of the entire Detroit school system. HIs father is an attorney, with 30+ years of experience with a large corporation. Really, what’s the logical progression for my son? How can he do “better?”

    I’m frankly thrilled he’s found something that challenges both his physical, hands-on skills and his mental acuity, something that he enjoys doing. It’s good, honest, necessary work, and will pay a living wage. If people didn’t have the mindset that their children must somehow exceed what they themselves have done, perhaps Jane wouldn’t have all those unwilling academic hostages in her chairs.


    21 Sep 10 at 11:25 am

  5. OK, draftees like that I can understand.

    One hedge: we don’t have a de facto education requirement, we have a de facto CERTIFICATION requirement. You can, sadly, be ignorant as dirt, have a four-year degree, and be a member of the US Congress all at the same time. I only wish we had an education requirement instead. I’d trade a lot of politicians with prestigious advanced degrees for another Washington or Lincoln, both of whom were unschooled, but well-educated.

    Cheryl, I think if you back those people requiring a high school diploma into a corner, they’ll tell you two things: first, a high-school diploma only indicates the education of about 8th grade level two generations ago–basic literacy–and even a plumber needs that much. Also the HS diploma indicates a willingness to keep quiet and follow orders. The Army periodically suspends its HS diploma requirements in times of prosperity, and the results are consistently that even GED holders are more likely to be discipline problems and not to finish an enlistment. When you have only a few people and one job, you can be more discriminating, but when you’re processing thousands, it’s not a bad first cut.

    Lymaree, by all means check me on this, but the last figures I saw we were at or near record levels for percentage of the population which were immigrants or children of immigrants. (We’ve also never had so many immigrants as a percentage speaking the same non-English language, which may be segregating them a bit.)

    They’re probably not the source of Jane’s draftees. The normal pattern is for parents to push for one more level of education than they had themselves, so an immigrant with a 4th grade education wants his children to get through 8th grade, and those children want THEIR children to have high school diplomas. The only formal study I’ve run into on this said the effect lasted at least three generations: the higher the level of education of the immigrant, the higher on average the education of the grand-children. (And great-grandchildren? It’s been a while.)

    Oh, and Coadilla’s article on the ruling class is out as a book. Ordered mine this morning.


    21 Sep 10 at 4:09 pm

  6. A plumber is a skilled tradesman, not a labourer. These people were hiring people to do unskilled work – digging stuff and lugging things around. I think the job involved building an industrial building of some kind, probably involving mining. It’s been a long time.

    They may have wanted them to be docile and reliable, but they sure didn’t want or need even a Grade 8 level of reading or writing.


    21 Sep 10 at 4:28 pm

  7. My personal rule is that if a person is over 30, I don’t care about their level of education, I want to know what they have done as adults.

    And I’m wondering if Robert’s comment about following orders will start a firestorm!


    21 Sep 10 at 5:31 pm

  8. A HS diploma is a measure of being willing to follow orders and delay gratification and be persistent–and those are what are necessary, more than the basic reading, writing, and math skills, to succeed. No firestorm needed.


    21 Sep 10 at 8:29 pm

  9. Mique

    21 Sep 10 at 9:02 pm

  10. I remember the various protest movements of the 60s and their objections to conformity. They didn’t considewr being willing to follow orders as a virtue!


    22 Sep 10 at 12:37 am

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Bad Behavior has blocked 592 access attempts in the last 7 days.