Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Equality On The Second Round

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Okay, let  me see if I can straighten out a few things, FYI, so to speak.

First, the public education systems in the US–and it is multiple systems–are such a wreck in most places routinely require at least some college, and often a college degree, for even mundane entry level positions.

These include jobs like secretaries and typists, who in my day would have taken the “business course” in high school and gone right to work. 

And all even relatively high level positions now require a college degree, and anything having to do with management.  It is no longer possible for someone to come out of high school, get an entry level minimum wage job, and work his way into the white collar workforce.

No degree–no promotion.  Period. 

(This also  has something to do with the way our antidiscrimination law works.)

But if you’d asked me what was the cause of the growing connection between eventual career paths and class status,  it wouldn’t be most of the things the writer of that essay talked about.  It would be just this insistance that “everybody” has to go to “college” to get any kind of job at all, beyond things like working at a fast food restaurant.

This is a disaster in all kinds of ways for all kinds of people.  Not only is it expensive, but it forces into marginality a lot of people (most of them male)  who just don’t fit in an academic environment, but are perfectly comfortable in lots of work environments that didn’t used to require them to sit in classrooms for years but now do.

The second thing  has to do with scholarships and financial aid for students who  do want to go to college.

Almost all our top colleges and universities are private, and they’re VERY generously endowed.

Not only that, they all have what are called “need blind” admissions.  That means they don’t check to see if you want financial aid before deciding to admit you, and they commit themselves to making sure you get enough  money to attend, no matter what you need.

And those packages can mean that a very poor but academically talented student leaves campus with NO debt at all.  None.  Harvard, for instance, charges NOTHING in tuition for students whose families earn $60,000 or less a year.  Granted the kid still  has to deal with room and board and books and other expenses, that’s the majority of the tab completely wiped out for families reasonably well up in the middle class.

The problem isn’t that Harvard isn’t expensive, the problem is that most top-performing students with families who are not already part of the educated upper middle class don’t ever apply.

And this includes students whose families make six figures but who are not part of the culture for that particular class.

They won’t know about the financial aid packages, they won’t know that the sticker price has little or nothing to do with what they’ll actually end up  paying.

What’s more, they may not even know that it matters–that Local State University isn’t “just as good” as Harvard, in the sense of giving you just as much of a kick start when you go out to work.

But even if they do know all these things, it won’t necessarily help, because they won’t be doing all the things (remember those summer camps, unpaid  internships, founding their  own charities things) that have no become necessary to get admitted to a university where there are 30 applicants for every opening.

But the kids at the very bottom are in the very worst shape, because they  have no idea what’s going on.

To them, all “college” is “college.”  And “college” is nothing more than a continuation of what they’ve been used to, and what they’ve been used to are standards that wouldn’t  have been acceptable to pass fourth grade when I was a student.

If they manage to get themselves onto a campus, they are seldom able to read written text longer than one or two pages long, and when asked to turn in a term paper they hand in a single typed page or not much more, no documentation, nothing.

What’s more, they’re almost always coming from environments–family and neighborhood–that either actively discourage academic work or hold it as less important than other things, like family responsibilities or solidarity with friends and neighborhoods.

Their big shock comes when they disappear from class for two weeks, come back and tell their teachers that their grandmother was dying or their brother was going to jail, and find that their teachers don’t care.  Classwork comes first.  Everything else comes second.  If they don’t do their classwork, no matter the reason, they just fail.

I’ve been in those situations more than  once, and I can tell you that these students are absolutely dumbfounded to find out what the policy  is.  They honestly just don’t get it.  They’ve never even met a person who put work or school ahead of family.

Unlike the writer, I don’t think there is anything any government can do to change attitudes like this.  I certainly don’t think there is anything any government SHOULD do.

But there is one thing going on here that I do think is very wrong, and also very bad for us–

And that’s the metamorphosis of the admissions process into a kind of MAD scramble.

MAD as in “mutually assured destruction.”

We’ve gotten to the point now that a successful applicant to an Ivy League school must not  only have first class grades and board scores, but a lot of other things besides–THINK of those parents who help their kids start their own charities, or of kids who can talk about how they spent their summer vacation helping to save the rain forest while actually  living on the Amazon.

The problem is not that middle class kids from families with less impressive means can’t afford to do this.

The problem is that such a selection process targets a very narrow segment of the adolescent population and selects OUT for everybody else.

And since both Republicans AND Democrats want their candidates and their CEOs and their federal judges and whatever to come from the top tier, we end up with virtually everybody in positions of influence and power being more or less the same sort of personality. 

And that personality does not have a whole lot in common with the rest of the country.

But it also seems to me that there is only one solution to this dilemma, and it starts with:  stop priveleging schools.

End the tacit requirement that “everybody” must go to college if they want to work, deconstruct the credentialing, stop insisting that Supreme Court justices, candidates for management in corporations, Congressmen and everybody else go to the top tier.

The problem is not lack of government “investment” or any of the rest of it.

It’s the fact that the path to success of any kind  has narrowed to a single rope, and if you’re not a rope climber, you’re likely about to get screwed.

Written by janeh

June 15th, 2013 at 10:38 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'Equality On The Second Round'

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  1. But how can you end the tacit requirement that everybody have a degree to get a job? There’s no centralized requirement, it’s just this company and that company and that one over there. And first you’d have to make sure, somehow, that all school boards can get their schools actually educating kids again. It’s a mess.


    15 Jun 13 at 3:20 pm

  2. I believe there was some comment earlier about the writer of an article proposing solutions not even his own side would adopt?

    Every President and almost every candidate since Reagan attended the same three universities. Every Supreme Court Justice has attended one of two of those three, and it’s not much better in the legislative branch–a nice tight shot group of majors, too. I wouldn’t want to hang from the proverbial rope until they were prepared to “deprivilege” those schools, nor wait for the “affirmative action” industry to admit a well-read white kid with an associate’s degree was a better bet than a semi-literate PhD from a historically black college.

    The best hope for change is the utter incompetence of the ruling class coming out of these schools and programs. Because we’ll have to get rid of the present ruling class before we can make any progress on that front.

    Lest anyone think I missed my cue: no matter how many times I’m told about people not paying tuition at Harvard and Yale, this remains almost completely irrelevant. Those universities are a vanishingly small percentage of the student population. You might also total up room and board and the opportunity cost of having a child not helping out the family and see whether not charging tuition really makes the whole thing feasible–or whether it would be worthwhile for anyone based on education and not contacts.


    15 Jun 13 at 3:42 pm

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