The Best College (For Most) Is No College

Most people do not use, and do not need to use, any form of mathematics higher than addition and subtraction, and in rarer cases in multiplying and dividing simple numbers.

It helps to have the idea that a billion is more than a million, but few can hold in their minds just exactly how much more this is. They almost never need to know, either.

We might push this and say it should be a requirement to say how much less is spent if the dress is twenty-percent off. But we should not push hard.

I have been a math teacher of students who were forced by our culture to attain a “degree”. A common lament of theirs, when struggling, many of them in vain, was “What do I need this for?” The answer “Because it will make you a better person”, or some similar variant, was always a hopeful lie. The truth was “They make you take it to ensure there’s enough students to fund the department’s FTEs.”

Some of the students did fine in the basic math requirement course foisted upon them, and some did poorly. Yet, of course, most of those who stuck it out to the “degree” will ever use the math they were taught.

But because they now have a “degree” a lot of them will think they know more than they do.

This over-estimate of self happens not only math, but every subject. Imagine thinking you know a lot about life after graduating with a Communications or Journalism “degree”.

Sure, you will have assimilated some basics in democratic propaganda, learned how to use a few tools, and “gain expertise applicable to a number of professional positions and advanced study.” That’s what Boston University boasts its “degree” confers.

I pick on Communications “degrees” because they are the most popular. They are the most popular at least because they are the easiest. People pick the easiest because they are after a “degree” and not an education.

It’s not only Communications “degrees”, it’s PhDs in mathematical statistics from top universities, such as Yours Truly possesses. Sure, if you gain one of these sheep skins you’ll learn lots of math and the like, but almost nothing else. I’ve complained many times that you can get this “advanced degree” without ever having to crack open a book of philosophy. Or history. Or theology. Or et cetera.

The same again holds true for PhDs in Physics, Chemistry, and—you get the idea.

The danger is not these people coming away not knowing their subjects. To the extent these areas of study haven’t yet (yet) been infested with the cancer of intersectionality, Equality, and Diversity, they convey genuine knowledge. But very, very specialized knowledge.

What is worrying is that graduates come away thinking they know everything, or enough.

It’s true that to be able to study hard subjects require robust minds. These people almost always can learn other subjects. It’s no that they can’t, but that they don’t. Even more than people without a basic “degree” they are likely to believe a little learning is a lot.

All this is by way of introduction to the longer and much superior piece “Spoiled by a False Education” by JM Smith. Only one quotation will suffice to prove its merit.

Mencken’s view is, therefore, precisely opposite to that of the liberal. Whereas the liberal believes we should do all we can to untie the tongues of shy and speechless Miltons, Mencken tells us that nature tied those tongues for a reason. Mankind can get by with very few Miltons, so there is no reason to artificially boost the supply by coddling and coaxing men and women who could have stifled the longings of their hearts, and who consequently could have pursued some useful career of drudgery and care.

This is the nub of the argument that a child can be “spoiled by education,” or what is more often called “over-education.” It is that education produces a surplus of marginal mediocrities for which there is very slight demand, and that these marginal mediocrities are unfitted by their education for useful employment. Thus, a rustic Milton can be coddled and coaxed until he uncorks and decants some lines of verse or criticism, but this verse and criticism was not needed, and the rustic Milton is now too affected and sissified to go back to the farm.

Go there to read all of it. And tell your children to get married and raise kids (if girls) or be carpenters and build houses (if boys).

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16 Thoughts

  1. It helps to have the idea that a million is more than a billion, but few can hold in their minds

    Ummm, we seem to have had different math courses. I’ve always been under the impression 1e9 was larger than 1e6.

  2. Thanks for the approving mention. Every college student should be required to take a course called “NESC 101: Introduction to Nescience. This course introduces students to all of the many things they do not understand, and will never understand because they are incapable of understanding them. It will open their eyes to the appalling and irremediable finitude of their intellects. The successful student will emerge from the course, like the Wedding Guest emerged from hearing the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, “a sadder and a wiser man.” Prerequisites: At least three survey courses in which the professor has claimed to show his class “how the world works.”

  3. “It helps to have the idea that a million is more than a billion, but few can hold in their minds
    —-
    Ummm, we seem to have had different math courses. I’ve always been under the impression 1e9 was larger than 1e6.”

    The hand of the enemies of this bolg strikes again, planting typos in the article.

  4. Excellent analysis and commentary, Dr Briggs.

    Our education and training system is debased and uncoupled from actual needs.

    Career-based education/training with flexible programs adapted to current needs would be better.

    Private organizations run by employers could build training plans for specific jobs on competency models created by analyzing the actual knowledge/skills/attitudes required for success in each targeted field. If adding and subtraction are all that’s needed for a certain job, that’s the level that math learning would stop.

    The graduates of these programs would be immediately employable in the target jobs. And the programs would be constantly updated as new knowledge/skills/attitudes are required for new or in-demand jobs.

    All the nice-to-have humanities could be extra-curricular clubs available on demand.

    In effect, an expanded, flexible, job-focused community college system is what we need.

    Expert welders (or C# programmers, or electricians, or salesmen) trained as trainers would be the staff of these schools–not PhDs.

    When do we start?

  5. “The hand of the enemies of this bolg strikes again, planting typos in the article.”

    And in the comments.

  6. Dave: Only when written in scientific notation! 🙂

    I had a double major in college, psychology and chemistry. I loved chemistry but could never excel at it. However, I could ace psychology without even reading the material. So, I double majored and raised my GPA without even really working at it. (Yes, even back in the stone age, a higher GPA was desirable.) I did enjoy psychology, but it was totally without challenge and unless I got a PhD, pretty much useless for future employment. With this double major, I have done social work, credit counseling, worked for the unemployment office, done seismic processing, worked as a nanny and done IT. Most jobs that required a college degree just wanted a college degree, but the field was irrelevant. Half the jobs I would have gotten without a college degree.

    My husband has a BS in general science. He has been a coal miner, uranium miner, warehouseman, and truck driver among other things. The degree had zero effect on his employment. My sibling was a high school drop out that now earns six figures working for the government. I guess college is a way to use up a lot of money and have a good time for four years, but as for future employment help, I’d do trade school any day if I had to do it over again.

  7. “But because they now have a “degree” a lot of them will think they know more than they do.”

    In the blue collar field, there is an old saying about that: Educated but not smart.

  8. College will seldom offset genuine initiative, curiosity and inventiveness. But with the complexity of things getting very high (many or most machines can qualify as computers with machines attached; modern materials are very sophisticated; etc) some study in the “hard” sciences IS a valid prerequisite.

    And let’s not give up hope about the degrading effects of the so-called “soft” disciplines. Students residing there (future intellectual derelicts), and, interlopers from the hard sciences (future innovators) needing an elective in a convenient time slot will get some exposure to the varying outlooks & values that distinguish those gravitating to these educational extremes. A kind of human intellectual petting zoo, that, with its safe spaces.

    I cannot help but retain some optimism in observing that the playful college role playing game “Assassin” STILL, in this day & age, actively practiced. Look it up! At least in some places. With such a benchmark there remains hope.

  9. The original purpose of a liberal education (as opposed to medicine or mathematics/engineering) was to produce a uniform international Western ur-culture of shared myths, art, history, and culture to unify and strengthen Western civilization (called “Christendom” at the time). It was not originally to benefit the individual student but to benefit society, and the people who got a liberal education were either independently wealthy or expected to work in government, law, education, or Christian ministry.

    When universities mutated into job training (and I don’t mean to criticize the change), the liberal arts remained as requirements, but their purpose came to be muddied. When I was in University several decades ago, they said the liberal-arts classes would make me a better person–there were ineffable benefits I would personally gain from reading Moby Dick. But once they changed the beneficiary from society to me personally, the so-called benefits became transparently false.

    I think this dishonesty is part of the reason that the Left was able to completely take over the education of the liberal arts–Leftists, unlike emotionally stable people, are perfectly comfortable lying to achieve their ends, so they were more comfortable teaching the new self-empowerment liberal arts. And of course the Leftists quickly change the liberal arts from a way to bind Western civilization together into a way to tear it apart.

  10. Most people do not use, and do not need to use, any form of mathematics higher than addition and subtraction, and in rarer cases in multiplying and dividing simple numbers … A common lament of theirs, when struggling [in math class], many of them in vain, was “What do I need this for?”
    I have been told by a knowledgeable source that the welders who build submarines need to know algebra, and the corporation that employs them has difficulty finding skilled welders who can do the math. Sometimes you do need something you don’t like to do something you do like.

  11. “Most people do not use, and do not need to use, any form of mathematics higher than addition and subtraction, and in rarer cases in multiplying and dividing simple numbers.”
    Actually, all you need is addition. My MS is in digital systems and I had a course in computer design. Back then computers had a central processor unit, now called an arithmetic logic unit, and the computer does all arithmetic by addition using a binary adder. It does addition by adding, it subtracts by adding, it multiplies by adding repeatedly, and it divides by adding. A computer is really nothing but a fancy adding machine.

  12. I must confess that—basically—the only reason I got myself deep into debt and struggled nearly 6(!) years for a bachelor’s degree was because I was warned that without it, the only job I’d be good for would be “scrubbing toilets.”

    Such a shameful tragedy was to be averted at all costs—heck, if it came to it, even a sacrifice on Mt. Moriah, push come to shove.

    Well, I got my degree, and I now hold a couple of “nice” jobs—neither of which, *strictly-speaking*, “required” my degree—but at least I’m not scrubbing toilets, right? And that’s the important thing.

    PS:
    On a vaguely-related matter—anybody, by any chance, have any figures/data as to how many invitees to Bilderberg or Davos conferences do _not_ hold college degrees?

    And by any chance, anybody happen to know which (if any?) “elite” summit shindigs (of course Bilderberg and Davos are merely 2 of the most notable ones, there are others) have the highest numbers of non-degree holders?

    Probably not relevant to this post, but just curious, that’s all…

  13. “What is worrying is that graduates come away thinking they know everything, or enough.”

    This problem isn’t just from those with PhDs. Most teenagers I know believe the same thing!

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