Newsletter No. 10 goes out tomorrow. Assuming I get it written. The essay in No. 9 was titled "Uneducation" and appears below. Subscribing to 10,000 Days is pretty simple: Look to the top of the page, go there, and click where it says "click right here." thank you for reading.
In the United States, we laud ourselves for valuing education.
This is bullshit. We don’t value education at any level. We value social status. We value wealth. We value our vanity as parents. There is little evidence that we value education.
In much of the country, especially in the inner city, our public school system is a shambles. It suits us to underpay teachers while our public commentators routinely denigrate the profession. Lack of funds forces those same underpaid, denigrated teachers to reach into their own wallets to buy basic supplies and books for their students. School boards and state committees stacked with religious zealots, ideologues, and idiots authorize textbooks replete with errors and omissions and terrible prose, and nobody can be bothered to object.
State and federal governments no longer bother to pretend genuine concern and no longer evince any desire to find solutions to these problems. For years, government has done all it can to subsidize a parallel private system that benefits only those with the means to pay for it, while the public system decays. What became of the ideal of education for the masses? Child, please.
I’ve spent the last 26 years working in higher education at an elite university, and the experience left me with growing disaffection for American higher education as well. A quarter-century of close observation of university administration, college development and admission professionals, parents, and students—especially the last two—has done nothing to convince me that education is the most valued part of the American college experience. A college degree has become an extraordinarily expensive work permit, obtained in the hope that the young adult who has just received that degree has a chance at being admitted to an occupation of acceptable social status. Whether that young graduate has actually been educated doesn’t even come up. Who cares, so long as the young woman or man has been certified as an obedient, trained technician who knows enough about the law or accounting or finance or medicine or computer code to land a socially valued job. (A category that does not include artist, thinker, tradesman, craftsman, or bureaucrat. Or school teacher. All of whom are essential, none of whom enjoy or benefit from social standing.)
If you were fortunate enough to receive an education, and not just pricey vocational training and social indoctrination, then you were taught how to read, how to discern quality, how to think about values and events, how to evaluate ideas and institutions and rhetoric with rigor and judicious skepticism. You have been taught enough of the past to assess and understand something of the present. You have been taught the culture’s fundamental stories, and equipped to intelligently question them. You have been taught that 12 or 16 or 20 years of genuine education is only the beginning, and you have been taught how to learn for the rest of your life.
Does this sound like what we do in our schools in this country? Not to me.
If you have an American college degree, it’s almost certain that in 2019, the highest paid person at your alma mater is either the president (and don’t start me on that overpaid and self-important klatch), the football coach, or the basketball coach. Enough said.
That a few dozen privileged, ethically unencumbered nitwits were recently indicted for getting their kids into “prestigious” American universities through fraud, deceit, and bribery shocks no one who has worked for one of those schools. Don’t for a minute think that any one of those dopes did it because they were desperate for their kid to get a good education. They don’t know the meaning of the word. Why would they? They are the product of American schools.