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The Miseducation of America

The last two years have been another reminder that education is not equivalent to competence, intelligence or experience, let alone wisdom, as an administration of people who have hardly held actual jobs outside of academia have proven that they are very good at assigning blame and conducting internal rivalries, and absolutely terrible at everything else. William F. Buckley famous opined that he would "sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University". We have spent the last two years being governed by Harvard faculty members, and they have done such an excellent job of it that in the future the Boston telephone directory may well replace the ballot box. Point to a few names at random and call it a day.

Defenders of the administration have taken to worrying in the op-ed pages about the spread of anti-intellectualism, but it isn't anti-intellectualism that it's in the wind, but pro-competence. Americans respect education, but have a limited tolerance for incompetence. Rather than demonstrating intelligence and competence, academia has ushered in intellectual cliques wedded to buzzwords who insist that the world should conform to their research papers, rather than the other way around. These cliques can rule the roost in faculty departments, using tenure to squash unpopular views. They can use bullying tactics to monopolize entire fields of study, as they have done with climate science. But they cannot rule the country for very long.

Americans are averse to tyranny and incompetence. Put the two together and you get an angry reaction. The academic pecking order is undemocratic, and when confronted with public dissent, reacts with snide superiority. A superiority based not on results, but on the degrees of its own closeted hierarchy. The problem with any educational system, is that it is a system. And systems are designed to replicate themselves. The true product of an educational system is not knowledge, but attitudes and perspectives toward that knowledge. What begins with the teaching of learning techniques, ends with the indoctrination of attitudes. The more academic the subject, the more its education is a transmission of attitudes, rather than techniques.

Countless presidential administrations have made education their focus. Clinton promised college degrees for everyone as a panacea for the departing jobs headed overseas. In an age when the oral transmission of ideas seems oddly archaic, the obsession with handing out government financed sheepskins to everyone at large makes less and less sense. Obama's State of the Union address pushed the theme that we need more education in order to compete with China. But China isn't beating us because they have more philosophy majors receiving their diplomas along with six figure student debts. They are underselling us with cheap labor.

Socialist countries embrace universal higher education as a sign of their progressiveness, but routing all the sheep through the university corral is not the same thing as having a knowledge based culture. Russia has one of the highest education rates in the world, and yet a third of the population believes that the sun revolves around the earth. That's because handing out degrees is not the same as handing out the ability to think or the desire to learn.

Despite Russia's more comprehensive educational system, its science was never a match for our own. And as numerous former Soviet scientists have attested, the difference lay in the freedom of inquiry. While American children grew up free to think for themselves, Russian children were subjected to a narrow party line. And so American science boomed, while Russian science marched along in rigid conformity.

The American boom was less the product of formal education, than of an open society. America's greatest inventors were not the products of great academic institutions.

Thomas Edison was homeschooled. So was Benjamin Franklin. The Wright brothers never finished High School. George Eastman dropped out of High School to support his mother. Charles Goodyear never went beyond public school. Isaac Singer hardly attended school at all. Hiram Maxim was self-taught. Elisha Otis did not go past a basic education. The honor roll of American inventors who revolutionized the world is filled with men with minimal educations who were considered average or even stupid by the schools they attended. And even the present day computer revolution was built up by college dropouts like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

That isn't to say that we don't need a system of higher education that can turn out engineers and scientists, but rather that what we need more is an open society where people are free to follow their own passions and where innovation is rewarded, rather than punished. The American miracle was a confluence of industry and inventiveness-- rather than of education. American education was never all that unique or particularly good-- it was the frontier where necessity proved the mother of invention and the open expectations of a society where finding a new way to do something was admired rather than frowned upon, that made America so remarkable.

Today that society is on the brink of extinction, driven to the edge of the cliff by a stultifying power structure as oppressive as many of those that so many immigrants had originally fled from. What innovation we have left goes into designing Chinese manufactured products. The triumphs of American science have long ago ceased to be Made in America. Groupthink has set in outside of cutting edge fields. The only way to think for yourself is to break new ground. This has spurred on the unlimited development of the internet, at the expense of so many other fields.

George Eastman and Thomas Edison are dead. George Goodyear and Benjamin Franklin are long gone. And academics who have not achieved a fraction of their work, or possess even a spark of their genius, aspire to rule us. The same academic orthodoxy that proclaims that global warming is absolute fact and manipulates and suppresses all information to the contrary-- is trying to run the country the same way.

How many times have we gotten news reports that the recovery is underway. This is news to the average American either collecting unemployment insurance or worriedly hanging on to his or her job. But the same reasoning that treats the worst January blizzard in ages as proof of Global Warming, can view negative economic statistics and still reinterpret them as proof of a recovery. When the academic orthodoxy establishes a fact, contradictory data are interpreted as further proof of that fact. As a self-contained intellectual structure, this works out all-right. Millions of people think that way every day. But any field dominated by men who reason this way is a dead field. And running a country that way is disastrous.

The problem with the educational system is that it is a system, and living systems strive to replicate themselves. Each system replication leads to a degradation of integrity and tighter parameters, until eventually you end up with idiots repeating ideas they no longer understand, with their primary goal being to prevent the dissemination of contradictory information and the modeling of obstructive behavior. Tyranny in short.

Academia, like every hierarchy, fosters the illusion that rising through the hierarchy leads not only to internal superiority, but universal superiority. That the function of the inner group represents the core function of the outer group. It is natural to think that way. So many professions and practices are certain that the country would come to a crashing halt without them. But it is still an illusion.

The miseducation of America has been the belief that the university matters more than the man. That we can only win if, in the words of Harvard Law grad Barack Obama, we "out-educate" China. But we've been waving sheepskin in front of the sheep with few results. Many colleges now have to teach basic reading and arithmetic to new students. We have more education than ever, but it's worth less and less. Like Russia, we are handing out degrees, not the freedom to think independently. And if we are going to beat China, it won't be by manufacturing buzzwords, but by manufacturing products. And that takes freedom from repression by bureaucracy, academic and ecocracy.

The progressives fancied that science could make men as predictable and regular as clockwork, but academic heavy administrations have usually made a botch of it. The JFK administration with its roster of professors could hardly get meatloaf out of the oven. Woodrow Wilson, the only president with a PhD, was completely unsuited to running a real world country. And the Obama administration's disastrous tenure is another reminder why.

Of the last five occupants of the Oval Office, four went to Yale or Harvard. The fifth was Ronald Reagan. Which of the five would you rather be governed by?


  1. Jew61316/2/11

    One of the saddest results of the effort to "outeducate" is that good jobs which were once available to anyone who was willing to work hard and learn on the job(Auto Mechanic, Electrician, Machinist) increasingly require college degrees to even get your foot in the door.

    So now to even have a shot at these jobs someone has to spend years in school and spend huge amounts often requiring heavy debts.

  2. Home schooling rocks! It is the best way to go.

    Children better after finishing.They find better and higher paying jobs too. They are smarter and better read.
    Now if the government would stay out of education, things would improve a lot.

  3. Currently, there are so many broken things in the world of education, that I don't know if it could ever be repaired.
    For one thing, it would require educating a whole new generation outside the system, which is as likely to happen as a 'gender studies' student forming a healthy, steady relationship.

    Personally, I'm so glad I managed to go around it so far. A crowd of self-loving young 'scholars' triggers my violent urges.

  4. It has gotten to the point in a lot of fields that education trumps experience, and the only way to move up the ladder(or even get a raise) is by getting higher and higher degrees. Some fields now require an MS or even a Ph.D just to get your foot in the door!

    What is even more annoying is the culture of elitism we now find ourselves in. The higher degreed look down upon the lesser degreed, and the degreed at large look down upon all those who don't have any degree at all, as if they are somehow "better" than the rest.

    There was a time perhaps when that was true. But that day passed loooooong ago when higher education became nothing but a trade school for a lot of occupations. Once it became a trade school it opened the door for the massive expansion of higher education and now we have the proliferation of community colleges and for-profit college franchises - all trade schools writ large, and some nothing but "diploma mills."

    Even so, the axiom has become, "I'm a better person than you because I have a degree." "I'm a better person than you because I have a higher degree." "I'm a better person than you because I went to Podunk U. and not Podunk State." "I'm a better person than you because I went to Columbia and not Podunk U." "I'm a better person than you because I went to Harvard and not Columbia." So, since they have a degree, and that makes them a "better" person, then how much "better" are they to tell those who are not how to run their lives?

  5. On the money again with this article.

    As the saying goes, "necessity is the mother of invention." That was the case of the Great Depression era population. Unless you were very rich college was out of the question. No education loans or financial aid. Instead, they relied on experience and common sense. Occupations were passed down from father to sons.

    In any event, the greatest generation became succesful be natural creativity and life experiences. That's why they could get well-paying jobs with high school diplomas (in my father's case, a fifth grade education).

    Some people would shudder at that, but when you have to give up school to support your family, you do. But he learned things naturally (what today we would call critical thinking skills). The long and short of it is that he managed to live the american dream for the working class--wife, children, car and house ownership.

    OT but sad to think how few of the upper middle class have mortagage burning parties that at one time were common.

    And my brother? LOL. As a kid somehwat of a BS artist. As a young adult seemed to have a golden horseshoe over his head. As a full-time military man his BS translated into creativity and ended with a retirement party in which high ranking officers from the state made a rare appearance.

    My brother only has a high school diploma.

    I'm with Lemon on this. Home schooling is the way to go. And it best promotes the creative spirit that the world needs. Too many diploma mills aka self admiration cliques.

  6. Ronald Reagan every time... and I'm English!

  7. Murder_city,
    I couldn't agree more, and it's good to hear others saying this as well.

    The requirement of a degree to be a bank teller, for example, is ridiculous. Is a person who spent 3-4 years in college studying anything necessarily better suited to serve customers than one who went straight to the job market?
    Businesses are equating degrees with intelligence levels, when they are actually choices. Not only that, but by forcing this choice, the whole market suffers - young people waste their prime years partying in a 'degree-mill', chugging beer on their parents' expense, instead actually making money.

  8. much of higher education is really an employment agency for the left

  9. Craig16/2/11

    I got something burning on my mind here... you think the (Left-wing) whole college/academia scene is just a time-bomb waiting to explode?

    (1.) Kids go to college, where their professors, who are mostly Left-wing and/or liberals, teach them such BS, and tell them to vote for politicians of the same side of the ideological divide.
    (2.) Kids go out and vote for said politicians.
    (3.) Politicians get elected and ruin everything, including the economy.
    (4.) The economy stinks, and now these same college kids, most* of whom voted for such politicians now can't get a job... but they got LOTS of debt to pay off now which the college loan companies will be wanting back.
    (5.) And the cycle continues...

    ...OK, Seriously, don't the college loan people realize that this is a bad model, and they might never get their money back at this rate? I almost want to call them up myself and say, "Hey, you guys, maybe you should tell the colleges to stop telling their students to vote for Left-wing/Liberal/Democrat politicians who ruin the economy; don't you want these kids to get jobs so they can pay you back?"

    *(I say "most" because not ALL of them voted for that side; I myself am one of the lucky few who was smart enough to see through it. I admit it, I am truly ashamed of my generation and to be considered in the same age group as them. At least I can take some consolation in the fact that, compared to most of these other kids, I owe a lot less in college loans for a degree in art history, which is probably much more valuable then some truly BS degrees, i.e. "gender studies" or "women's studies".)

  10. HermitLion:
    my point exactly!

    I can see why the US has lost competitiveness with other nations as a result. Higher degrees are required to fill a lot of upper management jobs, with no experience required. The people who get these jobs do nothing but surround themselves with yes-men and fire/demote anyone who dares disagree with them, and chaos ensues.

    This is particularly true of government agencies. Remember the post office shootings? I know that was quite a few years ago, but it's a perfect example.

    In the meantime, those of us who have experience but not the sheepskin get passed over for promotions/raises/licensure but we are expected to show the newbies who will eventually become our bosses how to run things. Or worse yet, face disciplinary action because we don't do things the way the newbies think we're supposed to do them...even though we've learned from experience that is how things have to be done.

    When I was a lot younger I wondered why a lot of my co-workers only did enough to "get by." As the years went on I realized why! What's the use? Do enough to get by, and get in trouble, or, try to excel, and then really get in trouble!!!

  11. Anonymous16/2/11

    Sultan Knish, I can always count on you for wise and worthy commentary! We homeschool and I believe that much good fruit will come from it for our nation. I would like to add that the child labor laws we have prevent children from learning meaningful skills under the training of adults other than their parents. These laws stunt the growth and development of young people. Work, coupled with education is much more valuable than education coupled with idle time in front of a video game/facebook. Having the freedom to work would go a long way to producing able-bodied, clear thinking, focused adults.


  12. Anonymous16/2/11

    Academics are the most mentally homogenous and protected group in the world -- yet they think they are the cutting edge because among their number they see different races, etc. They are still all basically the same person, self-assured, quarrelsome, narrow expertise, and no experience outside the ivory tower.

  13. Anonymous16/2/11

    A few years ago I enrolled at the university to take the courses I needed for my certificate after a long hiatus from teaching. I had spent several years staying home with my family. When my youngest daughter was ready to enter 1st grade I decided I was ready to go back to work. A lot had changed in the 20 years since the first time I was in college. Students in teaching colleges (normal schools) were once held to a high standard. That is not the case anymore. These days just about every education course is brain washing in how to break your class into "cooperative groups" for inquiry based learning so that the students can construct their own knowledge. Everyone I know worships Kagan (the father of cooperative learning) and his book is their Bible. While at the university I felt like I was taking the same class over and over just repackaged according to what the subject area was. They don’t teach the subjects they teach how to tow the party line in the education world. All I did was write papers and plan the arrangement of my "dream class." Here's an example of the stupidity in today's world of education. In one class the professor divided us into groups and gave each group a stack of newspapers. We were to build a bridge that could withstand the weight of a book bag full of books. After the bridge activity we were to write a paper called "building bridges." I think I wrote all the hokey stuff about building bridges with my team members as well as with the students and how we cooperated just like we expect our students to cooperate. Good grief - I felt like an idiot. I was the only 40 something mom - 2nd time college attendee in there.

    I work with teachers who have the worst grammar and spelling in the world. One day I heard a teacher say "She don't..." My principal spelled "seperate" (among other really horrible spelling and grammar errors - I don't know how that woman earned any kind of degree) and one teacher I work with taught her class a lesson on the "Pilgrams." She also writes Wensday on her board every Wednesday morning. I complained to a friend of mine about the horrible grammar in a certain series of books and she said that she felt that the kids were at least reading and getting language. That's the typical whole language proponent's response.
    I went to a workshop about teaching Language Arts and the instructor made an obvious (at least to me) grammatical error. I mentioned it over lunch to the other teachers from my school and not one person at the table knew what I was talking about. When I explained it one lady said, "Well you should be an English teacher." You don't have to be an English major to hear the error this lady made.

    I realize your article wasn't really on the stituation in the public schools but more on the elitist attitude in the universities. I think we're seeing such a dumbing down in the educational system that our country is in dire peril in the next few decades.

    To Nadine and Lemon, I heartily agree with you both about home schooling. I've known so many home schoolers who were smart and well rounded as well as polite and easy to talk to. I taught all my kids to read long before they went to school much to the surprise of their teachers.

    While working on my certification I was also able to earn an Elementary Master's Degree since I was considered a post-baccalaureate student. I also worked an extra year to get a master's in reading. Guess what, all the courses were the same as I mentioned above. Believe me, it was no great accomplishment - just a lot of busy work discussing reading strategies (anything but phonics) on discussion boards. Like you said in your article "We have more education than ever, but it's worth less and less." Amen to that!


  14. I had a similar enough experience. We've gone from a knowledge based culture to an educational system based on acting out learning routines that don't actually teach anything.

  15. I think you hit a gold mine here, Sultan.

    Seems like many people who actually know how to use their brain have quarrels with the education system and its doctrines.
    The damage they have caused should be brought to light, for the sake of parents, students, children, and everyone else who sees there's something wrong, but is afraid to speak up.

  16. Anonymous17/2/11


    My question is, is anyone else trying to talk about this? Allan Bloom tried to bring this up, albeit indirectly, over 20 years ago but nobody paid any attention. Maybe now that there are so many people with bachelor's degrees who can't get jobs...?

  17. Well, Anonymous, that's exactly my point. We should at least start calling out this ghoul of education for what it is.

    It seems natural to my generation to think that someone has to be 27 before he can start earning 'real money'. And even then companies exploit their lack of experience by giving low initial salaries (if they get hired at all).

    Does any country with a struggling economy afford to have her sons and daughters 'preparing' for a job for so long?
    The education sector is the sole winner here, as it rakes in a ton of payments from students, and parents.
    In my very humble opinion, this system of institutionalized theft is unsustainable in the long run.

  18. Education is a mess in grammar school too. In my opinion it can destroy a child's ability to learn into higher education. There are too many experimental teaching theories out there. One of the worst I saw among a friend's daughter was the removal of phonics and replacement with a theory that simply taught kids to recognize words by sight.

    The girl was labeled learning disabled just because she had a poor memory. When a private tutor taught phonics viola! No learning problems at all. But the poor kid had the stigma for a while of being in special ed.

    As for college education--they are indoctrination centers. They don't really care if students learn to think critically or question and probe the subject material. Just spout the party line.

    OT again but don't even get me started on the credit card companies that are invited to colleges and sign students up for credit cards (I was roped into four) based on projected income based on your major.

  19. Nadine18/2/11

    John Taylor Gatto has written several books on the topic of our failed public system as well as the story of who and why it was designed the way it is. The system actually is doing what it is supposed to do which is to create a population that is easily manipulated by government and business interests. Aren't we all taught to believe that government is the solution to every problem and to consume, consume, consume? That is it in a nutshell. Other interests are also satified such as the financial interests of all the adults involved.

    Only now that I am learning history and so many other things I never learned (even though I have a graduate degree in engineering) by homeschooling my children have I come to realize that I was never an "educated person" like I thought I was, only a trained technician with some knowledge and skills - enough to be useful in my capacity as an engineer to business interests but never a threat to the status quo.

    I hope and pray my children WILL be educated people one day in the classical sense of the word and that they will be well-rounded. Not cogs machined to fit in a machine, but whole people.


  20. Anonymous21/2/11

    Another issue tangential to what you wrote about is that it is almost impossible to BUILD any sort of business: You often need to deal with a whole multitude of city, district, county, state and federal agencies. They chisel away at your bank account with fees here and fees there for this permit or that license.

    Let's say you want to build a factory, in of all places, California. On land not previously developed.

    In addition to getting building permits from your city, you could have to deal with the EPA, Fish and Game, the Departments of Agriculture and Transportation. An EIR to satisfy the EPA can cost upward of a million dollars. Fish and Game get in on the act because you are near a stream. The Air Quality Management District gets in on the act to. Not to mention the Area Water Quality Management District...

    Also, since the Federal government owns over 30% of the land in the United States, and 46.5% if the land in California, you will probably get involved in any of some other Federal agencies: BLM, BIA, DoD, DoE, Forest Service...

    And the local sewer, water, fire, school districts will all get in on the act--with their hands out for money...

    None of this is coordinated. One agency may tell you that you have to have BLUE widgets, while another agency specifically FORBIDS blue widgets. And each agency has to review your docs--AND CHARGE YOU FOR THEIR TIME! And G-d knows, it can only be performed linearly.

    Then, of course, you have to deal with unions. Even if it's not a union job, they will find a way to screw up your work. Of course, Bacon-Davis fries you ass...

    And then some idiot without standing will sue to stop construction, and another idiot judge will let them...

    No wonder they build in China...


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