Learning, Knowledge, and Credentials

Sometime back, I wrote about some of the “innovations” proposed and since implemented by the local university, in order to create a three-year bachelor’s degree, a degree pushed by the state legislature. One of those “innovations” was to cut the length of the semester by twenty percent, without any increase in the length of classes or the number of classes. Despite all the rhetoric, what that means is that students won’t learn as much.

I’d thought about detailing more of the so-called improvements in education and pointing out how they actually degrade learning and how most students today know less, have lower critical thinking skills than their predecessors, and have more difficulty learning and recalling material.

But there’s little point in that exercise. Most of the American people have turned their backs on what used to be the objective of education, especially higher education, and that was the ability to read and write critically, to think analytically, to understand what numbers actually mean, and to obtain the skills to be able to learn and to attain new skills on a lifelong basis.

Instead, public education, at least through the collegiate baccalaureate level, has largely become a charade of exercises in mastering objective tests and obtaining paper credentials in the hopes of leveraging an inadequate education and an overstated degree into a job that will provide an adequate income.

It’s also become an incredibly expensive exercise, as millions of young Americans with massive student debt can testify, especially given that we’re graduating twice as many students from college every year as there are jobs requiring a college degree, and yet the mindless push for more students to go to college continues.

At the same time, we’re seeing a growing contempt for science, for verified facts, and for reasoned analysis of everything, and unthinking tribalism is running wild. All that suggests to me that, despite record high numbers of high school graduates and the proliferation of college degrees, the possession of credentials, and the mastery of the cellphone, Google, and objective tests, doesn’t help much with critical thinking, logical writing, or understanding and solving the problems facing the world.

11 thoughts on “Learning, Knowledge, and Credentials”

  1. Monica says:

    All that you are saying is true. However there is also a push in the job market to have that credential. Getting a job without one is limiting because some employers won’t even look at you if you don’t have it.
    I happen to know that if you have an associate degree. You can’t even appy to some jobs in education (classified, not a teacher), or secretarial positions without it. It’s required, even if the job duties are so basic that anyone should be able to do them.

  2. Stewart says:

    I agree with everything you said, but want to add my perspective as a soon to be college grad.
    Highschool was definitely little more than a push to get students through, rather than a foundation for formal education or training in practical life skills.
    My university has attempted, via forcing us to take large numbers of GE’s, to provide a well rounded academic education. I have appreciated it since I have a lot of interests and I’m on scholarship so I don’t have to worry about the costs of school as much.
    Most of those around me are really frustrated by my university’s GE structure, since it slows their progress towards getting certified with their degree. Getting a job with just an undergraduate degree has been getting harder and harder, while the costs have skyrocketed. Most of the people around me just want to get through school as fast as possible with the best job training they can get. For us, our degree is nothing more than a certification, an incredibly expensive one demanded by the job market. Most of us would prefer an option to get some other, faster, and cheaper form of certification without the frills of college.
    I think there are a lot of jobs that need the holistic education and experience that a traditional university experience can provide. The problem lies in the fact that college has become the main certification in the market and is blocking many with high school, GED, or associates degrees from qualifying.
    I’m generally highly skeptical and even antagonistic towards big-tech firms, but their current push for various forms of certifications will hopefully shift the market back to a healthier place where everyone is forced through college for a chance at a job.

  3. Lourain says:

    This is not a popular viewpoint, but my experience with education is that the majority of students are not equipped with the ability to benefit from your goals for higher education.

    “…the objective of education, especially higher education, ….. the ability to read and write critically, to think analytically, to understand what numbers actually mean, and to obtain the skills to be able to learn and to attain new skills on a lifelong basis.”

    The only way higher education became attainable for all was by reducing ‘education’ to memorization and regurgitation. And so our desire to provide equality of opportunity to succeed or fail turned into equality for all, no matter what one’s abilities or lack thereof.

  4. R. Hamilton says:

    Seems basic that some are just not equipped, whether by nature or nurture or both, to climb past the bottom rungs of the ladder, no matter what process they’re subjected to for how many years. For a little longer, that’s ok, we still need people to do the repetitive tasks that would bore others to distraction. Not much longer and they’ll be obsolete, though. And we can’t reasonably have a competent (economic/intellectual, NOT implying any other sort) minority supporting a marginally incompetent majority. Even if we had sci-fi tech that could provide free basics for everyone without taxing anyone else, should we REALLY do that, and remove life’s testing to sometimes breakage that would at least encourage some to escape from lifelong dependency? Is the best outcome merely the maximum number of undead bodies, even if their minds are little better than dead?

    Seems to me that the “science” of society AND economics was summed up by Heinlein long ago: TANSTAAFL. That includes what people (and their parents when they’re young) put into the process.

    BEFORE high school, the basics of math, literacy, writing a sourced and footnoted paper, etc should all be in place, as well as some encouragement to theorize and then TEST the theory. I’ve seen kids do it (having recently been asked to read a friend’s kid’s multimedia – but mostly written – draft presentation), it is possible. Granted they were in good schools, among mostly students there to learn rather than be babysat, and with even the average case being supportive parents with high albeit realistic expectations. Someone without those advantages would certainly be worse off. But I don’t see that being about money so much, except maybe in underperforming rural schools. A lot of city schools spend more per student than private schools, but get miserable results. IMO, that’s because their first problem is just having the students show up and not assault each other and feed them because their parents either couldn’t afford it or couldn’t be bothered; and that the perverse notion has taken hold in the most struggling communities that actually learning in school is somehow submissive (rather than a key to a successful future).

    Maybe we need PARENT training.

    As for science vs non-science, sure that’s part of the problem; or rather, a symptom of the problem. But anyone can claim that science is on their side, when even a reasonably educated non-specialist has little chance of testing claims themselves, at least as presented with mere assertions and sound bites. So if someone claims that “science” says we distance and mask for another year, I say show me the evidence and don’t tell me that downside consequences of that plan are above your pay grade (as I seem to recall that Dr. Fauci did).

    If an epidemiologist shifts his herd immunity numbers over time to manipulate mass behavior according to what he ESTIMATES might provide best outcomes, where the heck is the science in that? Seems more like propaganda to me – just obey and ignore the man behind the screen.

    The proof of understanding something is being able to explain the basics to a reasonably intelligent non-specialist, with no more than basic math – not quite in a sound bite, but hopefully in a page or less. Without that, trust is neither likely nor appropriate.

    Problems start at home, but the consequences go all the way up to the top.

    1. Chris says:

      While I personally find probably and statistics easy, most people would not consider it basic math. But those are exactly what is needed to explain AND understand the implications of actions.

      Expecting basic math to be able to convey how the virus will spread, when there are thousands of people involved in any area, the weather (both humidity and wind) play a factor, and how much virus someone is expelling when they are sick but asymptotic is not reasonable or even feasible.

    2. Tim says:

      The BBC presented what appeared to be basic statistical measures for the virus in the UK.

      The problem is that these evolved over time and so essentially became different measures, and comparing the same apparent measures from other countries – as in the John Hopkins university League Table of Death – is in my view – pointless as different countries can publish the same measures based on different criteria.

      1. Tom says:

        Unfortunately:

        “The proof of understanding something is being able to explain the basics to a reasonably intelligent non-specialist, with no more than basic math – not quite in a sound bite, but hopefully in a page or less. Without that, trust is neither likely nor appropriate.”

        This only works where there is a will to understand. As we have seen time and again over the last four years (and much longer in fact) there has been and still is …
        “a growing contempt for science, for verified facts, and for reasoned analysis of everything” …

        So Keeping It Simple Sincerely does not guarantee progress in – LEARNING, KNOWLEDGE, AND CREDENTIALS.

  5. Postagoras says:

    I wonder whether the vision of schools that teach kids “reasoned analysis” and “thinking analytically” is nostalgia for a time that never was?
    I just don’t know of a time when the majority of high school graduates were taught reasoned analysis. Classical Greek, yes. Latin, yes. Is Bookkeeping “reasoned analysis”? Perhaps algebra qualifies, but why teach reasoned analysis in something that is not part of most people’s adult life? Because you need to learn that reasoned analysis is only applied to esoteric, useless practices (for most people)?
    Looking back, the most pertinent pre-college class that I could’ve taken to teach me reasoned analysis was Home Economics. But being male, I couldn’t apply.

    1. Tom says:

      “reasoned analysis” was taught when we did our “comprehension” exercises, tests and exams.

      “reason analysis” was part of every science class in one way or another and I would have thought it to be in all subjects – even when the teachers did not draw our attention to the process itself.

      What we never got in a consistent manner was all our teachers “teaching” reasoned analysis as with the “Professor T” TV series for example. And that is where there is one difference of opinion between those blaming the student for lack of “learning’ and those blaming the teachers for weakness in communication of subject matter.

      “Perhaps algebra qualifies, but why teach reasoned analysis in something that is not part of most people’s adult life? Because you need to learn that reasoned analysis is only applied to esoteric, useless practices (for most people)?” …

      Here I think you are wrong. We all do “reasoned analysis” every day simply because we make decisions every day. The problem we have at the moment is that we do not consciously realize this to be the case and apply the system to the best of our ability.

      1. Postagoras says:

        I was being sarcastic in my comment about algebra. My point is that reasoned analysis is taught in math and science classes, but most people aren’t scientists, and only use arithmetic (if that). Yes, of course there are commonplace uses for algebra and geometry, but they’re rare in a world wide web of helpers.
        I was not really kidding about Home Ec. Think about it, would someone learn more reasoned analysis deciding how to buy a car or rent an apartment, or by determining the boiling point of bloxofene?
        Both are valuable from a teaching point of view, but one might land a bit easier with the kids, and stick a bit more.

        1. Tom says:

          Right on

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