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 has meant is that students aren’t learning 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, while 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.

9 thoughts on “Learning, Knowledge, and Credentials”

  1. Bill says:

    In most cases the reason college graduates are wanted in corporate America is that they have learned how to deal with bureaucracy to accomplish something which is ideal training for corporate America. College graduates are the “knights” of capitalism. They do the dirty work for the barons and dukes of upper management. They are dangled the opportunity to become a baron for their fealty but it rarely happens. Some of it is just numbers but a lot of it is the friends of the duke become barons.
    What I find worrisome is that at some point the dukes forget that it is a scam and start to believe. Of course, that is when the company fails but they can take a lot of people down when it happens.
    But I think the issue is the summary from the previous blog – “Mammon is now the American God”

  2. Mayhem says:

    Credentialism is entrenched in the modern world – indeed where once a bachelor’s degree was enough, now they’re looking for Masters or higher for the same roles. Roles which don’t need the qualification, and pay a fraction what it is worth.

    When you get franchise restaurants looking for servers who have a university degree, you know that University has become the equivalent of a high school education.

    I also regularly see a lot of “must have X years experience in Y”, which ironically often is asked about a technology that has only existed for 1/2 X years, so it’s literally impossible. That comes from HR requirements being written to protect the company, not to source good candidates.

  3. KevinJ says:

    People used to read, now they mostly watch video.

    Books used to be written in longer paragraphs than today, and paragraphs were composed of longer, more complex sentences.

    So, any connection, do you think? Did we used to get taught to think in more complex terms because of the media we were exposed to? Or am I turning correlation into causation?

  4. Postagoras says:

    Expertise is old-fashioned. It used to be that you could go through an apprenticeship or college and learn all the techniques for a lifetime of employment.

    That’s no longer the case.

    The tools available for both white-collar and blue-collar workers improved exponentially over the 20th and now 21st century. Jobs such as clerks, secretaries, assembly-line workers, cashiers have been radically changed or eliminated.

    And since the tools keep getting better, more jobs are getting transformed each day.

    Folks who have the ability and motivation to continually learn will be the survivors of the continually transforming job market.

    Alvin Toffler predicted this back in 1970, in his book Future Shock.

    1. Tom says:

      I am intrigued by the world having work available and people to work available but still a scarcity of workers. In Der Welt yesterday there was an article trying to put the blame on a deficiency of supporting resources such as child care reducing the number of able workers. I wonder if instead there may be a case for our creations outperforming human abilities. Or maybe humans misusing our innovations: demonstrated by the number of elected officials in congress, parliament, office meetings who are glued to their Tweeter-bugs instead of paying attention to their business.

      Yes that thought does not solve the problem. A culture that both demands excellence and provides the tools for people to reach their level of excellence, would work. Where does that leadership come from? The academics? The political leaders? Or ourselves? Few people have that inner drive.

  5. R. Hamilton says:

    Would there be a connection between the anti-free speech and free thought and highly biased (usually one way, but perhaps in Utah and some private institutions, the other way) ideology, and the tendency toward teaching tests and hoop-jumping (credentialism) rather than teaching rigorous thinking in combination with relevant facts and techniques?

    The one says it’s socially (or morally) evil to think other than approved thoughts, and the other says all we need to do is learn how to play the game. Both will tend to be unproductive and certainly uncreative, although the latter might at least produce tape-cutters to try and keep up with the excess of red tape otherwise promulgated.

    1. Shannt says:

      I think you’re right that the problem is that most Americans no longer value the objective of an education. The book, the Death of Expertise, addresses society lacking an appreciation for knowledge and expertise. I think part of the consequence of trying to make education accessible to everyone is that you’re making it accessible to people who don’t value it for the right reasons. The masses value the credential without attaining the skill or knowledge the credential represents which just leads to a lack of respect for the credential. I view a humanities degree as the essence of education but most of society views it as useless. Technical training masquerading as a university education is in vogue. R. Hamilton has a good point in that this is the result of ideology. The ideas that everyone should have the opportunity to pursue a college degree if they choose and upholding standards is discriminatory has led to degradation of the university, at least at the baccalaureate level. It may be getting to the postgraduate level, given that many professional masters degrees don’t require a thesis or individual research project.

  6. Tom says:

    To exist perchance to live we all have to play “game”.

    Having just street smarts usually gets you jail. Having just “critical thinking” may get you renown but also an early death as the artists and owners of “Putin windows ” know.
    Those with balanced Learning, Knowledge and Credentials and practical experience, can own the world. Only problem with the balanced ones is that they are usually the ones with ethics.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      Somewhat, somewhat. Proper grammar, an idea of what a business letter should look like, basic math (and enough statistics to know when they’re being abused), those are useful enough.

      But most credentials just show that someone has been exposed to certain concepts; except for higher credentials, they show little about mastery of techniques, let alone understanding that goes beyond re-digesting existing problems and on to solving new ones.

      A bit (but perhaps not most anymore) of what looks like “game” is structure, and that’s fine too, if you know when to use it and when it’s become an obstacle. There will of course be approved ways of changing things, and inertia; possibly what provokes some to start their own businesses.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *