Listening to NPR on the way to work a few days ago, I heard yet another flawed story on education. A young guy made it out of the South Bronx and is now working on a higher level education degree in Ivy League Successville. But the fact that he is so rare might be evidence of a widespread problem rather than proof that “the American Dream” is alive.
What to say?
1. “The American Dream is a sales slogan designed to make people think that going into debt is ethical and responsible behavior. It is the mother of all entitlement mentalities.
2. Why do I never find people wringing their hands over all the young people stuck in small town America, who never go anywhere beyond cashiering at a nearby highway convenience store? Why do only people in N.Y., L.A., or Chicago get the attention?
3. What would happen if everyone did “get an education”? Suddenly an education would be worth a lot less and all the talking heads would start claiming that everyone needs a doctorate. Journalists and pundits would wring their hands over all the young kids from South Bronx who never get more than a Master’s Degree.
4. Education has been one way that some people have risen above mediocrity. By definition, not everyone can rise above mediocrity. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be mediocre. Education is not a path for everyone because it can’t be one.
5. What everyone can do, is strive to do their best. The standard of living can go up. Tomorrow’s mediocre can be better than yesterday’s. But there is no reason to believe that getting everyone “an education” will bring about this result.
6. It is a damaging delusion to believe that education is always or even mostly accomplished in an institutional setting. What gets touted as an “education” is really simply a certificate. And the value of the certificate is mostly due to the fact that, until they wake up, people treat it like a license.
7. The effort devoted to promoting education could be better spent encouraging people to do their best and better themselves, without worrying about whether this is or is not done in an academic setting.