Saturday, October 22, 2011

STEM Sells

In politics, as in personal interactions, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with expressing anger.

If your anger draws attention to an issue, it serves a purpose. If it merely draws attention to you, it hasn’t.

Angry citizens can push the nation to address the issue of income inequality. Or it can make the angry few look like they are throwing a tantrum.

If people watch your protest and think that something is wrong with the financial system, that’s one thing. If they see you camped out in squalor, chanting and beating drums, without a leader or a theme, they are going to think that you have a problem.

A fine line separates those who are making a political point from those who are throwing a tantrum because they are not getting their way.

Which of these applies to the Occupy Wall Street protests? Are the protesters drawing attention to the inequities of capitalism or are they making fools of themselves?

In this case, we can follow the media coverage.

At first, news reports did address questions about executive compensation and income inequality. Few people, left or right, would agree that profits should be privatized while losses are socialized. 

The more the young protesters complained about their student loans, the more the commentators started addressing the higher education bubble.

Many, many students exit college today with a mountain of debt and minimal marketable skills. If they cannot find a place in the capitalist world does the fault lie with the capitalist system or with the parents and teachers who made them what they are today?

Are these young people alienated and disaffected because the world is unjust? Or are they alienated and disaffected because they were not brought up to function effectively in a free market economy?

If they cannot get or hold down a job, whose fault is it really? If they cannot compete, does the fault lie in the free market or in their upbringing?

The more the protests continue, the more people are asking how these young people were brought up and what kind of education they received.

The Occupy Wall Street protests are trying to indict American capitalism and especially the banking system. The more the nation watches their antics, the more it is seeing the failure of contemporary culture.

Today’s young people were brought up to be creative free spirits, well-rounded, full of self-esteem, happy and healthy, but not so wholesome.

They were not brought up to work hard and to excel. They were not taught to fit in and to affirm traditional American values. They were not taught the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin or James Madison. They were not taught to emulate George Washington or Alexander Hamilton. They were brought up to fulfill a therapeutic ideal.

Instead of teaching them math and science, their teachers, with the collusion of their parents and the culture at large, taught them to be mentally healthy.

Rigorous academic work was replaced by the dogmas of political correctness. Non-judgmental teachers refused to say that one student was better or smarter or harder working than another. Many teachers did not even accept that there were right and wrong answers.

Humanities courses rejected the wisdom of the ages and the achievements of a great nation and civilization. They became indoctrination mills dedicated to undermining American and Western values.

To a large extent they have succeeded. Having broken the system, and many students with it, it’s time for them to own it. Better that than sending their students out on a futile crusade against free enterprise. 

The products of this educational malpractice are now living over their parents’ garages. Unless they are camped out in squalor in lower Manhattan.

Sad to say, many of them are unemployed and unemployable.

It’s one thing to say that students contracted far too much debt. It’s more important to remark that the skills and knowledge they purchased for that debt will not help them to pay it off. Not to put too fine a point on it, they were defrauded.

A few days ago three Cornell University English professors convened a meeting to encourage students to major in English. Link here.

They acknowledged that a degree in English has no real value in the job market today. In the past it paved the way to an academic career, but sadly that is no longer possible.

Universities are overstaffed. Tenured faculty members prefer to stay around forever. And universities are so stuffed full of useless administrators that there is no money left to hire new faculty.

Of course, students and their parents have finally caught on. The population of students teaching Humanities course is shrinking. 

The Cornell professors recognized the realities of the situation. They recommended that students do a dual major, half in English and half in a useful subject.

Of course, this only works if English departments are still in the business of teaching English. As a former academic, I have no sympathy for Humanities departments who took it upon themselves to indoctrinate students in countercultural values, the better to undermine Western intellectual hegemony.

If the world is figuring out that the products of these departments mills do not even know how to write coherent reports, then the problem lies with the literature departments.

If the marketplace has come to understand that the products of these institutions have been disabused of the traits that constitute good character, then current students do well to take courses in other departments.

The tragedy of the higher education bubble is not just the trillion dollars in debt that has been accumulated. Given what college has done to their minds and their character, far too many young people today can aspire to nothing more than to be permanent wards of the state.

By now the Occupiers have drawn so much attention to themselves that they have piqued the interest of Gail Collins.

Hardly a right winger, Collins uses her New York Times op-ed this morning to reflect on American education.

Reporting on a study by one Richard Arun, Collins observes the sad fact that American college students lead the world in lethargy and sloth.

Only Slovakian students work less.

Of course, the study also shows that students who work the least tend to have the least promising employment prospects.

Between the educational system and therapeutically-approved child-rearing techniques, America has driven a stake through the heart of the Protestant work ethic. Her children are now paying the price.

Colleges teach students how to be creative and how to have fun. Yet, these do not enhance anyone's job prospects. They do not shine on a resume.

In truth, there are a few privileged sanctuaries where schoolchildren are forced to work very, very hard. Yet, their parents have difficulty accepting that their darlings have hour after hour of homework. Now, the counterculture propaganda machine has mounted an assault on an educational system that assigns too much homework. 

In the person of a movie called Race to Nowhere, American parents are still being told that it’s more important to be well-rounded and to learn to enjoy life than to work hard and excel.

By now college students and their parents have started to see the light. They have been migrating out of Humanities majors and into the STEM fields.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. A recent New York Times article reports that those majors are the ticket to career advancement and bright jobs prospects. Link here.

Unfortunately, these disciplines require hard work. They have right and wrong answers. They have no place for bloated self-esteem.

Your teacher is not going to excuse your mistake on your engineering assignment on the grounds that you were expressing your creativity.

If an engineer designs a motor that does not run or a roof that leaks, no one is think that he was being creative.

In STEM courses, your professor will not excuse your errors by saying that incoherent sentences and mindless drivel show untapped poetic potential. 

Unfortunately, there is no job market for unappreciated poets. Jobs in high tech are going begging, to the point where employers have to recruit abroad or to move their operations offshore.

This should surprise no one. If you have sat through a college level course in multivariable calculus or advanced engineering latterly you will have noticed that a large proportion of the students majoring in these fields are Asian.

How did this happen? I suspect that they were shielded from the American counterculture by their Tiger Moms.


David Foster said...

A big part of the problem is that higher eduction has been sold primarily in terms of the credential. It wasn't "learn stuff because learning stuff is interesting and makes you a better person," or even "learn stuff that you will need to know for your career," but rather "a college DEGREE will get you a better & higher-paying job." It's been all about the piece of paper.

If as an auto manufacuter you market your car in terms of "this car will attract hot girls," then when people come into the showroom you need not expect them to be interested in hearing about the innovative suspension and the cunning valve motion. That's not what they're buying it for. SImilarly, college has been sold in a way that ensure many students will have little interest in the educational aspect.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Great point... what could be more conducive to a sense of entitlement than the value placed on credentials... as though once you have the degree everything had better fall into place... or else you are going to feel that you are being victimized.

Third Coast said...

A local specialty paper plant recently underwent an expansion that required hiring approx. 250-300 new employees. A friend that works there told me that they didn't have too much trouble filling the first 100 or so positions. However, they had a devil of a time filling the remaining positions due to failure to pass drug tests or lack of rudimentary readin' and writin' skills.
These were the type of decent paying factory jobs that are supposedly so hard to find in this country today. Anecdotal, but I'm guessing the U.S. educational system is graduating a lot more functional illiterates today than in the past.

Katielee4211 said...

You say it so much better than I. :)
I wouldn't say parents were necessarily in collusion. I think many parents really had no idea what their kids were actually being taught. They thought their kids were being taught to read, write, add & subtract, history~~and taught in a way they themselves had been taught. Add to that the idea that teachers are somehow superior in their knowledge and ability to be the shining beacons of their children, and weren't to be questioned, and you have something of a free pass for an errant educational system with a questionable curriculum.
Today, degrees are a dime a dozen. They denote very little, much less 'well-educated' or 'bright'. I'd almost say the High School grad 0f 30 + years ago might be better grounded.

I'm appalled by the lack of ability of these 'bright' grads to simply write and spell. They aren't taught cursive these days apparently, so everything is printed---and looks like a 12- yr old wrote it. So does the spelling. They can't sound out simple words, it's like listening to 12 yr olds, too.

I work in the medical field and am appalled every day. And I'm even more horrified that this group, the OWS players of today will be running the country in another 30 or so years.

David Foster said...

Dual majors--English, etc. Management consultant Michael Hammer has argued that the best undergraduate preparation for the future executive would be a double major: one hard science or engineering field, and one rigorous humanity. Examples he cites are:

--electrical engineering and philosophy
--mechanical engineering and medieval history
--aeronautics and theology

I excerpted Hammer's thoughts here.

What Dr Hammer is talking about under the heading of "humanities," though, is a serious and difficult course of study. Unfortunately, the way universities have conducted their affairs over the last couple of decades has crippled any credibility they might have had re their ability to deliver such programs.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I agree with Katie Lee that many parents have simply not been paying attention to what their children are being taught. Of course, if they pay attention are object they are often chastised and criticized.

Unfortunately, they also know that if they complain their children's teachers might easily take it out on their children. Either by downgrading their performance or by humiliating them in class.

As a society we have given teachers far too much power and they, along with their media enablers, have done their best to stifle criticism.

I also agree with David that a dual major might make sense for some people, but only if the philosophy courses really teach philosophy and do not get mired in political correctness.

Anonymous said...

This generation has grown up being told that college is mandatory and high grades are all important. Learning a trade is considered embarrassing and entering the workforce without a degree is considered failure. These students who are majoring in soft subjects are just doing what they thought they were supposed to: getting a degree and keeping up their GPA. Now they are suddenly being told that neither matters and what they really need are marketable skills. It's easy to see why they would be angry for having followed the "rules" only to be punished with unemployment. They were told they were doing the right thing. It's just a pity that they blame the free market for not catering to their system rather than blaming the system for lying to them about the free market.

Dennis said...

Society did not make anyone go to college. If the OWS people were really serious about anything other than expecting others to pay their way they would be going after educational institutions that have mislead them. They would be going after a Democrat Congress and president who made the bailout possible. They would not be associating themselves with teachers unions or for that matter any union who was the beneficiary of these bailouts.
Colleges/universities graduate large numbers of people they have to know are never going to get a job in their chosen career. Just how many lawyers, concert musicians, artists, archeologists, et al does one think any society can support? What good are a bunch of upper level managers without the people too make it happen?
If many of those people who populate OWS were lead into believing it was movies like "Animal House" and the assorted ilk that portray higher education as some big party with a lot of drugs, alcohol and sex. For most of these people it is a four year vacation from responsibility.
A "where is the Beef" question for all of the OWS crowd, "Where we you when many of us were trying to stop the "bailouts?" Sans the bailout those on Wall Street and businesses that played fat and loose would have paid for their actions.
Instead we get a bunch of tribal ululations and whining. it is interesting to see the question posited that we did all that society expected us to do and we deserve to be pandered to, but are you not expecting others who did the same to pay for your desires and sloth?