Actual tweet from a college football player, whose name I will keep to myself:

“I do not want to go to school.”

As a rabid consumer of college football and active Twitter-er*, I follow lots of “student athletes”, and courtesy of the ubiquitous re-tweet, am privy to the thoughts of many more I do not actively keep up with. What I notice is by and large is most of these guys hate school. Hate it. They tweet in sub-4th grade grammar about what a labor Econ 101 is. What a waste of their time school is. They notoriously need tutors not only to propel them through their studies, but to make sure they attend in the first place. These guys are the result of rules put in place by the big leagues of most major US sports: in basketball, it’s referred to as “One and Done”. Go to college for one year and then you can declare for the pros. In college football, guys are required to be 3 years removed from high school in order to be eligible for the rookie draft to “mentally and physically” develop. There’s no doubt that they turn into physical specimens. Most high level football programs do a fair enough job of teaching the guys to muster more discipline than they would have attained had they remained in the wilds of their previous environments, but there is a fatal flaw in this forced education. In order to have anything more than accidental or sporadic success, you need to have an ideal to strive for. Leonard Rose always talked about hearing the sound you want and then playing. Picture the goal in order to reach it. Same here. Most of these athletes don’t dream about a degree, about finishing school. They dream in terms of contracts and endorsements, of models and ears dripping in diamonds. As a big believer in our wacky American experiment, I say let them. But when you put something in the way of a motivated person’s goal, they will dispense with whatever that hindrance is with haste and little deference.

Does anyone else see the problem with filling our institutions of higher education with people who are largely unqualified and unhappy to be there? If the issue was reversed, there would be no question: Would we allow an athlete whose leg is certain to shatter play football? Would we put our slowest runner on the Olympic relay team? What would that do to the team? What message would it send?

Take a look at this, posted on Ain’t Baroque.

This is only a slight exaggeration of the bizarre-yet-common exchange, and it’s repeated year in and year out at music schools all over the country.

The problem with sending nearly everyone to college is it disfigures what continuing education should be and also sends the message that skilled trade workers who would not normally pass through a university are somehow inadequate.

We’re turning institutions of higher learning into 13th grade, and considering how spotty our K-12 can be, that does not bode well. My father teaches a university level critical thinking course, a subject that serves as a kind of canary in the mineshaft or exit poll for our high schools. It is astonishing how many students lack the ability to use reasoning, which could arguably be pointed to as the entire genesis of higher education: learning how to make better, more sophisticated choices when using inferences to draw conclusions. Giving degrees to the ill-equipped in order to fulfill some Byzantine ideal is like legalizing shoplifting to drive down crime rates. It’s cooking the books, straight out of Enron’s “mark to market” accounting treatment, where as soon as a profit was projected it was actually added to the balance sheet. This stuff only works on paper, and even then, not well. Just because you have more people in college than ever before does not mean we are a more educated country.

It’s just a shame, the whole thing. The job market is now so heavily front-loaded with people who have degrees that the employment bar necessarily gets raised to make sure the truly motivated people are the ones who end up with the key positions. The new graduates have a mountain of debt and a piece of paper to tuck under their Starbucks cap while they work their tails off and wonder what the hell they just spent 4 (or 5, or 6) years doing while a few people go back for a masters if they’re not broke or working in an area completely unrelated to their alleged field. This is not the same context the degrees of 20 years ago existed in, where a bachelor’s degree meant that you were really serious about what you were doing.

What happened to getting good at something by doing it and going from there? Learning from someone who is an expert? Maybe at a university…maybe not? I almost wrote “It would be nice if we were a country of people who were all truly appropriate for the university environment.” but then I realized that I don’t agree with that statement. It takes all kinds of skills and knowledge to make a well rounded culture, and too much of any one influence is a detriment to the whole. Not all wisdom is scholarly, and going to college certainly doesn’t make you smart.

“Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.”

-John W. Gardener

*Quite possibly the earliest I have ever used a fake word in a post. An auspicious start.

Cartoon by the undeniably clever Gary Larson, of course.