Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Failure of Secondary and Post-Secondary Education: Just Grab a Dang Parachute

Secondary and post-secondary education is failing us. A growing number of critics have realized that the skills and knowledge young adults of my generation are equipped with in high schools and liberal arts colleges have little correlation to real-life jobs. We find that no one will hire us, and if we get a job, little of what we learned in school prepared us to do that job.

Part of the problem is the advice our parents gave us: that if you just get a college degree, you will be in a good position to find employment. Universities continue to defend this position, pointing to statistics say unemployment rates are higher with those who do not have college degrees than those who do. But perhaps the sort of people who tend to get college degrees are just the sort of people who tend to get jobs, not because of the degree but because of family connections, expectations about what is an acceptable life, motivation, or ability to impress an interviewer.

Why did my parent’s generation tell us to just get our college degrees and everything would work out? Because that was more true for their generation. Back then, many fewer people got college degrees and the job market was better. Today, to find a “good’ job most of us feel like we have to go to graduate school. Grad school is the new college. This phenomenon is called education inflation.

Another argument made by liberal arts colleges and high school literature teachers is that you should value this type of education for the enrichment of your life. But most people aren’t in it for the enrichment. Those who are should not seek the luxury of enrichment before they have the means to pay for it. Valuable societal resources (including labor and intellectual capital) are wasted for half of America to spend four prime years drinking and/or reading about post WWI Polish theater.

A final problem is our expectations. I have to blame our parents again. Maybe you really can be anything you want to be, but I assure you that all of us cannot be anything we want. There are just only so many jobs in international relations or French/English translation (and they’re mostly filled by someone who speaks both natively). This kind of overly-optimistic thinking may be another consequence of the self-esteem parenting model. Let me put it this way:

Forget about asking “What Color is Your Parachute?” When the plane is going down, there aren’t going to be enough parachutes to go around, and if you’re lucky enough to get one, you’re not going to care what color it is.

Solutions? I’ve said that secondary education is also failing us. High schools should not encourage everyone to go to college. More high school students should be prepared for jobs with trade-based skills, customer service skills, and administrative skills and work experience. Those of us who do go to college should first scan Craigslist. See how many are posted under the Art/Media/Design or even Business/Management. Then check out Skilled Trade/Craft. I was shocked at the difference. You might also check the prices of technical education. What a deal!

Photo Courtesy of Marion Doss.

1 comment:

Mrs. Dwyer said...

Grace.....having gone to college and nowing what jobs are out there, our advice to Lauren when she was choosing a major was to look in the want ads and select a major that correlated directly with a job, I.e., teacher, nurse, doctor, engineer, accountant. While this is not a fool proof method or as warm and fuzzy as liberal arts, it does eliminate some of the ambiguity of broad degrees. My best advice to recent high school grads iis choose a major that has a job connected to it, and that also goes for my students who want to get a trade...we all ned plumbers, eletricians, hairdressers, and car mechanics.