Our education system may turn out way too many “dummies,” writes Robert J. Samuelson in the Washington Post. But our informal, ad hoc “learning system” helps us succeed anyhow. Samuelson is talking about “community colleges; for-profit institutes and colleges; adult extension courses; online and computer-based courses; formal and informal job training; self-help books.”
First, it provides second chances. It tries to teach people when they’re motivated to learn — which isn’t always when they’re in high school or starting college. People become motivated later for many reasons, including maturity, marriage, mortgages and crummy jobs . . .
Second, it’s job-oriented. Community colleges provide training for local firms and offer courses to satisfy market needs . . .
Up to a point, you can complain that this system is hugely wasteful. We’re often teaching kids in college what they should have learned in high school — and in graduate school what they might have learned in college. Some of the enthusiasm for more degrees is crass credentialism. Some trade schools prey cynically on students’ hopes and spawn disappointment. But these legitimate objections miss the larger point: The American learning system accommodates people’s ambitions and energies — when they emerge — and helps compensate for some of the defects of the school system.
Stuart Buck also writes about the value of formal vs. on-the-job education. He asks: What would you need to know to open and run a McDonald’s? You won’t learn it in school — except, of course, for Hamburger University.