Can tech break the college monopoly?

Online courses will revolutionize higher education when learners can earn low-cost credentials that lead to jobs, writes Kevin Carey in the New York Times. Carey is the author of The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere

. . .  traditional college degrees are deeply embedded in government regulation and standard human resources practice. It doesn’t matter how good a teacher you are — if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree, it’s illegal for a public school to hire you. Private-sector employers often use college degrees as a cheap and easy way to select for certain basic attributes, mostly the discipline and wherewithal necessary to earn 120 college credits.

However, Carey believes alternative credentials such as badges will break colleges’ “near-monopoly” on job qualifications. And most students go to college to get a better job, he writes.

Not so fast, responds economist Bryan Caplan.

Degrees signal an array of traits: not just intelligence, but work ethic, conformity, and more.  “Harvard dropout” tells the job market, “This person was promising enough to get into Harvard, but so lazy and/or non-conformist that he wasted this golden opportunity.”

Conformity to social norms is a valued job attribute, adds Caplan. “Employers focus at least as much on workers’ general competence and people skills” as they do on specific skill sets.

He’d love to believe Carey is right, but he concludes “the status quo has a massive built-in advantage” because of the importance of “conformity signaling.” Furthermore, “governments at all levels annually cement the status quo’s advantage with hundreds of billions of dollars of subsidies.”

All the stuff I learned in school

Sarah Hoyt, thinks back on all the stuff she learned in school in a Portuguese village. Until fourth grade, when students took a national exam, school was “charmingly informal.” 

Children dropped in when it was convenient. There was lots of recess. “Two thirds of the class was just going to work in the textile factories at 10, anyway,” Hoyt writes. “The rest of us had learned at home.”

Her brother was skipped from first to fourth grade. She was allowed to forget her homework, obsess on one subject and ignore others and spend her time reading and writing novels at her desk.

Of course, her classmates with uneducated parents didn’t learn much and didn’t go far — not even to the next village for fifth and sixth grade. Hoyt became a writer.

Schools teach students to perform set tasks. Then they’re shocked when they’ve done what they were supposed to and can’t get a job.

Thank G-d for the village school and the village itself, where I learned real life is not a point-check system and that whether you succeed or fail is not dependent on how hard you tried and how well you performed, even, but on a multitude of factors, including personality and yes, luck. And it’s not “unfair” – it is what it is.

School teaches that the teacher — or some other authority — “knows best,” writes Hoyt.

Also, “the cool kids know best,” so every should aspire to be a cool kid, grow up to worship celebrities and try “to get attention by being know-it-all loudmouths.”

‘I opted my kids out of testing’

Opting her daughters out of state testing seemed like a no-brainer to a law professor mom. They were only in Colorado for a year. The younger girl had suffered test anxiety a few years earlier. They were good students. Why bother?

But the middle and high school administrators put heavy pressure on her to reconsider. The state Education Department said parents aren’t allowed to opt out their children, despite a form that says otherwise. Now she’s frustrated that parents of high achievers can’t opt out without hurting their children’s schools.

French parenting? Non!

French children behave well in public, because parents and teachers have crushed their spirits, writes Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry in The Atlantic.

Now that I have a child, my almost monomaniacal obsession is how to protect her from French parenting and French education, which is why we are considering Montessori schools and homeschooling/unschooling rather than put her in French schools. (Let me rephrase that: I am considering setting myself on fire rather than put her in French schools.)

The way French education works, and I don’t know if I could put it in a more charitable way, is that it seeks to mercilessly beat any shred of nonconformity out of children (the beating is now done mostly psychologically) so that they may be slotted into a society that, itself, treats nonconformity the way the immune system treats foreign elements.

American parenting and education “leaves more room for children to express their individuality,”  Gobry writes.  French parenting turns out well-behaved children, but “I wouldn’t recommend it if you want healthy, happy adults.”