Readin, Ritin, Rithmetik

In another of those grabs for power, if slightly more subtle, Pres. Barrack Obama has laid out the government’s evaluation of the quality of tertiary educational institutions. It is another exercise of government power [and expenditure on unnecessary bureaucracy] that we did not need. There are innumerable independent and non-governmental sources for comparing individual university education in this country. Many, if not most, are relatively free of prejudice and conflicts of interest.
Above all else, that is not true of the federal government. It has a vested interest in distributing funds – in a variety of ways, from legitimate research grants to bogus efforts at affirmative action. It would be inevitable if these lines of support and ecommendations of universities were to cross.
But even more important, at least intellectually, is the obvious consideration that choosing a university – or not choosing one at all [more later] – is for the student and his [probably strapped parents] very much an individual consideration. It depends on everything from his desire to escape the old homestead as far as money can take him or those who want to remain a close to the feathered nest as possible. It depends on the student’s taste in exposure, whether he wants the anonymity of being a part of a huge mass audience or tended to in a small, intimate environment. Obviously the list of considerations goes on forever.
Obama on more than one occasion has alwo dropped into the automatic assumption as so many in the American elite – and professional educators – that college is for everyman. That’s despite the fact that recent California testing – and one has to be more than a little suspicions of the testors and their methodology – says too many high school graduates are just not up to challenge of a college curriculum.
That hardly comes as surprise: for half a century or more, most colleges have equired a freshman English course for the simple reason that the old grammar, elocution and even handwriting courses, have been abandoned for partial illiteracy. Many if not most high school graduates today have an inadequate comprehensive of their mother tongue, aggravated, of course, by the growing number of children who come from households where English may not be the mother tongue. This has been a part of abandoning many of the old standbys in secondary schooling. We have been startled to find the old phys ed has gone in many places, rewiring some basic hygiene and dietary instruction along with mandatory exercise. And we are surprise by the obesity figures!
There is the whole question of whether everyone should go to college. For many, if truth were told, it is a part of the lengthening adolescence in this society where the growing up is more and more thrust on the schools rather than taking place in the home and the society in general. For more than a hundred years, Germany has demonstrated that the higher forms of elementary education linked to private industry can well be an introduction to an alternate, worthwhile and prosperous lifestyle as a technician by providing an kind of indentureship to an industry along with the last years of formal education.
That this was once the case with many young immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century has been forgotten along the way. Many of us have immigrant grandparents who worked their way through night school where they learned English. Some even went to so-called trade schools and learned a “profesion” which did not require of them that they study history and technical subjects in a college enrvironment.
In a world where menial and unskilled jobs are being replaced faster than the blink of an eye through the digital revolution, it becomes even more important that we think of how to guide young people into technical skills that provide a livelihood. It’s a well known cliché among many employers now that they avoid the so-called graduates of college courses in information technology. The fact is that colleges are neither equipped nor are they sympatyhetic to that sort of teching. It would be far better that we create a new sort of technical high school which guarantees a young man or woman a technical education.
And that, as much as anything else, depends on return to some educational fundamentals that have been lost along the way. Old rote learning for some of the basics have been discarded for new and more erudite educational philosophies. And that has resulted, alas! in such ignorance of commonly held old knowledge that it intrudes on the new workplaces. We had the experience a few days ago of asking for shipping rates and found in both the major parcel companies that those answering the telephone could not neither spell Copenhagen nor quite identify where Denmark was!
But Obama’s new grab for instructing the unwashed mob on which university is the better one is not a contribution to the new education challenge awaiting us. And it is again another example of his fixation on big government as the solution to all our problems.


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