Current Reading

This blog is primarily for me to blog my responses to books that I'm reading. Sometimes I blog about other stuff too, though.

I'm currently reading Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society by Mario Vargas Llosa.

Word cloud

Word cloud

Monday, March 2, 2015

Class Dismissed: Concluding thoughts

About half of the last chapter is devoted to arguing that economic problems need economic solutions.  I agree with the general premise.  Marsh argues the specifics from very much a left/progressive perspective, and your agreement with this portion of the chapter will depend in large part on how many of his premises you share.  However, even if you have a different view of social and economic problems, I think the general proposition that schools cannot be the sole solution to poverty is a sound one.  Indeed, one could take a very conservative, traditionalist view of education and argue for education as building minds, building character, and building citizens, rather than view education as building workers.  To a large extent that's the view of William F. Buckley in God and Man at Yale, a book on higher education that is written from a perspective quite different from that of John Marsh.

Marsh goes there, to some extent, in the second half of the chapter.  He greatly sympathizes with the view that education is a good in itself, irrespective of whether it enhances productivity.  There are a great many people who have argued that a well-educated citizenry is a necessary (though hardly sufficient) bulwark against many forms of tyranny.  However, as Marsh points out, the belief that if we just send everyone to school they'll become better voters is almost as naive as the view that if we just send everyone to school they'll become higher-paid workers.  Educational problems are hard enough to solve on their own, and even harder to solve as means to some other end.

Marsh's final view is one that I basically agree with in the broad strokes:  Education is a good unto itself, but it also does play at least some role in ameliorating social and economic problems.  While it is neither just nor feasible to treat education as the only path to economic improvement, as long as society does treat it that way there will be people seeking education to that end, and it is right and proper that we do what we can for the people who are doing their best to study towards a better future.  However, while we have a duty to do what we can for the students in front of us, I do think we need to communicate clearly to the broader society that we can help people reach intellectual milestones but we cannot transform the economy, we cannot nullify the supply and demand factors that will erode the college earnings premium when degree production rises, and we cannot work miracles when we are sent woefully under-prepared students.  We need to do what we can for those in front of us, but we need to be realistic in telling the wider world what we can do.

In a day or two I'll start blogging another book.

1 comment:

Phil Ebersole said...

I agree with your overall perspective.

It would be a good thing if everybody were able to get all the schooling that would benefit them.

But it is not a solution to society's overall problems, and, in particular, it doesn't create jobs or raise wages.

It is true enough that college-educated people on average have higher incomes and better jobs than people with high school diplomas.

But giving everybody a college degree will not, if nothing else changes, raise the overall income level. It will just raise the bar as to what you have to do have a good job.