September 3, 2008

College Isn’t for Everyone



CHARLES MURRAY, the social scientist who created a stir 25 years ago with "Losing Ground," a critique of America's welfare policy and its deleterious effects on the recipients of federal altruism, is back with a critique of college. In "Real Education," he simply says, not all kids should go to college.

In fact, he contends in his just-published book, too many young people are going to college because they've been channeled by public schools to believe that a college degree is the key to success - the only key. Students who would be better off studying carpentry, mechanics, computer programming or music are being directed into four-year colleges and into careers they find boring or frustrating.

America would be better off, Murray argues, finding out what truly interests students and channeling them into suitable vocational training and rewarding careers.

Heretically, he says, college is not for everyone. We would be better off reserving college for only the most intellectually talented students coming out of high school. Others would receive vocational training in high school and some post-secondary work in their fields of choice. Those who are really good at - and interested in - animal husbandry or HTML programming could pursue those interests without having to solve quadratic equations or delve into the anxieties of Hamlet.

Scores of career choices - sales, accounting, interior design, acting, hotel management, musical performance, etc. - have little relationship to traditional liberal arts, but these careers have been co-opted by colleges that have woven the illusion that a college degree is required.

Most European and Asian nations direct children into educational levels and careers based on test scores. Only a select few go on to academic training at the college level. Most other students receive vocational training in high school and afterward. Upon completion of training, often directed by or within the industry itself, they are virtually guaranteed jobs as highly skilled journeymen.

The United States has taken a different route, which has widened into college for everyone in recent years. The federal No Child Left Behind Act is predicated on the notion that all children are equally capable of learning. When the fact that some children simply don't excel shows up in test scores, the schools and teachers are punished.

No Child Left Behind forces schools to test all children and demand measurable academic progress from every one of them.

North Carolina's community colleges started out as vocational training centers but have morphed into stepping stones to four-year degrees. They teach the academic courses needed for transfer to the university level and have dropped the "technical" name as an outdated remnant of an industrial age that no longer exists.

Meanwhile, employers are complaining that they can't find the skilled workers for their factories and service jobs.

Murray has been called elitist in the past. His "The Bell Curve" with Richard J. Herrnstein in 1996 argued that intellectual ability has created a new elite in America, where there are no inherited titles and where inherited money often quickly disappears.

"Real Education" suggests that American education would be better off recognizing these intellectually superior people at a young age, challenging them with rigorous academic expectations and providing less-intellectual but more productive education and training for those whose interests lie in less-academic fields.

Hal Tarleton writes for The Wilson (N.C.) Daily Times.

'Real Education'

A social scientist says U.S. education would be better off recognizing intellectually superior people at a young age and providing less-intellectual but more productive education and training for those whose interests lie in less-academic fields.

Originally published by BY HAL TARLETON.

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