Re: Equivalence?

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why are people who get a GED instead of a high school diploma forever dinged and treated as second-class graduates?

Racism.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:07 AM
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it seems to me like we're just punishing people who didn't take the normal life path and have their act together when they were 16.

Indeed.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:08 AM
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The McArdle answer: the value of a HS diploma is not "hey, I have these skills and this knowledge!" but "I was able to stay on task long enough to complete this meaningless set of requirements!" So if you have only a GED you have the knowledge, but it's a warning sign that you're less likely to do certain things, e.g. punch in at the entry-level job reliably.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:08 AM
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So if you have only a GED you have the knowledge, but it's a warning sign that you're less likely to do certain things, e.g. punch in at the entry-level job reliably.

The problem with this answer is that taking and passing the GED also requires a certain amount of initiative and effort to jump through meaningless hoops.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:10 AM
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I didn't think there was any difference in GED coursework from high school. I knew someone who took the GED at 16 and passed, in order to get out of having to finish high school. I don't know what she ended up doing from there, though.

The article makes it sounds like the main beneficiaries of internet school are parents who want to homeschool their children, who then can use taxpayer-funded resources. I wonder what the statistics on homeschooling are - my brother and sister-in-law are homeschooling because they are crazy Christian fundamentalists. Is that the vast majority of homeschoolers?


Posted by: pasdquoi | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:12 AM
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homeschooling because they are crazy Christian fundamentalists. Is that the vast majority of homeschoolers?

I believe so, yes. There's a small contingent of far left hippy types who do it as well, but their numbers are, as I said, small.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:15 AM
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There was a nasty expose of Ohio on line high schools in on of the local weeklies here. The state is dumping a bunch of money into a company that made a bunch of promises and then did nothing to fulfill them.

A big criticism raised by the article is that poor teens who are short on self discipline are exactly the *wrong* people to be doing an online course. The poor are going to be coming from the wrong side of the digital divide. Many have never used computers before. And working you way through an online curriculum on your own is exactly the sort of things restless teens are bad at.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:15 AM
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why are people who get a GED instead of a high school diploma forever dinged and treated as second-class graduates?

Is this true, though? (I don't know.)


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:17 AM
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Homeschooling actually started with leftwing hippies, but has pretty much been taken over by wackjob fundementalists. Also racists who don't want their kids to go to school with black children.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:17 AM
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8: my impression is yes, very much.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:18 AM
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Also homeschooling: people so far to the left they come full circle to the right, and vice versa.

It is worth remembering that environmentalists and evangelicals share a basic critique of consumer society.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:19 AM
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taken over by wackjob fundementalists. Also racists who don't want their kids to go to school with black children.

Distinction with hardly a difference. Non-Catholic Xtian schools in the US hardly existed prior to desegregation.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:20 AM
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Also, the trend among some on the far left is unschooling.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:22 AM
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10: Is it connected to the low repute for high school? I would think that a GED + college is equivalent to high school + college. I could imagine a GED being a warning sign if it is all that was on offer, because I might think, "How much of a fuckup do you have to be to not complete high school? Can't you kill someone in the halls and not get thrown out?" But absent that sort of belief--and if someone got the GED early, I wouldn't have even that--I can't imagine the difference.

And maybe it's just sort of residual: you have a bunch of candidates that you need to ding, you have no appropriate way to choose between them, and you can ding them for the GED.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:24 AM
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I know somebody who teaches at one of those online schools in California; she's perfectly conscientious, but the first school she worked for went out of business because they were embezzling, and in general the whole thing has always seemed vaguely shady to me. On the other hand, she gets to work from home, and how many other fourth grade teachers get to smoke pot while they're working?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:27 AM
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their coursework might not be as rigorous as a regular high school's (what's the diff? fill me in)

There is no coursework, you just need to pass the tests (though maybe it varies by state? and people can certainly take private test-prep classes). One of my younger brothers took it (twice, actually--once as himself, and a second time w/ his identical twin's id so they both could have the credit, the little shit) and he didn't have to take any courses, just got a book and prepped himself a little.


Posted by: potchkeh | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:27 AM
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I suspect that it's not that the GED gets less respect than a high school diploma, but that earning a high school diploma in the usual timeframe means you probably went on to higher education, and that getting a GED is something you did later (after having spent some years as a high school dropout) and perceived as terminal or leading to a lower-status career.

Also, racism.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:28 AM
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tweety, your friend is teaching *fourth grade* on line?

That's flat out pedagogically unsound.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:30 AM
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18: Most computers have speakers now.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:31 AM
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19: Not the point. At that stage so much of education is socialization, if the child is not interacting directly with a flesh and blood human being, they are being shortchanged.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:34 AM
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My guess is that there'd be little or no prejudice against a kid who got a GED at 16 and started college immediately. A plan I'd recommend, if possible.

One of my son's friends with a GED is doing very well as a produce manager in a Whole Foods type place. He's very bright and works very well with people, but didn't like classwork.

Distant inlaws are unschooling, and while I couldn't tell you whether they're far left or far right, they're definitely far. They're Trekkies, if that's a clue.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:34 AM
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The thing is, most colleges treat the GED exactly like getting a high school diploma for admissions purposes, so if you get one and manage to get into college (and manage to get through college as well), it doesn't make any difference. It's only when a GED is all you have, which is the case for most people who get them, that the stigma kicks in. Many entry-level jobs require a high school diploma and don't accept a GED.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:34 AM
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20: people socialize with computers these days, rob. It's practically the only socialization I get most days.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:35 AM
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20: as said above, the people are mostly homeschoolers; she generally acts in an advisory capacity, administers tests, that sort of thing.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:37 AM
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and that getting a GED is something you did later (after having spent some years as a high school dropout)

This matches my experience. As I'm sure I've mentioned before, my public schooling was a mess, I left for a while after 10th grade, then wasn't allowed back into a normal stream so I ended up in an `alternative' program for a while, etc. etc.

In the sort of work I was doing (mechanical/trades mostly) it really didn't matter. When I decided to go back to school though, I did encounter a *lot* of resistance. I went back to a normal high school for some later courses (but not the ones needed for university entrance) but they didn't want to let me at first, and then only let me in because of a shop program, not into an `academic stream' (which was fine with me, I wanted access to the machine shop. But regardless of the fact I was academically at the top of the classes I did take, the admin/counseling people had pigeonholed me --- nobody encouraged me to get a proper high school grad so I had the option of university later, or told me how much catchup I would need if I did.

I ended up having to do correspondence classes for some of the high school I missed, then some more at a community college. The CC didn't want to let me enroll in 1st year courses at the same time as high school ones, which I eventually solved by challenging some of their exams (by paying the full course fee to just sit the exam, nice). Then the university didn't want to let me immediately transfer from the CC, so I stayed there longer. Then when I finally did transfer, they didn't want to let me into the (hons. in two departments, with quite restricted entry) because although my grades at the point were nearly perfect `community college students don't tend to do as well'.

Three university degrees later, nobody sees any of this stuff anymore, but it really is amazing how much people try to infer from your not having followed the typical path, rather than the evidence in front of them.

The correspondence stuff i did was through the usual school district. They did it for home-schooled kids in remote areas, mostly. It was good for me, because I could rip through a course in 2 weeks but I don't know how well it would work for anyone struggling with the material.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:37 AM
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GED == dropout. That's exactly as much thought as people put into it. The fact that GED also = "got shit together" is just way too much thinking.

Part of the problem, I would imagine, is that it's rare enough that it's not as if most people know anyone who has one. As with teh ghey, once you know a GED-holder, that becomes your association, and it's (usually) a positive one. But for the UMC people who get to decide that GEDs are bad? It's a degree for The Other.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:37 AM
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Yes, Rob. My only friends any more are e-friends. Theoretically I "met" "you" personally in DC last December, but you know how problematic those statements are when properly unpacked. To me, the real "Rob Helpy-chalk" is online, and whoever it was that I supposedly "met" is of no real account.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:38 AM
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you have a bunch of candidates that you need to ding, you have no appropriate way to choose between them, and you can ding them for the GED.

This sounds about right.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:39 AM
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22: The problem where I went was not the GED itself, its that particular courses were required for university entrance, and those didn't occur in a typical alternative or GED program. I don't know how variable that is by region.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:39 AM
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22: The problem where I went was not the GED itself, its that particular courses were required for university entrance, and those didn't occur in a typical alternative or GED program. I don't know how variable that is by region.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:40 AM
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It's only when a GED is all you have, which is the case for most people who get them, that the stigma kicks in. Many entry-level jobs require a high school diploma and don't accept a GED.

Right. Some of the online applications will even kick you out (or at least sort you out) based on the answer to that question alone.

I think the answer to Becks's question is: Because while the idea of a h.s. equivalence test is useful and efficient in theory, in practice the people who have it are more likely to be disadvantaged in a whole host of other ways. So a reverse stigmatization has developed. There are exceptions -- especially for the energetic young person who passes it at 15 or 16 and wants to start classes for a a higher degree/certificate -- but they are exceptions.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:40 AM
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20: I was just making a poor joke.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:40 AM
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25: Wow, what a story.

It's funny, in this day and age, "HS dropout" means loser even more surely than RW blogger does, but we still like to tell stories about dropouts who achieved (usually in the past, but even BGates).

I guess the stories are enjoyable because they buck the trend, but still.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:42 AM
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26: That's where racism & class considerations come into play. In my Whitey McWhiteville suburb, being a dropout meant you had Fucked Up. And really, you had. The district was good, the area had post-secondary education expectations (not necessarily great ones, but you were going Somewhere even if it was just one of the little colleges downtown.) The GED means you Fucked Up.

In a school in a poor district, being a dropout means you were doing about par for the course, and getting the GED means you Did Something Good and Overcame Obstacles. But the suburbanite doesn't see that.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:43 AM
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I was just making a poor joke.

Classist.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:43 AM
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Also, I came across an interesting report tangentially related to this issue. I meant to link it after we had the Becks's brother discussion about careers.

America's Forgotten Middle-Skill Jobs (report).

From the Skills2Compete campaign.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:44 AM
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Soup's story is just one example of how education at all levels values institutionalization and regularity regardless of accomplishment. Anyone who falls of the track will be often or usually be penalized when they get back on, regardless of their ability. Probably less so in more objectively judgeable fields, and less so for kids from well-established families with connections, and probably (not sure) also less so for kids who do something impressive during their time off, such as world travel or athletic training.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:45 AM
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The thing about a GED as far as, say, college acceptance is that a regular high-school transcript will allow them to see a wide range of information--individual grades for classes, attempts to take electives, honors and AP courses, etc. A GED is every bit as good as taking the basic core education in HS and receiving "passing" grades. If one is looking for more information than that, they're not going to get it from GED scores.

Beyond that, though, if it's considered a ding, well, yeah, it's just racism/classism/sexism.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:45 AM
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I had a friend in high school whose parents pressured him to drop out and get a GED. He did and went on to community college, which he began to work through very slowly. He may still be there (or have dropped out); I haven't seen him in a while.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:45 AM
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26, and especially 34: Which is why we need to say "riseout" instead. Because in poor urban districts, a GED *is* rising out.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:46 AM
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34: Excellent summary.

I kind of think that Associates Degrees were similar, but growing in credibility. Partly b/c a lot more jobs exist where that's the appropriate level of ed - X-Ray tech, network monkey - but also, I suspect, b/c college has gotten so insanely expensive that some people who would have gone to State U Branch or Smalltown Teacher's College to get a degree now end up at CC.

That plus rampant credentialism, of course.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:47 AM
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38: sexism?


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:48 AM
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33: I think it's a reasonable assumption that I'm not a typical drop-out.

Interestingly enough, I've met a few other people who are also high school dropouts and ph.d's, With fewer exceptions, undergraduates tend to be people who follow the normal path, Graduate programs often seem to have two pools, a group who've been good academically all the way through, and another who have all sorts of crazy paths to grad school.

37 is very true.. One I noticed once I was back in the system was how much momentum grants & scholarships have. I was pretty much cut out in undergrad, but had a generous full ride through grad school. Once I had one national scholarship, the momentum worked for me, rather than against, I expect.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:49 AM
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42: Pregnant girls drop out, get a GED a couple years later, &c.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:50 AM
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42: Women often drop out of HS to have babies, while the fathers can stay in school. There's no support for pregnant/child-rearing women in most HSs.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:50 AM
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40 had me briefly thinking that actually encouraging such kids to dropout, get the GED, and get going with their lives could be good, but then I realized that even smart kids in those districts are (generally) behind, and t, while they may be able to GED at age 15, they probably don't have any of the broader knowledge base that they could probably gain in another 2 years at even a shitty school.

Not that it wouldn't be a good idea for some; just not enough to be worth promoting.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:50 AM
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Pwned.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:50 AM
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The CC didn't want to let me enroll in 1st year courses at the same time as high school ones,

Wow, that's weird. This is exactly the sort of thing my school encourages. I did it myself when I was a lad.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:50 AM
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A GED is every bit as good as taking the basic core education in HS and receiving "passing" grades. If one is looking for more information than that, they're not going to get it from GED scores.

Yeah, when I say colleges treat a GED the same as a diploma I mean colleges that aren't looking for more information than that the student has passed a basic high school curriculum. Mostly community colleges and regional public universities.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:51 AM
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44. Right. At the alternative school I went to for a while, most of the girls were pregnant or mothers, and most of the boys had interesting police records.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:51 AM
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See that, AWB? You add some detail, some richness, and you get pwned.

Pithy wins every time.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:52 AM
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A GED gives you a low score in the proxy IQ test of credentialing. Maybe as a signal it isn't so reliable, but then again, there's the same kind of problem at higher levels of education.

Employers have only so much information to go on when deciding on a candidate.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:53 AM
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sexism?

I don't know how AWB meant it, but IME it cuts both ways.

I've been to several h.s. graduations in the last year, and it's horrible to see the sea of gender disparity -- the girls wear one color robe, the boys another, and the girls often outnumber the boys by as much as 2:1.

At the same time, there are a large group of women who are pushed out of school for pregnancy-related reasons (I think it was bean at LGM who had a good post on this recently) and or caregiving reasons, and that pushes them off the credentialing track and makes it all the harder to get back on.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:53 AM
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In my elite college (Reed) students were expected to graduate with good grades in four years. Students who took five years were stigmatized, and students who started out with mediocre grades and ended up with good ones were stigmatized. Since the same dynamics often applied in HS and for college admission, there was an enormous stress on regularity which favored students who started planning academically at about age 15.

It's worse in the rest of the world, though. A lot of the elite educational systems are completely unforgiving.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:54 AM
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||
Apropos of little, I had heard The Wire was gritty but why did no one tell me that it was so profoundly depressing? I just finished the first season. Wahhhhhhhhh.
|>


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:54 AM
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48: Well, there were nominal pre-requisite problems so it wasn't completely arbitrary. And I was missing *all* of the the required high school courses (although I'd had `trades' versions of some). So they though I should ease into it.

But still, they should have let me fail on my own dime if I couldn't handle it. I did better on some of the courses I didn't take that term (and challanged the exam instead) , than the ones I did (dedicating study time to the ones I didn't have lectures on).


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:54 AM
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I'm sort of a HS drop out and a Ph.D. I refused to go to my senior year of HS, so my mom enrolled me in the courses I would need at the community college to get my HS degree.

She didn't tell me she was doing this until after it was a fait accompli. A real masterstroke of passive aggressive parenting. Also she said "I signed you up for the courses you need, plus a course in philosophy and a course in political science, because you seem interested in that sort of thing."


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:55 AM
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46: Some people agree with that idea.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:55 AM
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I'm sure I knew people other than the guy in 39 who got GEDs (it was pretty common), but I can't think of anyone offhand. I knew a bunch of people who ended up going to alternative schools, which play a similar role. I definitely left high school with a positive impression of GEDs and alternative schools.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:55 AM
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Actually, following on 44/45, another set of assumptions/prejudices comes into play: girls are, ceteris paribus, less likely to drop out. Therefore, if they have, they probably did get knocked up (and, indeed, the most impressive GED I've ever known followed just that path). So you get to judge her for being both dropout and teen mother.

Meanwhile, boys are somehow just prone to dropping out, so they're only overcoming one black mark (note: does not apply to black males, who surely dropped out to do Bad Things).


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:56 AM
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Two-year associate degree colleges could take a big cut both out of the HSs and the four-year colleges. I completely favor this -- I've changed my mind over the last 30 years. From what I've seen, the high school experience intellectually usually means marking time, and socially is often miserable. And undergrad college classes are often the worst taught.

CCs treat faculty worse, but 4-year schools treat adjuncts just as badly, and the adjuncts often do most of the teaching.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:58 AM
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Also, I have to plug this awesome organization, which in addition to living up to its name (LIFETIME - Low-income Families' Empowerment through Education) is run by some kick-butt women who themselves have followed the path of their motto: from GEDs to Ph.Ds.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:59 AM
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55: That's why I'm not watching it. Our friends have encouraged us to start, but I just don't see it as just-put-the-kid-to-bed relaxation.

I have the DVD of a movie in which one of my 2 best friends stars; for 5 months we haven't watched it, b/c it's supposed to be kind of depressing.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:59 AM
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Except that associate degrees aren't worth much more than high school diplomas, and incur debt.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 10:59 AM
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Two-year associate degree colleges could take a big cut both out of the HSs and the four-year colleges. I completely favor this

Emerson, read my link in 36. Really! It's a good report! It will give you data to back up your intuitions and experiences!


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:00 AM
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44/45: Umm, okay, I understand that's a reason why some women have to drop out and then take the GED. But it seems like a bit of a stretch to say therefore that sexism is causing a devaluation of the GED, considering more men than women take the test in every state (see last .pdf, 2006 GED Statistical Report, Appendix C), with an average breakdown of about 55% to 45%.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:01 AM
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Except that associate degrees aren't worth much more than high school diplomas, and incur debt.

Not necessarily, on both counts.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:02 AM
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A neighborhood friend was a HS dropout who worked in a convenience store. He took a few CC classes and did well in all of them. Then he went to Israel and now he is doing well in college in Hebrew. At the time I met him he was about 21 and he and his family thought he was a loser.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:02 AM
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64: But isn't 2 years of CC usually worth more or less one year of 4-yr college, and still cheaper?

Ah, looking closer at JE's 61, that's not quite what he means. But still, I imagine that there are careers where an Associate's gives you a leg up over an HS diploma.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:03 AM
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57: I didn't do my senior year either. So, I technically dropped out of high school. But I then went straight to college and my high school counted my freshman year there for my credits to give me a diploma.

CA found out he was going to college (right after hs) because his father filled out the Iowa application for him and informed CA of this after mailing back the formal acceptance. Of course he failed everything and dropped out after his first year.

(Such paths we took so that we could sit on the steps and drink Beast together!)


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:03 AM
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63: It's worth it, but it is a slow start where somewhere along the way you realize that you care for these characters and you have no really good idea why, and then it's depressing.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:03 AM
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Here is a paper that is down on the GED:

Although GED recipients have the same measured academic ability as high school graduates who do not attend college, they have the economic and social outcomes of otherwise similar dropouts without certification. Despite measures of cognitive ability similar to high school graduates, GED recipients perform significantly worse in all dimensions when compared to them (Heckman and Rubinstein [2001]). GED recipients lack noncognitive skills such as perseverance and motivation that are essential to success in school and in life.

Here is a link to the Heckman and Rubinstein article (it costs 10 bucks):
http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0002-8282(200105)91%3A2%3C145%3ATIONSL%3E2.0.CO%3B2-6


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:03 AM
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It smells to me like a horse has shit somewhere in the vicinity of comment 72.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:05 AM
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66: See my 60. I don't think the claim is "GEDs are for teen moms, therefore GEDs are crap." I think it's that a woman with a GED is presumed a teen mom, and judged for that.

But I don't think sexism is doing much work on its own to devalue the GED; it's just another factor.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:07 AM
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71: I found the end of Season 1 most depressing; not sure if that's because I got inured. Season 5 is shaping up to be a doozy.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:07 AM
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At the CC where I work, a three credit course is worth three credits at any other Ohio state institution. Two years of CC is worth two years of college, period. And a hell of a lot cheaper. People who have been priced out of The Ohio State University and Cleveland State are one of our biggest constituencies.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:07 AM
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Witt, I saved it for my son's benefit.

Cala, it depends entirely on the degree. A friend of mine enetered an associate computer-engineer program after he'd gotten a useless philosophy BA. He had a decent job before he was halfway through the program, and he weathered all the downturns in the biz because his trainign was up-to-date.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:07 AM
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73: Well, it sounds like one of those which-way-causality problems. They're just as smart as HS grads, but they don't perform as well in the job market? Might discrimination against their diploma have something to do with it?


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:08 AM
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71: Yeah, still not sold. Maybe something cheerful, like Deadwood.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:08 AM
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70: I remembered that about CA, but not about you. SJC, like Unfogged, attracts a lot of people with unusual educational paths.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:09 AM
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66: The assumptions runs: she has a GED, she probably was a teen mom, and thus we can expect she is a lazy slut/irresponsible.

Ex recto, it wouldn't surprise me, if more women than men get GEDs, that it suffers from being perceived as a so-called girl thing.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:09 AM
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66

The reason more men than women get their GED is probably because 10% of all GEDs are obtained by prisoners. I don't know this effects the results from the links in 72.


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:09 AM
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That's a good link Witt.

It's true in my experience that there really isn't much academic content in high school. I wasn't just missing the last year courses, I was missing the 11th grade prerequisites too. As a result I ended up duplicating most of the core courses for 2 years of high school in about 8 months. But I was working full time for the first half, and taking some 1st year college courses in the second half (the ones I'd just finished the prereq's for).

Even if you assume I'm quicker at this stuff than most, and more motivated at the time (having people tell you you can't do something always worked for me), that still doesn't leave a lot.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:09 AM
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78: especially considering they've generally demonstrated a lot more self-motivation than many high-school grads in just getting the damn things...


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:11 AM
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Ex recto, it wouldn't surprise me, if more women than men get GEDs, that it suffers from being perceived as a so-called girl thing.

But they don't!


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:13 AM
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Maybe I'm dumb, or just went to a really hard public school, but I worked my ass off in high school, and learned a lot. I had senioritis really bad, so I took the freshman-level Art Foundations class so I could have an easier afternoon, but other than that, I don't think I've ever worked that much in my life.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:13 AM
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The 72 link is from U Chicago econ -- always a bad sign.

It seems to be describing GED holders in aggregate, rather than looking at whether the GED might be a good option for an individual. But it's true that with a GED you end up being lumped in with a bunch of rehabbed stoners and ex-convicts and others who got GEDs after fucking up badly.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:14 AM
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My dad got a GED. He dropped out of Boston Latin for health reasons. I was in 2nd grade when he was was prepping for the exam. I don't think he'd have taken the test except that he needed it to move up in his Federal job.


Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:16 AM
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Interesting how many people seem to have just skipped the last year of high school and gone to college. I don't think this was possible the way things were structured where/when I grew up, but I could be wrong -- not having taken that path.

By comparison, I first left home and school when I was 15 I guess (though not permanently for either of them) and didn't go to university until 24 or so.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:16 AM
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I haven't read the thread, but the GED is a class-marker, plain and simple--what it "means" has nothing to do with what you've learned or know, it just signifies that you're one of those people (often, but not always, black).


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:16 AM
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People in Kansas and North Dakota take education seriously, because that's the only way they can get out of Kansas and North Dakota.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:16 AM
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Self-motivation: often GEDs are part of probation plans, prison programs, rehab programs, etc., so that can't be assumed.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:18 AM
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90 pwned by comments 1-89.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:18 AM
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AWB: the quality of HS varies so much nation wide that your experience doesn't at all surprise me. If you went to a school like the Ogged went to, you probably received a world class education. N/w Tr//r has its own goddamn TV station, and schools a few miles south of it have no textbooks.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:18 AM
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86: I should have put a caveat that at least the content of the system I was in was pretty weak. Given different a slightly different situation, I probably would have loved an IB program or something like that, but didn't know they existed.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:18 AM
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I realize this is glaringly obvious, but 86 reminds me that we are a truly huge and variable country. There are high schools that are barely more than warehouses, where "marking time" is the kindest that can be said for many of the classes;* there are high schools that are well-equipped to handle the mainstream and poorly equipped to handle anybody who falls outside the fat part of the bell curve; there are high schools that are demanding and intriguing and fun and valuable.

Ditto for post-secondary education. The trouble is that people are sorted into high schools mostly by birth lottery (and some geography), and sorted into post-h.s. by the social capital and connections they've managed to acquire along the way. It's really hard to figure out the worthwhile certificate/assoc degree programs from the outside, especially if you don't have a savvy family member or guidance counselor or mentor to help.

*Claim based on personal observation.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:19 AM
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92: right, and that's part of the problem with this horeshit study, just lumping all these people together.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:19 AM
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. N/w Tr//r has its own goddamn TV station, and schools a few miles south of it have no textbooks.

That explains so much.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:19 AM
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90: This is very, very true. If you're an upper-middle-class white person getting a GED because you're a genius and can't be hemmed in by high school's rules and stuff, that's very different from a kid whose parents convince him he needs to drop out and work full time to help out the family.

I taught at a college where most of my students had GEDs either from being drop-outs or having been in prison, and a lot of them talked about parental pressure not to go on to college and get more education, because (a) "What, you think you're better than me?"-type stuff, and (b) hopelessness about what education would even do for, eg. a black man from the projects.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:19 AM
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34: Excellent summary.

I kind of think that Associates Degrees were similar, but growing in credibility.

I agree. I know a guy from a middle-class family who has an associates degree, which means he dropped out of college after 2 years and had done alright on his classes. Which means he is a lazy slob, which he is. His brother has an MPH.

If I knew someone from a poor broken home with an associates degree, I'd consider him an overachiever. Although in that case the degree would be from a community college, not SUNY-Mediocre.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:20 AM
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I think that even pretty good high schools like my son's slow down the most ambitious and capable students. Smart 16 year olds are often ready for college-level work, and almost no high-schools offer that.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:21 AM
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99: I got a bit of ribbing about this stuff (not from family, but from the people I lived and worked with) when I decided to ditch trades and go back to school. Lots of `why the hell would you do that?' responses. And this without the added barriers of belonging to a minority or anything.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:23 AM
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college-level work, and almost no high-schools offer that.

Isn't that what all the AP classes are? Also, I believe that in many HS these days advanced students can actually take courses at a local college, for combo HS/college credit.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:23 AM
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AP classes are really too watered down, ime. The IB ones are pretty good. If you live in a dense enough area you can probably get college courses, although if you end up in a class of 500 at default-U it's hard to say which is better for them.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:26 AM
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102: Yeah, I get it too about grad school, for sure. My dad hasn't had a decent conversation with me in five years because he thinks I think I'm too smart for him now. (Not true; I just no longer put up with his racism.) But at least I grew up in a household where my parents never encouraged me to put anything ahead of school---not money, not dating, not social success. They didn't know where it would lead, since neither of them did well in school, but they both regretted it. Now, I think they partially regret not emphasizing anything else to me, since I'm an overeducated, poor, lonely, awkward grad student.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:26 AM
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I kind of think that Associates Degrees were similar, but growing in credibility.

In many cases, community colleges have been more or less taken over by one or more dominant local employers--a phenomenon I view as more good than bad, but not entirely unproblematic. The company takes an interest in the college, often contributes financially, and creates a pathway from the CC into entry level jobs. The CC becomes something akin to the extended arm of the training program for the company, with the company strongly influencing (if not dictating outright) what curriculum will be offered or emphasized. On balance, this is probably a good thing, because it creates both a talent funnel for middle-skill jobs and a pathway to economic advancement for those without the resources or inclination to pursue a four year college degree. OTOH, it might be causing the affected CC's to evolve away from the role of stepladder to four year college.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:27 AM
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There's another benefit to community colleges, which sort of overlaps with stuff John E. and others have already said: from time to time you get a really remarkable teacher who's doing intro courses because they like doing so, particularly with night classes. I had to drop out of high school back when I first got sick with my chronic health crud, took the GED, and used Pasadena Community College to fill in some gaps in the time I was still regaining strength before trying four-year college. I had an absolutely glorious Shakespeare course from a woman who was doing original scholarship on the subject and who taught night classes to reach a more diverse audience than would be the case at a typical university. My father taught math classes at PCC for a few years to supplement his income when my medical bills were highest, and his students were very fortunate - he was a great explainer of tricky concepts, and really, really knew his stuff. (He was a designer of ranging systems for NASA.)

You can't plan on such encounters, of course, but they do happen. And even the run of the mill instruction is often better - I know that I learned more in a lot of my survey courses at PCC than college friends did in the comparable courses at university.


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:28 AM
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94: Ogged and CA seem to have the same favorite teacher. But hers is the only class CA attended, I think. He didn't get much of an education there, mostly due to his own obnoxious adolescence, but also because he really did find the atmosphere pernicious (think Pump Up the Volume -- they did expel kids they thought wouldn't go on to college so as to prevent them from mucking up their averages).


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:28 AM
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99,102,104: shivbunny's family is all working-class with handful of exceptions, and while they're not hostile to higher education, it doesn't fit in well with their mindset, which is why would you want more schooling if you already could get a job?


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:30 AM
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106: I also saw this while teaching at a 2yr/4yr college. (Students could choose to do an Assoc. or Bach.) The 2yr students seemed to me to be far more motivated, as they all had employers already courting them out of their graphic design, culinary arts, electronics, and computer programs. The trade between the school and the businesses was really high, and the students very clearly benefitted, since they got an education the school itself couldn't afford to provide.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:31 AM
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76: That's great.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:31 AM
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Some people mentioned unschooling above. Do not do this to your children. It will fuck them up, bad.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:31 AM
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112: That was me. I thought it went without saying.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:32 AM
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103: For kids for whom the HS experience is wonderful, in the best case they can do near-college work while in HS. But the lefthand of the combination is that a lot of kids are miserable in HS.

There are a lot of four-year degrees that deliver a (small) amount of cultural capital and very little job-market value -- e.g. humanities degrees from low-ranked schools. And there are quite a few associate degrees, if you ask around and look carefully, which can multiply your earning power by a factor of 2 or 3. CCs have replaced apprenticeships in many ways.

To me this is one of the big stories in American education and even politics, and people tend to misunderstand it. I'm not sure what my final conclusion on the Humanities BA would be, but certainly wish people would understand how problematic it is.

Paging Scott Eric Kaufman. He just wrote about this as part of a symposium on "Why do you teach"?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:33 AM
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112: care to elaborate?


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:34 AM
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112 and 113 do not accord with my experience and observations.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:35 AM
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76: This was what made me go the CC route too, there was an agreement with 3 universities to accept 1st and 2nd year course credits, so I could do this at the same time as sorting out the high school mess.

I don't mean to sound complaining about the CC, on the whole it was great. They were just very `by-the-books' at first, and wouldn't let me jump into things I was sure I could do. This was just at the admissions level, overall people were pretty flexible and particularly helpful once I had some good grades there.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:36 AM
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If you went to a school like the Ogged went to, you probably received a world class education.

So what the hell happened to ogged?


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:36 AM
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112: I was shocked to see in my alumni mag that someone who graduated with me and has a PhD is unschooling her children. This person always seemed exceedingly normal, as in more normal than what passed for normal at my school.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:38 AM
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Oh man, this is one of my biggest things. The reason that the GEDs are stigmatized is because we view kids who don't do well in h.s. as "not having their act together" (sorry, Becks, I don't mean to criticize you--just that you came up with the exact right phrase)--which is often, but not always, the case; and because we've gotten to the point where a h.s. diploma (and a college degree) are no longer about education, but about qualifications. They're a mark of middle classness.

Which is why I get so annoyed when people say "grades *do* matter." Whether or not someone has a GED or a low gpa or whatever tells you *nothing* about their qualifications or intelligence. It suggests that at some point in the past they had problems with *some* aspect of formal education. They might have had a drug problem, they might have had a family crisis, they might have been the impatient sort, they might actually have been far more intelligent and creative than their peer group or teachers.

In short, people stigmatize it because they're swallowing and perpetuating really shallow, adolescent ideas about social status. It's really, really fucked up. And having taught a lot of fabulous mature students and known several incredibly smart, interesting, auto-didacts who were in every way my intellectual equals--many of whom nonetheless struggled with massive inferiority complexes, hesitated to go back to school out of fear, or had self-destructive defensive chips on their shoulders--it really, really pisses me off when people who've had the luck/lack of originality to just do what they're "supposed" to do look down their noses at folks who were intrepid enough to either take their own path or strong enough to keep their chins up despite being labelled as "losers."


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:39 AM
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107 is very, very true. I had a intro teacher whose ph.d was from probably the best theoretical department worldwide in his discipline, and who had a decent research career for a few years before deciding he liked teaching intro material, he liked small classes, and he wanted to live somewhere beautiful. Ended up a the CC I went to rather than the university just up the road (a good one) because he'd rather teach intro classes of 25 that 125.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:40 AM
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114: I ask all my students why they're English majors, and the answers are really shocking. A lot of them want to be high school teachers, or they're taking it alongside a pre-med track or whatever, which is cool, but quite a few just stare off into space and say something about liking to read, I guess.

But this is perpetuated by the vacuity of a lot of humanities courses for undergrads, which seem to have, as objectives, getting students to, like, open up their minds to new ideas, man. Or worse (apologies to the recent internet spat) that the best humanities classes can do is socialize students for upper-class discourse. (Didn't work for me; I get labeled an outsider the instant I start talking about books with rich people.) Students don't know what the course wants them to learn, so it seems "easy" compared to, say, calculus, in which they know they'll have to, like, learn calculus.

I get a lot of complaints at the end of the semester that I give too many instructions for papers, that it's "AWB's way or the highway!!!" There's actually a lot of leeway, but my course has objectives, and it makes them crazy.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:40 AM
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There are a lot of four-year degrees that deliver a (small) amount of cultural capital and very little job-market value -- e.g. humanities degrees from low-ranked schools. And there are quite a few associate degrees, if you ask around and look carefully, which can multiply your earning power by a factor of 2 or 3. CCs have replaced apprenticeships in many ways.

Yes, this is exactly right. In terms of return on educational investment, the only thing worse than a low-GPA humanities degree from a low-ranked four-year college is an incomplete four-year degree.

By contrast, I have heard from the President of a community college that his best students never get their degree, because one of the local employers poaches them before they finish the second year.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:41 AM
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I think that even pretty good high schools like my son's slow down the most ambitious and capable students. Smart 16 year olds are often ready for college-level work, and almost no high-schools offer that

That was me, but I was OK with that. I took a ton of AP (I did have several excellent teachers, which helped), which kept me from boredom/anomie, and then spent my free time riding around in my friend's Z28, self-teaching Homeric Greek, and necking with my GF (when I finally got one). Even though I had no illusions about HS, it was an OK time.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:41 AM
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112 seconded.

My tentative opinion is that cultural enrichment and job training are two different tracks that don't usually overlap, and that no one should have one without the other. That's pretty, Utopian though.

A second tentative opinion is that in a lot of ways the old humanities have become so separated from the career track that they should be institutionalized completely differently.

A third even more tentative opinion is that the humanities have also diverged from the actual cultural interests of most people, making them even more marginal. A lot of people are into anime, comix, video, films, gaming, pop music, etc., where a century ago they might have been into novels and classical music. (I'm very old-fashioned in this regard, but so many people I meet have entirely different cultural capital than I do.)


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:42 AM
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107, 121: I'm suddenly remembering an interview I did with a guy who had gone to CC in his early 30s and fallen completely in love with philosophy as a result of one such professor. He was in night school at an Ivy League university when I met him, with detailed plans for how he himself would go back and teach at a CC when he was finished.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:42 AM
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I'm an overeducated, poor, lonely, awkward grad student.

Doesn't AWB get more tail than the next 14 commenters combined? I'd say you're doing OK, AWB (not that being poor is fun...).


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:43 AM
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I don't know anything about unschooling or other alternatives, but if I had kids I'd probably have to think pretty hard about these things. My overall grade school experience really wasn't very good.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:43 AM
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127: Empirical evidence shows otherwise.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:44 AM
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Doesn't AWB get more tail than the next 14 commenters combined?

Not a couple of the presidentials, if memory serves.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:45 AM
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I wish there had been a GED for grades 1-8.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:46 AM
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There's a lot of good economic research showing that the economic and employment benefits of a GED are much, much lower than a high school diploma.

If you look over a GED test it is pretty clear that it is much easier and less time-consuming to pass the GED then to complete a high school curriculum.

High school graduation is a much better indication of the ability to stay on task and other hard-to-signal skills.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:47 AM
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the GED is a class-marker, plain and simple--what it "means" has nothing to do with what you've learned or know, it just signifies that you're one of those people (often, but not always, black).

Yeah, this sort of goes without saying; but I'm not sure indicating class explains much in itself. A few other people have suggested that a GED (usually) means that you've failed to complete the preferred institutional course of *socialization*. Not only are you likely a renegade in some form or another, but you may not even know *how* to punch the clock in the proper fashion, with the right attitude. Willing participation in (or submission to) institutional structures is demonstrated by completion of, e.g. high school.

And ... pwned to an extent by 120, I see.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:48 AM
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Doesn't AWB get more tail than the next 14 commenters combined?

Interesting choice of words. In both French and German, the word for "tail" is slang for the penis. Of course, in AWB's case, it may be true in the more common English sense as well.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:48 AM
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131 is awesome.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:48 AM
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Whether or not someone has a GED or a low gpa or whatever tells you *nothing* about their qualifications or intelligence.

Right, this is what general IQ tests are for. But since for employment purposes they're illegal, diplomas or GPA are often the best measure available.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:49 AM
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134: The work "penis" in Latin in fact means "tail." (It also means penis.)


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:50 AM
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WORD not WORK


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:50 AM
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Not a couple of the presidentials, if memory serves.

Yes, well, Geo Washington racks them up 30 at a time. That's hardly fair.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:50 AM
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If GW were actually fucking the shit out of bears, then we'd both be in the black.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:52 AM
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All's fair in love, JRoth.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:52 AM
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Pwned by 72.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:52 AM
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a h.s. diploma (and a college degree) are no longer about education at all?

I'm fine with saying their primary importance is as a signaling function, but it doesn't follow that they aren't about education, or for that matter that one the things they're meant to signal is a certain level of education. And if I'm complaining about that first comment, of course, I'm all going to note:

Whether or not someone has a GED or a low gpa or whatever tells you *nothing* about their qualifications or intelligence.

Nothing? They're easily overcome by other evidence, or maybe you even want to argue that people with a GED or a low gpa or whatever are on average more qualified or intelligent than people without, but I can't see saying that you shouldn't make any judgment at all based on them.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:52 AM
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137 is very strange.

It always struck me that the (largely) ignorant-of-anatomy Greeks and Romans had specific words for all the body parts. I know that they didn't really - that we push and pull Greek and Latin to suit our needs - but it still seems odd somehow.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:53 AM
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Doesn't AWB get more tail than the next 14 commenters combined?

No, she just talks about it more.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:53 AM
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No, she just talks about it more.

Or other people talk about her talking about it, more.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:54 AM
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143: Must... resist... comparison... to surnames....


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:54 AM
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128: I agree. I don't have a problem with homeschooling as an option, just when it is done, as in my brother's case, for religious reasons. I remember my school years as being painful and awkward (socially) and boring and un-inspiring (intellectually). If I had a kid, and the time to do it, I would think about homeschooling. But I would worry that the kid would miss out on the social aspects of school, even though they're usually not that great.

All speculative since I don't plan on having any kids.


Posted by: pasdquoi | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:54 AM
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144: The Greeks needed every last one of those words to talk about what had been pierced, bloodied, hacked, or otherwise wounded.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:55 AM
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One reason why unschooling looks bad to me is that the people I've known who are doing it tend to be ideologues of some weird kind who are working out personal issues via Utopian theories of life.

"Grades are important" can mean all kinds of things. What I mean by it is that no one ever should say "I know the material, so the grade and the credits are no big deal". Even if you're not fooling yourself, without the grade you won't get credit for knowing your stuff.

It's an understatement to say that I don't like the bureaucratization and credentialization of modern life, but they're facts that you have to acknowledge. I'm pretty much a case in point -- I'm a smart guy, but my credential is an English BA earned at age 34 from Last Chance U.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:56 AM
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No, she just talks about it more.

LB, meanwhile, just smirks and feels sorry for the rest of us.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:56 AM
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IIRC all of the income gains that come from a college degree disappear if you only look at the humanities. An English degree is especially useless. At least with philosophy you can go to law school. I tell philosophy majors they should either plan on law school or have a second major.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:56 AM
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If I had a kid, and the time to do it, I would think about homeschooling.

My wife has occasionally expressed this sentiment. I think there's something very appealing about the idea of perfectly-individualized pedagogy, as well as having the opportunity to engage in enormous amounts of experiential learning.

But, seriously - that's a fuckload of work. Also, I think it would be hard to transition between the roles of Teacher and Parent-with-Things-to-Teach. I wouldn't want every time I point out something in the environment to feel like a lesson.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:59 AM
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from Last Chance U.

In fairness, John, the name should have tipped you off that the degree might not impress a lot of people.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:00 PM
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An English degree is especially useless.

You heard it here first, folks.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:00 PM
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149: that is pretty much the entire Illiad. It's the first-person shooter of great Western literature.

Of course, there is also a lot of woofing prior to hacking each other up.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:01 PM
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152: History too. There are a few jobs for anthropologists with an archaeology background. Foreign languages, art and music have very limited opportunities, though there are some. But history and English are nothing.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:01 PM
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As far as I'm concerned, homeschooling is basically a myth. Any parent who homeschools actually relies heavily on prepackaged materials and support from professional educators. On the flip side, and child who does well in a traditional school is probably getting a lot of support from her parents. We don't homeschool, but I teach my children every chance I can get. We talk about nature, practice writing & numbers.

Every child who is successfully taught is taught both by parents and professional educators. Period.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:01 PM
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Someone should market the John Stuart Mill homeschooling plan. Guaranteed to result in a nervous breakdown!


Posted by: pasdquoi | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:02 PM
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If you go to a good school it's perfectly possible to get a decent job with a humanities degree. Most training is on-the-job anyway. If the school is good enough, the socialization trumps the training.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:03 PM
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Homeschooling is outside the particular bureaucracy we have, though, which is not nothing.

A lot of homeschooled kids show up in various high-achieving groups -- contest winners, etc.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:03 PM
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Further to 120: I think the distinction that's been mentioned a couple of times (I can't tell if the idea is to agree with it or criticize it) between GED holders who are bright kids who *could* have finished hs but were either too impatient or too bored, and GED holders who lacked parental support/had drug problems/etc. I mean, the fuckups (however you want to define that) are demonstrating that they fucked up *in the past*, as teenagers. The GED suggests that they recovered from that--which, to me, suggests more brains and character than your average h.s. graduate.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:04 PM
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The thing with the online high schools is that I think it's a way for charter schools to teach extremely cheaply and make a big profit off state reimbursements that are designed for expensive brick-and-mortar schools.

Also, most kids are too undisciplined to do very much work online-only. Even a lot of adults spend significant amounts of time commenting on blogs when they are supposed to be working.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:06 PM
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The GED suggests that they recovered from that--which, to me, suggests more brains and character than your average h.s. graduate.

hear, hear.

*cough*

erm.....


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:07 PM
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163, see my 7 for confirmation.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:07 PM
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History too.

History's not quite as useless as English, although there's not much you can do with a BA. Archaeology is actually pretty useful, in that there are a lot of fieldwork jobs out there, but those jobs are very low-paying.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:07 PM
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If you go to a good school it's perfectly possible to get a decent job with a humanities degree. Most training is on-the-job anyway. If the school is good enough, the socialization trumps the training.

That's only true for the very top Ivy schools. I doubt that it's true for even the best state universities (Madison, Berkeley) even though they're academically pretty comparable to Ivies. In many cases the university-formed connections and pre-existing elite status play the deciding role.

It's not true for Reed, though Reed's socialization is actually negative.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:09 PM
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A lot of homeschooled kids show up in various high-achieving groups -- contest winners, etc.

A lot of Geography Bee winners are homeschooled, for instance.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:09 PM
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I was a history major, and now I have a high-paying, high-prestige job as a university administrator.


Posted by: pasdquoi | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:09 PM
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You know what's fucking pathetic, though? How many people who don't have English degrees and are lacking the basic skills that are so worthless when not attached to something other than an English degree. A significant part of my success (such as it is) as an architect is tied to my writing, critical thinking, and rhetorical skills, which are generally absent in my profession (and others).

Given how many careers now require grad school of some sort, it seems like there should be a window for a 4 yr degree that combines humanities stuff with whatever practical interest will boost you towards grad school.

Of course, ideally, HS grads would have basic skills that even a couple courses could refine to a professional level, but that doesn't seem possible in the US.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:10 PM
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169 was sarcasm, in case it's not clear.


Posted by: pasdquoi | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:10 PM
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In many cases the university-formed connections and pre-existing elite status play the deciding role.

This is their essential purpose.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:10 PM
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The GED suggests that they recovered from that--which, to me, suggests more brains and character than your average h.s. graduate.

In some cases that's true, but not all. However, a HS degree isn't worth much by itself anyway. And regardless of what you and I think, we don't do much hiring. A lot of "grades count" is responsive to the actual system in place.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:12 PM
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this is what general IQ tests are for. But since for employment purposes they're illegal, diplomas or GPA are often the best measure available.

I'm sorry, this is gross. IQ tests are fucked up, too. How about, you know, the measure of actually reading what people write/listening to what they have to say?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:12 PM
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Even a lot of adults spend significant amounts of time commenting on blogs when they are supposed to be working.

I'd like to see you prove that.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:13 PM
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I mean, the fuckups (however you want to define that) are demonstrating that they fucked up *in the past*, as teenagers. The GED suggests that they recovered from that-

Not really. The GED is just a really easy test. Most test-takers report about 30 total hours of prep time, and 70 percent pass. This is as compared to thousands of in-class hours over the course of a high school diploma.

The real signal of recovery would be something like a CC degree. GEDs perform a valuable function in certifying someone to go on to community college


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:14 PM
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176 was me.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:14 PM
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B, we can't wish the job market out of existence. There are people who do the hiring, and one way or another they're going to choose. Likewise, there are people who handle college and grad school admissions, and they have their ways of choosing too.

I wish that the world were less strangled by credentialization and large bureaucratic organizations, but my lifelong attempts to bring these organizations down have come to absolutely nothing. They're as powerful as they ever were, and I'm just barely getting by.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:16 PM
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I was going to read this thread but Witt has usurped anything and everything that I wanted to say and provided a factual basis for my opinions. Therefore, I give her my proxy for the rest of this thread.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:17 PM
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143

"Nothing? They're easily overcome by other evidence, or maybe you even want to argue that people with a GED or a low gpa or whatever are on average more qualified or intelligent than people without, but I can't see saying that you shouldn't make any judgment at all based on them."

Some people believe statistical inferences are immoral.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:18 PM
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this is gross.

And yet, it's how employers approach the matter.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:18 PM
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How about, you know, the measure of actually reading what people write/listening to what they have to say?

I'm not disputing this as a good way to get real answers about people, but I don't know how to achieve it in practice. Among other things, we've discussed here before that the ability to express oneself clearly and concisely is vanishingly rare. So you're left with a lot of people producing pathetically formulaic cover letters and ummming their way through interviews. At least some of those inexpressive dolts must have skills.

Then there's the issue of fear-of-lawsuit, which pushes HR people to make only decisions that can be grounded in concrete terms, like GPA.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:19 PM
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How about, you know, the measure of actually reading what people write/listening to what they have to say?

B.! That's not measuring!

We have to measure on an allegedly objective scale, providing means for comparison, or else we don't know what to do and we might get in trouble!

Sheesh.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:19 PM
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That's only true for the very top Ivy schools. I doubt that it's true for even the best state universities (Madison, Berkeley) even though they're academically pretty comparable to Ivies.

That's insane unless you have a very weird and restricted definition of "decent job."


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:19 PM
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People, stop hating on the homeschoolers. Any time there's a student/teacher ratio of 4:1 instead of 35:1, you're going to end up with huge advantages. Homeschoolers do better than people in traditional schools on just about every measure you can come up with. Yes there are a lot of hippie homeschoolers, and a lot of fundies, but there's also many people who homeschool for educational or safety reasons.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:20 PM
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This is as compared to thousands of in-class hours over the course of a high school diploma.

These are not thousands of efficiently-used hours. In my son's HS kid frequently passed the test for certain required courses with no prep to speak of. If they had taken the class they would have wasted their time.

Granted, the GED is intended to recognize attainment of a bare minimum HS grad standard.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:20 PM
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How many people who don't have English degrees and are lacking the basic skills that are so worthless when not attached to something other than an English degree.

Exactly. This "humanities degrees are worthless" stuff is as annoying as the "grades matter" stuff.

173: I realize this is how *most* people think, and that therefore it "matters" in the "real world." But it bothers me when people who have reason to know that this stuff *shouldn't* be the case keep saying that it is. Especially without distinguishing between "true, for stupid reasons" and "true, and right and correct." The least we can do is try to argue against stupid bullshit and point out where it's wrong.

Or what's the point of having an education in the first place?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:20 PM
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174

"I'm sorry, this is gross. IQ tests are fucked up, too. How about, you know, the measure of actually reading what people write/listening to what they have to say? "

Rather time consuming in an employment context. Also extremely subjective and subject to bias.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:21 PM
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I'd like to see you prove that

Check out this site. It's shocking.

That's only true for the very top Ivy schools. I doubt that it's true for even the best state universities (Madison, Berkeley)

Oh come on, those are great schools that you can do fine in with a humanities degree. Over a quarter of all undergrad degrees are in the arts, humanities, or social sciences. They can't all end up homeless, we'd notice it.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:23 PM
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Humanities degrees are worthless.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:24 PM
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What does an English BA do that they couldn't do without the BA? Inquiring minds want to know. My experience is primarily with Last Chance U. grads, but even Reed English BAs usually need additional training before they're really employable. I've known any number of LCU grads who ended up keeping the job they worked their way through college on. Pretty much including myself. (I also know an anthro PhD from a low-ranking school who's still driving bus.)


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:24 PM
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good school, humanities degree

Aside from the club-joining aspect of University, there is the possibility of widened horizons, of choices becoming visible that were unconsidered before. This process is hard for teachers to observe, I think. The horizon looks wider with a better U because better teachers are more common, I think, excellent CC or HS teachers notwithstanding. This may be changing since good universities treat their teachers so badly, the teacher quality between CC and 4-year is less different than it had been.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:24 PM
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What does an English BA do that they couldn't do without the BA?

Get into law school.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:25 PM
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I recognize that a lot of homeschoolers do really really well. IN fact, one of my biggest concerns with homeschooling is that it takes the bright motivated kids with bright motivated parents out of the community school system, which actually brings everyone down. We need those smart kids in the schools with the other kids.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:26 PM
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What does an English BA do that they couldn't do without the BA?

I'm not sure how many jobs that aren't extremely technical--and those are relatively few--that couldn't be done without a BA.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:27 PM
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176: Ahem. How many people do you know that will go *out of their way* to do something that is (1) not required; (2) heavily stigmatized--no matter how easy it is? That people are willing to suck it up and face their lack of "qualifications" and sign up for a "loser" test in order to overcome that suggests a great deal of character and strength to me.

181: Yeah, I know that. Thanks for pointing out the obvious. In other news, grass is green and water is wet.

I tend to approach these discussions with the presumption that we're trying to do something other than just repeat the conventional wisdom. Like maybe interrogate the conventional wisdom and see what it's based on and whether or not that basis is accurate/fair/reasonable.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:28 PM
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Some people believe statistical inferences are immoral.

Acting (and, especially, legislating) on certain statistical inferences is, in fact, immoral.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:28 PM
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B, I'm talking about people who beat their brains out, went into debt, etc. to get English BAs and then found out that it didn't do anything for them objectively (jobwise). They had really assumed that it would. They weren't going into debt for cultural enrichment, and they were really crushed. This is one of the realities of education today.

In terms of upward mobility, they'd have been better off with a good CC degree.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:29 PM
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English BA

Averaging over lots of bachelors, won't they try to reach farther than those without BAs? Many fail, of course, but considering only those whose work life is unchanged by their degree is sample bias, I think.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:30 PM
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John, you old troll, that there is no job posting for "entry level literary critic; need only a BA" does not entail that there are no jobs for which people with BAs in English can compete. No, there isn't a job custom-tailored to the person with coursework on Milton, but, as noted, these people aren't all driving buses.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:30 PM
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Following up on 112: unschooling assumes that if you leave kids to themselves, they'll just teach themselves everything they need to know on their own. The logic is that kids are more eager to learn what they want to learn, and won't need to know what they don't want to learn because hey, they'll just end up doing something they like anyway. There are massive problems with this, the most obvious one being that what you're interested in learning when you're twelve isn't necessarily what you need to have learned when you're twenty.

My partner is the oldest of three sisters who were unschooled. She ended up okay, mainly because she was unusually and quasi-neurotically driven as a kid, and crammed in her late teens to learn as much of a high school-style curriculum as she could to get into a good college. Even then she feels that she missed a lot of opportunities because of stuff she didn't learn - stuff she wasn't made to learn - growing up. Her sisters didn't do as well. They're both really smart, really talented people who could thrive in the right school - and really, I'm not just bullshitting here, I've met plenty of dumb people at the Ivy where I graduated and plenty of smart people out of it, and these are smart people - but they weren't allowed to go to school, and there was a lot of material they just didn't learn because of it, and they've lost a lot of opportunities because of that. Her youngest sister is living with us now, and we're basically trying to catch her up on four years of high school in the very brief period of time she has before she applies to college, which as you can imagine is an enormous task.

I really like my partner's parents, but I tend to see what they did - and what other unschooling parents do - as an incredibly self-involved and potentially destructive sort of experiment with your kids.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:30 PM
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185: This is just anecdata, but I've taught a fair number of home schoolers once they got to college, and, while Latin is hugely popular with the home schooling crowd it seems, and they kids all show up in school having studied it for 6 years, they don't actually seem to know anything, and rarely even test out of the first semester.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:30 PM
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B, I'm talking about people who beat their brains out, went into debt, etc. to get English BAs and then found out that it didn't do anything for them objectively (jobwise).

You seem to be arguing about more than the existence of such people.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:32 PM
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Check out this site. It's shocking.

I have stared into the abyss....


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:34 PM
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Over a quarter of all undergrad degrees are in the arts, humanities, or social sciences. They can't all end up homeless, we'd notice it.

Jesus, PGD, you're obtuse. My point has been that people with these degrees often end up doing the same job they worked their way through school with. Or as waiters, or baristas, or low level administrative assistants and flunkies, or doing phone soliciting, etc.

I was only speculating about Madison and Berkeley, which to me are the top public universities. It may be that their humanities BA people do better than Last Chance U people.

An English or a history degree is practical as a stepping stone to law school or some practical MA program, but you're then talking about 5-6 years of school, whereas some of the 2-year programs also lead to career jobs.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:35 PM
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I'm not disputing this as a good way to get real answers about people, but I don't know how to achieve it in practice. Among other things, we've discussed here before that the ability to express oneself clearly and concisely is vanishingly rare. So you're left with a lot of people producing pathetically formulaic cover letters and ummming their way through interviews. At least some of those inexpressive dolts must have skills.

There are lots of ways. For instance, you might look at which cover letters have personality, even if the spelling is occasionally a little off (unless you're hiring a proofreader). You might attend think about writing your job descriptions in a way that focus less on "qualifications" and more on skills or what the job *does*. You might decide who to interview based on something other than a checklist of qualifications--like maybe cover letters, or actually getting in touch with the listed references. You might ask interview questions that don't just elicit "umm" answers and that aren't just tests fishing for the right answer--try asking them for their thoughts on actual real problems, and see if they have an interesting take on it. Heck, you could even tell folks when you schedule the interview that you're especially interested in x, y, or z, and then you'd have a chance to find out something more about their skill set than whether they think well in an interview situation.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:35 PM
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My point has been that people with these degrees often end up doing the same job they worked their way through school with. Or as waiters, or baristas, or low level administrative assistants and flunkies, or doing phone soliciting, etc.

In support of which, you point to your ass. You further claim that this true of Berkeley/UVa/Mich/etc. grads, as well. Doubt it.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:37 PM
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I wasn't arguing that community college degrees can very often be a better choice than 4-year humanities degrees. I agree with everything you said about CCs. But I know for a fact that prestigious businesses can and do recruit humanities majors from good schools -- with good schools very definitely including places like Berkeley, Wisconsin, Michigan. They're recruiting potential more than major.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:37 PM
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198: Yes, and when smart people with PhDs say "English degrees are worthless" that just goes to prove that English degrees are worthless. Maybe the smart people with PhDs and their friends might try *changing* the shitty status quo by pointing out what's *wrong* with the CW, instead of just confirming that yes, the status quo is exactly right, and everyone knows that getting a degree in English is stupid and pointless, haw haw!


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:38 PM
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208 to 205.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:38 PM
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you might look at which cover letters have personality

Once again, B terrifies me.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:39 PM
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200: My wife, with her BA in English, went to teach English to Japanese middle schoolers for 2 years. Came back, ended up with a degree in preservation planning, and was pretty psyched to get a job where her card actually said "Preservation Planner."

I think I've said this before: I'm all in favor of the concept of 3 year BAs leading to 2 year Masters that are career-specific. The only trouble I see with this is that, as has also been discussed, freshman year is often 13th grade.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:40 PM
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I contend that at every level, an English (or humanities) degree is a bad investment from a career, social-mobility point of view. (See 152). An English BA from Harvard or Berkeley is worth more than one from Last Chance U, but it's worth less than most other degrees from the same school. This is true all the way up to the PhD level.

This is OK for people who are willing to make a sacrifice for cultural enrichment, or who have families with money, or who plan to marry money, and so on. But a lot of talk about education is about upward social mobility, and you don't get that from a humanities degree.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:40 PM
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John, you really seem to be saying that, in the end, the real point of higher education is "can you get a job that pays ___ with it?" Which sure, that's *a* point for a lot of people. But do you really think that someone with a degree in women's studies who works as a cook should have just not bothered to go to college at all?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:40 PM
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207, I was speculating about Berkeley and Michigan. as I've said. But what does a humanities graduate from one of those schools do without further credentialization?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:42 PM
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I got a BA in English from UVa if you are interested in how little that degree is worth.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:43 PM
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214: I think what's John's saying is that maybe you ought to ask the person with a degree in women's studies who works as a cook that question, and see what he or she says. In some cases, sure, it was all worth it. In other cases they're struggling to pay off large debts and could have gotten the same job straight out of high school, and are pretty fucking pissed about it.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:44 PM
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216: Class?


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:44 PM
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An English BA from Harvard or Berkeley is worth more than one from Last Chance U, but it's worth less than most other degrees from the same school.

If we get rid of everyone who gets a graduate degree--doubt it's by much.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:44 PM
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198: B, as I was saying, neither you nor I ever hires anyone. And furthermore, people who hire people don't listen to you and me, because we're humanities types. You're making it seem as though if I shut up, the problem would disappear.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:45 PM
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Haven't had a chance to read the thread yet but I'd like to pipe in and say that the only people I've ever seen who are enrolled in online schools are the kids of the "bad" parents of the week on Trading Spouses/Wife Swap. (Gym TV watching, naturally) What's up with that? All of the kids on that show are in online high schools!


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:45 PM
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I contend that at everygraduatelevel, an English (or humanities)nearly any degree is a bad investment from a career, social-mobility point of view.

At least if you mean by investing in career something like earnings expectations. I'd say it's a pretty safe bet that the vast majority of people who take graduate degrees lose financially on them. Hopefully you're gaining something more important to you.

With a few exceptions, of course. But I'd hate to compute the opportunity cost of my graduate degrees & post-doc.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:46 PM
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What's up with that? All of the kids on that show are in online high schools!

Gives them more screen time, presumably.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:47 PM
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But what does a humanities graduate from one of those schools do

As I said, that there's no one thing does not mean that these graduates do nothing.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:47 PM
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Class?

Not much.

Oh, 1989.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:47 PM
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But what does a humanities graduate from one of those schools do without further credentialization?

Marketing, often enough, sometimes consulting. IIRC, I know a couple of accountants and I think at least one actuary. Often enough, you want a body with certain characteristics, and not much more. And from there, people end up working their way up.

Further to 219: I mean if you look, say, fifteen to twenty years out.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:48 PM
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225: OK, 2 yrs ahead of wife. Presumably didn't know.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:49 PM
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I will also note that my opinion is that homeschooling has improved a lot in the last 5 years. The homeschoolers have become much more organized and have move toward cooperative homeschooling with shared resources and skills.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:49 PM
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214: Yes, B. When you talk about upward social mobility, and you do talk about that, that's what you're talking about! And it's really hard on people whose parents sacrifice, who borrow, who work their way through school, when they find out that jobwise they end up about where they started. People from monied families can afford to blow four years and then start thinking what they're going to do for a living.

Teaching English overseas is the only pretty good job my BA ever helped me with, and if I'd been able to stay overseas my BA would have been a good investement.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:49 PM
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But do you really think that someone with a degree in women's studies who works as a cook should have just not bothered to go to college at all?

B is right, John. After all, educated women have a better shot at bagging a prosperous husband.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:50 PM
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213: Well, in terms of social mobility, you *do* get cultural capital from a 4-year degree (plus, depending, you might marry "up"). But I think that you're making conflicting arguments--one, that people shouldn't spend more money on a degree because they think it's the golden ticket (agreed) and that thus there is *nothing wrong* with getting a practical 2 year degree (also agreed); and two, that getting a low-status degree (GED, CC) *isn't* as good as getting a "real" degree from a "good" college. Which is only true in terms of the status and cultural capital that you seem to be arguing don't matter when you say people shouldn't get humanities degrees.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:51 PM
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OK, 2 yrs ahead of wife. Presumably didn't know.

My gf would have been a year behind your wife.

Who knows? I might know your wife. I knew a fair number of people in the class or two behind me due to swimming.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:51 PM
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opportunity cost

Depends on the alternative, which depends on the business cycle. Grad school in a recession is not such a big sacrifice. Also, opportunities vary with geography-- living away from a megapolis during grad school and then moving to a bigger place hoping that something works out is common, and works for lots of people.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:52 PM
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I'd say it's a pretty safe bet that the vast majority of people who take graduate degrees lose financially on them.

Huh? Are you defining "grad degree" not to include med, law, architecture (for those w/o arch, in undergrad), etc.? A Masters is becoming a prerequisite for a lot of lucrative careers. In the case of my wife (see above), not lucrative as such (she was a bureaucrat), but significantly more lucrative than she could have had with an English degree alone.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:52 PM
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232: OK, check yr blog.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:53 PM
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In my humble opinion, the true benefit of a four year program is really in the residential aspect of meeting people and being exposed to various things. (STDs excluded.)

Beyond that, I think we should promote the use of community colleges.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:54 PM
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224: Man that was one hell of a quibble, FL. What six or eight things do these people do? Or 17? That they couldn't do without the degree?

"Not being homeless" (189) is not what people go to college for.

Remember, we hear over and over again about education and social mobility. How does that work, specifically for people from poorer families who get humanities degrees?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:54 PM
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jroth:

I dont see anything?


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:56 PM
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JRoth: Where did your wife go to grad school?


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:56 PM
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Remember, we hear over and over again about education and social mobility.

Doesn't mean we have to believe it. As Atrios often notes, college has moved toward becoming a bare minimum when, I think, it's not clear that it needs to be.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTi | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:56 PM
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that getting a low-status degree (GED, CC) *isn't* as good as getting a "real" degree from a "good" college. Which is only true in terms of the status and cultural capital that you seem to be arguing don't matter when you say people shouldn't get humanities degrees.

FWIW, I don't think John's actually arguing this, at least not strongly. He's just putting it in to forestall objections of the "but an English degree from Harvard gets you all sorts of places!!" sort. That is, to specify that he's not talking about those colleges.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 12:59 PM
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226 is correct. Accenture, the largest business consulting company in the world (the old Anderson Consulting before the branding people got hold of the name) recruits all undergraduate majors. Just show up to the interview in a suit, appear smart, be reasonably slick.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:00 PM
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When I say "graduate degrees" I just mean in the humanities.

Accounting is a separate program.

B, I've never said anything against CC degrees at all. I have recognized that a.) the GED is, in fact, not highly regarded y employers, and b.) in many cases there are good reasons for this.

I do not think that poor families or individuals should make financial sacrifices to get humanities degrees.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:00 PM
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Huh? Are you defining "grad degree" not to include med, law, architecture

Yes, I should have been more clear to differentiate between `professional degrees' and `academic degrees' (insomuch as that is sensible) this way.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:02 PM
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John, I'm not saying you should shut up and the problem would disappear. I'm saying that if you think there is any point at all in having an opinion (or an education) presumably you think (at least, this is how I think) that what one says *matters*. Not in the "don't speak unsavory truths!" sense, but in the "you know, if something is true in practice but founded on bullshit, then, say so" sense.

215: Okay, I have a friend who got a humanities degree from Wash U and then got work--with no further credentialling--in the world of mutual funds because she could write. She ended up making very good money and now has her own consulting business. She also gives Kotsko, who as you know has a degree in humanities, some freelance work.

I have another friend who had a degree in French and German who went on to become a commodities trader, made shitloads of money, quit and went back for a PhD in computer studies.

In both cases, the degree gave them some *academic* skills (writing, trilingualism) that were useful--but just as useful was the fact that they didn't passively think that the degree was merely a job credential, but actively went out and *sold* their credentials *and* their non-credentialed skills. Which is the kind of (excuse the word) entrepeneurial thinking that focusing on higher-ed-as-credential really undervalues and discourages--and that plenty of people without degrees are actually quite good at.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:03 PM
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No, John, it's not a quibble. You seem to make the mistake of thinking that unless a degree leads to a particular job (lab tech, maybe, or something technical that I can do with a BS in physics) the degree is useless for advancement purposes. And as I said in 200, this is an error because humanities BA holders typically go to work in jobs unrelated, or distantly related, to the content of their courses. But this doesn't mean the degree, the skills, the sorting-device sorts of things, are all irrelevant to getting the job. Why do various companies hire humanities degree holders? Because (the usual answer goes) the skills one acquires in getting these degrees, plus an investment in training, yields valuable employees. But this means your demand will be met with a variety of occupations that don't have names like "Historian, junior grade" in the title, and you'll say, falsely, that these jobs could have been had without the degree.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:03 PM
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215: John, my company actually hires a lot of humanities graduates from some of the top Midwestern schools to fill out our entry-level positions. The top ranks want college graduates from pretigious institutions and we sure don't pay enough to grab the good math, science or finance majors, so we end up with a bunch of humanities people who are biding time until grad school or have decided to shift into a career completely unrelated to their degree.

I imagine there are a number of other companies in similar straits.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:04 PM
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226, 242: From which schools? Harvard, Michigan, Minnesota, Arkansas State, Last Chance U.? How far down the ladder do they go.

Tim, my arguments are all specifically aimed at the idea that people should get college degrees for job and social mobility reasons. I am saying that they shouldn't get humanities degrees for those reasons. Humanities degrees are OK as luxury consumption items, I suppose.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:05 PM
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246: No, I was actually saying that the people I knew at Last Chance U. didn't seem to be getting very good jobs at all.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:07 PM
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Accounting is a separate program.

Mmm, no. You think everyone hired at the Big Whatever's-Left has an accounting degree?

I do not think that poor families or individuals should make financial sacrifices to get humanities degrees.

That seems likely to be true, but not for straightforward "humanities suck!" (a position I'm pretty comfortable with, fwiw) reasons. They probably shouldn't sacrifice for a degree that won't increase income expectations, which might mean "Don't get the biology degree from the school with the very bad reputation."

I think the sorting going on is more complicated than you think.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:09 PM
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John, it might be a mistake to generalize from that sample.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:10 PM
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Rob, 152: IIRC all of the income gains that come from a college degree disappear if you only look at the humanities. An English degree is especially useless.

Is everyone arguing that Helpy-chalk's 152 is wrong? Because that's the issue here.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:10 PM
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I get fairly regular solicitations from consulting firms and ad agencies. They're both hot for humanities PhDs, because they feel the only skills these folks lack for the job to which they hope to hire them are skills that are easily taught. I have a friend who quit his job at Princeton to take them up on it.

A financial analysis firm started recruiting heavily among Classics BAs for the same reasons -- these were folks with a lot of training in close analytical work as well as writing and argument. The business stuff they could teach them in a month, and much more easily than they could teach the business kids how to write.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:11 PM
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FL, I'm actually talking about the whole range of American higher education, not merely the ones you deign to concern yourself with. I would also say that at every level, a humanities degree is career-wise the worst choice. What do consultant and marketing jobs pay? They don't have an aura of prestige -- isn't "consultant" the default self-description of losers?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:13 PM
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there is no job posting for "entry level literary critic; need only a BA"

Sure there is; it's called Teaching (or Research) Assistant.

I do not think that poor families or individuals should make financial sacrifices to get humanities degrees.

Okay, well, there's where we differ. I do not think that people should *have* to make those financial sacrifices, which is why I will always argue strenuously that formal education is not a guarantee of brains or talent, and that there are plenty of people who lack formal educations who are as smart and talented as people who have them.

But I also think that we should be willing to support people who want humanities degrees--and part of that support means not saying "oh, you shouldn't do that, it's useless"--and promote the value of things like writing and critical thinking even if gosh, there's no job ad in the local paper that says "wanted: critical thinker." And moreover, I think it's dangerous and fucked up to just swallow the "humanities are useless" kool aid.

Saying that a BA in Women's Studies is worth something is not the same thing as saying that people who don't have BAs in Women's Studies are worth nothing. But saying that the degree is worth nothing if you end up working as a cook rests on a presumption that *the* point of a degree is to get X kind of job--which is part, but not all, of the truth. Likewise, saying that there's a good reason a GED doesn't count also rests on a presumption that *the* point of formal education is to make employers happy--and that since employers look askance at GEDs, they're right to do so. It's a completely circular argument that says nothing whatsoever beyond affirming the status quo.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:15 PM
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Depends on the alternative, which depends on the business cycle.

True, grad school vs. unemployment is a very different computation than grad school vs. continued employment. My admittedly anecdotal experience is that, if we ignore professional degrees it does hold.


In the case of my wife (see above), not lucrative as such (she was a bureaucrat), but significantly more lucrative than she could have had with an English degree alone.

your right, I really wasn't thinking of masters degrees, which can be much more `in and out'. Losing a couple of years salary is recoverable, even moreso if you take a working masters paid for by your company.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:16 PM
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Is everyone arguing that Helpy-chalk's 152 is wrong? Because that's the issue here.

I think this is going to vary as you increase the selectivity of the school. As you suggest in #248. But you've been making a very strong argument that dismisses selectivity of school entirely.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:16 PM
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It's risky, you might lose your investment. The odds of paying off go up for people willing to leave last-chanceville after Uni. A risky investment isn't the same as a definitely bad one.

152 is an empirical question, I've only seen a breakout for the sciences. Does the professional society of historians maintain statistics?

I think that much of what John is talking about is tied to a crappy local economy. BA in english from say CUNY or UI Chicago Circle is not the same as Arkansas State for reasons independent of the school.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:17 PM
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238: Sorry, she came home just before I could post; should be there now.

239: Cornell University ("Founded by Ezra Cornell")


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:17 PM
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John, your thesis seems immune from the counterevidence already offered; I'm not sure there's anywhere useful to go from here.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:17 PM
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you'll say, falsely, that these jobs could have been had without the degree.

I'm on your side, Labs, but this isn't quite right--in many cases sure, one could get that job without a BA in English. That doesn't mean, however, that getting a BA in English isn't a qualification for the job.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:18 PM
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They don't have an aura of prestige -- isn't "consultant" the default self-description of losers?

Not for those firms soliciting humanities PhDs.


Posted by: asl | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:18 PM
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What do consultant and marketing jobs pay?

A lot, actually. Mitt Romney made his money in consulting.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:21 PM
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Not in the "don't speak unsavory truths!" sense, but in the "you know, if something is true in practice but founded on bullshit, then, say so" sense.

B, over the past 40 years I've been very good about saying that stuff is bullshit, but without effect. For better or worse, I have actually lived my life pretty much outside the credentializing system, but there's been too much cost and I wouldn't recommend that for anyone. My bottom line now is that in fact the humanities are not good for upward social mobility, and that people with bad grades, spotty records, and poor credentials have relatively poor life chances.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:21 PM
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Not in the "don't speak unsavory truths!" sense, but in the "you know, if something is true in practice but founded on bullshit, then, say so" sense.

B, over the past 40 years I've been very good about saying that stuff is bullshit, but without effect. For better or worse, I have actually lived my life pretty much outside the credentializing system, but there's been too much cost and I wouldn't recommend that for anyone. My bottom line now is that in fact the humanities are not good for upward social mobility, and that people with bad grades, spotty records, and poor credentials have relatively poor life chances.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:21 PM
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261: talk about quibbles! Of course, one could have had the job with a degree in classics or history; English isn't a necessary condition. On the other hand I kindly let your claim about TA positions go because those require graduate school.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:21 PM
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255 is pretty much on track, I think. I was trying to note in my above (strictly about graduate degrees, which is a different financial calculus) that reducing this stuff to purely economic terms isn't that sensible anyway.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:22 PM
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Cornell University ("Founded by Ezra Cornell")

Interesting. I hear he wanted to found an institution where anyone could find instruction in any study.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:23 PM
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The odds of paying off go up for people willing to leave last-chanceville after Uni. A risky investment isn't the same as a definitely bad one. . . . I think that much of what John is talking about is tied to a crappy local economy. BA in english from say CUNY or UI Chicago Circle is not the same as Arkansas State for reasons independent of the school.

Exactly.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:24 PM
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What do consultant and marketing jobs pay?

this is really far to broad to characterize. The consulting label runs all the way from `I don't want to tell you I have my own business in my moms basement' to `Fortune 500 companies are my bitch' and everyone in between


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:25 PM
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266: I didn't mean "English vs. Classics." I meant a degree at all (except inasmuch as hiring employer insists on A Degree).

TAs don't need grad school. A lot of TAs start teaching their first semesters in grad school, with only a BA.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:26 PM
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A lot of TAs start teaching their first semesters in grad school, with only a BA.

That really, really depends on discipline and school (and what you call `teaching').


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:27 PM
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But saying that the degree is worth nothing if you end up working as a cook rests on a presumption that *the* point of a degree is to get X kind of job--which is part, but not all, of the truth.

You're so idealistic, B, but you're not working as a cook. Seriously.

Romney's consulting was backed by a family fortune. Romney's day didn't work by the hour.

260: Not me and you, probably.

I am now willing to grant that from the best schools, even an English degree has some value. Whether it's worth the sticker price of $120,000, I doubt. But when you talk about education from a policy POV, you're mostly not talking about the best schools.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:28 PM
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Not for those firms soliciting humanities PhDs.

Yes, it is possible to pick out examples of attractive career opportunities for humanities graduates, and yes, there are enlightened employers who seek them out. I work for one of those employers. I even wrote a chapter of a book arguing that very point. But there is no getting around the fact that the humanities grads those companies are looking for are either (1) top of their class in grades and achievement; (2) from elite or semi-elite schools; or (3) both. For your average person of modest means and less than superlative ability, going into debt to pursue a humanities degree is a high risk bet from an RoI point of view. (Though, as John concedes, it may have some value as a luxury consumption good.)


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:28 PM
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. . . so we end up with a bunch of humanities people who are biding time until grad school or have decided to shift into a career completely unrelated to their degree. I imagine there are a number of other companies in similar straits.

Perhaps, but not nearly enough to deal with the armies of humanities BAs pouring out of schools each year. My guess is that very few people who obtained those degrees made the calculation when they enrolled that they were getting the degree in order to better themselves, or something like that. Most enrolled because they were brought up middle class and post-secondary education was expected. Most believed that their four-year humanities degree would lead to upward mobility in society, because that is what they have been told. Most graduate with a mountain of debt and very little in the way of job prospects. They are more likely to work the counter at the local rent-a-car branch than in some sort of business consulting position. They are somewhere in between blue collar and white collar. Nepotism and cronyism are probably a much better indicator of future professional success than school quality or any other factor.


Posted by: PeaDub | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:28 PM
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263: No, Romney made his money in private equity. Bain Capital is not Bain & Co. (the consulting firm), though Bain Capital's founders were all partners at Bain.

And John, I do agree with you that humanities degrees at the vast majority of colleges probably add relatively little to lifetime earning, particularly from the lower end. But when you are talking about Michigan, Illinois, Virginia, and other top state schools along with comparable private schools, there is still a lot of value. The high-achieving kids out of those programs are going to very different, much more lucrative, consulting and marketing jobs than their less accomplished classmates, let alone people from "undesirable" schools where there are no corporate recruiters searching for potential hires.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:28 PM
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For better or worse, I have actually lived my life pretty much outside the credentializing system, but there's been too much cost and I wouldn't recommend that for anyone.

Nobody is suggesting that people live outside the credentializing system. Just that a humanities major does not exile you outside that credentializing system. It's rarely a credentializing advantage, but for a reasonable range of schools (not just the top Ivies) it's not so much of a disadvantage either. There really is a fair amount of opportunity within the economy if you are a literate and together person with good work habits.

But I agree that if you are in a mid-range to lower level school the risk minimizing choice is a more career-oriented major.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:28 PM
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Mitt Romney made his money in consulting.

Romney made a small fortune in consulting, but he made his large fortune in private equity (in an investment firm that spun out of a consulting firm). Very different worlds with very different payoffs.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:31 PM
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No, Romney made his money in private equity. Bain Capital is not Bain & Co. (the consulting firm), though Bain Capital's founders were all partners at Bain.

I stand corrected.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:31 PM
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Reducing this stuff to purely economic terms isn't that sensible anyway.

It really is if you're talking about social mobility, or about people who make extreme sacrifices to go to school.

I still want someone to deny what Helpy-chalk said in 152, because it's my main point:

IIRC all of the income gains that come from a college degree disappear if you only look at the humanities. An English degree is especially useless.



Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:33 PM
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My impression is that consulting at an established firm is a decent middle to upper middle class job, with a chance for the lower rungs of wealth (300-500,000K a year) if you make partner and have a successful practice.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:33 PM
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Friends who home-schooled their children (semi-hippie/alternative) ended up using a somewhat intriguing and controversial cyberschool here in Western Pa. The cyberschool grew out of a failing very small school district in dying a mill town (Midland) in Beaver County. They were down to a few hundred HS students and could not keep up the support of their high school, but literally could not get agreement from any of the surrounding exurban districts to take their students. (For a few years, and to PA's eventual embarassment, they shipped them to East Liverpool, Ohio over the border.) About 2000, they got chartered as a cyberschool and have been raking it in since with the generous subsidies geared to brick and mortar delivery, and that has ben used for some investment in things like a community theater etc. Detail in the article - there is probably some abuse of the system, but given the community's history of really getting so little help on education, I say good for them, grab some of that tax money from better-off districts. For the small parts of the cyberschool my friends used they felt they got adequate service.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:35 PM
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264: John, saying "I've been arguing against credentializing and credentializing still exists, so obviously arguing against it is pointless" is clearly ridiculous.

I get that you're basically arguing from your own experience, and I'm extremely sympathetic to it. But I also think that your situation has to do with a lot of things other than your degree. It's certainly true that "people with bad grades, spotty records, and poor credentials have relatively poor life chances"--but that isn't because getting (say) a humanities degree is worthless, or bad grades are the kiss of death. It's because those things tend (1) to be stigmatized; (2) to reinforce each other, especially in combination; (3) to suggest (or cause) other problems--depression, alcoholism, drug problems, anti-authoritarianism, flakiness, whatever--that themselves are not in any way correlated with lack of talent or brains but *are* correlated with having difficulty using that talent or brains to make money.

You're arguing that correlation is a cause, which it isn't. Getting a degree isn't a *guarantee* of a good job; it's just one helpful factor. Likewise, not getting a degree isn't a guarantee that someone is unemployable; it merely suggests that someone is unconventional--which could be bad, or indifferent, or fabulous. The only way to find out which is to look beyond he mere credential or lack thereof.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:35 PM
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It's rarely a credentializing advantage, but for a reasonable range of schools (not just the top Ivies) it's not so much of a disadvantage either.

Could you ramp up the enthusiasm a bit? I'm unable to percieve that you are actually disagreeing with me. Go talk to FL, he seems to think I'm being unreasonable.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:35 PM
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275: You're completely right, and we only hire people with decent GPAs from good schools(UofC, Northwestern, UofI and Michigan grads are predominant), so even companies like us will not help anyone coming out of the bottom end of a good program or any end of a no-name university. I was only clarifying that John was making too strong of a claim when he said that even top state school humanities degrees would result in no new jobs.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:36 PM
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I don't think anyone's actually disagreeing here.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:37 PM
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268: Excellent.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:37 PM
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B., I have no idea what you're saying. You seem to be saying that people should be encouraged to prepare themselves for a world that doesn't exist yet.

How much financial sacrifice do you think a family should make so that their daughter can become a cook with a BA?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:38 PM
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286: I wouldn't say that....


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:38 PM
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You're so idealistic, B, but you're not working as a cook. Seriously.

No; my last paid job was blogging for a porn web site. For a couple years after college, I worked as a restaurant hostess. My only professional jobs have been (1) TA; (2) professor.

Nonetheless, I'm pretty damn sure that I'm not going to end up working as a cook even *if* I didn't work in higher ed, ever again. Both because I have a degree--in English!!--*and* because I can make the case that I have both credentialed and uncredentialed skills that make me a good prospect for certain kinds of jobs. Cook not being one of them, actually.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:40 PM
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Since John keeps quoting me in his own defense, I will refine my claim (it is a prediction, really):

If you control for parent's income, you will see no difference in income between humanities majors and people who don't complete

That is, if you match people with Harvard humanities Ph.D.s against a group of similarly privileged people who didn't complete college (an odd group, but one that would include Bill Gates) you will see no income difference.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:42 PM
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Very different worlds with very different payoffs.

Knecht says, voice cracking ever so slightly as he gazes at the floor.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:43 PM
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288: I'm saying that people should be encouraged to learn things they are interested in without overmuch fussing at them about whether or not they can make money from it. Said encouragement should include shit like *not* making poor people pay tuition money they can't afford in order to send their kids to college; that's what things like financial aid are for, and there should be a hell of a lot more of it.

I'm also saying that people who take unconventional paths should be assessed in unconventional ways, and that employers ought damn well be flexible and creative enough to realize it, especially if they actually care about getting good employees.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:43 PM
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Rob, that doesn't help me much. If you average in Bill Gates, the stats go crazy. Median maybe?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:43 PM
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Oh hell, despite how much I love to troll Emerson, I do think that while his thesis is overstated there's a general weirdness about the myth of college and the value of a generic BA that leads people to make weird choices, and that there's a nearby thesis that's true and important. BUT ANALYTIC PHILOSOPHY RULZ!


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:44 PM
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Both because I have a degree--in English!!--*and* because I can make the case that I have both credentialed and uncredentialed skills that make me a good prospect for certain kinds of jobs.

I'm going to flout the analogy ban and say that getting a humanities degree from a non-prestigious university is a lot like taking drugs. If you are smart, and ambitious, and have lots of social capital and the support of your family, go for it, because the benefits of opening your eyes to new perspectives might outweight the downsides. But if you are economically marginalized, lacking in social capital, don't have solid backing from family to fall back on, and don't have a lot of drive for self-improvement, then doing either one is a fraught path.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:45 PM
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all of the income gains that come from a college degree disappear if you only look at the humanities. An English degree is especially useless.

To add some numbers: according to this salary survey the average starting job offer to English BAs right out of school is about $32,000 per year:

http://www.career.vt.edu/JOBSEARC/Salaries/NACESurvey.htm

While according to Census figures the mean earnings for high school grads aged 18-24 are about $23,400. It is $28,200 for associate degree holders:

http://pubdb3.census.gov/macro/032007/perinc/new04_001.htm

So there does appear to be some advantage in the raw numbers, though not nearly as great for humanities majors as business majors (about $45-49,000) or engineering majors (well over $50,000 to start).

Of course, these are not adjusted for differences in background, etc.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:45 PM
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My wife is an English Professor at a regional state college. Many of the english majors become teachers, so it's the perfect credential for them. The other popular direction for average students at an average college is high end sales, e.g. real estate or investment products. That can be a good middle class living, better than is easily available without a colelge degree. The employers definitely prefer the degree because the sales force sound more professional. Some of her former students have claimed that the way to sell big stuff is to recognize and then tell the right narrative, so the English major is actually sort of usful.


Posted by: unimaginative | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:46 PM
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my claim (it is a prediction, really):

oh ffs, rob. You don't have data?


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:46 PM
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there's a general weirdness about the myth of college and the value of a generic BA

I'm sure this has come up before, and it's true. However, the pressure on middle class families to conform this way has become very profitable to lenders, and less so to universities, so it's hard to find much traction for getting out of the cycle.

B's right that there are a lot of things to be said even for `generic' BAs (or something, that might not look much like a current BA) but the way we're doing them is pretty broken.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:47 PM
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employers ought damn well be flexible and creative enough to realize it, especially if they actually care about getting good employees.

Some employers--many of them, even--adopt this philosophy. But there are not enough such employers to absorb all the humanities grads, and such that exist are looking for the cream of the crop, which they prefer to 3rd or 4th rate technical or scientific grads, though not necessarily to 1st or 2nd rate technical or scientific grads.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:47 PM
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Could you ramp up the enthusiasm a bit? I'm unable to percieve that you are actually disagreeing with me.

I don't if all you're saying is that humanities majors are much more of an economic risk than other kinds of bachelor's degrees, and that in many cases a humanities BA is not as good as a vocational associates in pure economic terms. I was reacting to your more radical claims upthread that humanities BAs are completely useless economically and leave no path for upward mobility.

We are reaching the usual end state of tepid comity.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:49 PM
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I'm saying that people should be encouraged to learn things they are interested in without overmuch fussing at them about whether or not they can make money from it. Said encouragement should include shit like *not* making poor people pay tuition money they can't afford in order to send their kids to college; that's what things like financial aid are for, and there should be a hell of a lot more of it.

I agree, but I'm talking about the U.S. of A. and what kind of advice we should give to young people living in this particular country.

I'm also saying that people who take unconventional paths should be assessed in unconventional ways, and that employers ought damn well be flexible and creative enough to realize it, especially if they actually care about getting good employees.

I somewhat agree, but anyone I've known who's gone on to do hiring and supervision has had to wrestle with this question, and they've tended end up preserving their sanity by hiring less-flaky people. Reliability is one of the main things any employer looks for.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:49 PM
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296: Thank you KR.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:51 PM
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297: I should have added that the HS degree salary figures are for people working full-time, year-round, which is the proper comparison for starting annual salary offers to college grads.

Friday afternoons...OK, have to get back to work.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:52 PM
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advice we should give to young people living in this particular country.

look into trades.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:52 PM
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I agree, but I'm talking about the U.S. of A. and what kind of advice we should give to young people living in this particular country.

I grew up poor-ish, such that my parents paid very little for me to go to college and I graduated with less than 10 grand in student-loan debt. Financially, I could have attended any college I chose, whereas my more middle-class friends had to turn down fancy private colleges for state schools.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:53 PM
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281: Consulting at the top management and financial consulting firms (McKinsey, Bain, Oliver Wyman, BCG, etc.) tend to be quite a lucrative occupation as far as I can tell. The entry level salaries from undergrad are around $55,000 at the moment, and they grow fairly quickly. It's just that you really need to move up or out, and within ten years you'll probably either be partner, near to it, or gone. But for the years you're in, it's better money than most peers.

Interesting work if you find the right position, but a brutal lifestyle. Even my friends who really enjoy it still say they couln't see sticking with it until partner.

But I really don't know anything outside those first few years, since that's where all my friends are.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:55 PM
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What I say about associate degrees is, in fact, selective. Only certain associate degrees are better than English BAs, though many are better than 2 undergrad years of Englsih.

"Associate degree" includes people being trained for disappearing jobs, and people with 2 years toward a BA, and so on. But some tech associate degrees are extremely viable.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:56 PM
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California [or, at least, LAUSD] has a nasty twist for anyone who might regard a GED as a Bad Thing: If a student over the age of 18 attempts to transfer between one high school and another, said student is told to take the GED instead. One of the Offspring's classmates found himself in this quandry; his parents had thrown him out because he was gay and he had to go live with an aunt out of his old district.

Another of the Offspring's friends just got pissed at the low level of eddikation at her high school, so she took the GED in order to escape. Given that her SATs were in the high 1500s, she didn't have any problem convincing colleges that her GED was worth just as much as a HS diploma.


Posted by: DominEditrix | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:57 PM
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296: FWIW, my "social capital" when I went to college was that my parents were both public school teachers in Stockton, CA. They got their teaching credentials from Sacramento State College; when I was born they were, respectively, a postal carrier and a fabric salesgirl at Sears.

That said, yes, obviously I had advantages that some of my peer group didn't: my mom was bright and very well-read, and my dad's family was solidly upper-middle class (in the ever-so prestigious town of Bakersfield, CA).

I'm not saying that everything is peas and gravy and kids from the wrong side of the tracks can go on to Harvard after dropping out and then earning their GEDs. But I am saying that they can do very well for themselves, and that it's really kind of crappy to argue that because they're poor, they shouldn't even bother to do impractical things, or conversely that if they do impractical things and end up poor, that that's somehow *because* of the impractical things they did rather than because of the kind of unexamined assumptions that we ought, in the interests of both justice and intellectual honesty, to challenge.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:57 PM
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306: What I've been saying.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:58 PM
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With respect to undergrad degrees, it's student load debt that is the real kicker in all this.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 1:59 PM
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prestige and money
i don't know whose side i am, may be JE's
but if almost all poets were destitute but they left their names, then poverty that the humanities majors experience like everywhere is not all that bad phenomenon
may be there is a price to pay for eternity or at least for pleasure to enjoy your mindset :)
not all poets of course Tyutchev for example or Lord Byron and others were sure elite and/or rich


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:00 PM
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I will never, ever, understand you, B. But yes, I'm saying that poor people should not act in a quixotic and risky way. In other words, that there are real costs to being poor.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:00 PM
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Basically, Emerson has done exactly what he (and others) have previously bitched about B occasionally doing: he started with a possibly true claim, ramped it up on steroids, and, in argument, backed it down to a reasonable claim with which few people have ever quibbled.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:01 PM
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We cannot all be destitute romantic poets, Read. Alas.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:01 PM
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Yes, there are real costs to being poor.

Telling poor people to just accept their fate and not make waves--for their own good--is one of them.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:01 PM
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290: Cook not being one of them, actually.

Just curious, not trying to make a point: Getting a cooking job is not necessarily easy, is it? Wouldn't most require either a credential or extensive noncredentialed experience? Sure, a job at McDonald's is the classic example of uncredentialed/unskilled labor, but what about a step up? Does cooking at a Denny's require some sort of culinary education?

Some mom and pop diners probably aren't credentialists, but it seems like family connections might be necessary there.

Or is there a culture of apprenticeship in restaurants that would allow someone to come on board unskilled and learn from a senior cook?


Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:02 PM
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Moi?

This is my final position. Does everyone agree?:

I contend that at every level, an English (or humanities) degree is a bad investment from a career, social-mobility point of view. (See 152). An English BA from Harvard or Berkeley is worth more than one from Last Chance U, but it's worth less than most other degrees from the same school. This is true all the way up to the PhD level.

This is OK for people who are willing to make a sacrifice for cultural enrichment, or who have families with money, or who plan to marry money, and so on. But a lot of talk about education is about upward social mobility, and you don't get that from a humanities degree.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:03 PM
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318: Fuck you, B. Poor people do have options, one of which is to go into a program which will get them a good job, but you're too idealistic for that.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:04 PM
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is there a culture of apprenticeship in restaurants that would allow someone to come on board unskilled and learn from a senior cook?

Yes. You can get a job at Denny's pretty damn easily, but you can move up. I *think* that a lot (most?) of the top chefs at really good restaurants have some kind of culinary degree, but not all. And of course there's always the option of opening your own place if you happen to be halfway decent at the managerial/money side of things. (Which a head chef kind of needs to be anyway.)

John, no; I don't agree that a humanities degree doesn't provide upward mobility. Again, I offer myself as a case in point.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:06 PM
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I don't agree that a humanities degree doesn't provide upward mobility. Again, I offer myself as a case in point.

I put it to you that your lifetime income would be the same whether or not you had a college degree. Prove me wrong!


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:07 PM
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321: Excuse me?

I *started out* in this thread arguing that there's not a goddamn thing wrong with getting a GED. I've argued in the past that there's not a goddamn thing wrong with a CC degree. In the comment just below yours I'm saying that working as a chef is a perfectly respectable (if demanding) job. Where the fuck do you get off implying that I think all poor people should aim for Harvard when I have *repeatedly and consistently* argued on this blog that the Ivy leagues are completely overrated? And when *ten* comments before you're telling me to fuck off, I have as much as said that some poor people--those who want to--should be enabled and encouraged to go to college, while others--those who couldn't care less--should be enabled and encouraged to forego higher ed, and that employers damn well shouldn't discriminate against them?

If you want to go find some airy-fairy ivory tower intellectual who's arguing that everyone should go to college, you're gonna have to keep looking. Because that sure as shit ain't me, and you should know that.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:11 PM
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I'd probably agree with 320, though it should be emphasized that the returns to doing very well in the humanities at a high-end college are nothing to sneeze at, even if they will be worse than that of other majors on average.

321 is a bit strongly worded for my tastes, but this is starting to remind me of the mild disdain & anger that my friends at MIT had for "those kids" on the other side of Cambridge. MIT saw itself as a middle-class school (real middle-class, no fake-ass "oh, my parents only gross $400,000 a year, so we're really only just getting by in Winnetka), and so the kids were there for technical degrees or possibly professional degrees. They saw the Harvard kids, especially the humanities people, as too coddled and privileged because they were in a position to throw their education away in an economic sense. It was a pretty interesting dynamic, especially considering that my friends were not exactly hard-done-to.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:12 PM
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Does cooking at a Denny's require some sort of culinary education?

No. You have to walk in the door. They'll show you a video about racial discrimination, and you talk to a woman on the phone, who asks you for your social security number.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:12 PM
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B, it's worked for you, but I'm claiming that it isn't generally a good choice. And you married well. And you're not a BA but a PhD.

Helpy-chalk's claim is the key. PGD's 297 is somewhat disconfirming, though not overwhelmingly. It doesn't say anything about costs, opportunity costs, and debt.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:13 PM
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I contend that at every level, an English (or humanities) degree is a bad investment from a career, social-mobility point of view.

I don't begin to know how to disentangle that from all manner of other factors. It seems like it might be true. I don't know that you can claim much more than that.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:13 PM
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Well, that was pretty much my main claim all along. It doesn't strike me as a weak claim in the sense of "everyone knows that". Especially because there are I don't know how many tens or hundred of thousands of people studying the humanities at any given time with mistaken ideas about what it will mean in their lives.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:17 PM
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Again, I offer myself as a case in point.

Upward mobility in what sense? Your cultural capital is certainly higher than it would have been without a college degree. PhD are pretty respected letters in a name as far as those things go.

But didn't you meet your husband in high school or something? From what you've mentioned about your other jobs before now (admittedly very incomplete information, so feel free to correct me), it sounds like most of your economic upward mobility has been from marriage. Now, that college degree probably did add a good $7-8K a year to your earnings over without a BA, but that's nothing compared to what can be done with a non-humanities degree.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:18 PM
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Look:

152

IIRC all of the income gains that come from a college degree disappear if you only look at the humanities. An English degree is especially useless. At least with philosophy you can go to law school. I tell philosophy majors they should either plan on law school or have a second major.

And then it turns out

291

Since John keeps quoting me in his own defense, I will refine my claim (it is a prediction, really):

If you control for parent's income, you will see no difference in income between humanities majors and people who don't complete....


Rob, nothing against you, but if this is just your hunch, Emerson is badly misusing it.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:19 PM
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In support of the economic value of a humanities degree, "perceptions of the variations in economic success among graduates in different majors are exaggerated", at least for UT Austin graduates. That is a fairly prestigious school, but it's no Harvard.

For the "is the degree worth it?" question, This article lists overall lifetime earnings gains for bachelors degrees, broken down by category of major.

Average $308,588
Liberal arts $243,883
Business $349,028
Social science $210,080
Computers $443,180
Science $283,286
Engineering $497,930
Education $108,461


Posted by: zadfrack | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:21 PM
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185 - Comm, I love you.

201 - your story kind of proves the whole point of unschooling though - now she can see the point in going to college, she's doing it, and doing the work necessary. The unschoolers - and I agree with them - don't think their kids need to learn stuff to other people's schedules.

I do like hearing everyone's opinions on homeschoolers, like you all know huge samples!

Over here, home educators tend not to label themselves quite as much. Most of the home educating families I know have children who have never been to school. The others are doing it because of bullying, or other bad experiences at school. I don't know anyone who actually says they're HEing "for religious reasons", even the religious families.

As for not wanting to be sometimes parent, sometimes teacher (sorry, can't find the reference) - think about when your kids are little: you're obviously the parent, but you're constantly showing them stuff, having conversations about things, answering their questions. It carries on. It's just life.

Oh and rob - I don't have the support of any "professional educators", apart from e.g. swimming lessons or music lessons, which would be happening even if they were in school.


Posted by: asilon | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:24 PM
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323: It probably would have been higher if I hadn't gone to grad school. Nonetheless, social mobility isn't only about income.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:24 PM
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PGD's stats didn't confirm Helpy-chalk, but they didn't refute him. Generic English majors make $8.6 k a year more than generic HS grads and $3.8 k a year more than generic associate-degree holders. Opportunity cost, debt, and money paid out are not considered, nor family income, nor any other factors.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:25 PM
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332: I didn't read the article, but are those lifetime earnings discounted back to present value? Because if I have to pay 160K over the next four years in order 244K back over the course of a lifetime, that's going to be NPV negative at a reasonable discount rate.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:27 PM
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191: What does an English BA do that they couldn't do without the BA? Inquiring minds want to know.

Other people have come up with examples, but I haven't noticed what seems to be the most obvious of all: being a newspaper reporter, or something else in media.

To be fair, I say "obvious" simply because that's what I'm doing and a BA with a major in English is the only degree I have. A whole bunch of caveats apply -- I also majored in Political Science, I also learned a fair amount outside the classrooms, in my school's award-winning student-run newspaper, this job doesn't pay well or have a whole lot of advancement as things go. But then, there are caveats to the caveats -- my Political Science major had little or nothing to do with this job, my low pay and lack of potential for advancement has far more to do with my personality than my skills or credentials, etc.

But it is a pretty good job. As for the obvious retort that newspapers are a dying industry, (a) not quite, and (b) there's more to the media than newspapers. TV news needs writers, and public relations departments, and there's the Writer's Guild now on strike, and so on.

320: I contend that at every level, an English (or humanities) degree is a bad investment from a career, social-mobility point of view. (See 152). An English BA from Harvard or Berkeley is worth more than one from Last Chance U, but it's worth less than most other degrees from the same school. This is true all the way up to the PhD level.
...
But a lot of talk about education is about upward social mobility, and you don't get that from a humanities degree.

I think your problem here, John, is that you're acting like these two statements say the same thing, but they don't. I agree with the first statement but not the second. A humanities degree is a worse investment, from a career and social-mobility point of view, than its non-humanities equivalent? Yes. But you don't get upward social mobility from a humanities degree? (That is, zero, none at all?) No.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:27 PM
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335: It also doesn't compare people with two years of English with people with two years in an associate program. And if someone starts a BA program and doesn't finish, they get thrown back in the HS grad pool. One question I've been talking about is whether poor kids should be encouraged to major in four-year programs in English and the humanities.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:28 PM
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335: John, you're right to a degree, but remember these are just starting salaries early in life. The actual dollar earnings gap will tend to expand with years in the labor market. The better way to think about it is mean earnings of humanities majors are 30+ percent greater than HS degree only, and 10-15 percent greater than Associate's degree, and that this percentage gap will at least be maintained through the years (actually, it will probably grow, as career-track jobs offer more earnings mobiliity).

332 is interesting as well, although it does not control for family background and I can't seem to look at the underlying studies.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:29 PM
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327: Yeah, John, and it hasn't worked for you, and you're not representative of everyone in the entire world, either.

I married a guy who was in ROTC at a state university in Kentucky, for fuck's sake. On ROTC scholarship. He now makes a much bigger annual salary than I probably ever will, and he has a B.S. in computer science from 1988, for god's sake.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:29 PM
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I don't think I'm going to agree that a BA in Philosophy is worth more than a BA in English for going to law school. Maybe at the snobbiest of schools it matters, but that's only to get in. And even then, I'd be willing to bet that an English BA with a good enough GPA and good enough LSAT can get in anywhere.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:29 PM
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napi, philosophy BAs do better than English BAs on the LSAT. Studying literature saps your argumentative acumen, as this blog makes perfectly clear.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:30 PM
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And even then, I'd be willing to bet that an English BA with a good enough GPA and good enough LSAT can get in anywhere.

But once again, the earning power comes from the law degree, not the English degree.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:31 PM
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Because if I have to pay 160K over the next four years in order 244K back over the course of a lifetime, that's going to be NPV negative at a reasonable discount rate.

OTOH, if you're paying $160K over four years, I bet those differences are much, much bigger.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:31 PM
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It might be nice if we decided whether we're talking about income or social mobility or cultural capital, and if we could possibly acknowledge that the three things are not all exactly the same.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:32 PM
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343 -- Of course.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:34 PM
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342: Ahem.

* A 1994 study shows that Philosophy majors also do very well on the LSAT. o The mean LSAT for Philosophy majors is higher than it is for both Political Science and Pre-Law majors. o The mean LSAT score for Philosophy majors is the fifth highest for all humanities and social science majors. (The highest are Linguistics and Classics.)

Suck it, philosophers!


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:35 PM
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I seriously doubt that a college education does much for one's status in the absence of a good job. I'm even more doubtful that such status as one does gain compensates for the time and expense involved.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:36 PM
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with a chance for the lower rungs of wealth (300-500,000K a year)

Huh?


Posted by: PeaDub | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:36 PM
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Actually, here is a data gold mine:

http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/fld-of-trn.html

BA in humanities earns more than AA in business, but not by much. Earns a little less than AA in engineering.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:36 PM
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347: wait, that's not what my data are suggesting:

According to this 2008 study, oudemia can bite my ass

You probably have some kind of weird selection bias going on, right? Or do people from public HS decide to be classicists?


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:38 PM
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330: I met him my first year in college. Most of my *financial* mobility is the consequence of marriage, absolutely, including the fact that I didn't take out any loans for graduate school, though I had plenty as an undergrad.

But again, if you look at it in terms of prescriptive norms, Mr. B., too, made some "bad" decisions. He didn't get the master's degree all his peers were getting when he was in the military, which was required to move up. He left the military 8 years' short of full retirement and went to work as a temp at Microsoft (where he made like $43k a year, if memory serves--in retrospect, I have no idea how we got by in Seattle back then), followed by a couple of jobs in startups that blew up on him, and one job that he hated in a second-tier (but stable) tech company. Then he was a househusband for three years.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:40 PM
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but are those lifetime earnings discounted back to present value?

The article says they are, and the average NPV of a BA given in 332 matches with what I've heard and found myself in emperical data.

I really should look up the research of an old prof if we want to find out what the in depth data says about the economic value of a humanities degree, since he got the Clark medal and a MacArthur fellowship for exactly this kind of research (returns to human capital and how it affects investment in education).


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:40 PM
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353: David Card?

If so, I don't think he ever looked at college major.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:42 PM
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I seriously doubt that a college education does much for one's status in the absence of a good job.

Really? Then what about the original question, which is "why do we view people with GEDs as losers?" Why do children whose mothers have college educations do better economically? Why are the children of college graduates more likely to go to college themselves? It isn't all because their parents make more money. A lot of it is shit like knowing how the application process works, knowing about financial aid, what kinds of prospects you imagine your kids have. It's also the case that if two people have the same job, and one has a degree and the other doesn't, the degreed person--all other things being equal--is probably more likely to get a promotion. There are, in fact, jobs where *the exact same job* pays differently depending on what your credentials are.

I'm even more doubtful that such status as one does gain compensates for the time and expense involved.

Isn't that something that we should sort of let people decide for themselves?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:45 PM
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||
What's the best way to get a bunch of email (going back to 2001) off of my desktop and into my gmail account? I downloaded this gmlw widget, but it isn't working for some reason.

In general, I'm trying to move more of my life to google servers so I can work from home easier. Suggestions?

|>


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:45 PM
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You probably have some kind of weird selection bias going on, right?

Well, sure. Most kids who major in classics are brainy detail-fiddlers, and all the sort of grammatical and logical parsing that one has to do really to internalize a highly inflected language has to be at least as good for your brain as symbolic logic. There are also far fewer classics majors and almost none of them are of the "Dude. Man. Whoa."-type that can sometimes be attracted to philosophy.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:47 PM
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357: Yeah, I always envied classics for that reason-- there are some lame students who would get weeded by the languages if they tried classics, so they go the stoner philosopher route. Fucking annoying. In general I'm noticing that I like majors less than I like nonmajors. This is a healthy sign...


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:50 PM
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152: I only ever meant my prediction as a precise statement of the thesis John is trying to argue. I did this specifically to avoid accusations like B's 345.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:50 PM
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349: I think tha meant that the upper levels of such salaries put you right out of any reasonable definition of `upper middle class'

336: this was basically my contention about graduate school, assuming employed/employable after undergrad. My own case is pretty heavily negative, but probably unusual. My gut feel is that it's usually slightly negative for academic phds. I'm not sure what happens when you count incompletes and those who never get a job in the market. It's not just the tuition, also the 4-10 years of lower earning. Salary expectations outside of academia are so variable by discipline that it's hard to be sure you have much feel for it.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:52 PM
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Rob, I see that now, but John took it up as evidence, which got things a bit confused.

It's nice to see him coming around to the epistemic force of armchair intuitions, though. Next up, the trolley!


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:52 PM
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Oh, I wasn't accusing you (or anyone). Just pointing out that there's an incredible amount of conflating different things going on.

I'm noticing that I like majors less than I like nonmajors.

I have tended to have the same, uh, problem (?). I'm not sure if it's just a kind of selection bias--one notices the non-majors one likes *as* non-majors, and completely ignores the useless non-majors because you never see them outside of class--or if it's because the non-majors occasionally say unexpected things or make new kind of connections between ideas.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:55 PM
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356: Is the mail in mbox format on a Unix-like OS? (E.g. Linux, MacOS X. The important bits would be perl and sendmail.)

I transferred all my old email to my gmail account with a couple of Perl scripts I wrote, back in the day. I can probably dig up the scripts this evening.


Posted by: zadfrack | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:57 PM
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362: in my case I think it's because they falsely believe that they should be able to skate through-- it's my major, after all! I'm so good at it-- where the outsiders are more likely to think that this is something that demands effort.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 2:58 PM
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I use Thunderbird on a Windows xp machine. Also, I have already spent more time on this project than it merits.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:00 PM
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really to internalize a highly inflected language

Yaakov Smirnoff?


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:02 PM
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364: I see the opposite effect sometimes; undergrads with the (however bogus) idea that they are in the most difficult program the school offers, so their core courses should be hard. It's anyone else's courses they feel they can skate through, and then get shocked when it's not true. Equally obnoxious.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:02 PM
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Some data I do remember: Education level correlates strongly with reported happiness, but that correlation disappears and is even reversed if you start controlling for external benefits, like income and some measures of socio-economic status. So it appears that if you just look at the effect of *knowledge* on the individual, it causes unhappiness.

(The problem is that if you are looking at a group of people who went to college expecting gains in income and SES but didn't get them, you are going to find a sad and disappointed bunch.)


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:03 PM
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358, 362: non-majors who take non-required humanities courses are usually interesting people. I taught in a discipline where the intro classes were required of everybody in a broad range of other majors, and the non-majors were definitely less interesting than the majors. All the non-majors were like, what do I have to do to check this damn box off?

357: Greek and Latin are ferociously difficult. I learned Greek (though never Latin) as an undergrad. I think of classicists as the humanities equivalent of the Marines. A small, elite, macho force who struggle through a rigorous basic training. And read about killing a lot.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:04 PM
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368: right, the educational experiences affect a person's sense of the relevant peer group and comparison class, which affect SWB.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:06 PM
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365: Thunderbird uses the standard mbox format. If you trust me not to read your email, I should be able do this for you. Email me.


Posted by: zadfrack | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:06 PM
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354: Kevin Murphy, actually. I don't know for sure if he's done work by college major, but it wouldn't surprise me at all.

I tried looking up his research on the GSB site, since most faculty keep a restricted-access page of their major and recent papers in pdf format, but it looks like he only has a couple past presentations that don't break returns down by major.

PGD, would you mind emailing me at pomopolymath at gmail?


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:06 PM
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368: That makes perfect sense. Education is a status marker, and we care about status. If you possess a status marker but don't get increased status b/c of it, it's gonna piss you off and make you feel like shit. Maybe it'll even make you feel like you must be even *worse* than your status peers, since you have this status marker that they lack, and yet they're your equals.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:07 PM
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370: Hence the typical phd whinge about (some) physician salaries "I've had a long slog too, how come I make 1/10th the salary?"


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:11 PM
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"I've had a long slog too, how come I make 1/10th the salary?" I can't ask my clients to take their shirts off?


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:13 PM
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370: The language of an academic.
373: The language of a pretender.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:13 PM
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369. Nah, Latin is no harder than Russian - probably no harder than German, and lots of people learn those without making a fuss about it. Greek has simpler syntax but more convoluted word forms. Six of one...

The idea that they're hard is partly a conscious effort by classicists to maintain the myth, but mainly because the texts are so alien to modern sensibilities.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:14 PM
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Isn't that something that we should sort of let people decide for themselves?

Table-thumping. The question is what information they should be given before they make their decision.

In low-skill jobs dissatisfaction varies inversely with level of education. Tell your barista about the inestimable gift of his or her college education.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:15 PM
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Cultural capital without income tends to be very very unsatisfying unless you believe that you're an unappreciated genius, and even then you tend to grumble. I think that the cultural capital and income tracks have diverged greatly. Ideally everyone should have both. Majoring in the humanities tends to stick you with one and not the other.

I meant to post this an hour ago but had to run to the post office. And lo! it was still here when I came back.



Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:15 PM
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your story kind of proves the whole point of unschooling though - now she can see the point in going to college, she's doing it, and doing the work necessary.

Did you read the comment? She has four years' worth of school to make up for in less than a year if she wants to get into college.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:16 PM
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"I've had a long slog too, how come I make 1/10th the salary?" I can't ask my clients to take their shirts off? I can't stick my fingers anywhere I want to?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:17 PM
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"It's ok, I'm a philosopher"

Doesn't Seinfeld have a routine about a doctor's ability to say "Take off your clothes, I'll be with you in just a minute."?


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:21 PM
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Cultural capital without income tends to be very very unsatisfying unless you believe that you're an unappreciated genius, and even then you tend to grumble. start a blog.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:21 PM
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382: Aren't Seinfeld references deprecated? If not, I move that they should be.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:22 PM
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378: People should be given as much *factual* information as one can give them. Opinions are great, but they should be labelled as such.

You seem to be saying that because satisfaction with low-skill jobs is lower for higher-educated employees, that *this particular* barista would be happier if she hadn't gone to college. That is a false inference. And it's still equating education with employment, as if the only value of an education is that it makes one satisfied with one's job. Do you really want to be implying that the poor would be better off not going to school at all? And do you really think that one can predict which college graduates are going to work (probably temporarily) as baristas vs. which ones are going to get Wall Street jobs? Let alone whether the dissatisfied barista might not, in ten years, be happier than the Wall Street guy?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:24 PM
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384: Snob.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:26 PM
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Still making my way through the thread but thanks, Witt, for some great links.


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:27 PM
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People who think Greek and Latin are hard ain't seen nothin'.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:36 PM
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365: see here. Pretty easy now that gmail has IMAP.


Posted by: potchkeh | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:37 PM
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Don't let Teo get started talking about Burushaski and Yukagir. Just a friendly warning.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:39 PM
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And do you really think that one can predict which college graduates are going to work as baristas vs. which ones are going to get Wall Street jobs?

Yepp. Pretty much. B.A. in humanities + piercing = barista.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:41 PM
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Here you go, Labs. (Keep in mind of course that no classics major has probably ever taken the GMAT.)

# The following information is for tests administered from 1991-1996.

* The mean score on the GMAT is higher for Philosophy majors than for any type of Business major (Accounting, Finance, Management, etc.).
* Outside of the hard sciences, Philosophy has had either the first or second highest mean score on the GMAT each year.
* Including the hard sciences, the mean GMAT score for Philosophy majors is fourth or fifth highest of all majors.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:42 PM
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377 & 388 are right. I'm pretty sure much of the perceived difficulty is because a) you don't get the benefit of a spoken aspect (which in my experience drew a fair number of non-major Latin students--they thought it'd be easier to fulfill their language requirement if they didn't have to speak!); and b) the methods generally used to teach Greek and Latin pretty universally suck.


Posted by: potchkeh | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:43 PM
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Note that, according to 347, linguistics is right up there with classics in LSAT scores, probably for the same reasons.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:44 PM
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I sometimes think I should have majored in classics. It would have been nice to have studied one or two languages in sufficient depth to feel that I was really proficient.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:46 PM
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Speaking for myself:

And it's still equating education with employment, as if the only value of an education is that it makes one satisfied with one's job.

When you talk about upward mobility, you almost always are talking about a better job and higher income. When people start college, they usually assume something like that. They should be warned if their degree won't help them that way.

Do you really want to be implying that the poor would be better off not going to school at all?

No, that they would be better off choosing a program that helped them stop being poor.

And do you really think that one can predict which college graduates are going to work (probably temporarily) as baristas vs. which ones are going to get Wall Street jobs?

Not perfectly, but you can get a pretty good idea. And plenty of people never do escape from the low-paying jobs except be returnign to school.

Let alone whether the dissatisfied barista might not, in ten years, be happier than the Wall Street guy?

Probably not, but that's pretty peripheral. There are advantages to good jobs and money, as you know.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:49 PM
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377: I think classicists these days spend a lot of time trying to convince their students (and potential students) that these languages are actually much simpler than they've convinced themselves they are (before they ever got near a classicist). Particularly Greek -- anything with a different alphabet is somehow magically impenetrable, even though the alphabet can be learned in a day.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:50 PM
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385, see 313: With respect to undergrad degrees, it's student load debt that is the real kicker in all this.


Posted by: PeaDub | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:52 PM
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I like a lot of 385, but, kind of orthogonally would argue it's the case that 1) currently many Americans go to college who shouldn't (or at least shouldn't at the time that they do), 2) there's a good chance that the number of people who go to college is higher than it should ideally be, but 3) many people who should go to college don't, because 4) going to college corresponds more with class and the expectations of the community you grew up in than it does it with intellectual skill sets and curiosity.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:53 PM
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393: I agree with that, actually (although I do try to dissuade the kids who want to take Latin just to meet their language requirement, if they're doing it because they think that Latin will be easy).


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:54 PM
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Yepp. Pretty much. B.A. in humanities + piercing = barista.

The real important sifting is if we can identify who will only become a Starbucks barista versus who will learn the art of a good pour and produce beautiful rosettas and leaves in a delightful indie coffeehouse.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 3:57 PM
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I don't have anything to add to what Emerson has said. Just that, kids should be shown the risks involved before they take a humanities degree into the job market.

I sometimes think I should have majored in classics.

Though for some even firsthand experience of the market won't be enough.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:00 PM
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Though for some even firsthand experience of the market won't be enough.

Fair enough, but I don't think having majored in classics would have put me in a significantly different position from where I am now. Which is not so bad, really.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:02 PM
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You went to a good school, though, IIRC.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:04 PM
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377, 388, 393: well, I found Greek difficult, but that's probably just because A) I started late, B) I'm lazy. Some writers are more difficult than others -- Thucydides much harder than Aristotle, Aristotle harder than the New Testament.

But it's not just the lack of a spoken element, but the lack of native speakers. Some of the interpretation stuff in trying to work through the alternative possible meanings of a passage was really tricky. I can't help but feel part of that is because we're trying to puzzle out the meaning of things in a long-past culture.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:11 PM
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405 was me.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:11 PM
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You went to a good school, though, IIRC.

Yeah, I definitely wouldn't point to my situation as typical when viewed in a broader context.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:12 PM
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I was just joking about the classics anyway.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:13 PM
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405: It's certainly true that Greek and Latin are difficult languages for a lot of people, largely though not entirely for the reasons you mention. There are a lot of languages that would be much harder, though. They aren't taught nearly as widely, of course.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:15 PM
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kids should be shown the risks involved before they take a humanities degree into the job market.

Which are, what? That *as a class* humanities majors don't make as much money as (say) engineers. Yes, absolutely young people should be told this. John is actively saying that they should be *discouraged* from going to college/getting a humanities degree. I think that's bullshit.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:18 PM
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For instance, you might look at which cover letters have personality, even if the spelling is occasionally a little off (unless you're hiring a proofreader). ...

And, I'd point out, all of these sort for class just as efficiently as a GED does, with even more room for personal bias. Telling an employer "accept the GED as a measure of someone's hard work" is more likely than "look past your unconscious preference for well-formed phrases."

As far as whether a humanities degree is worth it: FL's absolutely right that just because there is no job description that says 'junior historian' that the history B.A. won't end up with a career. That said, were I running the world, I'd strongly advise 'first-in-family-to-go-to-branch-campus-of-state-university' types, ones without the family connections and experience at navigating the university world, not to major in the humanities unless they're very good at it. I think my youngest sister, e.g., with her mediocre grades at That Catholic School in Pgh., would be better off majoring in business than trying to take on the business world with a B.A. in English and a 2.5.

Pretty much. B.A. in humanities + piercing = barista.

Hey now. Some of us are smart enough to take them out for interviews and may have just made it to the second round in an interview.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:19 PM
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And I still maintain that we are in the wrong if we encourage people to view a college degree solely as a job credential.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:19 PM
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That *as a class* humanities majors don't make as much money as (say) engineers. Yes, absolutely young people should be told this.

Indeed they should, and right now for the most part they aren't. This is a problem.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:20 PM
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411: I totally realize that "subjective" criteria are subject to unconscious prejudice. The point is, "objective" criteria are subject to institutional prejudice.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:22 PM
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413: I think that's a much too broad statement. On the one hand, yes, there's a lot of vacuous "go to college, get a degree, get a good job!" nonsense out there; on the other hand, no, actually, "you're majoring in [humanities subject]?!? What are you gonna do with that?!?" is a very, very common theme.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:26 PM
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Did you read the comment? She has four years' worth of school to make up for in less than a year if she wants to get into college.

What, college is now or never?

Yes, I can see your frustration. I *do* think it's part of a parent's responsibility to e.g. say to a 14 year old, "Look, if you want to go to university when you're 18 or 19 like a lot of people do, you probably have to start planning for it now or soon," and it's unclear from your story whether that sort of advice was ever offered, or whether she was completely left to make her own decisions. But you know, her life has been her own responsibility and I can't think that that's all completely wrong.

I think that believing that coercion (educational or otherwise) is wrong is a reasonable principle, and one for which I have a lot of respect, although not one I manage to live up to.


Posted by: asilon | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:26 PM
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Nobody is telling anyone that education is *solely* a job credential, but in this actual society that's a big part of what it is, and every student should be aware of how things work. Especially because a lot of students go deep into debt for humanities BAs from a low-ranking schools.

Poor people who go into college with th intention of getting out of poverty should be told that a humanities degree is not a very good way to do it. And they aren't being told that. Plenty of people let them think the opposite.

I've heard all kinds of nice fat lit professors talk about how wonderful education has been for their students, but I also know the students and think that they're getting burned. And the ever so idealistic professors don't know and don't care, because they're doing very well for themselves.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:26 PM
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John is actively saying that they should be *discouraged* from going to college/getting a humanities degree.

Of course people should be discouraged from shelling out $40,000+ over four years for a humanities degree at State University. Who is this going to hurt? Only those people who havn't really thought about it, and thus shouldn't be pursuing that humanities degree in the first place.


Posted by: PeaDub | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:28 PM
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no, actually, "you're majoring in [humanities subject]?!? What are you gonna do with that?!?" is a very, very common theme.

IME this kind of thing generally comes from peers (and family) rather than figures with institutional authority (guidance counselors, college recruiters, advisors, etc.).


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:33 PM
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And I still maintain that we are in the wrong if we encourage people to view a college degree solely as a job credential.

Seriously, my other sister, is getting a master's in theology from a crappy school, will be $65,000 in debt and this may well fuck her over for life. The point of education should be to learn interesting things, but reality has to be considered, especially given that unlike my sister, the kid from the poor background doesn't have nearly as much of a safety net should that $25,000 in debt net a barrista job.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:34 PM
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Seriously, my other sister, is getting a master's in theology from a crappy school, will be $65,000 in debt and this may well fuck her over for life.

Whoa. And she can't even go into the ministry, which is what degrees like that often lead to.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:36 PM
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418, 420: Who is saying that we should encourage people to take on ridiculous amounts of debt to go to college/grad school? No one.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:42 PM
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For a lot of people, their humanities BA is luxury or consumer spending, not something to go into debt for.

Above we see that on the average English BAs do make more than HS grads, though not a lot, but someone with only fair grades from a not too good school probably is in about the same place as a HS grad. (That is, half of all English BAs are below average.) And there are better educational choices for someone on a limited budget who needs to rely almost entirely on their own resources.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:42 PM
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People have to do it, B. Increasingly college is financed by loans rather than grants.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:43 PM
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Nope. Fuck following your dreams, unless you've vetted your dreams for stability. (Note, this doesn't mean everyone has to work on Wall Street, just that if you are okay with being a barrista, make sure you've done the math on how you'll eat.)

She will have $600 in loan payments per month and may get a teaching or journalism (her undergrad major) job where she will have no money left over if she has roommates. Or she'll have to figure out what to do and go corporate and hope someone recognizes that degree from that crappy-ass school. Either way, someone is wising up real fast that when the nice priests at her undergrad school were saying 'follow your dreams and your spiritual experience' and her big sister was saying 'this is not a good idea' that her sister actually had her best interests in mind and wasn't being just a big meanie.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:45 PM
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405: But it's not just the lack of a spoken element, but the lack of native speakers.

Well, yeah, that's what I meant: you never get the opportunity to converse in classical Greek or Latin, and conversing is a very useful part of language acquisition.

And I certainly don't mean to trivialize your experience--I found Greek (and Latin) difficult too, until I got far enough along that it started to come together. But I think they way they're typically taught makes it take much longer than it should to reach that point, and that means a lot of unnecessary frustration in the first year or two.


Posted by: potchkeh | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:45 PM
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422: Where do think the money comes from if you're the first in your family to go to college? You probably get some federal aid that can be quite generous, but you're walking out with a minimum of $17,500 (even going on scholarship, first hit is Stafford loans), and probably a little closer to $25,000, on the assumption that it took you four years.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:48 PM
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Increasingly college is financed by loans rather than grants.

I got an e-mail the other day from my alma mater saying that they were phasing out loans for people whose families make under $75,000 a year. This would have been pretty useful to me if they'd done it about four years ago.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:50 PM
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Yeah, it is cool that the top schools are starting to do that. A little worrisome that doing so only affects about 10% of the student body (why they can afford to do it), but very cool. Soul-crushing debt = bad.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:52 PM
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429: Yeah, it is a nice thing, but as you say, it doesn't actually have as much of an effect since they admit so few students in that income range. My school actually has a more economically diverse student body than most of the schools that have done it so far, though, so this is a decision that's going to have a more significant effect than some others. Still, would have been nice if it had benefited me personally.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:55 PM
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My sister's boyfriend is at your alma mater and really seems to enjoy it, though he's not impressed with the winter so far.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 4:56 PM
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Okay, look. Going to college /= taking on massive debt. If you want to argue that *in practice* they're often the same thing, then go ahead and do so, but don't pretend that arguing for kids to have the opportunity to go to college is the moral or intellectual equivalent of arguing that kids should be encouraged to take on incredible debt loads.

That said. I really do not want to be rude to Cala, who I like, but it's a big much for someone who is finishing her PhD in philosophy to say Fuck following your dreams, unless you've vetted your dreams for stability--at least, there is a difference between saying that in (say) a discussion about "should I go to grad school," where it's understood to be an expression of (in part) stress and cynicism, and saying it in a discussion about what *other people*--specifically "the poor" should do.

I'm well aware that going to a private 4-year college usually means student loans. I'm pretty sure I've told the story here of the student I had who was working 20 hours/week and commuting something like 90 miles each way from her home because there was *no way in hell* she was going to take on debt for college (which would have been necessary if she wanted to live in the dorms or work less), b/c she had been homeless at one point and was completely debt-phobic. There is no way I'm going to say to someone like that "oh, just take on loads of debt," *nor* am I going to say "why are you even bothering? You probably won't make that much money anyway." (I can't remember her major; let's say for the sake of argument it was humanities.)

What I am going to say is that it's a shitty situation, she should not have to make that decision, and that saying "the poor shouldn't go to college because it's not cost-efficient" is actually rather a crappy thing to say to people like her. Just as crappy as "hey, you chose to go to college; stop complaining."

What I said to her, practically speaking in the moment when she came to cry in my office over a grade on a paper (and general exhaustion), was that she was an incredibly smart and motivated young woman whose grades would surely be higher if she'd been better able to focus on her studies; that she should appeal her financial aid offer; that she should talk to the office of minority affairs, her advisor, and the dean about whether or not they could help her find more money through either the university itself or outside funding sources, that she should *absolutely* not give up; that she shouldn't worry that she was getting a B rather than an A in my class because, everything considered, it was amazing she was getting that B; and that I would help her make phone calls or find out who to get in touch with.

You think I should have told her to drop out? Or that she should just go get a vocational degree and accept her lot in life? Or that she was pursuing the wrong major? Because I think that saying any of that shit to her would have been incredibly cruel and assholish.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 5:07 PM
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"big much" s/b "bit much," obvs.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 5:07 PM
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That she shouldn't worry that she was getting a B rather than an A in my class because, everything considered, it was amazing she was getting that B

Jesus, B, you're the only one who knows how amazing her accomplishment was. To the rest of the world, the B you gave her is just a plain old B, and she's a B student where a lot of other people are A students. And I think that she was correct in understanding that grades do make a difference. Have you ever given any though to the way colleges sort people into winners and losers, and that that's one of the main things that colleges, especially grades, are for?

Go get a vocational degree and accept her lot in life?

No, get some kind of practical degree and improve her lot in life. And she could even return to college for a BA after that once she had a decent job.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 5:20 PM
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What I am going to say is that it's a shitty situation, she should not have to make that decision, and that saying "the poor shouldn't go to college because it's not cost-efficient" is actually rather a crappy thing to say to people like her.

Well, golly gee, it's a good thing no one said that.


That said. I really do not want to be rude to Cala, who I like, but it's a big much for someone who is finishing her PhD in philosophy to say Fuck following your dreams, unless you've vetted your dreams for stability--at least, there is a difference between saying that in (say) a discussion about "should I go to grad school," where it's understood to be an expression of (in part) stress and cynicism, and saying it in a discussion about what *other people*--specifically "the poor" should do.

Hey, let's see if I can get through this without saying 'fuck you!'

Actually, I did vette this and my undergraduate degree and in both cases, and I think it would have been stupid to go massively into debt for either of them. This is not some trust fund brat saying 'my dreams are for me, you go work at McDonald's.' This is saying, hey, been there, watching actual people related to me self-destruct over debt, not always the best option.

Some debt is fine and usually it's a worthwhile investment given that college is a path to making more money. But that has to be balanced against the quality of the school and the expected payoff. PhD in philosophy? Not worth debt. Not even a fucking little bit. Undergrad degree in philosophy from Robert Morris? Maybe worth $17K in debt. Not worth $50K.

When I decided to study philosophy in college, I took a second major in information systems. You want advice for your student that isn't cruel or assholish? Tell her to ensure she takes a couple of econ class and perhaps an introductory stats or business class as electives. Looks good on a resume, familiarizes her with the lingo, and smooths the transition.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 5:22 PM
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I shade Emersonian in the Emerson/B split. It's a sad day when I'm back in the Crazy Old Man(TM) camp.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 5:24 PM
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434: Yeah, and at any point in the future she was going to be able to ask for recommendations, and I (or any other decent prof) would be well able to explain why the B was *not* just a plain old B. And if she wasn't going to go to grad school, it wouldn't make any fucking difference anyway, because a B is a *perfectly acceptable grade.* If she'd been getting a C or a D, that might have been a different story, and I would have said something different.

get some kind of practical degree and improve her lot in life. And she could even return to college for a BA after that once she had a decent job.

Riiiight. So "go get a practical degree" (like what?), "and once you've got the solid job and are looking at getting married or having kids, *that's* the time to go back to school again and do the thing you actually want to do." Puhleeze.

Have you ever given any though to the way colleges sort people into winners and losers, and that that's one of the main things that colleges, especially grades, are for?

Gosh, no, John. It simply never occurred to me. I just assign grades willy-nilly, and have never had students complain to me that they'll "never get into med school," or show up crying in my office because they're getting a B. Now that you point it out, though, I'll make a point of telling those students "you're right, you're a total loser." I'm sure that'll be really helpful.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 5:26 PM
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435: Emerson was, actually, saying that poor people shouldn't be encouraged to go to college. Really, he was.

This is saying, hey, been there, watching actual people related to me self-destruct over debt, not always the best option.

Absolutely. And, again, I'm not saying people should take on massive debt. I'm saying that if you want to talk about what "should" happen, focusing on telling people they shouldn't go to college--as opposed to saying something like, "you should totally be able to go to college, but realistically you're going to have to figure out how to finance it without an enormous debt load"--is the wrong response to the problem.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 5:30 PM
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After all, you figured out a way to do it without massive debt. I figured out a way to do grad school without massive debt, having learned my lesson in undergrad. It is possible. It's not easy, but part of our job (those of us who work, or have worked, or will work in education, I mean) is to help people do it if they want to.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 5:33 PM
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God, shutting up now. I told Becks I'd try not to turn this thread into a pain in her butt, and I'm sure that she's not thrilled with this argument.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 5:34 PM
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391: Depends on the where the piercing is.

Do obsessively acquired cumulative degrees enhance one's LSAT score? Or should I just figure the linguistics one trumped the English one and the French Lit one?

My kid brother has a BA in philosophy and a PhD in computer science. It seems, however, that even tenured professors can be canned for moral turpitude. Our sister, the MBA, is the money maker in the family. She gave up genetics when she realised where the big bucks were...


Posted by: DominEditrix | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 5:36 PM
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B, don't you perceive that when someone comes in crying because thay got a B and you pat them on the head and them them that a B is a perfectly fine grade, that that's bullshit? My bet is that she understood what the grade meant better than you did.

And if she wasn't going to go to grad school, it wouldn't make any fucking difference anyway. Maybe she wanted to go to grad school. Grad schools do look at GPA. Lots of people look at GPA.

When you give someone a B and they don't get into med school, you did your job. They might very well be right that that was the reason they didn't get into med school. That's what grades are for. I'm not blaming you, but don't complain about students' grade-grubbing. They know what they're doing.

This really isn't about what someone should do with a student crying in front of them, though. It's more about what kind of advice you should give people during their early planning stages.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 5:37 PM
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438: I didn't say don't go. I just don't think that most students are aware of their career options going in, or what to expect on the other end, or aware of how a large amount of debt will upend their plans. Look, part of the problem is that universities still have the mindset that they're educating the second son of the lord of the manor, where they are to teach him rhetoric and music and art and let him find himself and daddy's estate picks up the bill, when that's not the reality for the vast majority of students. We have this weird hybrid that's halfway between being a gateway to a good job and halfway follow-your-interests, and it really can fuck you over if your priorities are one but you believe that the other gets you there.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 5:39 PM
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B. misrepresents what I said and seems to have a powerful ability to ignore things that are not convenient to her world view.

I ended up thinking that the tenured English professors at Last Chance U. were terribly corrupt people fattening up on students who really had very little hope but didn't know it.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 5:43 PM
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It's more about what kind of advice you should give people during their early planning stages.

Actually, I think this thread became overly contentious when it became about what advice to give various real world people which is radically under-determined by generic class descriptors. In actual advice situations, find out more about the person and what they want. At other times, when the thread is about policy and institutional structure, you can't always do that.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 5:44 PM
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I wasn't able to keep up with this thread today because I was swamped at work but I'd appreciate it if people turned the heat down. Both B and Emerson have valid points -- people should be encouraged to follow their dreams but they need to consider the financial consequences (and other consequences -- work/life balance, working conditions, etc.) if they choose to do so so that they do it with open eyes and can make the necessary tradeoffs, be it choosing a more marketable second major, working their way through school so they don't go into debt, etc. or just knowing what they're getting into and being OK with the outcome.


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 6:07 PM
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Hey, let's see if I can get through this without saying 'fuck you!'

I heart Cala.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 6:22 PM
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God, I hope this doesn't fan the fire, but I must say it's deeply depressing to realize that we're at the point at which, for most people, financial considerations trump all others.

(Which isn't to say that large debt doesn't suck, and shouldn't be taken very seriously in decision-making.)


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 6:25 PM
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Sorry, 447 was not in the spirit of Becks' 446. I retract the comment (whilst maintaining my affection for Cala).


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 6:26 PM
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You know, some people are probably going to shout me down here, but for a smart kid to major in an "impractical" discipline with the goal of becoming a professor is not necessarily a bad risk. It *is* a risk, no doubt about it. But tenure-track academic salaries are rising rapidly, especially at the top. If you make it it can be a very nice life indeed. And I'd say the odds in favor of making it reasonably well (not stuck in the middle of nowhere at a job you hate) are 50/50 or so even in some of the legendarily impractical humanities disciplines like philosophy. That's a serious dice roll with your livelihood, but for someone who truly loves the discipline it might be a reasonable risk -- it's better than pursuing the arts, and if you can't make it there's always law school.

Academia looks to me like an expanding growth industry.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02- 1-08 11:31 PM
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Nothing wrong with going into the humanities with plans for a PhD if you are good at it and know what you're in for.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02- 2-08 6:11 AM
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PGD, I doubt you're right. More and more of the work is being done by adjuncts. You also seem to be assuming someone who can handle 9 to 11 years of post-high-school education, and one of the main points here is that a lot of people can't.

If you do well as an undergrad at one of the top schools, and are given a free ride on one of the top grad schools, it's definitely worth it. (Or if you get into a top grad school from one of the non-top undergrad schools). But we're talking about what? A couple thousand undergrads a year nationally, and a few hundred grad students a year?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 2-08 7:23 AM
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Your undergrad school does not matter if you are getting a Phd (only the Phd-granting institution matters). However, no one should ever get a Phd in the humanities without a free ride to one of the top 20 schools in their discipline. Period. That's one thing I'm certain of.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02- 2-08 11:49 AM
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The undergrad school matters if you want to get into a top-20 grad program. A straight-A undergrad philosophy student at a second-rank university faces mediocre prospects unless he has a recommender with connections, and he probably won't be up to date in the latest philosophical fashions. And IIRC there are 50-60 PhD-granting philosophy programs, each of which only gives a few free rides a year. My guess is that if you're confident that you're in the top 50-100 in philosophy nationally you should stick with it.

A lot like HS-college-pro football, really, with smaller players, more women, and fewer career-ending knee injuries.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02- 2-08 12:00 PM
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Yes John, we agree. I missed your parenthetical qualification in 452 about getting into a top grad school from a non-top undergrad. All I was saying is that if your Phd is from top school X then no one will notice Last Chance State for undergrad. But you're right that an undergrad will need a connection to get into a top school.

Also, at top Phd schools in the humanities the majority of everyone admitted to the Phd program does or should get a free ride (although you will likely have to be a TA or work in some other way). Never, ever pay tuition for a humanities Phd.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 02- 2-08 12:27 PM
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