There was a interesting article in the paper recently. It stated that in the state where I live, Montana, there is soon going to be a labor SHORTAGE. With millions of baby boomers set to retire, there won’t be enough younger workers to replace them. This seemed odd to me, because of the recent unemployment crisis we have been having. The article stated that the Governor and local community colleges are looking at ways to “quickly train workers” so they can fill the spots of the retiring baby boomers.
Quickly train workers — this is not a phrase we hear often. Our education system prides itself on the direct opposite of this. We want students to learn content in depth, and we expect 4 years of college for students to deeply reflect on the knowledge they gain. Our mantra has usually been that learning something quickly, or learning just what you need to complete a job, is horribly oppressive. It’s much better to learn a broad range of general knowledge that relates — to well — nothing.
How much education do we really need? And how much can we afford? There is an education inflation going on that everybody notices but nobody wants to comment on. Prior to 20 or 30 years ago, a high school diploma was a worthy accomplishment. It meant that you were ready to live an independent, self-sustaining life. Now, a high school diploma is considered as a minimal advancement into adulthood You need post-secondary schooling — and 4 years of it to boot.
It’s hard to believe that a 4-year high school education didn’t even become mandatory for all students until 1910. Before that time, you completed an apprenticeship or learned a trade at about age 15. But the Industrial Revolution changed all that, because those people who had advanced academic skills could now become “white collar” workers. They became clerks and bookkeepers in the new factories of the Industrial Age. And it simply wasn’t fair that students of privilege — those who could afford a high school education, which was private before 1910 — were the only ones getting those jobs.
Does anyone see a resemblance to what is occurring now? It is now oppressive for poorer students to not be able to go to a 4-year university. And it has been recommended that a 4-year college education be free for everyone. Sending a poorer student into an apprenticeship or a 2-year community college, is a form of discrimination. After all, no upper middle-class, white family would want their children to learn a trade or complete an apprenticeship.
This is a dangerous mindset, and one that needs to change. We don’t need more highly educated paper-pushers. We need people who can build things, who can create wealth for our country, and we will be facing a crisis if we don’t. We simply need to get a high school diploma back to a respectable accomplishment. And we need alternative paths for those who don’t want to complete an academic path — such as apprenticeships at age 15/16. This should be an acceptable alternative for both white and non-white students. A person’s worth should be determined to what they have accomplished in life — to successfully holding and performing in a career — and not whether they hold a piece of paper, stating they have a 4-year degree.
We need to stop the higher education inflation.