“The exclusive privileges of corporations, statutes of apprenticeship, and all those laws which restrain, in particular employments, the competition to a smaller number than might otherwise go into them… are a sort of enlarged monopolies, and may frequently, for ages together, and in whole classes of employments, keep up the market price of particular commodities above the natural price…”
-Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle.”
Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto
Everyone knows that education is the key to success, right? You have to have a good education to get a decent job to make enough money to pay for the education and hang on to your own little slice of The Middle Class so you can go to the doctor when you are sick and live indoors when you are too old to work and pay some shyster to bribe a judge to give your jackass kids community service when they get caught driving drunk with a carful of weed. It’s the American Dream.
So it’s your responsibility if you’re poor, because you didn’t get an education. Shame on you, everyone has opportunity and it’s up to you to grab it. All you have to do is have parents with an income in the top quartile who can pay for it, or be a star athlete or a certified genius with an obsession for writing essays and kissing ass. These are, after all, necessary prerequisites without which you could never be qualified to listen to some sick fool whining for five minutes and then write him a prescription for amoxicillin, to shout down a class of unruly sixth graders, or interview drug addicts at the welfare office. You don’t deserve to have a decent job because you didn’t try hard enough – you could have worked two full time jobs at once, one to keep you alive and one to pay for your tuition, while going to school full time and still making passing grades. Dozens of people do it every year, some of them without using meth.
If you think this system sucks, you’re not alone. If you think the answer is for the government to pour more and more money into education, you’re still not alone. You’re also a fool.
Here is what happens when government puts more money into education: the price goes up. The number of people who get degrees remains about the same, because there is still the same number of schools, the same classrooms, the same teachers. When more money comes from the Federal government, state governments make up the difference by reducing their own contribution; i.e., they raise tuition. Every time Federal aid goes up, tuition increases by the same amount. Of course, the Federal money is mostly loans, so the students not only pay more for college, they have ten years worth of debt just for a bachelor’s. If by some bizarre chance the state fails to cut education funding, the extra will invariably be devoured by administration salaries, idiot projects like having classes on a Caribbean cruise (I’m not making that up), new sports facilities, or “rennovations” that suddenly become necessary.
The last damn thing they will ever do is to actually educate more students – to build more classrooms, hire more teachers, start new schools. When a university gets too crowded, they are about a hundred times more likely to raise fees than they are to expand. And why is this?
Because “education” isn’t about creating skilled workers who can do the things that are in demand. Well, maybe about 20% of it is. The other 80% is about making sure there aren’t enough skilled workers to meet the demand. Universities are a social institution to maintain class differentiation.
If everyone who had the talent and desire to be a doctor was able to afford the ten years of training, would doctors be making a quarter million dollars a year? (Hint: NO.) The cost of health care (in this country at least) is rising at a rate that would embarrass many unstable third world dictatorships whose exchange rates have to be given in scientific notation, but it damn sure isn’t because of the quality. It’s because doctors can charge whatever they please. How do they get away with charging hundreds of dollars for a five minute “visit” during which they check your insurance status and then recommend some five thousand dollar screening test for whatever is the least likely cause of your symptoms?
Education, my friend. Price is controlled by supply and demand; if you can limit the supply, you can control the price. The decade of training has far more to do with limiting the quantity of doctors than ensuring the quality. If everyone who was able and willing to be a physician could be, physicians would no longer be an elite, super-wealthy class. There would be enough doctors to go around, and people could pick and choose the best or the cheapest instead of being assigned one by a crooked HMO that pays the doctor extra if he keeps you from getting any treatment.
If you’ve ever looked at the requirements for admission to a medical school, you already know that a large part of that education is pure bogus. A typical requirement, for instance (I’m not making this up, either), is to already have three years of college classes. Which classes? Doesn’t even matter! Half of them aren’t specified at all, and most of the rest are “this or that” alternatives: meaning that neither alternative is actually necessary (if they were, they’d both be required). Of the remaining handful, almost none have any relevance to the practice of medicine. Chemistry? What the hell for? How often does your doctor synthesize a new medicine for you? Does he really need to know how to calculate how many joules of heat will be released in your stomach if you swallow 37.5 grams of crystal soda lye? He’s not even going to do your lab tests.
Here’s the funny part: Even though they have to study chemistry that they will never use, doctors are not required to have any formal training in pharmacology. They get this information – probably the most-used of anything they know – from reference books, periodicals, and adverstisements by drug companies. Instead of three expensive years of mainly irrelevant learning, wouldn’t it make more sense to have pre-med students spend just one year studying, oh, I don’t know – physiology, sickness and treatment?
But shorter training (or more schools) would mean more doctors, and that wouldn’t serve the real function of medical “education”, which is to maintain the position of a wealthy and exclusive class.
Lest anyone think I’m only talking about doctors, I should point out that all professions use the same method of exclusion. Lawyers have at least as much wasted quasi-training as doctors, and they make (i.e., extort) even more money while the net gain to society of having them is decidedly negative (doctors at least do some good on the whole, and we’ll need them to implement my plan of turning all lawyers into organ donors).
Nearly every job with decent pay or any security requires a college degree. Often it doesn’t even matter what the degree is! If you have a “college education”, you’re eligible for many lower middle class jobs, such as management, that don’t actually require any skills beyond high school level. Why do employers insist that you have a college degree?
Class solidarity is why. If you’ve bought your college degree, they know that you have an investment in their class. You’re a Responsible Person and can be trusted to share their values, act predictably, and uphold the system. There might be a hundred working class drones with high school diplomas who are better able to do the job, but such an inferior person, with different tastes, different values, and different manners, would never be trusted, might offend his respectable coworkers, would probably suck at golf, might steal the toilet paper. America has a diverse middle class, but one thing they nearly all have in common is a college education and the sense of superiority that comes with it. It’s this country’s foremost class distinction.
Engineering is another profession where “education” is in large part a matter of buying entry to a privileged class. Engineers, with only five years of quasi-training, make a lot less money than doctors or lawyers, but the principle is the same. A glance at the curriculum for a certain college shows that a third of the classes are at best totally unnecessary, and often sublimely absurd (like art and philosophy courses for math geeks who will spend their careers figuring out ways to minimize the cost of making dishwashers and running power plants). Another third are important only to certain sub-disciplines, and a good part of the rest are of dubious value (Differential Equations, for instance; at one time a necessity, but these days computers do all that.)
Yet in spite of all this padding, there is virtually no training in the tools that engineers will actually use on the job – specifically, software. After five years, many of the basic skills have yet to be acquired! Getting a degree is not so much a matter of learning to be an engineer as it is of preparing to learn on the job and of purchasing the right to do so.
Some people will try to tell you that all this superfluous “education” has to do with making the student a more “rounded” or “broader” person. Well, that’s a load of horseshit. No one really cares if an engineer can quote Shakespeare; they want buildings that don’t fall down when the wind blows. Does it matter to you whether your doctor spends her leisure time reading Heidegger as opposed to bowling? How many hundreds of thousands of dollars are you willing to part with to know that she’s a “rounded” person?
Anyway, real personal depth does not come from slogging through pointless mandatory classes – that just makes the victim hate the subject. Depth comes from actually spending time living life. Skill in a profession also comes mostly from real world experience, not the classroom. Irrelevant education is not only a waste of money and a barrier to entry, it delays the beginning of actual practical experience. Seriously, if you had your pick, would you want the surgeon who, after twelve years of learning about everything from Russian history to neurology, is about to perform his first real heart surgery on you – or would you prefer one who had three years of training practicing different procedures on cadavers and nine years of experience doing them on live patients?
A lot of what we call “education” is not only giving us fewer and more expensive professionals, it’s actually making them less competent.
Every society has its way of maintaining economic class barriers; in the Middle Ages, prosperity (for a commoner) could only come from buying one’s way into a trade guild and enduring an apprenticeship of many years in order to earn the right and (supposedly) acquire the arcane skill needed to tan hides or hammer horseshoes. Then, as now, it was a crock of shit.
So what should be done about it? Well, obviously, nothing will be done. The majority who would benefit from a change have no political power, and the privileged few who benefit most from the status quo certainly do. But we should at least realize what is going on. “Putting more money into education” is one of the top slogans of every backstabber in Washington, because few people object to it and those that do are only concerned with the immediate cost.
Yet everyone who cares about education should oppose increased aid to students – in fact they should oppose any increase in funding that does not go directly into increasing the capacity to educate students. That means more teachers and more schools, NOT more money spent on the same facilities we have now. Giving more money to students is the worst thing you can do for them (and I say this as a college student): it only drives up the prices, resulting in them graduating with more debt and raising the class barrier ever higher.
If we, as a society, were actually capable of reform (we’re not), or interested in remaining an economic superpower (we’re not), we’d not only make education available to more people, we’d make education actually fit its ostensible goal. We’d radically revise the current requirements for entry into the various professions, and replace this twelfth century crap, where “education” means learning a little bit of everything, with specialized training in useful skills and quicker introduction to practical experience. The world needs doctors more than dilettantes.
Students should be able to choose for themselves whether they want to learn about (for instance) literature or geography before attempting to design an electrical circuit. Sick people should be able to decide whether they need to pay five times as much to receive care from a doctor who has a deep grasp of the relation between Picasso and Existentialism.
And the professions should be open to all those with talent, not just those who can buy their way past artificial roadblocks.