I went through my usual morning routine: Morning Joe playing on my iPad during my shower, and some flipping back and forth to Fox & Friends while getting dressed and brushing my teeth.
The contrast was typical: Morning Joe was wall-to-wall coverage about the cabinet meeting and the figurative kissing of the ring that all (except Mattis) performed; On Fox & Friends I caught a segment talking about the need for vocational training and there being paths for people other than college. They had clips of Ivanka Trump talking about the need for this, and had a clip from Scott Walker talking about all the available jobs in Wisconsin that created a need for skilled workers.
There wasn’t anything terribly wrong (in my view) about either — actually, I think there was more spin going on over at Morning Joe than at Fox & Friends (oddly enough, over something that doesn’t really need spin to be nutty). What irked me about the Fox & Friends segment was this: it seems based on a premise that we have a new crisis: a shortage of people in the country who aren’t college educated, and that we need to work harder to create more people without a college education.
First of all, it’s factually inaccurate. Although it is true that the number of college graduates has risen over the past decade (from 28% to 33% of adults over 25), we still live in a country where 67% of adults do not have a 4-year college degree. Let me be clear, I don’t see anything wrong with not going to college. If you know what you want to do with your life, and it’s attainable without a college degree, there is certainly a reasonable cost-benefit analysis that tips against going to college. But let’s not pretend that we have a shortage of people who haven’t completed college. Let’s not act as if this is a crisis that needs to be rectified. And let’s stop ignoring the value in education for education’s sake.
Coincidentally, my FaceBook memories had a meme that I shared five years ago. It featured a quote from Chris Hedges. Let’s ignore the source, and the controversy that tainted his name, and just think about the point. Education shouldn’t be about making careers. I can agree with that, in part, but only in part. The tr
uth of the matter is that education does correlate positively with earnings, and negatively with unemployment. Looking at age-matched groups, we see that people with a 4-year college degree (or more) earn, on average, $15,500/year more than those who didn’t complete a 4-year degree. In 2014, the unemployment rate in “Millennials” (ages 25-32) was 3.8% for those with a 4-year degree or more, 8.1% for those with a 2-year degree or some college, and 12.2% for those who graduated high school but never went to college. So, even if it were about success, the numbers support that it’s working.
In fact, education does provide training and success (as defined by income or being employed, at least), but it does even more than that. It does, as Hedges states, help create working minds. It does help develop critical thinking skills. It does provide exposure to new ways of thinking. It does help us meet people who come from different places, different cultures, different countries. It is so hard for me to imagine that anybody thinks this is a bad thing. Is it worth the cost of tuition? That’s a separate question, and one worth considering for everybody, but it’s hard to imagine people thinking it’s a bad thing.
What I find especially odd about the way the country is today is this: the anti-education sentiment coming from Fox & Friends this morning is aimed at their viewers. The average FoxNews viewer is an older white male. Somebody whose parents probably pushed hard for him to go to college, perhaps because they couldn’t. Somebody whose parents came to America without much going for them, so their kids could have a better life, and that included going to school. What happened to that part of the American Dream?