The Marc Steiner Show

Reflecting on yesterday’s show on education

Yesterday I interviewed two educational leaders from different ends of the ideological spectrum who had written open letters to President-elect Barack Obama.

I always love interviewing Howard Gardner (listen to our interview by clicking here). He is one of the most important educational thinkers in the world. He is just so clear in his analysis, research and thinking. In the past, we have had discussions where we paired him with leaders of educational systems to talk about how to translate his ideas into practice in our city and county public schools. On this show, he came on to talk about his open letter to President-elect Obama, which you can read by clicking here.

It is clear that changing our culture through the bully pulpit of leadership to respect and embrace education, along with treating teaching as a real, respected and well paid profession is the only prescription for success. Within that, we can make all kind of rules and regulations, but without anything implemented, it becomes meaningless and redundant.

Now, my second guest yesterday, Charles Murray, wrote a book I intellectually loathed, The Bell Curve (listen to our interview by clicking here). I just wanted to disagree with his latest New York Times op-ed (read it by clicking here) but I couldn’t. I love it when I am so challenged that I have to change my thinking or admit that life is more complex than simple ideological answers.

My show over the years has taught me that truth lives in all corners of our life. While I might disagree over some of his assumptions, Charles Murray is right. College is highly overrated. Why should someone who wants to be a computer programmer, interior designer, actor, marketing executive, software designer or hundreds of other jobs I could mention, have to take physics, European literature or required gym courses to graduate? If we restructured our world of post-secondary education, it would save money, time and produce a creative population that will build a great nation.

Charles Murray, years back I took on one of your intellectual mentors at Hopkins over the Bell Curve, but your advice to President Obama is dead on.

Written by Marc Steiner

Marc Steiner

The Marc Steiner Show airs Monday thru Friday from 10AM to Noon on WEAA 88.9 FM. The show covers the topics that matter, engaging real voices, from Charm City to Cairo and beyond. Call us at 410.319.8888 or email us to participate live in the show, or share your comments on our site! Aren’t in Baltimore but want to listen? Stream the show live.


Comments

  1. Marc:
    I can give you two reasons why “someone who wants to be a computer programmer, interior designer, actor, marketing executive, software designer or hundreds of other jobs I could mention, [should] take physics, European literature or required gym courses.”

    1) We are more than our jobs, and education should prepare us for more than just having a job.

    2) In particular, education for citizenship requires more than vocational training. The old Greek idea of sound, wide-ranging, supple minds in healthy, fit bodies as the basis for effective citizenship is (or should be) still compelling.

    Beware of Charles Murray. You correctly perceived the pseudo-science behind The Bell Curve. His real agenda, from Losing Ground through The Bell Curve and right up to this reasonable-sounding discourse on education, is the justification of a two (or more)-tiered society, with an educated (and wealthy) elite presiding over worker drones of various sorts. I’m serious: read his work with that idea in mind, and see what I mean.

    This doesn’t mean that college isn’t overrated. But it’s overrated for reasons that have nothing to do with Murray’s approach. It’s overrated because even our most elite institutions do such a lousy job at teaching anything (much less a classical ideal). Their true priorities are elsewhere, and classroom work (especially undergraduate teaching) is actually a very low priority. How can you tell? What really gets someone tenure at Harvard, Hopkins, University of Maryland, or Towson? And why doesn’t effective teaching of actual tuition-paying students (you know, the customers?) count more in tenure decisions? Now there’s a show for you!

  2. I too am somewhat unpleasantly surprised to find myself agreeing with Charles Murray. Actually, for years I have felt that colleges were eroding the economic justification for mass post secondary education by their pricing structure. The greater earnings power of college graduates is only justfied if those graduates are not so burdened by student loan debt that their career options are limited, rather than expanded, by their college education. Purely for economic reasons, college may not make sense for many high school graduates of all socioeconomic backgrounds. Furthermore, the current economic catastrophe underscores the importance of building a sustainable economy based on the production of things rather than the creation of exotic financial instruments of dubious value. To produce things, we need more carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc., and fewer accountants and lawyers (I am a lawyer myself).

    If the American economy is to survive and flourish, we need more non-college educated people who are at least as good at working with their hands as their minds.

  3. You ask: “Why should someone who wants to be a computer programmer, interior designer, actor, marketing executive, software designer or hundreds of other jobs I could mention, have to take physics, European literature or required gym courses to graduate?” Here’s why:

    A person who starts work at age 20 and works continuously until she’s 65 will spend approximately 90,000 hours on the job (2000 hours/yr x 45 years). She will live, on the average, more than 500,000 hours after age 20 (24 hours/day x 365 days per year x 60 years to age 80 = 525,600). So work represents, on the average, about 1/6 of her life from age 20 to age 80; or about a quarter of her 350,400 waking hours.

    What does she do with the rest of her time? She has family activities and obligations. She’s a citizen, called upon to choose who governs. She has recreational and cultural interests. She takes part in athletic activities. She volunteers for various community service activities. Each of these non-vocational activities, which together account for 75% of her adult waking hours, is enhanced by some learning that would not be provided by the non-liberal arts certification program with which she earned her job.

    So, maybe Mr. Murray is right to deplore the liberal arts requirement as necessary for employment. But his–and apparently your–willingness to chuck out liberal arts and substitute vocational training, for the vast majority of citizens, leaves a lot to be desired, in my opinion. And, by the way, what qualified Mr. Murray to write his poisonous “Bell Curve” tome? Certainly not his grasp of social and psychological science, which is manifestly deficient.

  4. Why should someone who wants to be a computer programmer, interior designer, actor, marketing executive, software designer or hundreds of other jobs I could mention, have to take physics, European literature or required gym courses to graduate?

    Actually, Herrnstein praises the liberal education required for a Bachelor’s Degree at a college. He’s saying that you shouldn’t have to have the Bachelor’s Degree to get a job.

    Uncouple the degree from the job. Not the liberal education from the degree.

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