The Monday Morning Memo for February 28, 2011
“Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings.”
– Proverbs, ch. 22
Stand before kings? Sounds great! But how does one get “skilled in his work?”
American children were taught for 100 years that all we had to do to be successful was listen, take notes, remember what we were told and repeat it accurately when asked.
Americans call this silliness “education” and we guard the concept fiercely, obstinately and ridiculously.
“You’ve got the grades to get into college…”
“Smart enough to get a scholarship…”
“The first of my family to go to college…”
The worship of college runs deep in American families. To question college or to criticize it is to brand yourself a heretic.
But college is no longer a religion among employers.
A comprehensive study released by the Harvard Graduate School of Education on February 2, 2011, suggests that America’s “college for all” mindset may be doing more harm than good. According to the study, Americans place too much emphasis on 4-year degree programs when 2-year occupational programs would better prepare students for today’s job market.
Fifty years ago 30 percent of the jobs in America were “white collar.” The white collars enjoyed more prestige, had more opportunity and made more money than the 70 percent who were “blue collar” laborers.
College, we were told, was the difference.
Flash forward half a century; 30 percent of the jobs in America today are “white collar,” just as before. But only 15 percent of today’s jobs are “blue collar.” The remaining 50 percent are jobs that didn’t exist half a century ago; jobs that require specialized training but not a 4-year degree.
And since there aren’t enough people trained to do these jobs, our skilled “no collars” are paid wonderfully high salaries because employers are begging to hire them. The no collars make higher salaries, in fact, than two-thirds of the 30 percent whose collars are white.
“Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings.” And he will do it without a collar.
Meanwhile, our universities graduate exactly 10 times more psychology majors each year than there are jobs for psychology majors. But these bright-eyed innocents are never told, “There will be a job for only 1 in every 10 of you. The rest of you will have to find some other way to make a living.”
I’m betting you know at least a dozen young adults with college degrees who are struggling to find work today. Am I right? But the problem isn’t that there aren’t any jobs. There are plenty of jobs for people with the right skills. These “educated unemployed” simply chose a course of study for which there is no demand in today’s workplace.
James Michener grew up poor, joined the Navy, earned more than 100 million dollars as a writer, was lavished with honorary degrees by the world’s most prestigious colleges and universities, then left us with a singular piercing observation shortly before he died in 1997: “If our military capacities were in as much peril as are our intellectual capacities, the nation would be taking gigantic and immediate steps to repair the deficiencies. It is scandalous that we are not taking equally huge steps to reverse the decline in our basic educational adequacy.” – This Noble Land, p. 99, (1996)
But Michener wasn’t referring to traditional education. Michener understood what it takes to become “skilled in your work:”
“I feel almost a blood relationship with all the artists in all the mediums, for I find that we face the same problems but solve them in our own ways. When young people in my writing classes, for example, ask what subjects they should study to become writers, I surprise them by replying: ‘Ceramics and eurhythmic dancing.’ When they look surprised I explain: ‘Ceramics so you can feel form evolving through your fingertips molding the moist clay, and eurhythmic dancing so you can experience the flow of motion through your body. You might develop a sense of freedom that way.’” – This Noble Land, p. 193
Michener – a man who stood before kings – believed form and freedom to be the factors that differentiated those who were skillful from those who were not.
What form of education will you suggest to the young people who look up to you? Will you give them the freedom to do something other than “go to college?”
Uh-oh. Did that question make me a heretic?
Roy H. Williams
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