Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Indoctrination and Higher Education

Here are some (edited and improved) comments that I left on Angel the Lawyer's and Hardknocks's blog, But I Did Everything Right!. I think they are worth republishing as a blog post. Near the end of a post titled Second Chances, New Beginnings, Hardknocks asked:

What does it say about the state of our nation and the effectiveness of our educational system when a first generation college student with dual degrees from the best universities in America believes the only option left for her is to take out yet another private loan to get her PhD because she is unable to find a job – any job – even as a barista at the local Starbucks? What does it say when this blog gets thousands of hits each month with numerous young people telling us that they’ve given up, contemplated suicide, or have to lie on their resume because they have too much education to get a job? -- Hardknocks
It means that our society has a very serious problem with producing too many college graduates, not just in the legal field, but in almost all fields. We are also producing far too many MBAs and even PhD. scientists.

In fact, many people with science degrees, including many with PhD's and postdocs, fled the career graveyard of science for law school to become patent lawyers, resulting in a large oversupply of patent lawyers. That people could have two advanced degrees and have difficulty obtaining employment commensurate with their education is probably unfathomable to most laypeople, most of whom have drank the education Kool Aid and believe that higher education is a guarantor of vocational success.

The end result of our society's Education Arms Race is that our economy is suffering from a tremendous amount of economic waste and that as a result our society is poorer. Instead of spending human effort producing real wealth--goods and services--we are squandering it training people for non-existent job positions. Money spent on student loans is money that will not be spent on consumer goods and services. Of course, hundreds of thousands if not millions of Americans are also suffering from the excruciating pain and humiliation of having spent time and money on higher education only to find themselves unemployed and unemployable in their fields. If they do not find jobs in their fields shortly after graduation, they will probably lose the economic value of their degrees. The realization that you have really fucked up your life, permanently, and that you really are a loser can drive you to suicide.

How could all of this happen? It's happening because of the government's abject failure to regulate the numbers of people in college or to even acknowledge the existence of this issue. This is just another example of the government's failure to regulate a market that suffers from a lack of feedback loops and information asymmetry. Lenders don't need to worry about whether college education is a good investment because student loans are non-dischargeable in bankruptcy, and colleges don't need to worry about whether the market needs more college graduates because they have an interest in having as many students as they can and they are fed by student loans, which means that their financial self interest runs contrary to the best interests of students and society.

Demosthenes then said:
If only we "elite, ""super-intelligent," "over-educated," yet "under-experienced" asshats had asked these questions before it was too late maybe we could have stood a chance. -- Demosthenes
That professional school education may not have economic value never occurs to most naive 21 year-olds who are trying to decide what the hell they're going to do with their English and Poly Sci degrees other than sling lattes. On other forums, such as the ABA Journal, commentators will chime in with the retort, "They should have known better before going to law school, I have no sympathy for them."

I suspect that most people do not understand that students have been heavily indoctrinated with the dogma that education is the key to success. This message can be found almost everywhere in our society. Just crack open a newspaper or turn on the radio or the TV and it probably won't take long until someone says that more people need to go to college to "train for the jobs of tomorrow" or that "unemployed workers need to retrain to obtain new skills for 'in demand' fields." Our politicians, smug economists, and the media believe this dogma unquestioningly and they try to sell it to the public as though it were an opiate of the masses. "We have unemployment problems in this state, and we're going to do something! We're going to invest in better education!"

This notion that higher education is a guarantor of an economically secure life permeates our society and it bombards people from all directions. We have all been indoctrinated with it since elementary school.

Is it thus any wonder that so many 21 year-olds almost unquestioningly believe that obtaining an advanced degree, especially a professional degree, will give them a leg-up in the job market? Misleading employment statistics put out by greedy self-interested institutions of higher debt (such as law schools) only help to confirm in people's minds what they have been indoctrinated to believe since nursery school.

Don't be shy!  Please leave a comment!


Anonymous said...

College and graduate school pointlessly delay adulthood.

Anonymous said...

I wish to contact you personally, but I have no info. I do not like to leave my email out there, and I understand if you don't. Angel the Lawyer and Nando have their emails public, so if you would like to reach me, contact them.

Frank the Underemployed Professional said...

I thought about posting it here, but then it occurred to me that bots and ideological opponents might add it to spam lists, so I sent an email to Angel. I am brand new to blogging, so I think it is best to maintain a modicum of privacy for now.

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