Buying Employment?

As I reflect on my post (“Lost but not Alone“) earlier today, I realize that there is one major thing that requires clarification; I do not in any way mean to defame the value of the university system. I’ve been in university for 6 years now, and I’ve gotten a lot of value out of the many learning and personal growth opportunities available to me.

I came to a lot of these realizations through reading the wonderful blog by Classrooms and Staffrooms, based out of the U.K. In this post on Sir Ken Robinson’s ideas, I began to think about the root problems in our current system of education-employment. Sir Ken’s arguments suggest that the current educational system operates based on entrenched ways of thinking (which reduces creativity in children), that more learning should happen in groups, that institutionalized learning is problematic because of its standardization, and that there are unnecessary divides between vocational and academic training (see the video here). He also tries to delineate the driving forces for education, namely economic ones (i.e. producing workers for society) and cultural ones (i.e. passing along our lifestyle expectations) (see the video here). Most importantly to my mind, he suggests that getting a degree no longer leads to a job because of the fluctuating economy and, further, it can marginalize what an individual believes to be most important about him or herself (video).

Critiques of this position are many, as illustrated by the Scenes From The Battleground blog. I agree entirely with commentators such as Daniel Willingham, who argues that Sir Ken does not present a revolutionary framework for changing education – in fact, Sir Ken’s failure to critically analyze the feasibility of Romanticism as an alternative learning method is ignorant and short-sighted (Strauss, October 25th, 2010). I also wholeheartedly concur with Larry Sanger that “when people go to school for a long time, and work hard and conscientiously, they tend to become […] possessed of better minds, than they had before, or than they would have in the absence of their education.” (see the full article here). Thankfully, these debates seem to be contributing to a healthy and on-going discussion about the future of education – a worthy goal.

But I must raise, again, the issue of our flawed system of education-employment. Certain thinkers have identified the overabundance of highly-educated individuals as the major problem in our current system, and suggest a return to earlier, more rigorous academic environments that prevent people from simply buying a degree (Sherman, August 30th, 2013). Brian Lee Crowley from The Globe and Mail writes that academics should be self-aware of their teaching abilities and the hiring potential of their graduates in this article. The Economist’s article on The Disposable Academic reminds us that universities are essentially businesses that prosper by letting in more students.

So how do we reconcile our desire to fairly educate everyone in society, while maintaining the value of a university or college degree? I propose that we all consider the impact that the flow of money and distribution of wealth is having on our young learners and employees. If the world were a meritocracy, people who studied and worked hard would get a job. If I may draw the analogy, this is the same as my bemoaning people’s use of cars – if we didn’t have cars, and we had to work harder to move around, people who could afford enough food to survive would thrive over those who could not.

But everyone who can afford to get a car to make their lives easier, does, just as everyone who can afford to get a job, will. Take a look at the rise of unpaid internships and their impact on hiring prospects for young graduates. Our education and employment system is heavily biased towards those who can afford to buy their education along with the requisite credentials, certifications, and experiences needed to get hired. In my opinion, it’s a broken system; but how it will evolve into the future is an open question.