I disagree with you on your point that we have over invested in education; we have grotesquely mis allocated our "investment dollars".
At the primary school level, we have done little more than invest in the coffers of the teachers unions. At the secondary school level, we have under invested in vocational schools (big time) and over invested in worthless liberal arts programs. How much money has the government spent subsidizing bachelor's and master's degrees in completely worthless fields, such as painting, psychology, literature, tribal studies, etc. , etc.
Do we really need to subsidize a degree in which the thesis paper is titled: "Homosexuality in ancient Mayan Times", or as I heard on the Glenn Beck Program the other day (this was true) "Lesbian underrepresentation in dolls". Are you kidding me?
I'm in the military. And in the military the government makes targeted investments in education. The military will pay for you to go to school, get a degree and then get a commission (ROTC), but they will only pay (in most cases) if you choose a degree path chosen by the military, such as engineering, aeronautics, physics, political science, nursing, or area studies (like middle eastern culture). Why? Because that's what is needed. And there's no reason why the Government shouldn't do the same things for civilians.
Have you ever heard of the "engineer gap"? Well, it's a huge problem that's rarely mentioned. Simply put, Americans are going to secondary school in higher and higher numbers, but they're no longer getting engineering or mathematical degrees. Asian countries, particularly China and India, are producing engineers at an alarming rate (particularly China, and many are concerned about the longterm strategic implications of this). If we only paid for degree paths in fields the economy is sorely lacking in, such as engineering or advanced computer sciences (why do you think Indians are getting boatloads of work visas to come to the US? Because there aren't enough to do the job!)
[...] degrees in completely worthless fields, such as painting, psychology, literature, tribal studies, etc. , etc.
But how do you measure the "worth" of a field? A literature student might turn into a best-selling author indirectly creating hundreds of jobs. A physicist that's dealing with neutrinos, or that's trying to determine the dynamics in a supernova will not create a return on investment in our lifetime. After teaching my engineering students for a semester, I do enjoy walking through an art gallery and getting my mind off the board for a while. Not measurable but certainly a benefit. Same with psychology. Determining what makes some kids tick and being able to excite a loner into actively participating in the labs is highly rewarding. Yet, no direct return on investment.
As the leading nation in the free world we need to be more multi-faceted than just top engineers and mathematicians. After all, it is the thinkers that evolved our society to where we are. If it was for most scientists we would still hail to the king. "I will serve any system, as long as the system leaves me alone and pays for my research".
What concerns me much more with students in our engineering faculty these days is the inability to write a memo, manual, or paper. Most students can't put ten lines on paper without a dozen mistakes. My colleagues at other universities report the same. By the same token "sexy" programs like internetworking find their ways into secondary schools and replace traditional curricula. So, you end up with a 19-year old telecom specialist that needs a professional to write his resume.
posted on 07/17/2004 6:03:16 PM PDT
I myself am the product of targeted "educational investment" system in former USSR, so I saw that kind of system from the inside. I also saw the American system from the inside in my graduate school years here. "Targeted system" was much more intense (up to 10 times the number of "contact hours" for the same technical discipline). It was vocational system par excellence, and as such it was infinitely more efficient than "liberal arts" US model.
On the basis of my observations I would consider the liberal arts system as criminal waste, and this is what I was meant by overinvestment.
The targeted system was notoriously bad in determining the favorites (in which subjects it will be necessary to teach/train people now for the employment 5 yrs down the road). To compensate for that, it had to be out of date and cover extra-wide areas in training. The situation was superficially similar to Japanese MITI playing favorites and choosing certain industries for long term promotion.
As for the "engineer gap" - I saw it up close. This is a structural problem with US education (students are allowed to choose their curriculum, and then they take easier courses). In USSR the notion of "elective course" was a heresy. Every incoming 1st year student was admitted for "education in the specialty of..." (the student filled up this blank at the time of applying for admission). This same line (specialty) was later repeated in the student's diploma. The curriculum for every specialty was standardized from the student's first day in the college, like assembly line. And this is why the course content was always out of date.
But, after all, the targeted system did not aim at producing cutting edge creative types (and was probably very ill suited for that), but rather at mass training of reasonably competent, interchangeable run-of-the-mill lower and middle level specialists. How to train the Einsteins and Michelangelos -and how many of them the country needs and can simultaneously use- remains unanswered. The liberal education system might be better than the targeted one at this task, but if so, it would be only marginally.
posted on 07/17/2004 6:05:11 PM PDT
...I'm in the military. And in the military the government makes targeted investments in education. The military will pay for you to go to school, get a degree and then get a commission (ROTC), but they will only pay (in most cases) if you choose a degree path chosen by the military, such as engineering, aeronautics, physics, political science, nursing, or area studies (like middle eastern culture). Why? Because that's what is needed. And there's no reason why the Government shouldn't do the same things for civilians...
Whoa! The military is still small enough for planners to get together and decide the proper allocation of skilled people. Also, everyone is paid equally based on their grade and time in service. As a serviceman (or woman), one is being trained for their short contracted periods (assumption being the non-lifer) for the specific benefit of the military. The skills that one obtains through military training just happen to be just one of several positive externalities that benefit society.
But, in general society there is no need for a planner nor is it practical. The market place takes care of compensating for scarce skills and skills of value and it doesn't reward skills that serve little or no purpose of production. THE MOST a government should do in the planning of education for a whole economy is to provide incentives (or even disincentives) to persuade people to acquire (or not acquire) desirable (or undesirable) skills; and even this argument can and SHOULD be picked apart. You do see where planning the education of an economy is freedom limiting, don't you?
posted on 07/18/2004 5:41:46 AM PDT
(I find it extremely funny when the Buchananites 'Deep Throat' each other. [Irony intended])
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