It’s a Meme!

First Mike Rowe, then John Ratzenberger, then Jay Leno, now City Journal has an in-depth look at the lack of skilled workers in industry. Pullquote:

“The ability to make things in America is at risk,” says Jeannine Kunz, director of professional development for the Society of Manufacturing Engineers in Dearborn, Michigan. If the skilled-labor shortage persists, she fears, “hundreds of thousands of jobs will go unfilled by 2021.”

The shortage of industrial skills points to a wide gap between the American education system and the demands of the world economy. For decades, Americans have been told that the future lies in high-end services, such as law, and “creative” professions, such as software-writing and systems design. This has led many pundits to think that the only real way to improve opportunities for the country’s middle class is to increase its access to higher education.

That attitude is a relic of the post–World War II era, a time when a college education almost guaranteed you a good job. These days, the returns on higher education, particularly on higher education gained outside the elite schools, are declining, as they have been for about a decade.

I ran across something in the archives a couple of days ago that I want to repeat here. It was an excerpt from a 1974 interview by Eric Sevareid of Leo Rosten on the topic of “higher education.” Remember, this was 1974, considerably longer than a mere decade ago:

We’re practically using the colleges as a dump into which to put youngsters we do not know what to do with. There are today 45 million people between the age of roughly 7 and 24. Their parents don’t know what to do with them. They want them to go to college and they often think that they’re being trained for jobs. But they’re not getting training for useful employment.

Someone has said that education is what remains after everything you’ve learned is forgotten. The purpose of educating young people is not only to illuminate their spirit and enrich their memory bank but to teach them the pleasures of thinking and reading. How do you use the mind? As a teacher, I always was astonished by the number of people in the classroom who wanted to learn as against those who just wanted to pass. I took pride in my ability to communicate. Generally “communicate” meant one thing. Now the young think “communicate” means “Agree with me!”

The student rebellions of the 1960’s exposed the fact that our entire educational system has forgotten the most important thing it can do prior to college: indoctrinate. I believe in the indoctrination of moral values. There’s a lot to be said for being good and kind and decent. You owe a duty to those who have taken care of you. You owe a duty to whatever it is that God or fate gave you – to use your brain or your heart. It’s senseless to whine, to blame society for every grievance, or to assume that the presence of a hammer means you have to go out to smash things.

The young want everything. They think they an get everything swiftly and painlessly. They are far too confident. They don’t know what their problems are, not really. They talk too much. They demand too much. Their ideas have not been tempered by the hard facts of reality. They’re idealists, but they don’t sense that it’s the easiest thing in the world to be an idealist. It doesn’t take any brains. This was said by Aristotle 2,300 years ago. Mencken once said that an idealist is someone who, upon observing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, assumes that it will also make better soup.

Hell, most of ’em can’t make soup if it doesn’t come out of a can.  But they can make drum circles in public parks!

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