Make Tests Test, Make Schools School
In the period that separated the Middle Ages from the modern era, the West’s civilization produced novel traits. While the gradually unfolding change was globally revolutionary, the cultural mutation must be attributed to a small area. Therefore, at first, this text used the word “Europe” — dropped in the interest of precision. Western Europe, then Europe’s cross-oceanic extensions, were early to adapt and to evolve the new civilization that flowered in its midst. In time, some cultures that were by population and history not “European” at all, had adapted the essentials of a system validated by “working.” Numerous nations have resisted the trend. Some of those who, according to their will, managed to remain only marginally affected had a chance to be early recruits. Russia, aided by her Orthodoxy and the tradition of autocracy supported by nationalism, is a notable example.
Now, a defining trait of this new culture has been that it wished to go beyond the “knowledge of the ancients” that it had inherited from glorious predecessors. It could do so because it discovered that the desirable future, while cognizant of the past, could unfold at a higher level than the one achieved by the past. With this “level,” a growth had been anticipated that is best represented by an upward pointing curve. Accordingly, the ideal of a static, therefore harmonious, society has been replaced by a dynamic, competition based ideal. Instead of fearing change, it wished to bring about more of it.
The idea of a better future forged by man’s efforts, presupposed that these men be free individuals. Creative thinking, if proclaimed a virtue, cannot unfold if pioneers are not given the right to an opinion. Innovative individualism will be stymied and prevented from turning into excellence, if the political order denies the right to participate. This right to partake clearly extends to the right to alter the system, which must find its legitimacy by serving those that seek their individual and collective happiness. To sum up: Liberty, individualism, advancement and the good life are intertwined. An additional essential link among these is knowledge and the freedom to apply it. What really moved progressive societies on the path of development have not been nature’s gifts, but the accumulation of abstract knowledge and the resort to expanding practical skills nurtured by a suitable man-made environment.
Our ability to develop more knowledge and abilities is the key to our continued prosperity. This is not a self-evident condition in a world in which movements that emerge from the “cave,” assert that “knowing one book” is sufficient.
For many decades, the entry into the middle class - the combination of income, lifestyle, security and social esteem- depended largely upon the time spent at universities. This approach — from college to success — might be losing its influence to deliver the old promise. Good reasons exist for the crisis of a proven instrument.
The policy governs admissions and promotion, as well as the curriculum that cause the loosening of the connection between higher education and upscale mobility. There is a common causative factor behind these items. The wish to provide for a system that tries to guarantee equal opportunity at the finish line has led to a leveling. True, leveling “upwards” is a logical possibility. In practice, however, when it occurs, the bar is lowered for all. Doing so is easy and those that benefit because they lack ability or are attracted to effortless solutions if they are available will appreciate the help.
Properly run, a university is a place committed to excellence. Thereby it strives for diverse results that express the inequality of the graduates. Equal results are assuredly not a legitimate goal. Especially in America, but soon also in Europe, admission to universities does not follow the principle that the best qualified shall be admitted regardless of any other trait. In the interest of the pursued goal, no factor beyond the ability to think is to exclude or include applicants.
To the extent that this guideline is violated, the “unteachable” find their way into student bodies. This loosening of admission standards is justified as it is alleged to correct society’s or nature’s failure: Social engineering overrides common sense.
In time, the emotionally or intellectually unqualified element becomes a significant minority that cannot be dismissed for its inadequate performance. (That would also compromise the political architects of the laxity.) Once that happens, the practice of admission for non-academic considerations needs to be amended. From guaranteed qualification-free admission follows the need for equal results. Due to that, a dumbing down needs to follow to retain all. If the standards are too high for some, the culprit is the standard, which is to be lowered. This makes the favor to the allegedly “disadvantaged” into a handicap for the appropriately gifted.
Even well intentioned mistakes have consequences. The attempted correction will be likely to be a new “mistake” meant to put a patch on the previous error. Thus the politically induced circumvention of the primacy of academic standards through quotas, special considerations and discrimination — which is, even if positive, a negative for some- governs enrollment, promotion and certification.
The guarantee of a nearly “failure proof” attendance is another error to which there is a response that creates a new disorder. Academic permissiveness resists correction if the policy is distilled from a dogma. The response from within the confines of PC, produces a new muddle. It is expressed in the “diversification” of the course offerings.
Instruction in a number of subjects, and the offering of new majors is the trend. Those to be passed to reward a correct attitude and whose passion might not be directed to achievement through performance, must be accommodated. Courses, majors, and diplomas appear that revolve around the “anger” of the frustrated who express hostility toward a society because it refuses to appreciate what they will have to offer.
Following the easy courses in fashionable subject matters that focus on “rightful anger,” will mainly test whether your heart is located sufficiently left in your chest. As an adjunct to being extended welfare, the process grants appeasing degrees by mandated consent. Again, new difficulties that are not to be mentioned arise.
A process evolves designed to accommodate with a diploma every idiosyncrasy if it has a pressure group backing it. The cumulative effect is easily achieved certification of skills for which there is little demand in the cold world off campus that is run by dummies. Converting certifications in “basket weaving” into jobs is challenging. Low standards in accepted fields, and credentials in the esoteric, explain youth unemployment and tell why your taxi driver might be a PhD.
Is there a return to sanity in sight? It will not come from within the “system.” The professors of “Dead-End Studies” need jobs and their “patients” think that they need to get diplomas while they decide what to with their lives. Additionally, degrees as the fulfillment of an entitlement have become an addiction.
If the input from outside the system is considered, interesting trends can be ascertained. Reactions to the ultimate failure of “no one left behind without a certificate” are building up. Essentially, the response amounts to the transmission of vocationally usable know-how. The purpose is to equip graduates with skills that are in demand in the economy. This means that the skill shall fulfill a demand of what is, ultimately, a consumer wish. Upon completion, possibly after some practical experience, the pursuit of higher degrees remains possible. Those that make educational policy can make training economically viable and to enable practically educated “technicians” to continue eventually on a path that leads to higher degrees.
The glut of wobbly degrees is a hard-to-afford luxury. Pursuing a certificate to decorate the wall means wasted time, and a considerable personal and social costs. Often, the process leads into a dead-end street. The discrepancy between fantasy’s lofty expectations and limited achievement on the ground brings bitterness. The wrongly educated create a frustrated stratum in society. It will seek an outlet for its discontent in “revolution,” feeling that, “if there is no place for us in society’s order than it is society that needs to be changed. Alternatively, these seep into our governing bureaucracies. That brings more senseless regulations to create new jobs, and it assures us that they will be applied mindlessly. This is of significance in case you have been wondering why, so often, government does not work.
On a personal level: Your correspondent’s son is the family’s fourth generation with a PhD (science). As things stand, with degrees as instruments of upward mobility being systematically weakened through diluted, it is not entirely certain that the tradition will continue.