A Philosopher's Blog

Scott & Education

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on October 15, 2011
Generic image of rick scott

Running on stereotypes & ignorance?

One rather interesting irony is that folks who claim to be acting in accord with the beliefs of the founders seem to be the same people who are intent on damaging America’s education system. The founders, especially Jefferson, were rather big on education. However, an appeal to the founders would be a rather weak argument, so I will merely point to three important facts. First, an educated population is essential to a properly functioning democracy. Second, an educated population is essential to having a thriving economy. Third, America’s higher education system is a source of international prestige as well as advances in all fields. As such, education should be treated as a vital national resource, rather than as a target for bashing and a convenient place for budget cuts.

One of the latest attacks on education comes from the Governor of Florida, Rick Scott. He is currently the least popular governor in America (although Ohio’s governor did beat him out for a brief span). His latest plan and justification  is as follows:

Scott said Monday that he hopes to shift more funding to science, technology, engineering and math departments, the so-called “STEM” disciplines. The big losers: Programs like psychology and anthropology and potentially schools like New College in Sarasota that emphasize a liberal arts curriculum.

“If I’m going to take money from a citizen to put into education then I’m going to take that money to create jobs,” Scott said. “So I want that money to go to degrees where people can get jobs in this state. Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.”

While Scott is clearly appealing to popular stereotypes, there are some rather important issues that need to be addressed.

The first is his view that shifting more funding to these areas will create jobs. On the face of it, this would not seem to be the case. To use an analogy, encouraging more people to go to a buffet does not mean that more food will be created. Graduates will be in need of jobs and creating more graduates in a certain area would not thus automatically create more jobs-it would just mean more people competing for the same number of jobs.

The second is his view that the money should go to certain degrees that he thinks have a better chance of securing jobs. However, as critics have already pointed out, Scott’s decision making seems to be fueled  (as it so often seems to be) on stereotypes and ignorance. Scott used anthropology as a specific example of an apparently useless degree, but the reality is that 64% of people with graduate degrees in the field find a job within 12 months and Florida has one of the most prestigious departments in the country (at USF) that actually serves to create jobs in Tampa. Scott also seems to be ignorant of the fact that the job prospects of all college graduates are better than those of non college graduates (hence any degree is a decent investment) and the disparity between majors does not seem large enough to warrant his view about the matter. True, some majors have somewhat better employment rates than others, but all majors have rather good employment rates-hence there seems to be no compelling reason to shift funding in this manner.

The third is that his view seems to be that jobs and money should be of utmost concern. As a philosopher, I am all too familiar with the time honored practice of bashing the “non-practical” degrees. This practice is based on a rather limited view of what is valuable-usually casting working a “practical”  job as the defining and proper function of a person and money as the highest good. Such a view fails to see the value in things other than “practical” jobs and money. In this matter, I will follow Aristotle: the highest excellence of a person is virtue and money is, at best, a mere means to the proper end of life, which is happiness. This is not to detract from “practical” jobs nor to dismiss money as being unworthy of consideration. It is, however, to put matters in some perspective.  After all, we are presumably not just here to work for the corporations and pile up money. Surely we are capable of (and perhaps meant for) so much more.

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17 Responses

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  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on October 15, 2011 at 5:51 am

    Money, or the lack thereof, is not the problem with education. The problem with education is that teachers and schools don’t educate young people properly, and they haven’t done so for many years, despite the money that’s been thrown into it.

    In the past, a much better education was given to young people using far less money than what we spend on education today.

    Could you pass the Harvard entrance exam given in 1899?

    See exam: http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/education/harvardexam.pdf

    Education in America, even in 1892, was already going downhill . . . . some educators wishing to drop the knowledge of Greek as a requirement to gain entrance to Harvard:

    May 1892
    The Present Requirements for Admission to Harvard College

    by James Jay Greenough

    In the last ten years great changes have taken place in the course of study required of boys in preparation for Harvard College. The present list of requirements was published in the College Catalogue for 1886-87, after much discussion in the college and outside of it. The main point of dispute was the compulsory study of Greek. The opponents of Greek attacked it as being of no practical value to any person who was not to become either a student of language or a teacher, and argued, from this point of view, that it was absurd to require all boys to study it. Many other persons, trained under the old system, could not conceive of a liberally educated man to whom Greek was but a name, and therefore defended the requirement. The college authorities have settled the question for a time by admitting pupils with no knowledge of Greek, but only under very stringent conditions.

    This is a wide departure from traditional standards, but the college has made other changes even more far-reaching in their results than this. Changes in the form of examination set by the college in many of the old subjects of study have altered the whole course of preparation in them. These great changes have been so slow and gradual that the general public has almost no knowledge of them, and even many of the preparatory schools have no adequate appreciation of them. Nevertheless, parents with sons to be fitted for college, and all persons interested in education, ought to understand the present requirements in order to see the general tendency and the purpose of them. It is well worth while, also, to consider whether they make a good foundation for a liberal education before other changes are suggested.

    • FRE said, on October 15, 2011 at 3:35 pm

      No, I could not pass the Harvard entrance examination.

      Probably the entrance examination was based on the classical education provided by the better high schools of the day. Now high schools do not teach Greek mythology in depth and few offer courses in Latin and Greek, so today’s high school graduates would not be able to pass examinations based on those subjects.

      On the other hand, now high schools teach calculus. Did they in the late 1800s? I doubt in, in which case a high school graduate in 1899 would not be able to answer any questions related to calculus whereas many modern high school students could.

      The amount of available knowledge has greatly increased since 1899. For example, in 1899, quantum physics and the law of relativity were unknown. It would be easy to write a college entrance examination on which modern students would do well, but students in 1899 would get a score of approximately zero.

      It’s good that we have departed from “traditional” standards. However, it’s not good that students no longer have the writing ability that they had in 1899 and I would agree that standards should be raised. But comparing an 1899 examination with a modern examination is not the way to go.

  2. T. J. Babson said, on October 15, 2011 at 8:12 am

    Undergraduate enrollment in STEM disciplines is surging–up by something like 40%. These areas need more resources. The only question is where the money comes from.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 15, 2011 at 6:24 pm

      I am fine with resources being allocated on the basis of program enrollment and the legitimate needs of said programs (for example, science classes typically need lab equipment). However, cutting funding based on misconceptions, stereotypes, ignorance or ideology is not something I am fine with.

      I actually agree that we need to really step up in our production of American engineers, mathematicians and other folks in the hard sciences and quantitative fields. However, attacking the liberal arts is not the way to do this.

  3. kevinstewart said, on October 15, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Maybe we could change the name to “conservative arts.” Then they might leave it alone. : )

  4. dhammett said, on October 15, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    ” . . .we are presumably not just here to work for the corporations and pile up money.”

    Yes. But as Tonto might have said in a different context: “What you mean ‘we’, Kimosabe?” It’s all too apparent that quite a few of ‘us’ are here for that sole purpose.

  5. WTP said, on October 15, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    Mike, I’ll repeat this and repeat this until the cows come home, if necessary. You don’t understand the fundamentals of economics. I’ve tried to engage you in philosophical discussions on the subject, but you do not seem interested in pursuing them. Yet you continue to write article after article on the subject, almost every time using a conservative and/or libertarian as your straw-man foil. It’s like you’re avoiding the natural curiosity a philosopher should have. Either that or you’ve got diarrhea of the mind. The latter would be more flattering in my nsho.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 15, 2011 at 6:15 pm

      Yes, I do (within the limits I’ve described elsewhere). What you probably mean is that I do not understand them as you see them. These are two different things.

      The thing is, I use actual positions and criticize those positions. By definition, I am not making a straw man when I do this.

      As I have said before, it is possible to be critical without being insulting. It is, in fact, desirable.

      • WTP said, on October 16, 2011 at 8:05 am

        No, you choose to not even try to understand them because you shy away from the discussion once I approach the fundamentals of the issue. Even then you want to either play semantic word games and hide behind the skirts of a passive-aggressive faux civility.

        “I do not understand them as you see them”. That’s simply a cop-out argument. The problem is, as I’ve said here repeatedly, that you do not make an intellectually honest attempt to understand the other side of the issues that you write about. You constantly attack big name conservatives and such, knowing full well that they will never show up here to defend what they’ve said or put it in context. Which is no big deal, per se. But you do not engage in discussing the fundamental philosophic underpinnings of the ideas that you criticize through these players.

  6. magus71 said, on October 15, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    “64% of people with graduate degrees in the field find a job within 12 months”

    That doesn’t seem very good to me for a graduate degree. I bet a graduate degree in computer science has a contract signed before the person even leaves school.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 15, 2011 at 6:10 pm

      Actually that is pretty good considering the way the academic job cycles work. Most academic hiring is done on a once a year basis. For example, most academic jobs in philosophy (in the US) are announced in the fall semester and the hiring process usually takes months to review and interview the candidates.

  7. dhammet said, on October 15, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    Probably depends on where you are. Not so much in England. How does “mass communication and documentation” compare with “anthropology” in your mind?

    http://cartesianproduct.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/computer-science-the-worst-degree/

    “Just 84.7% of recent graduates from full time computer science degrees were in employment in 2009/10, comapred to, say, 86% of graduates from the much-maligned “mass communication and documentation” field – that’s “media studies” to the Daily Mail et al.
    “In contrast 89.6% of mathematical science, the closest analogue to computer science, graduates (full timers) were in employment.”
    Not a dead heat, but pretty close.
    But, then, that’s the English for you. Bad food. Bad teeth. Bad judgment.
    But you gotta give them this. They apparently dislike Muslims as much or more than some of us do.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/6958571/Britons-are-suspicious-towards-Muslims-study-finds.html

    Related material to follow immediately:

    • dhammet said, on October 15, 2011 at 5:10 pm

      I’ve had problems on here with posting more than two URLs at the same time, so here’s the second to go with the Telegraph URL:

      http://xrdarabia.org/2010/01/22/american-attitudes-toward-muslims-dropping/

      Well, if I had been precise I would have written ‘soon’ instead of ‘immediately’.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 15, 2011 at 6:07 pm

        WordPress’ spam filter can be ferocious and sometimes stupid. But overall it saves me a lot of time that I would otherwise have to spend deleting comments selling porn and pharmaceuticals.

  8. ajmacdonaldjr said, on October 15, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    The liberal arts are very important. How many scientists are not great outside-the-box thinkers because they’re not as familiar with the philosophy of science as they could and should be? I never went to college because my only interests were philosophy and religion, and I knew this would not help with future employment. But I now think this was a mistaken approach to take: that an education is all about a job or a career, which, as Mike is saying, should not be the case at all. An education would have made me a better thinker, which is always a good thing, and will always be helpful in any career I chose to pursue. Since then, I have spent my life studying philosophy, theology, the Bible and classic literature and this has helped me to become a better thinker, which has made me a better employee too, as well as a writer. I’ve never been the science type, because I suck at math, but I have always be interested in science. In fact, my knowledge of the philosophy of science has been very useful in explaining to some of the science-types important points of logic they are not thinking about and important assumptions they are making without their even realizing they are making them. Science, especially needs the critique of ethics because, without such a “soft-science” critique of the “hard-sciences”, especially of the applied sciences, science knows one – and only one – “ethic”: “Whatever can be done should be done”, which should scare the crap out of us all.


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