Actually, it’s not just the liberals who are being idiots this time; some of my conservative friends, sadly, are also jumping on Santorum for his recent negative remarks regarding the all-encompassing push to get everyone into college. An example:
Hey Santorum, I’m a Republican, and I went to college, a great one, and I got my degree, and got a job. Just like you did. Stop being a moron and just quit the race already.
I went to college, too – a public Ivy, actually – and I graduated summa cum laude with highest honors. Indeed, I enjoyed college so much that I eventually want to go back to study mathematics and theology — and to get teaching certificates in both math and science. But what’s your point here? Why are you behaving as if Santorum attacked you personally? He’s not saying that your college experience was completely worthless. He’s challenging the prevalent belief that college should be universal — and by the way, he’s absolutely right.
My day job involves a fair amount of college admissions counseling, so I know at a very intimate level how damaging all this pro-college propaganda can be. Repeatedly, I have seen C-students with below-average SAT scores collapse under the pressure and check out. Repeatedly, I have seen B-students with average SAT scores flame out in AP (or IB) courses that were forced upon them by over-zealous guidance counselors trying to burnish their students’ college resumes. If it weren’t for the college rat race, I wouldn’t have my current job, but I’d gladly give it up if it meant these students could actually be happy for once in their young lives.
A few weeks ago, a new client at work – a fifteen-year-old sophomore getting middling grades – confided in me that he really wanted to take a class on welding. The admission was furtive and ashamed — almost as if he thought himself a loser for even entertaining such a notion. When I responded enthusiastically — when I validated his desire and delivered a Mike Rowe-style speech on how the skilled trades are awesome and how we need to open more schools to train mechanics, construction workers, and – yes – welders — a weight was immediately lifted from his shoulders. At the end of our session, he remarked, “I was afraid you’d be mean, but you’re actually really nice. I’m going to enjoy coming here.”
Not everyone has the motivation or the aptitude to make it through college — but because everyone from Obama on down is beating the college drum, there are a lot of teens out there who believe they must go or else face social stigmatization and an uncertain employment future. This is sad, unfair, and exactly as “snobbish” as Santorum makes it out to be. Kids desperately need to have access to alternatives. They need to be told that going to trade school is okay. They need to be told that apprenticeships are perfectly respectable. They need to be told that enlisting in the military is a great idea. And they also need to have a K-12 education that goes beyond mere babysitting so that when they graduate, they won’t necessarily need to go to college to become “educated”. In my ideal world, kids would be equipped to educate themselves by the time they earn their high school diploma.
Recently, I’ve been reading Daniel J. Flynn’s Blue Collar Intellectuals (a book I highly recommend, by the way), and what I find most striking about the individuals Flynn profiles is the fact that they managed to pen brilliant, incisive works despite, in many cases, their failure to follow the “college track.” (See also: Eric Hoffer’s life as a hobo and longshoreman.) At mid-century, people with high school – or sometimes even grade school – educations were entirely capable of commenting intelligently upon the issues of the day. In fact, as Flynn reveals, in the post-WWII era, there was an explosion of interest in the “great books” that reached far down into the working classes. But how could this be if many of these people didn’t even go to college? The answer is simple: Back then, the lower education system was better. Robert Heinlein had to learn the times tables to 15 X 15 when he was a boy. Sub Spike, our father, was expected to memorize poetry and calculate square roots by hand. The traditional model still reigned supreme despite Dewey’s best efforts.
But I’m digressing a bit. Suffice it to say that I don’t believe you need to go to college to be educated. Indeed, many people go to college, get their credential, and emerge just as ignorant as they were when they went in. And no — Santorum is not “anti-smart folks,” and he’s not proposing that we allow people to languish in dead-end jobs at McDonald’s. Please get a grip and realize that there are – and should be – many tracks to middle class success.