|The Perils of Credentialism|
Richard Cohen of Washington Post wrote an interesting, semi-serious rant on requiring a course in Algebra to graduate from high school. Here is an excerpt:
I am haunted by Gabriela Ocampo.
Last year, she dropped out of the 12th grade at Birmingham High School in Los Angeles after failing algebra six times in six semesters, trying it a seventh time and finally just despairing over ever getting it. So, according to the Los Angeles Times, she "gathered her textbooks, dropped them at the campus book room and, without telling a soul, vanished from Birmingham High School."
I confess to be one of those people who hate math. I can do my basic arithmetic all right (although not percentages) but I flunked algebra (once), barely passed it the second time -- the only proof I've ever seen of divine intervention -- somehow passed geometry and resolved, with a grateful exhale of breath, that I would never go near math again. I let others go on to intermediate algebra and trigonometry while I busied myself learning how to type. In due course, this came to be the way I made my living. Typing: Best class I ever took.
Here's the thing, Gabriela: You will never need to know algebra. I have never once used it and never once even rued that I could not use it.
While I personally loved math, I sympathize with him and Gabriela. But there is a deep problem here that Cohen doesn't address. Schools and universities in the US are evolving to be "diploma mills" - something very familiar in India. Standardized testing is inexorably leading towards this. If you can't pass the test, tough luck, you can't "progress" in your education, even if the subject in question is not at all related to other subjects in which you may have flair.
And all of this in the name of enhancing the competitiveness, so employers can get "qualified" [by which people mostly mean "credentialed"] candidates. I disagree with this approach fundamentally. Credential-driven education is ultimately incompatible with capitalism and freedom [see Frederick Hayek and Milton Friedman]. Its goal is to offer "standardized" norms to evaluate people, ignoring the infinite variety in people.
When such a system reaches its advanced terminal state, as it has reached in India, the end result is that credentials themselves start to carry little meaning, because the whole aim of schooling [as distinct from education] becomes getting that stamp of approval, so people learn to game the system towards that goal. In religious terms, God has left the temple.
Over the years, we at AdventNet have learnt to completely ignore credentials in our hiring, and go by our own subjective assessment instead. I say "subjective" because I don't believe there can be any "objective" standards in evaluating human beings, because ultimately these are value judgements. For example, if we are hiring a sales person, a pleasant outgoing personality, good communication skills and a drive to succeed are important, and assessing all of these is an imprecise art. Why would the fact that the person flunked algebra in school be important?
American education is going in the wrong direction, but I would argue that it is precisely because of increasing government involvement, especially by federal and state governments. What was once a purely local affair has become increasingly federalized. This is inevitable - governments are not great at performing subjective value judgements, and if they tried, corruption would be the result. So to avoid that, they have to standardize, thereby robbing the system of flexibility to fit individual needs.
Gabriela, in that story above, may make an excellent saleswoman or an excellent doctor [most doctors I know are very poor at math!]. By flunking her out, the system is basically telling her "You are worthless". And yet, the solution is not some self-esteem enhancement program favored by the left, effectively telling Gabriela "You are good at math" when she is not. The real solution is to get rid of credentialism, and leave the problem to the marketplace, which is perfectly capable of solving it. Milton Friedman outlines how this would work in Capitalism and Freedom, so I will spare the details.
I have a personal stake in this. I have a son with autism, and my wife and I recognize that he will need a highly individualized education. He has some strengths in areas like visual memory and pattern recognition, and major areas of weaknesses, like language. We believe his areas of strength could lead him to a fulfilling life, but only if we don't inflict standardized education on him.
my son too turned 7 on march 21st. just wanted to let you know that i fully agree with your views on personalised education. here in the US thats why they have IEP (individual education plan) for children who are in sp. education. I think establishing a personalised curriculum across the states in India ( for children with sp. need) in regular schools should not be such difficult task. but requires lot of help from govt. and other education bodies involved. unless there is tremendous pressure from parents it seems to be a dream as of now. But i am hoping that with this new generation of informed parents that day won't be long. I think half the parents elect to stay abroad because of this reason.
my son too has progressed a lot since his diagnosis but as he grows older demands of academics increases exponentially. I have no idea whether any of our kids can handle so much. then the question is whats going to happen when they grow older? it's a tough question. and i don't have really good answer to that.
My son, was written off by his school teachers, when he could not utter a single word, till the about the 4th year of his life.
He bloomed like a flower, when I took him to a practitioner of Wladroff's method of Education.
In fact the best leasson that I have learnt there is - that there is a differnce between teaching and encouraging learning.
While most of the school teach you, this one encourages you to learn - without the fear of being judged!
The question, is that if, we do not approve of the existing system, do we need to be apart of it?
If the answer is No, then isn't this a right time to create a altenative system, that encourages, all children to contribute to humanity at large.
Everybody in his / her own way.
Thanks for sharing the inspirting story of your son. There are too many kids (at all age groups) that aren't being served well today. There is still a one-size-fits-all mindset about kids (even in often highly-heralded "results-oriented" systems, where results are equated with test scores), when reality is that each kid is unique.
I have known way too many people who barely stumbled through schooling, only to blossom into outstanding professionals later in life.
Permit me, to follow up on this with you. Is this, then - not a right time, for the like minded to come together, to create a new system, that really works.
How many Gabrellias’ are we going to see, before we take the initiative?
We may or may not have a plan that puts everything in place. Let time decide that. At least, let us make a beginning.
It is we who are thirsty and we have only 2 options
1) Dig a well ourselves
2) Wait for somebody to dig it for us
Let us either, either dig until we get water to quench our thirst, or else, let us die, digging the well. At least we could pass away from this world, with the satisfaction of having genuinely tried
The one thing common to all of us, is that we are running out of time. Each passing day, deprives our children the right to live a normal life.
Could we see our children in any other different situation from what Gabrellia went through.
Parents, who do read this, please do contribute your suggestions to this idea.
We are doing something at a higher education level right now in Chennai. We have an in-house faculty, and we take students from humble backgrounds, who cannot afford to pursue higher education, right out of high school, and have classes in computer science and mathematics. Over time, these students are integrated into AdventNet as employees. It started small with 6 students and 2 faculty, and now has grown to about 15 students and 4 faculty members.
Why not share the details of this wonderful concept with the members (especially the newbies) in the group.
May be,they could contribute,to this noble cause, or else could atleast spread the good work.