November 30, 2011


The question really applies to any profession specific education program. Do engineering schools teach students how to be engineers? Hardly. I graduated from both an engineering school and a law school. I can’t say that either ever intended to teach me how to be one or the other. They teach concepts. They teach methods. They test whether you are able to grasp the concepts and implement the methods you will need in order to operate in the profession. Are law school graduates ready to be lawyers? No, but they’re vastly more ready than graduates of philosophy or grievance studies programs. That probably explains why all philosophy and grievance studies graduates want to go to law school. If they had the ability to pursue an engineering education, they would never have majored in philosophy or grievance studies to begin with.

Well, there’s math. Meanwhile, I should note that at the University of Tennessee College of Law, we have not only the clinical programs I mentioned in the earlier post, but a Center For Entrepreneurial Law aimed at business lawyers, and an advocacy program for people who want to be litigators, both of which emphasize practical training.

UPDATE: A reader who requests anonymity emails:

Add computer science degrees to that list. Schools rarely teach their students how to work as software developers, not even at the “concept” level. Good design, testing, and user interfaces are notably absent from the taught skill set, in favor of rote procedures. The exceptions apparently exist primarily because of the relative infancy of computer science to other fields. The constantly evolving technology encourages some cross-pollination between those providing the credentials and those doing the work. However, the norm is still that a new hire out of school, even one with a masters degree, must first be “untaught” bad habits before real work can commence.

Well, a school is not an apprenticeship program. But I do think we’ll see increased pressure to narrow the gap.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Kenneth Parker writes:

I’m a professional in the field (~25yrs). I don’t expect schools to teach students how to be professional programmers; they aren’t trade schools. The problem we’re seeing for the last five years or so is that kids are graduating from reputable state and private schools – with good grades – but without even the foggiest clue about fundamental concepts. Even stupid questions with no wrong answers like “Explain some of the differences between text files and binary files” stumps them. We had one interviewee that couldn’t remember the names of any of his courses from last semester, much less what was taught in them.

While price is certainly part of the education bubble, the other is that many kids simply aren’t learning anything. Whether that’s on the schools or the students I don’t know.

Yes, the value is declining on both the price and the result sides.

MORE: Reader Ray Ward writes:

One of your correspondents has officially gored my ox.

That probably explains why all philosophy and grievance studies graduates want to go to law school. If they had the ability to pursue an engineering education, they would never have majored in philosophy or grievance studies to begin with.

I majored in Philosophy at UT (the real one, in Texas). Two of my classes were all that was needed for a career in Computer Science: Symbolic Logic, and The Philosophy of Science. I have been in that field from bottom to top, both in the technical and the managerial tracks, since 1975. I taught my self the languages and concepts out of books, while working my way through school. The ability to think, learn, pursue knowledge, and the persistence to gain and hone skills, are the basics. The ability to read critically, write, and speak also help. Public speaking I acquired by training NRA firearms instructors, and teaching firearms classes.

I took Philosophy because it gave me the most freedom in scheduling different kinds of classes. I wanted and got an education before job training. That way I knew what was valuable, what to want, before considering the practical aspects of a job and career.

I took Symbolic Logic. History of Science, too, though it wasn’t taught in the Philosophy department.

But the Texas UT isn’t the real one, it’s a Johnny-Come-Lately.

And reader Michael Wallace writes:

I have two daughters. When they were in grade school I told them they better understand the math and science because I will only pay for a real degree and I will only pay for four years. Not long afterwards they began asking what real degrees were and the answers were engineering, science, medicine and accounting. Seeing how much I worked I knew that would develop no desire to be an accountant. (Not that it is easier in other professions, they just wouldn’t see it first hand.)

Year after year I made the same point when their report cards came in and when they complained. Eight months ago the oldest earned a CE from CMU in four years. Even though she was nowhere near at the top of the class (most of her A’s came in liberal arts requirements) she currently is working as a production engineer in the Texas oil fields and earning at a rate of 70/pa. In a couple months she will probably get a scheduled raise which will increase the rate to 80/pa plus a car allowance. It is hard work. It is a little dangerous. It has long hours. She loves it. Anyone know any poetry majors earning like that? Or drama majors? Outside of sales that is.

The youngest? She is working on an EE with a Math minor out in Silicon Valley. Teach and prepare your kids for the real world. If they are destined to be poets or writers or critics then they can do that after they have a real degree and are prepared for the world.

Preparing for the real world.