Belmont Club


By some standards we are better educated than any humans who have ever lived.

CBS News says that a high school diploma is only the beginning. “Positions that used to require just a high school degree are increasingly being filled by college graduates, according to a new survey.”

The rise in educational requirements extended beyond just associate and bachelor’s degrees. Some employers said that in positions where they used to hire candidates with bachelor’s degrees, they are now primarily hiring people who hold a Master’s degree.

The US now spends a vast amount of money on public education. And yet a number of scandals have suggested that the ‘education’ provided is not all it should be. One witness at a high profile murder trial could not read her own deposition, which she had dictated, saying she didn’t read “cursive”.

The problems with modern education were illustrated by a an incident which took place only a few days ago. A Detroit public school teacher was fired after she used a broomstick to break up a fight between two large teenage boys in her classroom. Video taken by one of the students shows everyone standing around simply watching the fight in progress. According to the school rules enacted in order to prevent “child abuse” the Detroit teachers are forbidden from using corporal chastisement.

One of the children, really the size of a man, emotionally recounted his trauma at being hit by the broom though his mother expressed the hope that a suitable monetary compensation would go far to allay his distress. Authorities said the proper procedure was to summon school security personnel to break up the fight. However the radio provided the teacher for the purpose was inoperable. The woman was placed in an impossible position, since she is by regulation also responsible for the ‘safety’ of her charges.

The fight is shown below. The teacher attempts to break up the fight at around the 30 second mark.

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One wonders: what did people do before modern education? How did our ancestors learn to hunt game animals, farm, sail wooden ships across oceans, build bridges and railroads or fight World War 2 without a high school diploma or master’s degree? The video below illustrates what education in the past consisted in for a large number of people.

Work experience.

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A fight would be broken up instantly by older and stronger men who would chastise them with more than a broom. In those days older and more experienced persons were supposed to be your teachers. Age meant knowledge and authority. Instead of being charged with child abuse the men who corrected a public brawling would probably be commended by the authorities.

One should not idealize the world of the past, but education before institutional schooling had its advantages. First of all instruction of necessity conformed to reality. It was learned in the presence of moving masses of steel, timed events and actual human expectations. The link between theory and practice was unbroken.

Second, education consisted in learning work attitudes as well as specific skills. One learned to be part of a team and how to get along. At all events the inadvisability of turning a workplace into a wrestling ring was brought home very sharply. Last but not least, students often got paid to learn. Perhaps not the wages that are mandated today, but at least they left ‘school’ without $250K in student debt.

The learning experience of the past was more than the award of a diploma. It was the transmission of culture.

Today we have more formal education than ever.  But it may be time to ask: of what should it really consist? Is it a credential? Or is it a set of attitudes and skills that will help the learner get by in life? Are we getting value for money from the vast multibillion dollar educational establishment? What can we learn from the past?

Recent purchases by Belmont readers based on Amazon click-throughs.

The Recursive Mind: The Origins of Human Language, Thought, and Civilization

Fitbit Flex Wireless Activity + Sleep Wristband, Slate

Fitbit Flex Wristband Accessory Pack, Small

1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Turning Points in Ancient History)

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

The Everlasting Man (with linked TOC)

Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with you friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.

The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres

Rebranding Christianity for $3.99, or why the truth shall make you free

The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age

Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99, why government should get small

No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.

Storm Over the South China Sea $0.99, how China is restarting history in the Pacific