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Real Education Includes Vocational Education

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Charles Murray’s new book, “Real Education,” is now out. Murray is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, known for taking on issues that some prefer to gloss over. From the AEI summary of the book:

Ability varies. Children differ in their ability to learn academic material. Doing our best for every child requires, above all else, that we embrace that simplest of truths. America’s educational system does its best to ignore it.

Half of the children are below average. Many children cannot learn more than rudimentary reading and math. Real Education reviews what we know about the limits of what schools can do and the results of four decades of policies that require schools to divert huge resources to unattainable goals.

Too many people are going to college. Almost everyone should get training beyond high school, but the number of students who want, need, or can profit from four years of residential education at the college level is a fraction of the number of young people who are struggling to get a degree. We have set up a standard known as the BA, stripped it of its traditional content, and made it an artificial job qualification. Then we stigmatize everyone who doesn’t get one. For most of America’s young people, today’s college system is a punishing anachronism.

Hal Tarleton, editor of the Wilson (N.C.) Times, wrote about Murray’s arguments the other day, noting North Carolina’s mistakes on vocational education. From his column, “College Isn’t for Everyone“:

North Carolina’s community colleges started out as vocational training centers but have morphed into stepping stones to four-year degrees. They teach the academic courses needed for transfer to the university level and have dropped the “technical” name as an outdated remnant of an industrial age that no longer exists.

Meanwhile, employers are complaining that they can’t find the skilled workers for their factories and service jobs.

Judging from the description of the book, Murray does more than complain, offering substantive proposals for educational reform and improvement.

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The Faults with Four Years of College Degrees

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George Leef of the Pope Center for Higher Education reviews Charles Murray’s new book, “Real Education.” Both critique a four-year baccalaureate program for being more a credentialing mechanism than one that maximizes talents or rationally reflects the needs of the economy. From Leef’s review:

Consider a young man who is at the 70th percentile in language and mathematical ability. He is easily a good enough student to get into mid-level universities. As far as his “people skills” go he is average, but in small motor and spatial skills, he’s at the 95th percentile. The fellow could go to college and get a degree that would put him on track for a management job – where he probably wouldn’t rise far because he’ll be competing with many others who have better skills.

On the other hand, he could become an excellent electrician. If he were to do that, he would probably earn substantially more than if he became a manager and also enjoy far greater job security. Moreover, there is the important matter of personal satisfaction. Our young man will probably have far more of it in a career where he can see tangible results every day and quite possibly become his own boss.

Conclusion: “(G)uidance counselors and parents who automatically encourage young people to go to college straight out of high school regardless of their skills and interests are being thoughtless about the best interests of young people in their charge.” Murray has that exactly right. We need to break out of the mindset that you can’t be a success in life unless you have a college degree.

Murray is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. AEI’s web page for his book includes an intriguing plug for the book from Tom Wolfe:

Charles Murray is one professional contrarian who cannot be written off–not since his first book, Losing Ground, led to a complete restructuring of America’s welfare system. At first Real Education, with its plan for identifying ‘the elite,’ may strike you as an elaboration of his hotly contested views on IQ. But suddenly–swock!–he pops a gasper: a practical plan for literally reproducing, re-creating, a new generation of Jeffersons, Adamses, Franklins, and Hamiltons, educated, drilled, steeped, marinated in those worthies’ concern for the Good and Virtuous with a capital V–nothing less than an elite of Founding Great-great-great-great-great Grandchildren.”