Yes: Academic Rigor and the Job Market Are Victims of the Current System

By Gottfried, Paul | Insight on the News, October 16, 1995 | Go to article overview

Yes: Academic Rigor and the Job Market Are Victims of the Current System


Gottfried, Paul, Insight on the News


Give credit where credit is due. The 104th Congress voted overwhelmingly Sept. 19 to collapse more than 125 federal education programs into three block grants to the states. Governors and state houses may hereafter target the funds according to the perceived.needs of their localities; among likely candidates for increased funding will be vocational education. This was at least a defensible step toward the goal of helping the nation's youth prepare for jobs. What remains to be done is to demythologize the cult of college education.

A peculiarly American belief is that everyone living in the United States is entitled to a "higher education." This, of course, is different from thinking that all young Americans should receive an education that allows them to find employment. Both European socialists and American conservatives might agree on this last point, though neither necessarily would believe that job training means spending time at a four-year college preparing for an often-devalued diploma. Only American liberals and academic mandarins would embrace this second belief, despite compelling evidence to the contrary.

Most high-school graduates are unprepared for demanding college work, yet a majority do go on to college. Moreover, the 1994 US. Almanac indicates that about 45 percent of all high-school graduates earn college degrees. The problem here, as shown by Seymour Itzkoff in The Decline of Intelligence in America, is that most of these high-school graduates are barely fit for junior high. In a shocking study in 1991 of high-school graduates in Jersey City, N.J., only one of every four white students and only one of every eight black students could read and do mathematics at a seventh-grade level. About half of these students, it may be assumed, will go on to colleges, and almost all of them eventually will graduate. What complicates this problem is that most people lack the native intelligence for rigorous college courses such as calculus, organic chemistry and foreign-language study. Even groups that place high in the cognitive elite as determined by IQ testing -- Asians, Jews and Scandinavians -- do not produce majorities with the requisite abstract intelligence for college work. For this purpose, according to many social psychologists, a student must have a minimum IQ level of 110 to 120. Most individuals in all groups fall below that rank. While those below it conceivably could get by in an unadulterated college curriculum, such students would have to work hard -- harder than most students are required to work on today's campuses.

The-less-than-adequate students who now attend college are pressuring college faculties to dumb down curricula. This phenomenon has been felt especially in the liberal arts and social sciences, studies that attract most of the substandard students. The hard sciences and mathematics have had to maintain higher standards due to the precise nature of their subject matter. These disciplines also figure prominently in vocational-training such as accounting, which entails testing as a certification requirement. Fewer such obstacles stand in the way of earning a degree in sociology or women's history, a factor making these fields congenial to the intellectually incompetent. And those who teach in such fields can and do make arguments, taken from multicultural or therapeutic authorities, to justify their function as entertainers. They gladly point out the intellectual standards are culturally relative, offend victimized minorities and take no account of attention-deficit syndrome. Not content with demands for more money, the education egalitarians now insist upon equality of results for college degrees. Two years ago Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed a bill, which had passed both houses of the California legislature, calling for equal representation for designated minorities in state-subsidized graduate schools. Presumably this would have been applied to medical schools as well as institutions of fine art. …

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