If Only the Singer of "Psychotic Reaction" Had Listened to Charles Murray 40 Years Ago


Charles Murray, whose latest book is Real Education, takes a stand against using bachelor's degrees as basic job credentials in The New York Times. Part of the problem, he argues, is the vocationalization of higher ed:

Many young people who have the intellectual ability to succeed in rigorous liberal arts courses don't want to. For these students, the distribution requirements of the college degree do not open up new horizons. They are bothersome time-wasters.

A century ago, these students would happily have gone to work after high school. Now they know they need to acquire additional skills, but they want to treat college as vocational training, not as a leisurely journey to well-roundedness.

As more and more students who cannot get or don't want a liberal education have appeared on campuses, colleges have adapted by expanding the range of courses and adding vocationally oriented majors. That's appropriate. What's not appropriate is keeping the bachelor's degree as the measure of job preparedness, as the minimal requirement to get your foot in the door for vast numbers of jobs that don't really require a B.A. or B.S.

Discarding the bachelor's degree as a job qualification would not be difficult. The solution is to substitute certification tests, which would provide evidence that the applicant has acquired the skills the employer needs.

Whole thing here. I actually find the addition of vocationally oriented majors less heartening than Murray. Why not let workplaces prepare and train their own employees? I think college works best when it is introducing students to intellectual frameworks, deep knowledge in specific disciplines, and the arguments surrounding both of those, rather than task-specific skills. (I realize there's a lot of slippage and overlap in there). 

In any case, Murray's advice comes too late for the recently deceased John Byrne, singer for the Count Five and composer of the garage-band standard "Psychotic Reaction." In a Los Angeles Times obit, Byrne seemed ambivalent about hitting the books after failing to generate more chart success:

Byrne returned to his studies at San Jose State University and became an accountant, later working as a manager of a Montgomery Ward store in Northern California. But he never quit playing music, his daughter said.

"Maybe I made some mistakes," Byrne told the San Jose Mercury News in 2002 when the band had a revival. "I was determined to get through college. Maybe I was wrong, but I'm glad I'm an educated man. At least when people talk to me, they know I'm not an idiot."

More here.

Hat tips: George Leef at National Review; Jack Shafer at Slate.