In response to my last post Bryce Bunting wrote the following:
Crawford's ideas got me thinking about the current push to increase accessibility to higher education. Everywhere you look these days there is a new online college, community college, or for-profit venture that touts its ability to increase access.
Is there any danger that the rhetoric of organizations like KIPP ("every single person in this room is going to college") and the oft-heard message that college is the best path for everyone, will devalue the role of the crafts in society? If Crawford is right and certain crafts can provide the financial security and cognitive fulfillment, should we be so concerned with getting everyone to college? Will there come a time when a college education doesn't lead to good jobs and meaningful work and we'll end up wishing for more mechanics and skilled repair-men?
I can't answer Bryce's questions with any certainty. It seems that the future Bryce imagines is a possibility; on the other hand, the "a college degree will be essential to the employment possibilities of every American" seems equally likely, especially given the way that the educational, economic, and political establishments have lined up behind that view.
But Bryce's question raises another question that I would like to take a shot at: Why are we still asking if it is OK for someone to choose not to attend college? There are two answers, I think, both rooted in America's cultural ambivalence towards history.
First, we have to ask that question because our discussions are haunted by the history of discrimination in American education. More particularly, this discussion is haunted by the way that progressives created a tiered educational system where the children of WASP families were encouraged towards university while the children of Jews, Blacks, Latinos, plus women were encouraged to pursue the trades. (For a compelling history of these actions, take a look at Diane Ravitch's book, Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms.) In our history, then, the argument that certain young people ought not to attend college is always linked with our history of racism and sexism.
Second, we have to ask because of education's commitment to serve the progress of the nation. There is of course an irony here: that in a decentralized educational system the aims of education are nationalist. But that is indeed the case. Again and again educational leaders have shifted the curriculum and mission of education to pursue whatever the "future" held. At one time in the 1800s our future looked like a future of tradesmen, and so schools and universities set out to teach students the trades (hence the land grant colleges and universities, which originally were tuned to apply science both to agriculture and to mechanics, hence the "A&M" schools.) But since at least WWII the future has not be a future of tradesmen but of managers, knowledge workers, engineers. And so that perceived need, driven by the Cold War then and by our obsessive fear that we are falling behind our global competitors today, means that any call for students to learn trades is a call for an America that looks backwards.
Since neither of our major political parties is concerned with tradition, and since key sectors of government, the media, and business are convinced that the future is one of technology (as if there is only one future...), studying the trades appears to be as useless as studying history.