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  • Drucker on Education, 1969

    Posted by David Foster on November 20th, 2011 (All posts by )

    About a week ago Instapundit linked this Wikipedia article about the higher-education bubble, noting especially the point that William Bennett predicted the bubble back in 1987. The post reminded me of some interesting and rather prescient comments that Peter Drucker made about education in his 1969 book The Age of Discontinuity. A few excerpts:

    Resources and expectations:

    Education has become by far the largest community expenditure in the American economy…Teachers of all kinds, now the largest single occupational group in the American labor force, outnumber by a good margin steelworkers, teamsters and salespeople, indeed even farmers…Education has become the key to opportunity and advancement all over the modern world, replacing birth, wealth, and perhaps even talent. Education has become the first value choice of modern man.

    This is success such as no schoolmaster through the ages would have dared dream of…Signs abound that all is not well with education. While expenditures have been skyrocketing–and will keep on going up–the taxpayers are getting visibly restless.

    Credentials and social mobility:

    The most serious impact of the long years of schooling is, however, the “diploma curtain” between those with degrees and those without. It threatens to cut society in two for the first time in American history…By denying opportunity to those without higher education, we are denying access to contribution and performance to a large number of people of superior ability, intelligence, and capacity to achieve…I expect, within ten years or so, to see a proposal before one of our state legislatures or up for referendum to ban, on applications for employment, all questions related to educational status…I, for one, shall vote for this proposal if I can.

    Dangers of “elite” universities:

    One thing it (modern society) cannot afford in education is the “elite institution” which has a monopoly on social standing, on prestige, and on the command positions in society and economy. Oxford and Cambridge are important reasons for the English brain drain. A main reason for the technology gap is the Grande Ecole such as the Ecole Polytechnique or the Ecole Normale. These elite institutions may do a magnificent job of education, but only their graduates normally get into the command positions. Only their faculties “matter.” This restricts and impoverishes the whole society…The Harvard Law School might like to be a Grande Ecole and to claim for its graduates a preferential position. But American society has never been willing to accept this claim…

    It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the strength of American higher education lies in this absence of schools for leaders and schools for followers. It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the engineer with a degree from North Idaho A. and M. is an engineer and not a draftsman. Yet this is the flexibility Europe needs in order to overcome the brain drain and to close the technology gap.

    Parallels with Confucianism:

    History shows a frightening parallel to the way our education is going everywhere in the world today. It is the decline of the world’s most creative, most advance, and most exciting civilization, that of China in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Until then, China had led the world in the arts and the sciences, in medicine and in mathematics, in technology and in statecraft. The reaction against independent thinking and artistic creativity that followed the invasion of the Mongols in the thirteenth century imposed the Confucian system of purely literary and purely imitative “liberal education” to the exclusion of everything else. Within a century China had become sterile and had lost her capacity to do anything new, to imagine anything new, to perceive anything new. We are, I am afraid, on the same road–and we have traveled very far along it.

    Delayed adolescence:

    Schools have become, by design, institutions for the preservation of adolescence. They keep the young person in the most unnatural society, a society composed exclusively of his contemporaries. School, even if it builds performance and experience into its curriculum to the fullest extent possible, is finite, certain, predictable…In school one cannot become an adult.

    The best example is the delayed adolescence so common among highly trained young physicians…The same delayed adolescence is only too noticeable among graduate students who stay on year after year in an environment in which all the emphasis is on their being “promising” and almost none on their performing.

    Power and responsibility:

    The central moral problem of the knowledge society will be the responsibility of the learned, the men of knowledge. Historically, the men of knowledge have not held power, at least not in the West. They were ornaments…But now knowledge has power. It controls access to opportunity and advancement. Scientists and scholars are no longer merely “on tap,” they are “on top.”…

    But power and wealth impose responsibility. The learned may have more knowledge than the rest of us, but learning rarely confers wisdom. It is, therefore, not surprising that the men of knowledge do not realize that they have to acquire responsibility fast. They are no different from any other group that ever before entered into power..They too believe that anyone who questions their motives must be either fool or villain, either “anti-intellectual” or “McCarthyite.” But the men of knowledge, too, will find out that power can be justified only through responsibility…

    It is highly probable that the next great wave of popular criticism, indignation, and revolt in the United States will be provoked by the arrogance of the learned.

    The politics of knowledge:

    …it is quite possible that the great new “isms” of tomorrow will be ideologies about knowledge. In tomorrow’s intellectual and potential philosophies knowledge may well take the central place that property, i.e. things, occupied in Capitalism and Marxism.

    Drucker’s prescience was of course not complete. For one thing, he was a little too uncritical of the student radicalism of the late 1960s…he follows the sentence about the likelihood that “the next great wave of popular criticism, indignation, and revolt will be provoked by the arrogance of the learned” with the line “the young people are already in full revolt,” the tone of which sounds rather approving. (Although he goes on to say “But the young, the students, also face a problem of responsibility–and they are even less prepared for it. The college student is highly privileged…However much they may dislike it, the students today are very much part of the ‘establishment.'”)

    Drucker in this book was also a little too starry-eyed about the applications of technology in education and about the usefulness of interdisciplinary courses. And he did sometimes tend to exaggerate…”cut society in two for the first time in American history“?? But overall, this is a very insightful analysis, raising questions that few were thinking about back when thinking about the future of education tended to focus on more years of schooling–more money–more years of schooling–more money.

    The excerpts are from the last few chapters of the book…the whole thing is very worthwhile.

     

    29 Responses to “Drucker on Education, 1969”

    1. Bill Brandt Says:

      I believe that like Edward Deming, Peter Drucker has taken awhile to be become appreciated in this country –

      I believe that as far as “elites” this country has been on 2 tracks – one – the technological elite for which a degree is meaningless.

      While a degree can help them it is by no means a way to get yourself in the tech door – either you can produce or you can’t.

      There is a long article on Elon Musk and how he is running SpaceX – fascinating read in Smithsonian Air and Space Magazine. Musk is the guy who developed PayPal – a means that allowed ebay to grow exponentially – small sellers no longer had to have a Visa account or wait for a check or money order –

      I don’t care how much school one has had – they don’t teach you to think “outside the box” – in fact; many times they hinder that kind of thinking.

      It is well known how Fred Smith’s professor graded his paper on how to make what would become Federal Express.

      However a degree in an elite school – particularly a post graduate degree – does open doors.

      I don’t believe Obama would have been so revered by the establishment – particularly the eastern seaboard establishment – had he not been a Harvard graduate. (disregarding what these graduates – as Presidents – have been doing to our country!)

      I do believe that education – at least as an industry – is approaching a bubble – fueled by these Federally-backed student loans – the very things that have helped cause the exponential increase in tuition –

      I will say this about school – I wish I had gone into the military before college instead of after – I remember my freshman year, 1968 – this friend who was a Vietnam Vet just out of the Marines – talk about a motivated student. He bought a new 67 Corvette (probably dreaming about it in the rice paddies all that time) and after class, closed his dorm room and….studied.

      The military does a lot for maturity.

      Of course a good part of life is taking the lessons and learning what one should have done ;-)

      I think if Iwere 18 all over again I would think about either developing a good trade – like a machinists – which the country is crying for or getting a trade in the military – you’d be surprised the number of nuclear technicians who learned their craft courtesy of an expensive Navy- paid education – aircraft mechanics from the Air Force or Army….

      Hindsight is usually 20-20 but that is what I have seen backwards ;-)

      For those interested in the Elon Musk article – http://tinyurl.com/7sgwgfe

      I think he is a modern-day Howard Hughes, minutes the 6″ fingernails and seclusion …

    2. David Foster Says:

      Bill…apparently Drucker is now pretty much out of favor at US business schools.

      “Mr Drucker’s writing style–which mixed anecdotes and precepts in a way that led some fans to describe him as a philosopher–is out of step with the tastes at many leading business schools, where the preference is for conclusions based on large statistical studies.”

      At this link, I quoted Warren Bennis and James O’Toole:

      “Why have business schools embraced the scientific model of physicists and economists rather than the professional model of doctors and lawyers? Althought few B school faculty memers would admit it, professors like it that way. This model gives scientific respectability to the research they enjoy doing and eliminates the vocational stigma that business school professors once bore. In short, the model advances the careers and satisfies the egos of the professoriat. And, frankly, it makes things easier: though scientific research techniques may require considerable skill in statistics or experimental design, they call for little insight into complex social and human factors and minimal time in the field discovering the actual problems facing managers.”

      The authors point out that practical business experience is not highly valued in today’s B-school environment. While once, many years ago, the course in production management at MIT was taught by the manager of a nearby General Motors assembly plant, “Virtually none of today’s top-ranked business schools would hire, let alone promote, a tenure track professor whose primary qualification is managing an assembly plant, no matter how distinguished his or her performance.” Indeed, they remark that “Today it is posible to find tenured professors of management who have never set foot inside a real business, except at customers.”

      Drucker is, however, now very popular in China…

    3. David Foster Says:

      Related: Stuart Schneiderman on the religion of education.

    4. Michael Kennedy Says:

      I have read, or thought I had, everything that Drucker wrote. I have to disagree about physicians in training in 1969. I was married with three kids at the time and was in my third year of surgery residency. I owned my home in South Pasadena. The income that I had at the time was very high if inflation is factored in, compared to the present day resident. Most of my contemporaries were similar and I spent part of 1965 at the Mass General so the elites were also quite serious.

    5. David Foster Says:

      MK…interesting. I was thinking you’d have something to say about Drucker’s physician-training comments.

      Victor Davis Hanson has a relevant post:

      “Just as coaches steered jocks to the right courses, so too counselors did the same with those poorly prepared but on fat federal grants and loans. By the millennium, faculty were conscious that the university was a sort of farm and the students the paying crop that had to be cultivated if it were to make it all the way to harvest and sale — and thus pay for the farmers’ livelihood.”

      link

    6. tom swift Says:

      I’ve always found Drucker to be simultaneously diffuse and dogmatic. Occasional (if not necessarily original) insights are tossed into great masses of sweeping (and unsupported) generalities, the final aggregate being little more than annoying.

    7. Mike McAlpin Says:

      @Bill Brandt – I’m one of those lucky fools who dropped out of college to join the Army. Smartest thing I did was enlist for a 48-week course in electronic cryptography… I am forever indebted to the fine folks who ran those schools and courses. The Army training doctrine focused on the whole soldier which enabled me to be VERY competitive in the emerging hi-tech world of computers in the early 70’s.

      I would NEVER have learned that self-discipline and work ethic @ generic BIG U.

      Now, as an occasional part-time adjunct for generic BIG U, I can spot a military trained person within the first week of class. Why? Effort, engagement, and enthusiasm.

      You are correct to suggest that the military is a GREAT starting point. For some a career, for others – an extraordinary opportunity to learn what you want (or don’t want) to do.

    8. David Foster Says:

      Re military and college…

      There was a documentary about life on an aircraft carrier. The interviewer asked a young sailor if he was ever sorry he hadn’t gone to college instead of joining the Navy, to which his reply was something like:

      “Well, yeah, I’m sure I would have enjoyed the 4 years of drinking and sex, but I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing on this ship”

    9. David Foster Says:

      Also from the Drucker book, and relevant to the military-first point:

      “…extended schooling believes that the longer we keep the young away from work and life, the more they will have learned. Continuing education assumes, on the contrary, that the most experience in life and work people have, the more eager they will be to learn and the more capable they will be of learning…Any teacher who has worked with students with adult experience has been surprised by their eagerness, their motivation and above all, by their superior performance in studying…

      The most impressive evidence of the impact of experience on the capacity and willingness to learn was, of course, the returning veterans after World War II who flooded the American campuses under the GI Bill of RIghts. Every educator then “knew” that these large masses of students would inevitably “debase” academic standards. Instead, every teacher found out that the real problem was that these students were so incredibly superior that they made demands the faculty could not satisfy.”

    10. Milpundit Says:

      A rousing endorsement for the “school of hard knocks” as the only real education. We all learn on the job and the credentialing ponzi scheme was bound to come crashing down.

    11. NPJacques Says:

      I think there’s a sentence-long typo here, worth removing:

      The learned may have more knowledge than the rest of us, but learning rarely confers wisdom. *It is, therefore, not too surprising that the men of knowledge rarely confers wisdom.* It is, therefore, not surprising that the men of knowledge do not realize that they have to acquire responsibility fast.

      [Fixed, thanks. Jonathan]

    12. Michael Barger Says:

      Mr. Foster, I am very pleased to see you referencing Drucker. He is a seminal thinker who deserves re-reading and reflection.

      Though he is best-known as a “management guru” or “insultant” as he called himself, his major self-description was as a social ecologist. His contributions, but more importantly the framework of his thinking, are what is sorely needed now in reference to the education bubble and many other issues.

      Drucker long pointed out that brick and mortar educational institutions are doomed and did much of his teaching via closed-circuit broadcasting. He would be champion streaming educator today, and he would rejoice at the Khan Academy.

      One area of great relevance to our unfolding catastrophe are his thoughts on the discrepancy between worker and executive pay. He believed the issue would become extremely divisive as it has in the Occupy Everything But Congress movement.

      I forget which book he addresses this in but it would pay dividends to find and comment on it.

      The one book Drucker hoped successive generations would read was The End of Economic Man: The Origins of Totalitarianism. It is an extraordinary analysis of the dynamics of totalitarianism in the 1930s.

      Drucker pinpointed the origins in the Despair of the Masses at the failures of both socialism and capitalism leaving magic as the only answer, a void in which fascism and nazism flourished.

      I fear that we are in for a replay of that scenario. I do not believe that we will witness the rise of national anti-Semitic and totalitarian socialism, but both socialism and capitalism once again have failed, this time through the oceans of moral hazard and all sorts of magical and delusional thinking about entitlement programs and failure to address the issues raised by the corporate-financial-political complex.

      Like 1930s Europe and US there is a lack of political leadership.

      We need the wisdom and insight that Drucker provides to think about these issues.

    13. zenpundit Says:

      “One thing it (modern society) cannot afford in education is the “elite institution” which has a monopoly on social standing, on prestige, and on the command positions in society and economy. Oxford and Cambridge are important reasons for the English brain drain”

      Actually, highly punitive British tax rates, a decline on R&D(private and public)and relatively higher salaries in other Anglosphere nations helped drive the British brain drain of the 60’s and 70’s. One of my uncles was part of this exodus and he left uber-prestigious Cambridge for a post in a Canadian university and then in Texas, having drastically altered his net lifetime earnings in the process.

      “History shows a frightening parallel to the way our education is going everywhere in the world today. It is the decline of the world’s most creative, most advance, and most exciting civilization, that of China in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Until then, China had led the world in the arts and the sciences, in medicine and in mathematics, in technology and in statecraft. The reaction against independent thinking and artistic creativity that followed the invasion of the Mongols in the thirteenth century imposed the Confucian system of purely literary and purely imitative “liberal education” to the exclusion of everything else.”

      Nonsense – are you sure Drucker actually wrote that?

      First of all, the Mongols were 200 years earlier (Yuan dynasty), he meant the Ming dynasty ,the last indigenously Chinese dynasty which replaced the Mongols.

      Secondly, the Ming did not “impose the Confucian system” which stretches back to approximately 300 BC and was followed by all dynasties except the first which practiced the Legalist-Realist philosophy of Han Fei tzu which was explicitly anti-Confucian and totalitarian.

      Thirdly, what damaged China was not “Mongol Liberal Arts” ( LMAO) but an interpretation of Confucianism based on rote memorization designed to crush independent thought and keep upstart commoner groups, like the merchant class, from entering mandarin ranks (you know…kinda like corporate ed reform is designed to do to our middle class). This “reform” happened at the end of the Ming period and coincided with a great economic crisis and a turning away from the world continued by the next dynasty, the barbarian Manchu.

      “Liberal arts” per se never existed in China, but the closet thing to it, under the T’ang and Yuan, was also Confucian and embraced the innovation and technology Drucker was praising.

    14. Michael Kennedy Says:

      I agree with Zen Pundit about the China quotes. I wondered about that, too.

      I read his book on non-profits when I was president of the county medical association. I was very impressed by his analysis of how non-profits coped with societal change. His best example was the Girl Scouts. They had to deal with the change in women’s lives where mothers went to work and had less time for activities like Scouts. He pointed out how the Girl Scouts changed emphasis from scouting giving the mother something to do with her time to emphasizing the “valuable time” with her daughter the working mother got through scouting.

      I tried to get the medical society positioned for a coming era when doctors would have less time and less money for societies. The LA County medical association is long gone with their magnificent library scattered. The OC medical association is still going well and just moved into a new headquarters building.

    15. David Foster Says:

      Zen…”The reaction against independent thinking and artistic creativity that followed the invasion of the Mongols in the thirteenth century imposed the Confucian system”…yeah, that’s what Drucker wrote. Direct quote. The sentence may be a little awkward…he’s not saying the *Mongols* imposed the system, but rather that the *reaction to * to Mongols led to the imposition of the system. Maybe he meant “the interpretation of Confucianism based on rote memorization designed to crush independent thought” that you referred to, rather than Confucianism itself.

      I would have expected Drucker to have a pretty good grasp of Chinese history…he had a strong interest in Asian art, and indeed taught that subject at Pomona.

      The key point, though, is the malign effect of too much test-based credentialism.

      We should really have some discussion of Chinese history and recommended books on the subject here someday…it’s a topic that I for one know less about than I should.

    16. Mike McAlpin Says:

      Addendum.

      Perhaps, most importantly, having survived military training (combat & technology) I learned something that generic BIG U doesn’t teach – you had to work very hard to earn your grade. No fluff graduation or participation grades – competency was expected, tested, and proven.

      Poor ol’ generic BIG U is stuck in the liberal arts sections, and doing just dandy in STEM (mostly).

      Today, it seems, you have to run your own business or work for a enlightened manager to learn and earn adult competencies outside the marshmallow world of BIG U.

    17. Anonymous Says:

      @Mike McAlpin –

      The military can really force one to maturity – where else could one at age, say, 22 command a squad or company of men? It gives you time to really decide what you want to do.

      These days the military is so education-driven – I have to say when I was in I met a few for whom the judge said ‘jail or the Army” ;-) – and you could tell – but these days

      many NCOs – and all officers will be expected to have a 4 year degree and most field grade officers would be expected to have a masters – or even Phd. And the military will help pay for that.

      I think Gen Petraeus has a Phd from Princeton.

      I never will forget that friend from my freshman year – 1968 – you talk about motivated. And be bought a new 67 black Corvette coupe – 427/435 hp (a car guy remembers that too! – car would be worth easily $150K today) but he didn’t spend that much time driving it…Most time outside of class was spent sequestered in his room…studying.

      I suppose with my Army training I could have gone into Air Traffic Control – although I was taught to help missile batteries shoot down planes rather than guide them into airports ;-)

      But a radar scope is a radar scope

      Bill

    18. Anonymous Says:

      zenpundit Says:

      “Thirdly, what damaged China was not “Mongol Liberal Arts” ( LMAO) but an interpretation of Confucianism based on rote memorization designed to crush independent thought and keep upstart commoner groups, like the merchant class, from entering mandarin ranks (you know…kinda like corporate ed reform is designed to do to our middle class).”

      LMAO! As opposed to the wonderful system we have now that produces kids who can’t write a coherent, grammatical sentence. And the students can’t do the simple math that would reveal that their student loans would saddle them with debt for decades.

    19. David Foster Says:

      Michael Barger…glad you mentioned The End of Economic Man. It was Drucker’s first book and is not as well-written as the later ones, but is well worth reading. I posted some excerpts here in a comment thread; I’ll repeat them here to give people who haven’t read the book an idea of its theme:

      In a chapter titled “The Return of the Demons,” Drucker addresses the psychological roots of Fascism. One of these was the experience of the Great War–”Modern war appeared to be the denial of all tenets on which the mechanical and rational conception of society is based. This was not because war is amechanical and arational, but because it reduces mechanization and rationalization to absurdity…the war showed the individual suddenly as an isolated, helpless, powerless atom in a world of irrational monsters.” Another factor was the Great Depression, which “proved that irrational and incalculable forces also rule peacetime society: the threat of sudden permanant unemployment, of being thrown on the industrial scrap heap on one’s prime or even before one has started to work. Against these forces the individual finds himself as helpless, isolated, and atomized as against the forces of machine war.” As a result of these factors, “The European masses realized for the first time that existence in this society is governed not by rational and sensible, but by blind, irrational, and demonic forces.”

      In a later chapter, Drucker specifically addresses the rise of anti-Semitism: “The real explanation for racial anti-Semitism in German, and even more in Austria, is that the substitution of the Jews for the hostile forces of bourgeois capitalism and liberalism was made possible, if not mandatory, by the unique social structure of the German bourgeoisie..Unlike the middle classes in western Europe, it was liberated from above. Its emancipation was not a social end in itself; it was effected for the purpose of national unification. Politically and socially the bourgeoisie therefore never became a ruling class.” (He means prior to Weimar) He then provides data indicating extensive intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews in the German and Austrian middle classes, so that whereas the ruling classes before the war had been entirely non-Jewish, “the mixture with Jewish blood was the specified distinction of the new ruling class…When this class failed and when its rule led to the emergence of the demons, it became therefore “rational” to hold the Jews responsible and to personify the demons as Jewish.”

      Later: “Nazi anti-Semitism…has been caused precisely by the absence of any distinction, conflict, and strangeness between the German Jews and a large part of the German people–to wit, the liberal middle classes. The Nazis do not persecute the Jews because they remained a foreign body within Germany, but actually because they had become almost completely assimilated and had ceased to be Jews.” And

      “(Anti-Semitism) has nothing to do with any qualities of the Jews themselves, but exclusively with what the internal tension in Naziism requires the Jews to look like…The real enemy is not the Jew, but the bourgeois order which is fought under the name of the Jew. Nazi anti-Semitism stems from the failure of Naziism to replace the bourgeois order and the bourgeois concept of man with a new constructive concept. And this makes it imperative to denounce bourgeois liberalism and capitalism, yet impossible to resort to class war.” Later:

      “It must be understood that for the convinced Totalitarian the personification of the demons and their persecution and oppression appear not only justified but alone reasonable. He is genuinely unable to understand why the outside world does not see the demons.”

    20. ellenmmartin Says:

      Even more prescient about the current sorry state of the universities: Eisenhower’s Farewell address. Everybody stops at the Military-Industrial complex paragraph, but look at what follows:

      “Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.

      In this revolution, research has become central, it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

      Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

      The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.

      Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”

    21. anon Says:

      November 21st, 2011 at 12:02 pm

      @various-“I’ve always found Drucker to be simultaneously diffuse and dogmatic.”(etc.)

      Not surprising. Drucker is a genius that few truly understand. First and foremost a businessman, Drucker turns most business mythology on its head by identifying not only how a successful business operates, but moreover, how it integrates into a culture. He explodes popular dogma like “the purpose of a business is to make a profit” and demonstrates that the purpose of business is to “create a customer”, profit is the result of doing business well. A common organizational mistake is that sales is a marketing function, no, sales and marketing are at opposite ends of the product development cycle, indeed sales exists to the extent that marketing has failed to do its job. Want more? Invest in his opus “Management: Principles and Practices”.

    22. sol Says:

      Government provided “Education” is not the answer. There is a book, “The Elusive Quest for Growth” which gives about a dozen examples where vast amounts have been spent in under-developed third world countries and there has been no improvement in the short, medium, or long term – no economic growth.

      A skilled work force learns its skills on the job. That is true in the military, on the assembly line, or in the sales force. Crafts may be taught in school but even these are best learned via apprenticeships.

      One may ask if law schools are really the best way to develop socially useful lawyers and law makers. Government should have no role in education. This is a field best left to free markets and religious organizations.

    23. veryretired Says:

      The factory school model that we still follow is painfully obsolete, and must be replaced by a more flexible, individualized format.

      Obviously, the global web of computers and other methods of information transfer will figure prominently in whatever new configuration evolves.

      The various educational guilds must be removed from power, and the revolting “dumbed-down” standards and textbooks must be replaced by materials with much more challenging intellectual content.

      Of course, not all students will progress at the same pace, or reach the same levels of achievement. but in a decentralized educational system the current stigma of age or slower progress will be less onerous.

      Much of the problem with the current educational structure is that many political decisions have trumped what should have been purely educational decisions.

      The endless pre-occupation with race and gender is merely a symptom of a deeper illness, which begins with flawed, trendy educational fads based on ideology rather than serious data, and continues to the classroom, in which teachers are unable to demand proficiency for fear of offending powerful interest groups.

      Those who are naturally gifted probably receive enough to get them into the specialities in science and technology they desire, and the very slow may actually get about as much as they can handle.

      But the ordinary, middle class student is the real loser. They receive a truncated hodge-podge of dumbed down classes, and there are many subjects in which almost nothing is taught any longer, such as history, literature, or anything past basic math and science.

      We deliver them, as they graduate high school or college, into a world of immense technological and social complexity, and ferocious economic competition on a global scale, with minds untethered to any cultural or social moorings, and badly trained to handle the very technical information they must master to survive and flourish.

      We are betraying our progeny, and sabotaging our own future, and some very ugly chickens are headed this way to roost if we don’t begin to resolve these issues successfully.

    24. Micha Elyi Says:

      It is well known how Fred Smith’s professor graded his paper on how to make what would become Federal Express.Bill Brandt

      This is a tiresome canard repeated by people who also don’t understand the difference between the stock and the business. So Fred Smith wrote a lousy paper and his prof gave him a lousy grade. Duh.

      The founders of DHL didn’t get any kind of grade or HBS course credit at all. So?

    25. David Foster Says:

      Note the comment about French managers and the role of the grandes ecoles, here.

      Comments from French people and those who have worked in France would be welcome.

    26. lukas Says:

      David, I’ve been at a grande école for three years, where the next generation of France’s leadership is bred.

      In general, what happened in my institution could hardly be called education: Some people worked hard and learned a lot, but you didn’t have to. And why would you; first of all, you had worked hard enough to get into the school (that was the general attitude among the educators as well), and second, the best jobs were already open to you and getting to know the right people was more important anyway. So why not sit back, give private lessons at 50 euro an hour to concours-challenged scions of high-level bureaucrats and enjoy life?

    27. David Foster Says:

      Lukas…thanks. I think there is some of the in the US as well. There is so much focus on **getting into** the “right” college that there is less concern about what you’re actually going to learn once you’re there.

      Somewhat related: this article asserts that many women are burning out early once they get into the actual workforce.

    28. zenpundit Says:

      “We should really have some discussion of Chinese history and recommended books on the subject here someday…it’s a topic that I for one know less about than I should.”

      Agreed!

      Don’t feel bad, the best comparison for “knowing” China is not a western country, it’s all of western civilization.

      Compared to most ppl, I know a fair amount about Chinese history but when I exchange email with an amigo who is the China-watcher at the Heritage Foundation, it’s evident I don’t know all that much about China. I’m not sure he considers himself a “true expert” either – too much to know in a short lifetime.

    29. Lukas Says:

      In fairness, though, people do work really hard to get into those schools. 2-3 years of intense drilling in the prépas are the norm.