Challenging the notion that it’s beneficial to a society to have every citizen highly educated

This is a somewhat random post, since I’m mushing an idea around in my mind, and would love to have your input.

The start for this post is my upbringing. I was raised in a European household (although that household was located in America). Both my parents came from the educated class, but both were comfortable with the European notion of trade schools. In Europe, of course, this notion had been tied to class. The upper class got the “no calluses” education of reading, writing and ‘rithmetic; the lower classes learned how to repair things.

Putting aside class considerations, I always thought that trade schools were a good thing. It was obvious to me early on that not all people care about literary symbolism, nor are they lives improved by understanding photosynthesis.

For someone to be a master plumber is much better than to be a bored, angry, failed student. The former results in a happy, productive member of society; the latter creates disaffected losers with serious inferiority complexes. I never advocated the forced sorting that happened in Europe — based on tests administered to 11 year olds, kids were sorted between academic and trade schools — but I really liked the idea of honoring trade and making it a viable education path in the public school system.

My idealized education goals notwithstanding, the system we have is one that promises “free” education (i.e., taxpayer funded education) for all American children (plus a few illegals) through the age of 17 or 18. The theory underlying that promise, obviously, is that an “educated” citizen is a better citizen. I don’t see this Kindergarten through 12th grade system changing anytime soon.

As it is, I do believe that every American should be able to read and write with basic competency, and should be able to do sufficient math to manage finances, whether for a household or a small business. But again, does every American need to know calculus or Virginia Woolf? Calculus is useful for scientific applications, so it probably has practical benefits, at least for some people. Knowing Virginia Woolf, whole, while it might add to the mental furniture in the student’s mind, is not going to have any significant effect on America at large.

My wandering ruminations aren’t completely meaningless. One of the Left’s explicitly stated goals is to make entirely taxpayer funded education available at the college/university level too. In this regard, the Leftists are chasing after the European model. They are undeterred in this regard by the fact that the European model is collapsing.

The hardcore Left wants universal university education because that’s the breeding ground for future Leftists. The soft Left, however, wants universal university education just because of mealy-mouthed platitudes such as “everyone should have an education,” or “it’s only fair,” or “it’s good for America if everyone is educated.”

The Left keeps challenging us to ask “How rich is too rich?” and conservatives should say that this question should never be answered by the government. (Apologies if the link is behind a pay wall. William McGurn looks at Bernie Saunder’s speech as a starting point for Leftist money grabs from those the Left deems “too rich.”) However, as citizens, because we’re called upon to pay for public education (a completely different notion from citizens being forced to give their wealth to a collectivist government), it’s entirely reasonable for us to ask “How educated is too educated?” At what point should the taxpayer be off the hook when it comes to public education? When are the vast majority of Americans sufficiently educated to contribute to day-to-day American functionality, without further gilding the educational lily?

I promised you an incoherent post and I delivered on my promise. I would love it if you could add your thoughts about higher education, public education, trade schools, etc.

Cross-posted at Bookworm Room

UPDATE::  This, about the CBO’s war against technical colleges, seems apropos.

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