Please Don’t Go To College

“If learning were profaned by being made available to all and sundry,” Cardinal Richelieu predicted in 1625, “it would be found that there were more people capable of creating doubts than of resolving them, and many would show themselves more apt in opposing truth than in defending it.”

Passing by, only for a moment, the shocking elitism, so appalling to our modern ears, how did the Red Eminence fare?

The answer is obvious, as is the answer to the growing madness which surrounds us: Less, not more, education. And more elitism.

You’ve heard the slogan: “We want our college to look like America.” They say it about college, about Congress, the bureaucracy, the bar, the professoriate, almost anything. The reply should be: “No, we don’t.” I don’t want my pilot looking “like America.” America looks like the furtive guy at the end of the bar who should have been arrested years ago. Or America looks like that nice old lady we just helped load groceries into her trunk. Pilots look nothing like that. I want my pilot looking like he has the skills, and the intelligence, to fly the marvel of engineering that is a jet aircraft. I also do not want those aeronautical engineers to look like America. I’m keen on them understanding differential equations, and what stress does to aluminum welds.

The exceptions to that “almost anything” were, until recently, things like combat soldiering and professional sports. Alas, even in those sanctuaries of reality, the cry of looking like America has taken hold. Because of a false understanding of equality.

Our modern understanding of equality is that all are either individually or in some bizarre group statistical sense equal in capability. That with the right training, surroundings, and guidance by the beneficent supplied with endless money, anybody could do quantum mechanics. Or gut an enemy with a bayonet. This theory is not only false, it is stupid. There has never been any evidence for it, anywhere in all history, save the desire that it should be so.

Many will allow some violations of equality in physical differences between people and peoples. But this is changing. Up until last year, it was granted that only women could have babies, and only men could father them. On the edges, some also grant, with reluctance, that the 5-foot-tall man will not excel at basketball to the same degree as the 7-foot-tall man. Unless the tall man is white, in which case white supremacy could be involved. 

Thanks to people ignoring Richelieu’s warning, these grants are being withdrawn.

There is no bending on intelligence, however. Here it is a gross affront to suggest that there is a distribution of intellectual ability: Equality fetishists insist all are the same in potential. Which brings us to college itself.

College used to be hard. It still is in the subjects for which great training is required. Physics of condensed matter, say, or classical philosophy. But many subjects are quite easy. Anything with “studies” in its name is a good candidate.

That there is, contra equality, variability in intelligence is why college had to become easier. Indeed, the greater the proportion of the citizenry who attend, the simpler on average college must be. If those who arrive are to be graduated, “degrees” in hand, and the charges of racism! sexism! etc. are to be avoided, class material necessarily has to become easier. Equality therefore drives grade and degree inflation: Degrees are worth less, the more people who go.

It is true: Difficult subjects are still difficult. But they are not as difficult because of the mandatory time students spend in the classes designed to make them “well-rounded.” Which now means well-indoctrinated. There is nothing inherently wrong with indoctrination. But when the student is led into falsity and error, as ours increasingly are, we have a problem.

Some will say the inflation is worth it because at least attendees, even in the simplest subjects, are learning something. Perhaps. Sometimes. But the “something” they are learning may not be something worth knowing. Or useful. Or true. Especially that last one. The four years spent in college could be, for many, much more productively spent doing something practical. Different, maybe, but more things can be learned on a job, or in a home, without accruing punishing debt or, worse, developing a false sense of superiority because of the “degree.”

Shallow draughts, the poet said, intoxicate the brain. Just ask the Scarecrow, who was humble before his diploma, but who confidently and boldly spouted mathematical nonsense after. If Scarecrow got a job at the Centers for Disease Control because of his “degree,” you could be canceled for pointing out the flaws in his trigonometry and offending the Straw Man community.

Too many wrong and false things are taught at college. Take the experience of Senator Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), who told a crowd of brand new degree-holding students at their commencement that it was a “fundamental scientific truth” that there are only two sexes.

When the baying, outraged (there are no other emotions available) certified-but-ignorant fresh graduates booed her, she said, “It was never my intention to make anyone feel unwelcomed or disrespected.” So those kids’ poor college education corrupted the senator, too. As it will all of us the longer we allow it to continue.

To stop this corruption, I and some friends wish for the reform of higher education. My friends are not as medieval as I, and perhaps would not go as far at scaling back college attendance. Still, they are learned, experienced, and love what college could be, but no longer is, except too rarely.

We have a manifesto (if we’re still allowed to use that word) covering fiscal accountability, career education, intellectual freedom, and most importantly national interest. These are tied to specific, certain legislative efforts, which, dear reader, could use your backing.

If you are a colleague, perhaps you’d like to sign on. Instructions are at the link.

About William M. Briggs

William M. Briggs, the “Statistician to the Stars!”, is a writer, philosopher and itinerant scientist living on a small but densely populated island in the Atlantic Ocean. He earned his Ph.D. from Cornell University in statistics. He studies the philosophy of science, the use and misuses of uncertainty, the corruption of science, and the uselessness of most predictions. He began life as a cryptologist for the Air Force, slipped into weather and climate forecasting, and matured into an epistemologist. He maintains an active and lively blog at wmbriggs.com.

Photo: iStock/Getty Images

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