Education

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Introduction

As a note to a reader here, I absolutely think that education is generally good. It's just that it's highly overrated in today's system. This is also only looking at education from the perspective of the United States and in the high school section, from the point of view from southern Michigan.

High School/Public School

A little background, I went to the same public school district my entire time in the K-12 system. This was at Western School District in Parma and Spring Arbor, Michigan. From about the time I stepped into my first grade class at Warner Elementary School, all the way to my final day at Western High School, it was a generally negative experience. Because of my narrow exposure to the public school system due to my experience only at one district, I would love to hear some feedback on if my issues are isolated or if it's common among other areas.

I also graduated with a D average.

Drugs

This is not about the use of recreational drugs.

This started in the third grade for me. I was an 8 year old male child and I acted like a reasonable 8 year old male child, and that was to be unreasonable and to not want to sit for hours doing tedium. The solution for the teacher was to send me to a doctor to assess if I had ADD/ADHD. Rather than attempt to deal with children who don't conform to the traditional education system with drugs that affect their personality, one needs to engage students.

My aunt, who is a private music teacher, says it the best. Her idea is you take the age in years of the student and that's how many minutes you can realistically expect for them to sit still without doing some activity. For example, if you have a 10 year old student, only instruct them for 10 minutes, then do an activity.

One Size Fits All

This is an issue I also somewhat cover in the College section of this page, but it's very odd to me that education is the only thing that seems to expect that all humans develop and learn at the same pace. For instance, it doesn't take me long to learn a mathematics topic, especially the topics that were covered while I was in public school, but still, I was expected to do all the same practice that any other student was expected to do. This also was problematic on the flip side as well as I was a terrible English student and probably needed more time with that subject. The school system, especially before high school, completely fails here.

I do have an exception though that I really liked. In high school, my 9th grade science teacher was uncomfortable with my perfect score on the final exam for the class, but yet, my final grade was about a C. So, the year I took chemistry, he and the other chemistry teacher changed the grading scale so that it favored examinations and not homework. Literally, homework accounted for 1% of the final grade. Needless to say, I actually got an A in both semesters because I wasn't actually required to do extraneous practice that I did not personally need and let me put more focus in other aspects of my life.

I was never good at taking time out to do homework that I felt did not grant me any benefit outside of having a nice mark on my report card.

Life Skills Not Taught

This is the single biggest thing about the public school system that bothers me. Let's explore a small list of skills that practically every American should know how to do to be successful in life:

  • Filing taxes
  • Managing a budget
  • Debt management
  • Writing checks
  • Voting
  • Safe sex (more on this later)
  • Writing a CV/Resume
  • Effective time management
  • Job searching
  • Self-defense

I can keep going, trust me. Instead, we focus on skills that I can safely say I've never ever ever had to use in my adult life. More on this in the next section.

Bullshit Skills Are Taught

Instead of actually preparing students for life as an adult, we prepare them for college. This is actually annoying as even with that, there are skills I wish I was taught to do that were either glanced over, or were completely absent. I can seriously say that of all the literary analyses I had to write (and poorly mind you), I've never had to do it again. Honestly, I would have loved to see more technical writing skills taught, perhaps alongside the more opinionated essays that were expected.

And this goes on further, and I think really deserves more attention. Why do I need to know how to write a literary analysis? Why do I need to know pre-calculus (shhhh, just bear with me, I'm aware I'm a mathematician)? Why do I need to take these high level studies when there's a strong chance that I will not ever need to use them?

Why not teach classes on finances?

Why not teach classes on statistics?

Why not teach (effective) classes on computer use? More on this one later.

The focus is completely off on what will be important for the largest portion of the student body. I argue that if a student needs to know something advanced as calculus, either allow them to elect to take the course, or have them learn it in college or on the job.

Inconsistent Education

I'm going to use the standard and low hanging fruit here of sex education. I do not actually recall getting anything other than an abstinence-only approach to sex in my crappy health class my freshman year of high school. Actually, some overtly christian doctor (I knew who the doctor was because he attend(ed) the same church as my grandmother), was invited in and we were shown graphic imagery of STIs on the reproductive organs of infected individuals in an attempt to scare us from copulating. I know that other schools have better instruction on this topic where they actually tell you the skills of engaging in sexual activity safely, but this is not universal.

This goes further too. Even in the school district next to me (Jackson Public Schools) had a wider selection of courses. Sure, my high school had online class offerings through the Michigan Virtual Academy, but online classes are terrible in almost every way.

Little Attention To Computer Skills

I hope that this has changed, but I did not take a single required computer course my whole time in high school. Why? This was because I showed proficiency in computer skills in the 8th grade. Even then, it was extremely basic instruction on how to use the Microsoft Office Suite, some typing, and playing games like Oregon Trail (I'm not kidding).

Computers have become essential to the average person in the United States. I think it's completely reasonable to require some form of "advanced" computer use. Whether that be some basic programming, some basic web design (good for making portfolios), or some other thing on top of turning on the machine, opening Word, and typing out a document. I would also really enjoy seeing some security awareness classes being taught as this is something that is increasingly becoming more relevant going forward.

Maybe I'm just biased though being an employee of an ISP.

College/University

College in general is a scam. It's an extremely costly system that gives a false promise that obtaining a degree will 100% lead to better outcomes. This is simply not the case.

For context, I hold an Associate's of Applied Science in Computer Programming from Jackson College (Jackson, MI) and am completing a Bachelor's of Science in Mathematics from Eastern Michigan University (Ypsilanti, MI) in the coming years (I'm currently on hiatus to focus on my career, and for my own sanity). I've been in college for the better part of my adult life and I can safely say that I have received little value from either institution I have attended. This is mainly due to the fact that I'm a largely self-taught in computer programming. College has the more annoying part of costing a ton of money.

Tuition

Tuition rates are crazy expensive for the value you get back from going to a university (community colleges are a better value hands down). The reason universities can get away with charging these rates is because practically every single person coming out of high school continues education (and of course the government keeps increasing subsidies for education with loans or grants).

Because college is in my opinion, a scam. I absolutely do not support free tuition in the United States. There are other means to employment than college if you cannot afford it such as apprenticeship.

Loans

Loans are the single most crippling thing about college. They are guaranteed loans by the US government that cannot be defaulted on. Once you take out this loan, you are completely stuck with it until you either die, or somehow pay it off. Loans should not work this way.

Imagine you're 17 years old and fresh out of high school. You want to buy a house. You head over to the bank and ask for a mortgage. They will probably turn you down for having no payment history, and probably low income. This is a good thing, this allows you to not be put into a situation where you will need to declare bankruptcy and it's good for the bank as they are not willing to lend money if there is significant risk.

College loans have no risk to the lender. Take another 17 year old and say she decides she wants to go to college. She asks the federal government to pair her with a loan shark that will 100% grant her a loan. Same situation, no credit history, no sustainable income. She now has debt that she has to figure out what to do with. It gets worse, if she chose a degree that is effectively useless outside of academia, she cannot default on the loan. She's stuck (with some exceptions, but are still rather costly).

This is absolutely unacceptable, but I cannot remove all blame from the student or the parent of the student. If you take out a loan for a degree that isn't going to give you a good outcome (* arts, * studies, etc), you are the one at fault.

General Education Requirements

This is, in my opinion, one of the core reasons a college education is a scam. There are two main issues with general education requirements:

  1. Classes that are irrelevant
  2. Classes that push agendas

The latter one is more insidious, so I will focus on the former here, but essentially, if you are making me take a "US Diversity" or "Global Awareness" course (as are in Eastern Michigan University's General Education Program), you are not doing it completely divorced of politics. These are not for the students' benefit, but is a platform to push an ideology. It's also a "fun" use of $1,500.

Imagine you're a physics student paying $12,500 per year for the next four years at Eastern Michigan University, you are there to learn physics and other related topics relevant like mathematics or perhaps a technical writing course (because I think the high school system, at least pre-2013, completely fails on the technical writing bit, but should be taught there), you are not there to pay $1,500 for a Film Appreciation course. The course is completely irrelevant to the reason you went to the institution! You are there to learn physics! Not some silly crap about movies!

College would be of a much higher value if we can strip out these requirements and allow students to focus on the coursework they want to take.

Zero Accountability

I will tell a story. This is an experience that actually happened when I was in Computer Organization II (COSC321) at Eastern Michigan University. I will refrain from using names, but if you do attend Eastern Michigan University and are a computer science student, shoot me an email and I will tell you who this is so you can avoid this professor as this person still is an instructor there.

The story begins one fateful fall evening. First day of class, the professor walks in. Nothing abnormal. The professor begins class with stating that if you didn't take the professor's Computer Organization I (COSC221) class, that you must continue attending the class as normal, but if you did take it, you are now exempt from all coursework until the professor alerts you to return.

Okay... This is already bad. This either means that my COSC221 class was taught poorly or that this professor is going to waste my time. Turns out, it was the latter. The professor didn't signal the students until WELL AFTER THE HALFWAY POINT IN THE COURSE.

It gets worse though. The professor also had no book requirement (which is generally good, but hang in there with me), but the professor was writing a book himself. It was unreadable, it was incomplete, it was a disgrace. The signs that the professor was not at all prepared for the semester were all there.

This is not a unique case in Eastern Michigan University's Computer Science department. The whole department has issues. Another instructor, for instance, had the idea that if I pay $2,000 for 4 hours worth of instruction per week, it would be acceptable for the professor to only teach maybe an hour's worth per week and then just have the class do a group project and a pointless and irrelevant group research paper.

I also had an algorithms class (COSC311) where the instructor thought it was appropriate to just teach linked lists all semester because some students couldn't grasp the concept. Let them fail I say.

I could keep going, but I want to make my point. All these instructors continue to be instructors the last time I was there in 2018. I have complained about the department, but because instructors effectively cannot be dismissed, there is absolutely no accountability on the quality of instruction. If the college wasn't effectively guaranteed students and instructors could be sacked for incompetence or just generally being terrible, the level of instruction would drastically improve as they would have to convince people to attend the university.

If I was this poor at my job, I would have been fired.

A side note: Eastern Michigan University's Mathematics department is actually decent, which is good since a lot of people have to have some exposure to mathematics at some point in their degree program.

No Flexibility

First of all, I'm going to say this: computer programming is a skill that anyone can learn easily from the internet. It is reasonable that a student coming into an institution may possess knowledge in this field that places them ahead of the first two years' worth of classes. Most colleges and universities will tell you "tough shit" if you ask to be waived from certain classes you already know the contents of. I had to pull teeth to get someone to let me test out of one class, Web Based Computing (COSC231). This meant that I had to sit through class after class of garbage I already knew. Not only is this a massive waste of money, it's a massive waste of my time.

Colleges should make it easier to bypass tedium if you have a firm understanding of the topic.

The Textbook Scam

I swear to christ, if I hear another person say that "TECHNOLOGY PROGRESSES SO FAST THAT NEW TEXTBOOKS MUST BE WRITTEN EVERY YEAR BLAUUGGGGHHHHHHHHHH," I'm going to cut someone. Last year's book that is much much cheaper now that teaches the basics of C is fine.

Do you honestly think that the specifications of C have changed in the last year? Two years? Three years?

Do you honestly think that basic calculus has changed in the last year? Two years? Three years? A DECADE AGO?

Exactly. Don't make me buy some new edition of some book that costs $200 that I will not look at again after the class is over when all this information is easily found online.

Degrees Are Overrated

Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts — and with no more brains than you have. But! They have one thing you haven't got! A diploma! -- Oz

With so many people getting degrees, the value of one is much much less than it was. We're now expected to have a degree for jobs where I think it's inappropriate to expect one. Having a college degree really doesn't make you a good programmer for instance, it just means you were a sucker who sat through 4 years of boring, tedious, and generally unhelpful coursework. The industry should return to the days where competence is not measured in hours sat in a lecture hall, but on the experience of the prospective worker.

Honestly, anyone can get a diploma. A diploma is just a piece of thick paper that costs tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours of your life.

"Useless" Degrees

I cannot tell you how many wait staff I've met who have 4-year degrees in something like English, then find themselves in debt, and still working as a server. This is ridiculous.

The reasoning this happens is because people look at the statistics for college and find that people with degrees tend to make more money. This is true, but it is not the whole story. If you do a degree program like computer science, you are likely to actually get that outcome (but remember at what cost). If you do a degree with a less desirable outcome, or in a degree where the competition is fierce, such as education, history, english, etc, you will likely not get as much return on your investment if you get a reasonable return at all.

Education Appears To Be Second

Please. Everyone knows 20th century colleges were basically expensive daycare centers. -- Leela

Well put. Amend that to also include the 21st and it would be more accurate.

With all the hype about sports, the weird focus on inclusivity, and all the crap about recreation makes the education part feel like a secondary mission. Perhaps it's just me.

Colleges should be focusing on education and the discussion of ideas. Other things should be second to this mission.

You Are Likely To Be Financially Behind Your Peers That Didn't Attend College

If you go to work when you graduate from high school, you are making money. If you go to college, you are losing money.

My recommendation is to work a skilled labor job (or not, whatever) and save your money to perhaps go to college later. You will likely be less burdened by the cost of college, or perhaps you will stick with that job and not be in debt right out the gate. It is unreasonable to think that the only way to success is to financially rape yourself with a fancy degree that may or may not get you that better job.

Other

Online Classes