Oscar Wilde once described a cynic as a man who knew the price of everything and the value of nothing. It makes me wonder, were he alive today, if he would characterize us as a country of cynics or merely dismiss us as a nation of fools.
I mean, how is it that Americans who lived hard scrabble lives 150 years ago could read, write, do math problems and quote at length from Shakespeare and the Bible, while today, in spite of “Sesame Street,” pre-school, Operation Head Start, computers and mind-numbing hours of homework, millions of youngsters entering college can do none of those things?
It seems obvious to me that our education system, which costs us billions and billions of dollars, is a wreck. While not all of it is the fault of the teachers unions, affirmative action, bi-lingual education and the emphasis on promoting self-esteem in the youngsters, a lot of it is. But if there was any one thing I would change tomorrow, it’s the loony notion that everyone should get a college degree.
It’s as if the nation’s water supply had been tampered with by one of those fairy tale witches who was always up to no good, poisoning apples, putting people into comas, locking them up in towers and placing curses on newborn babies. One day, it seems, everybody in America woke up convinced that he or she was the parent of a young scholar. No matter what sacrifice they had to make for their budding Albert Einstein or Marie Curie, they would see to it that their young sprouts made it safely through the groves of academe.
As a result, the biggest con game, the slickest racket, in America is the co-called college education.
Now, please understand, I have nothing against education. My only objection is the way the whole thing works. Why, for instance, do you think students are required to devote four years to undergraduate studies? It’s simply because that’s how the colleges make their money. It’s like the movies. They don’t make their profit selling you a ticket, they clean up at the concession stand selling you popcorn and over-priced candy and sodas.
What they claim is that they want to turn out well-rounded individuals, but that is such an obvious lie, it’s a wonder that anyone believes it for a second. Hardly anyone in America has been all that well-rounded since Thomas Jefferson passed away. Aside from learning how to drink themselves into a stupor and smooth-talk members of the opposite sex, those first four years have no other purpose than to drain off thousands of dollars from mom and dad in order to pay exorbitant salaries to administrators, professors and a gaggle of athletic coaches.
There is a solution to this madness, but it would require that we quit pretending that anyone should be devoting four years to listening to lazy left-wing professors nattering on about 20th century comic books, 19th century French poetry, the movies of Sam Fuller, the scribbling of Noam Chomsky or the sex life of Henry Miller.
What I propose is that they turn colleges and universities into libraries, zoos, hospitals or, for all I care, parking lots or low income housing. And in place of these ivory towers, I would institute an assortment of trade schools. But not just those traditional trade schools where high school graduates learn to be mechanics, plumbers and carpenters, but trade schools for lawyers, doctors, accountants and architects.
Frankly, I don’t care if my doctor has ever read Baudelaire or my accountant can tell a Manet from a Monet, not that they could even if they’d wasted four years of their lives as undergrads. Thanks to computers and the local library, anybody can bone up on just about anything he’s interested in, and it doesn’t cost upwards of $100,000 to do it.
My system is far more efficient than what we have today, plus parents wouldn’t have to mortgage their homes just so Johnny and Susie can attend a school that has ivy on its walls or a Rose Bowl-bound football team.
In time, I believe, we could learn to accept that what we now refer to as a college education is just a pastime, except, of course, when it’s really just a joke.