Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Downsizing American Expectations (2): College Education, Redux

“Education was the gateway to opportunity for me. It was the gateway for Michelle. And now more than ever, it is the gateway to a middle-class life.”

--President Barack Hussein Obama,
2012 Democratic National Convention Acceptance Speech

It used to be enshrined in the hallowed pantheons of conventional wisdom that as an American in America there are no formidable limits to what you can achieve as long as you set your mind to it.  This in a nutshell has been the traditional essence of the proverbial American Dream.


Ironically, while Pres. Obama aptly pointed to education as a valuable tool in pursuit of that dream, in the same teleprompter frame he denigrated the tool as nothing more than a gateway to mediocrity, the essence of “a middle class life.”  Pres. Obama being himself a highly educated man, I cannot divine for him to consciously diminish the value of higher education, per se. 

It therefore stands to reason that wittingly or unwittingly, he was setting the fetters that would circumscribe the domain over which the American Dream can be pursued without violating the unwritten protocols of “fairness,” one of the most invoked concepts by Pres. Obama himself.  He had given unmistakable notice that downsizing the American Dream is integral to the agenda of his second term.  This was the functional equivalent of the open microphone pledge of “flexibility” to Vladimir Putin when he
told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that, after he is reelected, and never has to face the voters again, he will have the "flexibility" to make a deal with Russia on missile defense systems.”

There are compelling reasons for President Obama to advocate a damning down of the quality of college education, which in and of itself already desperately needs to be rescued from its less than sterling quality.  As Rush Limbaugh emphasized, in his ever so deliciously succinct patentable way, in order to get re-elected

“. . . Obama is trying to put together a majority coalition made up of the least-informed people in this country, and, in some cases, maybe the dumbest? He's not targeting the brains of our society. He may figure he has academia all wrapped up, but, I mean, his big electoral push is for the mental midgets in this country . . . He's really coalescing the Moron Vote. He's banking on the fact that of the universe of Americans who vote, that there's a winning majority of morons in there. . . .”

I have illustrated earlier elsewhere (c.f., e.g. pp. 220~221 & 284~285) the deplorable state of American education.  But in a somewhat different context William E. White of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in a provocatively titled piece proclaiming Education in America Serves No Purpose Today, went on to opine that:

 “. . . there is only one purpose for an education system in a republic: to educate citizens. Anything that distracts us from that singular objective is destructive to our children and the nation. . . .


“. . . Without active and informed citizens, the republic will fail. Over and over again the founding generation reminded themselves, and us, that an educated citizenry is the fuel -- the guarantee -- of a strong, vital republic. . . . But our twenty-first-century schools do everything but train our children to exercise their civic responsibilities. . . .”


My firsthand experience with American college education was limited to walking out midstream of an ESL (English as a Second Language) session in Columbia University, convinced that my skills in the language was far better than that of the instructor’s who was a Teaching Assistant of either an Indian or Pakistani descent, judging from his accent.  The event ended my attempt to land a berth at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory for a semester-specific Research Assistantship.  More importantly, it triggered my escape from the protective cocoon of academia into the rough and tumble of capitalism’s rat race in the open marketplace.


It was in this setting that I verified that the education I received before coming to this country was no slouch compared to what obtains in American colleges.  I interfaced with one graduate student from Brooklyn College finishing up her program for a Master’s degree in Education who asked me, on spying the book I was reading, “who, or what is Kant”?  The question was impressive because I was part of the first batch of 282 students in a just established state university in the Philippines where we were thought about the giants of Western Philosophy in the second semester.


I came to this country adequately educated after twelve years of sojourn in three government colleges, in Japan and the Philippines, splendidly spending other people’s money.  As a student, I was the recipient of one scholarship grant after another.  As a member of the faculty, I taught geophysical engineering with a relatively generous administrative operating budget of taxpayer funds, and a promise of ad valorem levy on nationwide gasoline sales to sustain my long term budgetary requirements. [C.f., chapter 1 pp. 5 ff at].


Assuming that adulthood starts at age 20, (voting age was 21 when I left the Philippines in 1974) twelve years represent 25% of my adult life spent in colleges.  President Obama’s machinations aside, I claim to be sufficiently qualified to have an opinion about the value of a college education, in general regardless of the geographic and cultural setting. 

To wit, college education anywhere in the planet is designed to cater to people who don’t know what to do with their lives.  It serves as a staging domain to ease the growing pains of joining the society at large as a fully credentialed citizen member of the human race.  There is a long list of people who were hugely successful sans college education.  Bill Gates, Greg Norman, Rush Limbaugh readily come to mind to name a few.  They just were certain what to pursue and pursued it with passion from the get go.

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