By Professor Doom
At this stage in human civilization, everyone in the Western world knows smoking is very, very, bad for you. Yes, many things are bad for you—watching TV all day long, not eating vegetables, and so on. I totally respect people should be allowed to make choices that I don’t necessarily agree with…but smoking is a terrible thing to do to yourself, even as I respect individual rights.
On the other hand, I don’t believe we should encourage people to make terrible choices. So, yes, I think posters saying “Smoking is Cool and Sexy” are ridiculous and morally questionable, in much the same way advertisements that say “Not Eating Vegetables Is Cool and Sexy” or “Watching TV 8 Hours A Day Is Cool And Sexy” are ridiculous and morally questionable.
Yes, I respect that some people smoke, and smoke, and smoke, literally for decades, with no particular ill effects, but in general, smoking is so bad that outright encouraging it “for pleasure” is simply wrong.
This is about us as a society saying that it is wrong for tobacco - a product that kills half of all its long term users - to be marketed to children as though it were a bag of sweets.
The real issue with smoking advertisements is the targeting of the young. Bottom line, children are very vulnerable to believing things they are told. This was a great thing back when snakes and lions and such were likely to be encountered by a child—a simple warning “Stay away from snakes, they are bad” was all it took to keep children from messing around with snakes until they were old enough to handle such things.
Nowadays, the world isn’t filled with such natural dangers, though we still “play” with children by telling them about the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus—children still readily believe, until they finally outgrow their credulity.
Such myths may be harmless enough, but as natural dangers have faded from the modern human experience, new dangers, from advertising executives, showed up to lure children into making bad decisions. Thus, most people get hooked on smoking when they are young…they got addicted before they were old enough to not be so vulnerable to advertising that an adult mind would find ridiculous.
So it is that some 85% of smokers regret smoking. 85%. Even if there were no major health risks involved with smoking, we as a society should have a real problem with an industry that encourages an activity that 85% of the people involved regret doing.
What does this have to do with education? Well, our children are encouraged from a fairly young age that they must go to college…they get told this over and over again, to the point that many believe that the whole point of schooling is to get them to go to college. Heck, many schools boast of the percent of their graduates that eventually go on to college.
Would a school boast of having a high percentage of students who smoke?
“But college is good for you!” is doubtless going through the minds of some readers. It totally can be, I concede, but realize this is just the echo of all the imprinting delivered in childhood. College was almost certainly quite often a good idea in the past but today’s “college” is far removed from whatever idealized vision people have of higher education of generations ago.
Why believe me? Do college students regret going to college in anything like the same way smokers regret starting smoking? Let’s see:
Now, just because some people regret an activity, doesn’t mean the activity is necessarily wrong. I’m sure I can find someone who totally wished he’d never went to Disney World, but when 1/3 of the participants think they’ve made a horrible mistake, isn’t that a hint that there’s something wrong?
The other problem on student debt is a lack of financial education. The first major financial decision many students are making is with their college loans. It’s a major decision and often times there’s been little financial education, if any, that’s been taught. The Wells Fargo survey found that 79% of millennials think personal finance should be taught in high school; basic investing, how to save for retirement and how loans work were the top three topics they “wished” they’d learned more about.
Note the same pattern we have here that we observed with the tobacco industry. These victims were targeted when young, and ignorant of how the modern world worked in regards to finance. “College is good for you” was combined with ignorance of the long term effects of loans to capture a generation into student loans.
I concede student loans aren’t truly addictive, but getting rid of them is no less a challenge, since they follow you to the grave unless paid off…and all too often, higher education provides no means to pay off the loans.
Should higher education administrators be viewed with the same repugnance that we view tobacco company executives that still target children?
This is a personal decision, but do realize that today’s high cost of college education is due to the administrators of higher education, rulers that could casually include financial education in their mission of education, to the point of refusing to allow loans to kids fresh out of high school, loans for coursework of no financial value. These rulers could do many, many, things to put integrity into higher education, instead of what they have done, which is remove integrity from higher education at every level. I guess that rather answers my rhetorical question.
Oh, and back to the title of today’s essay. If we view “What percent of people that regret doing something” as a measure how bad such an activity is, then we can actually compare the inappropriateness of various illicit activities.
So, here goes: 85%, or .85 of smokers regret smoking, an activity that we pretty much all agree is a very bad activity.
33%, or .33 of people that went to college regret going to college.
Simply look at the ratio, .33/.85, to get about .39. Thus it is that one can conclude that going to college is 39% as bad as smoking. We all agree that smoking is bad, but, comparatively speaking, college is rather bad as well.
What proportion of “people regret doing this activity” is a sign that the activity is a fundamentally bad thing to do? Again, this is a personal decision, but I suspect this proportion will only go higher, as more and more people learn firsthand just how disastrous student loans are, and how worthless so much of higher education is.
In times past, we didn’t have great numbers of people regretting going to college, but now we have millions of victims. 21% of the US population smoke cigarettes, and about 88% of high school graduates go on to college at some point. It follows then,
that someday, we’ll have more victims of higher education than we do victims of smoking. Is this not yet another sign that something has gone very wrong with today’s version of higher education?