Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Ultra Spiritual Parody: Higher Education

By Professor Doom

     Ah, it’s summer time, the days when the perpetual deadlines during the semester don’t exist. It also means the insanity slows down a bit, so I have time for less serious things.

     Ultra Spiritual Life is a series of parody videos by a YouTube user with account name AwakenWithJP. The videos vary from beyond hysterical to droll, and cover a wide range of topics, from the anti-gluten craze and vegetarianism (recommended!) to atheism and flat Earth theory. And, of course, there is a video on higher education.

      All good humor has at least a grain of truth to it, and the video is funny because he accurately describes much of the invalid thinking regarding higher ed. Trouble is, most people are unfamiliar with the truths he addresses, so allow me to highlight a few.

“The most intelligent way to make money is to find a way to get $100,000 in debt before you even begin to make money…so I decided to go to college.”

      The video begins with this line (apologies if the quote is a little off) and highlights the core flaw in the thinking of most kids going into higher education. Most kids go to college because they think that’s the way to get a high paying job. Bottom line, unless your last name is “Clinton” you’re unlikely to score Chelsea Clinton’s $600,000 a year job no matter how great your GPA. The days where a college degree gave you a reasonable chance of getting a solidly paying job right out of college are over, unless you’re well connected. Granted, college is a good place to make such connections, but only the topmost tier of colleges work that way.

     There’s basically nobody telling our high school kids that the way to make money is to learn a trade or useful skill. Since the jobs existed, plumbers and electricians have made far more money than waiters and parking lot attendants. Yet, there are no collegiate degree programs for plumbers and electricians, even as we have millions of college graduates working as waiters and parking lot attendants. That flight attendant who just poured you a soda? There’s a 30% chance she got a college degree for that job, spending perhaps 6 years of her life learning how to operate a pull tab.

     I’m not criticizing the pursuit of money, but higher education really isn’t the path to riches. So, yes, the line is funny…although I suspect the over 20,000,000 people trapped in student debt slavery with no way to pay it off might not agree.

“If you don’t get a degree then you’re declaring that you want to be homeless, unhappy, and a failure for the rest of your life.”

      Another funny line here, but much like I think it’s fair to ask why, exactly, NBC paid Chelsea Clinton $600,000 a year when NBC’s viewers and revenues (justifiably) dropped straight down, I think it’s also fair to ask…why is the above line a truth?

     No, it’s not true that people who leave college are going to be failures (hi Bill Gates!), but the truth is our kids are trained from birth that college is a MUST, that the completely nebulous things learned there are the only real option for the non-failures.

      We really need to stop training our children like this. We need to explain that a human being should be interested in contributing to society, that plumbers (and other “non college” jobs held in utterly undeserved disdain) are actually quite precious to society, and that it is honorable to do such work for the benefit of society.

      And, of course, that it’s far more profitable than going to college, for most.

      Much of the video quotes lines similar to the above, because it is core to what happened: our kids are destroying themselves in higher education because going to college is the only option they were ever presented.

“Having a degree sets you apart from everyone else. And, everyone has a degree now, so you need one…If you don’t see the brilliance of how this helps you, then you’re not very intelligent and probably didn’t go to college.”

     The above is a paraphrase…but the humor is clear. It’s quite true that there’s a weird belief that college degree holders are special, even though the large proportion of the population has a degree of some sort. Our thinking about what higher education is about is so muddled and filled with contradictions that it doesn’t take much effort to simply laugh at how stupid it all is.

“What excites me about the $100,000 I pay for my degree, is all the interest I pay on that loan…”

      There’s a subtle point here that is often missed. Tuition is soaring, but it’s far worse than what people think. Most people don’t just pay the soaring tuition, see, they also pay the interest on the loans for that tuition. It’s a vicious cycle of profit—the student loan money pouring into higher education drives tuition higher, and the higher tuition creates a need for more loan money.

      The banks who are winning here are laughing all the way to the, er, bank…and they laugh harder as the price rises.

“Because there isn’t a way to get free information about anything anytime you wanted, I think universities are completely justified in charging their customers the prices that they do.”

--the video includes a shot of Google while saying the above…

     It may be hard for people under the age of 25 to believe, but there really was a time when a university was the best way to find someone to show you exactly how to do something outside of the mundane. It was also the best way to find an article or manuscript on even a very obscure or old topic.

     But those days are over. The skit references Google, but Google just leads to information, not how to use it best. There are sufficient YouTube videos for an ignorant person to learn all there is to building a house from the ground up—not that such directly useful skills are even available on a university campus. Even when it comes to academic subjects, there are videos on fairly obscure topics, and tutorials on how to apply even the most esoteric theorems in mathematics.

       Universities are still of value…but it’s a real puzzle why, when most of what they offer is available for free, they can get away with charging so much. Well, it should be a puzzle, but the combination of the student loan scam and that abusive childhood training about the necessity of college explain much.

“Because at one point in time, a horse and buggy was the most effective form of transportation. Then came cars, then came airplanes. But even today, the horse and buggy is the most effective form of transportation…”

     While the joke here is once again the cognitive disconnect regarding the validity of university education, it’s a touch overdone in this case. Horse and buggies have their place, and while I don’t believe universities are quite as outdated, it’s clear we really need to re-evaluate the purpose and price of higher education.

“What kind of job do I have now that I’m out of college? I’m unemployed…”

     The government has tinkered with the definition of “unemployment” so much that it’s really tough to figure out how bad it is in terms a normal person could appreciate. However, about half of college graduates are either unemployed (whatever that means) or underemployed (i.e., in a job where their degree is completely irrelevant). That’s brutal when you consider how much time and money was spent to get that degree.

      I’m grateful for the video, it is good for laughs. However, these jokes would not apply except for the student loan scam, and without the student loan scam we would not have had this video at all.

      Bottom line, I’m not that grateful for the laughter. Get rid of the student loan scam.

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