From John Ray's shorter notes

October 12, 2014

The great credential race

One of the most deplorable features of modern education is the great credentials race. Competition for the best jobs has led to job applicants trying to trump one another by offering higher and higher levels of education. The end result is that many jobs which were once perfectly well-handled by people with just high school -- or even grade school -- education now require a college degree and may even require graduate qualifications. This has become hugely expensive for students in both time and money, with no clear benefit to the community.

Teaching is a prime example. Grade school and even high school teachers used to became competent in teaching simply by doing an apprenticeship. No college work at all was required. They learned on the job. And standards were high then. Some of the exam papers from that era would stump most graduates today.

As the credential race went on, however, the requirements stiffened. A degree of some kind became the norm for teachers. And that stiffened again when the degree was expected to be in the field that was going to be taught.

I was a teacher in that era so it is not as long ago as you might think. I had a degree majoring in psychology but with some qualifications in economics also. So I was hired to teach economics in a Catholic girl's school. That was a time when Catholic schools still had nuns and the nuns concerned were very dedicated and very competent. My students got exceptional results in their final high school exams so there was no deficiency in my teaching.

But I had NO teaching qualifications. I did not do one minute of teacher training. Already in government schools at the time a one-year teaching diploma was required for appointment as a teacher. And even one-year diplomas are normally now old hat -- with four-year qualifications being required. For what gain? None that I can see.

And the push for mass acquisition of degrees has had a most pernicious effect on High School standards. Because everyone now has to have the opportunity of getting a degree, High School standards have been dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. If the old standards had been retained, only a small minority of students would have graduated from High School with the passes required for university entry. So we now have dumbed-down high school courses providing entry to dumbed down degrees. And we even have now the phenomenon of people with doctorates being unemployable. So the credential race has now reached a pinnacle of absurdity.

Let me close by telling what a junior High School education was like in the 50s, when I was at school. We of course got a grounding in Latin, physics, chemistry, history and geography -- and a modern language such as French or German. And even at the primary school level we learnt grammar and parsing as part of our English studies.

And in High School English we even tackled Chaucer -- to my great delight. Chaucer of course wrote in Middle English, not readily understandable to those who know only modern English. Chaucer wrote in the language of London 600 years ago and reading his wonderful Canterbury Tales gives a great insight into an era that was very civilized -- and even cynical -- but greatly different from our own. Losing Chaucer has been a very great loss indeed

And where did I get this wonderful education? In some great private school? Not at all. It was in a government school in an obscure Australian country town. But even government schools in those days took the great British private schools -- such as Eton -- as their model. How times have changed! People in those days wanted the highest possible standards for their children's education. They probably still do but they don't get anything like it now.

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