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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Misnomers in education

A lot of universities refer to their undergraduate programs as "the college of arts and sciences." Fair enough; some of what these colleges teach is science, and some better classified as arts.

Browse through any list of majors and you'll find listings like "materials science" and "food science" and "computer science." Those teach you about real, quantifiable things. You'll find biology and chemistry and physics, none of which need to append the word science to their titles, since they so obviously are sciences.

You'll also find English and Architecture and Music and Philosophy, all of which are perfectly fine majors as long as you're not overly concerned about getting a good job when you graduate.

The problem is with the fields which want to cloak themselves in respectability by calling themselves sciences, when they're plainly not. For instance, where is the science in political science? (Maybe this is just early training for the kind of misleading spin that poli sci majors tend to spew.)

"Social science" may be worse. Sociology is as squishy a subject as you'll find.

If universities were businesses, the Better Business Bureau could sue them for false advertising.

People with the most advanced degrees are called Doctors of Philosophy. PhD's do not heal philosophy. (If you meet one who insists on being called "Doctor," you can be sure he is a twit.)

I might as well call myself a doctor of blogology. Or a veterinarian of swimming. Or a nurse of stock trading.

I actually am a bachelor of arts. (Or do I just have one? I'm not even sure.) When I received it, sure enough, I was still a bachelor. But I wasn't much of an artist.

To get a "masters degree" in a subject implies a certain mastery of it. But I seem to know a lot of people (including myself, with my masters in business administration) whose masterfulness seems questionable.

Maybe this is just a querulous Andy Rooney-style quibble about long-standing semantics that nobody takes all that seriously. But the subject is still worth a moment's thought, since it summarizes so well what academia is about so well: meaningless labels and degrees.


Anonymous said...

Hi John--What you are talking about is an example of the presumptuousness and arrogance of "higher education" or better put, "college industrial complex". An entity that is now, I believe, obsolete-especially in this era of electronic everything. Well, I think so anyway. Thanks, Brian

John Craig said...

Brian --
Well, not quite obsolete yet, but on its way out, let's hope.

I think a far better system would be to have everyone take an official IQ test, or battery of IQ tests, administered in a similar way to the way the SATs are now administered. Then, when they graduate from high school. they could apply for jobs at that point, IQ (rather than diploma) in hand, have a trial period of on the job training, then both employer and employee could each make a decision based on that period.

(It would obviously be slightly different for people who need specialized training for careers for medicine or engineering. But for the vast majority of people who study softer subjects, the idea of having your parents spend $200,000 so you can read some books you could read on your own for maybe $100 has always struck me as a waste of money.)

Your IQ is far more who you are than the college you went to, or the GPA you got.

Gilbert Ratchet said...

Quite right about the Ph.D. "Doctor" is from Latin and simply means "learned" (hence the RC designation "Doctor of the Church"). But "philosophy"? That is a specific subject nowadays! If you've got a Ph.D. in history, it should simply be a "Doctorate of History" (not philosophy). Even if we interpret philosophy to mean simply a "love of wisdom" it's still a misnomer, since there's not much wisdom (as opposed to knowledge or ideology) taught in your average Ph.D. program.

John Craig said...

Gilbert --
Thank you for that. And yes, crucial distinction between knowledge and ideology on the one hand and wisdom on the other.

Anonymous said...

The government outlawed employers from giving IQ tests. This is one reason a college degree is important to have, especially from a good school, since the SAT is used as a proxy for an IQ test.

IQ tests result in disparate impact, so firms stopped using them. Although Google and others give IQ related questions to potential employees.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Now that you mention it, I do remember hearing that. Well, I was speaking of an ideal world in the above comment, i guess. Just goes to show how ridiculous the disparate impact doctrine is. It basically translates as, employers are no longer allowed to care how smart their employees are. But I can't think of an employer -- whether for a white collar job or a blue collar one -- who doesn't care whether their workers are capable or dummies.

Anonymous said...

Education attainment is a good proxy for IQ tests, but it raises the importance of going to a top school, since they won't accept anyone with an IQ below 120 (based on SAT scores etc..) while many State schools, or lower tier Universities will accept applicants with IQs lower than 110, which degrades the value of a degree from the lower tier schools. This is unfortunate, as some individuals from the lower tier schools have IQs above 140

The current system makes it much more difficult to obtain a decent job without first obtaining a degree. If Firms could give IQ tests , there would be less need to waste 4 years in college to obtain a degree.

John Craig said...

Anon --
That's a great analysis. Couldn't agree with you more.

A college degree and a GPA are nothing more than diluted IQ tests. The correlation between one's IQ and SAT's is supposed to be roughly .9; my guess is that the correlation between one's IQ and GPA is closer to .75. Then when you throw in the college admissions process, which takes into account athletic ability, race, and other factors, that roils the IQ waters even more.

Then when you take into account the fact that what you study in college has little to do with what you'll use on the job (unless you want to be a doctor or engineer or some such), it just underlines further what a waste of time college is. Everybody I've ever known who was truly intelligent kept absorbing general knowledge after college anyway, and usually at the same pace they absorbed it in college.

Of course, I suppose it IS important to have those students for four years so you can give them a nice liberal brainwashing.

bluffcreek1967 said...

John, all I can say to your post is a big 'Amen'! As you know, I too have become very unhappy and suspicious of the college scam for a variety or reasons. I think most of it is just plain impractical for the real world.

John Craig said...

Ambrose --
Thank you…..And yes, it always has been impractical, but more and more people seem to be waking up to that now, especially with white collar jobs so scarce for recent college graduates.

Anonymous said...

I studied politics at university before switching to engineering (I figured I'd be more employable that way) and I wondered the whole time why it was "political science". Comparing Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau is philosophy, not science. And what the hell is "library science"? Putting books away in the right place is not a science.

I agree with you about people with PhDs who insist on being called "doctor" instead of "mister" or "missus". The ones I've met who are like that tend to be narcissistic, particularly when they verbally correct people (using their title in writing is different). It's much more impressive when people keep their qualifications to themselves, and leave people to find out about them through other means. I once knew a bright, funny guy that I really enjoyed talking to. I didn't get to find out about his PhD in physics until I'd known him a whole month, and only because he mentioned it in passing. My respect for him doubled after that: not only was this guy more accomplished than I thought, but he was also modest enough not to brag about it.

- Gethin

John Craig said...

Gethin --
Modesty is always impressive.

I'm looking forward to the first time you and I disagree about something. But, now that I think of it….you're too smart for that.

(How was that for modesty?)

The Ambivalent Misanthrope said...

And I am on to another great post, not even related to sociopathy! I love this.

College these days is an expensive racket, one which I unfortunately fell into. Nowadays when I get young people who are undecided about college or what major to pick, I always strongly advise against it. It really is a 'college industrial complex' designed to trap a sizable proportion of the population into in detoured servitude (via student loan debt that has to increasingly be repaid over decades). There is no recourse from student loan debt. I hear that even your social security check will be garnished in your old age should you have any lingering debts into your retirement years.

But it leaves me wondering: what am I to tell my daughter when she reaches college age? What alternative trajectories are there for young people, in a world which has seemingly been 'engineered' this way?

John Craig said...

Ambivalent Misanthrope --
You've singlehandedly made me feel good about myself in the past couple days -- thank you.

yes, unfortunately, everything you say is true. I'm not sure what you tell your daughter, other than not to go to college until she sees a really practical use for it. Of course, then the problem will become that she might not go until she's 24, and being a freshman with a bunch of 18-year-olds wouldn't be much fun. Of course, that sentence sort of gives away what most people view college as anyway: just four years of fun. So, yeah, a conundrum.

BTW, if you liked this post, I think you'll agree with these two as well. The first is about college websites:

And the second an idea for a more practical college: