Why Education is Proof of Intelligence 9/8/19

Education opinion by Richard Bleil

It isn’t.

There, short and sweet. The rest is just expansion. Some of the smartest people I know barely graduated high school, if ever they did at all. Some of the dimmest people I know have their doctorate.

My father graduated high school, and immediately entered the Korean war. When he returned, he went to work for a major corporation who trained him to do the job they hired him to do, a kind of in-house apprenticeship training as was common then. And he hated drilling holes in the house.

Eventually mom and dad saved enough pennies to buy a home. In front was a brick face that was between two window sills, coming out away from the windows a few inches, and was maybe five feet wide. Mom bought a snowman made out of plywood, and insisted that dad hang it. But, see, he hated putting holes on the inside; God knows he hated the concept of drilling holes in the mortar. So, he went to the hardware store, and purchased to “L” shaped steel brackets, steel wire and two “S” shaped steel hooks. He cut the steel wire to be, oh, a foot or two wider than the brick segment, attaching each side to the “L” hooks so the wire hung loosely. He put one “S” hook under each “arm” of the plywood snowman, and hung it on the hook. He knew that the weight of the snowman would pull down, and without any knowledge of vector analysis (as physicists call it), he knew that this would draw the wire tight, pulling the L hooks inwards, and the increased friction would hold it up. In more than a decade, never once did I see that snowman slip or fall off, regardless of the wind or weather.

Tell me he’s not intelligent.

Now I’ve given you an example of somebody who had little education but is intelligent, so now it is incumbent on me to find an example of somebody with a doctorate who is, well, let’s say of all the cookies in the bag s/he’s not the one with the most chocolate chips. I know all too many examples, although I also would like to find a case that I can explain without resorting to technical details of his or her discipline. I worked with a mathematics professor some years ago that was just not good at his job. Clearly did not enjoy teaching, and I had students asking me about things he taught because, frankly, he was making mistakes and confusing students. I asked him at one point why he’s teaching, and his answer was, “it’s a paycheck.”

You don’t go into education to make money. It’s one of the lowest paying professions, and you would think somebody with a Ph.D. in mathematics would know this. The dean put together an “improvement plan” for this individual, which the professor never acted on. He was dismissed after the first semester. In the second semester, he showed up to work in the computer lab carrying a suspicious case. (Yes, this was long enough ago that we had a computer lab.) I was the only professor there who was single. It was around 6:30 or 7 at night, so there were few classes in session. Because I was single, the dean asked me to go to through the building, including the class, and ask people to quietly exit the building, and once empty, check the computer room to look for any suspicious packages.

Apparently, I was the only expendable professor.

So I did. There were no suspicious packages. The police were called in, and found him shooting pool in the student union using the pool cue that was in his suspicious case, on the campus where he had been fired a month or two earlier.

Tell me he’s intelligent.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not an anti-education piece. Rather, it’s a call for sanity when it comes to making assumptions based on education. I read an article in the New York Times in the early ’90’s that claimed that a bachelor’s degree then (well over twenty years ago) was the equivalent in posterity to a high school degree in the ’50’s. The reason is that so many people were getting degrees and looking for jobs that employers knew they could get somebody with a bachelor’s degree to do jobs that could have easily been done by somebody without a college degree. So what is the value of a college education?

For many decades, I have maintained that getting a degree for the sake of having a degree is a waste of money. It seems as though society is coming around to agree with me. But, people SHOULD go to college, but, only in support of their long term goals and dreams. Once somebody knows what they want to do, then the education they should pursue, and the level of education, should be designed to support that dream. If somebody wants to run a little shop, which is a charming goal and creates a wonderful life, maybe a college education is not necessary, or an associates in business. If somebody wants to be a surgeon, then of course that dream requires more education. Also remember that it’s possible to over educate, to get degrees that will block you from certain jobs. I could not get a job as a bench chemist, working in a lab, today because, with my Ph.D., the owners would assume I would get bored and leave. Maybe it’s time to stop wasting money on degrees that do nothing more than generate debt.


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