Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Back to School Laugh from the Washington Post

Last Friday two articles in the Washington Post addressed higher education in a way that made me shake my head and laugh. The lead article in the Style section asked, "Is College Overrated?" It went on to describe the escalating cost of higher education and the many successful individuals who either never attended college or dropped out. They include "Microsoft's Bill Gates, Apple's Steve Jobs, Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, computer magnate Michael Dell and DreamWorks' David Geffen." One could also add Domino's Pizza King Tom Monaghan to the list as well as Thomas Edison, Woody Allen, Jane Austen, and plenty of others who have achieved fame, if not fortune.

Today, kids are graduating from college in serious debt, often the equivalent of a home mortgage. Try paying off $100,000 in college loans on a teacher's salary and still have the financial independence to marry, buy a house, and start to raise a famly. And the reality is that many college graduates are working at low paying jobs, the result of graduating during a recession when employment opportunities are scarce and competition is high.

So is college financially smart these days? I think it depends.... What do you hope to do? Obviously a brain surgeon needs specialized training. So do engineers and others in technical fields. But is a liberal arts education worth the cost?  Again, that depends... what are you getting for your money?

Which brings me to the second Post article featured on the front page of the Metro Section. This described a course at the University of Baltimore on zombies! Yes, I said zombies. English 333 "[looks] at how the character of the zombie changes and evolves over the years and how it reflects our culture," according to Professor Arnold Blumberg who teaches the course. In a laughable ending, the Post quotes Steven Schlozman, professor at Harvard Medical School, who writes about the neurophysiology of zombies and thinks a college course is appropriate:
There's this kind of raging debate about what are the more appropriate zombies to discuss, the slow-moving zombies, as in "Night of the Living Dead," or the fast-moving zombies, as in "28 Days Later" or "I Am Legend." How do you define consciousness? How do you define human? There's whole philosophy classes on it.
This isn't the only ludicrous class. A student I knew at George Mason signed up for a course in the Communications Department that studied the communication medium of grafitti. I read the beginning of the "textbook" which contained an interview  with a  grafitti"artist" (laced with numerous profanities) who spray-painted water towers in the dark of night. I asked the student why he signed up for such a stupid course. Because it was one that fitted into both his and his girlfriend's schedule. Duh!

I found it amusing that these two article made it to the same issue of the Post. The first casts into serious question whether attending college for many students is worth the money. The second illustrates pretty clearly that it isn't. Because the zombie course is typical of what passes for serious study in most English/Communications Departments around the country. It's a trend that caused Phyllis Schlafly, head of Eagle Forum, to write an article in 2007 titled, "Advice to College Students: Don't Major in English." The Department has become home to all things weird and wacky. Besides the college professors I know, who lament the ignorance and lack of seriousness of students sitting in their classrooms,  would no doubt say their students already know about zombies from first-hand experience.

My personal advice to parents these days is keep your kids home for the first two years. Let them attend community college (Check their course choices carefully because they aren't likely to get good advice from their "advisors.") and work on the basics. They can get a job, save, and grow in maturity. Then for the last two years they can complete their education at a four-year institution.  It makes a lot more sense than parents and/or kids going into major debt.


  1. As a guidance counselor at Bishop O'Connell ('94-'04), I often pushed the idea of 2 years at NOVA, and then transferring to a four year school. NOVA is rated one of the best community colleges in the nation.

  2. If one really wants some insight on "Night of the Living Dead", all they need do is watch how election results unfold late at night in either Baltimore or Chicago.