College system might not be best

By Jeff Linville -
Jeff Linville News Editor -

School buses began running this week, signaling the return of classes for local kids.

Like all parents, I hope those children learn plenty from their teachers this year.

With a kid who is now a junior in college, I am really, really hoping that my child is learning plenty from the teachers at VCU in Richmond, Virginia. Otherwise, that’s a ton of student debt to accrue without a lot to show for it.

I believe in learning. In fact, I think we adults should continue to learn throughout our lives. One of the great things about working at a newspaper is that I do learn new things on a regular basis — keeps my middle-aged brain halfway sharp.

Still, I can’t help but look at the modern college system and wonder how things have gotten so convoluted and misguided.

Isn’t the purpose of higher education to better prepare young adults for the real world? Doesn’t it sound ridiculous that people can graduate with a four-year degree and not be qualified to do anything relevant? There are degree programs that do just that.

You better have a very specific career already in mind if you are studying classical civilizations, women’s studies, art history or African studies such as Lingala, Swahili and Wolof. Unless you are becoming a doctor or Indiana Jones, why do you need Greek, Latin or ancient languages?

And if you want to keep costs down, you probably will send your kid to a state-supported university rather than a private school. Yet, many of those force a liberal-arts criteria down the students’ throats.

For example, in high school I took two years of Spanish and a year of U.S. history. Then I enrolled at Surry Community College and learned that students were expected to take foreign language and social studies courses again. Also, the English majors had to take a certain number of math classes, and the math/science majors had to take a certain number of English classes.

So, I took Spanish and history classes at SCC. Then when I started at High Point University, I was told that I didn’t have enough credits in these areas and was forced to take another Spanish class and a U.S. history class.

What the heck?

Then there is the matter of proficiency. College isn’t the only place to learn, yet universities are the only place to earn a degree. They have a monopoly on the market, which just seems wrong.

I have been a journalist for 22 years, but I don’t have a master’s degree in journalism just because of my work experience. Do you think some kids fresh out of college know more about being a reporter than I do? Of course not, but they have a piece of paper that says they do.

Here’s a better example.

When I got married years ago, my father-in-law was 69 and still working as a tile mason in Minnesota. He didn’t have to work full-time because he brought home a good salary per job. Why? He was the most-respected tile man in a multi-county area.

There was a lake less than an hour from his house where a lot of fancy, expensive houses were being built. These were the kind of places Fred could never have afforded, but Fred worked in them because the contractors insisted he was the only one they trusted to do high-quality work.

I doubt there are many men in the entire country who know more about tile work than Fred. Does he hold a doctorate in tile? Do people call him Dr. Atkinson? No, of course not — because no university has bestowed that title on him.

No matter how great Tommy Jarrell was on the fiddle, no one ever printed out a music degree for the legend — not even posthumously.

Now I understand why a degree is important for a young person. He or she doesn’t have any experience to offer, so the piece of paper is the only way to show any knowledge of a subject.

Also, we want to train people in a way that doesn’t cause any harm. You can’t very well be a court lawyer by trial and error (pardon the pun). I certainly don’t want my appendix taken out by a kid who wants to become a doctor one day years down the road.

Still, there is something to be said for old-fashioned apprenticeships. When a child or young adult spends years learning a craft from a veteran, that experience is every bit as good as anything that comes out of a classroom. I might even venture that it is better in some instances because hands-on learning puts theory into use and shows possible flaws in that theory.

College basketball coach Dean Smith used to say that the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores. He meant that incoming students were so inexperienced that they needed a year of hands-on training to be helpful to the team.

Nowadays, kids get more experience by playing both on a school team and on an AAU travel team. Freshmen arrive at college more prepared to play from Day One. Experience counts.

I’m not saying kids shouldn’t go to college. I certainly am supportive of my kid getting a degree, but I think the first two years of school didn’t do a thing to prepare anyone for a specialty. She has now changed majors, and I don’t think it has had any impact on her schooling because the first two years were so generic they really didn’t count toward any career.

And that really sort of makes my point, doesn’t it?

Jeff Linville News Editor Linville News Editor

By Jeff Linville

Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.

Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.