Quote of the Day: Credentials

 

Benjamin Franklin’s formal education ended when he was 10 years old. There were no economics departments or doctorates anywhere in the world when Alexander Hamilton, who was unable to complete his undergraduate studies at the then-Kings College of New York (now Columbia), designed the first central bank of the United States. None of the Founding Fathers were as well credentialed or thoroughly vetted as utterly mediocre, run-of-the-mill lawyers and political scientists are today. Armed only with his genius and his scanty formal educational credentials, a young John Marshall could not land an interview, much less a job, with a major American law firm today. Neither Ulysses Grant nor Robert Lee held a doctorate or had any formal professional training after graduating from West Point. Their lack of credentials would ensure that neither, today, would be considered for senior command in any branch of the armed forces. Through most of the 19th century, American colleges and even elite universities did not require doctoral degrees of their faculty. Today, however, a person with George Washington’s educational credentials could not get a job teaching the third grade in any public school in the United States.

Walter Russell Mead, https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/twilight-wonks-walter-russell-mead

In our over-credentialed culture, there is a growing danger of squelching true innovation while promoting timid mediocrity. Someone like Elon Musk is rare these days. When I read novels set in the first half of the twentieth century (Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, et al.), I’m struck by how common it was for a character to have a chemical or mechanical engineering lab in his house. Could a Thomas Edison even exist today? His home-based research facilities would probably violate his homeowners’ association’s regulations!

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  1. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Fractad: Neither Ulysses Grant nor Robert Lee held a doctorate or had any formal professional training after graduating from West Point. Their lack of credentials would ensure that neither, today, would be considered for senior command in any branch of the armed forces.

    Not to take away from your larger point, but they did graduate from West Point…

     

    • #1
  2. Fractad Coolidge
    Fractad
    @TWert

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):
    Not to take away from your larger point, but they did graduate from West Point…

    Yes, I noticed that too. Mead’s entire essay I linked to is well worth reading.

    • #2
  3. Old Bathos Member
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Credentials are only a problem when they are given in lieu of education. 

    A world of gratuitous credential requirements is like some obnoxious little girl’s fantasy world–teacher’s pet gets to run the school and then the world.

    • #3
  4. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    Homeschoolers have long discussed the amount of time wasted in public (and perhaps private) schools. When one is well-armed with the concepts, how many repetitions and by-ways must be pursued?

    We had a couple of friends we have since lost contact with who had a daughter who wanted to go into medicine and become a doctor. Both parents were from foreign countries. The mother had been a practicing physician in Mexico. The father was a corporate executive for a large Austrian firm. There was some debate in the family over which course the daughter should take. If she went to Europe, she could go directly into medical school and do without the four years of undergraduate work required in the USA. I don’t know what the daughter finally decided upon, but I think I know the one I would have chosen. (The daughter was fluent in at least three languages and very bright. Money was probably not an object either.)

    • #4
  5. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    A high school grad in 1950 was better prepared for life than most folks with an MA from Columbia. 

    • #5
  6. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    Fractad: Neither Ulysses Grant nor Robert Lee held a doctorate or had any formal professional training after graduating from West Point. Their lack of credentials would ensure that neither, today, would be considered for senior command in any branch of the armed forces.

    Not to take away from your larger point, but they did graduate from West Point…

     

    Trade school for the win.

    • #6
  7. Steve Fast Member
    Steve Fast
    @SteveFast

    Fractad: Armed only with his genius and his scanty formal educational credentials, a young John Marshall could not land an interview, much less a job, with a major American law firm today.

    Marshall read law with George Wythe, who also tutored future presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, future senator Henry Clay, and future associate justice Bushrod Washington, among many others. A degree from Wythe “University” would be more valuable than almost any degree available today.

    Interestingly, Wythe is little known today, although he was one of the most influential revolutionaries and founding fathers.

    • #7
  8. Steve Fast Member
    Steve Fast
    @SteveFast

    Fractad: Neither Ulysses Grant nor Robert Lee held a doctorate or had any formal professional training after graduating from West Point.

    Grant was a functioning alcoholic who resigned under pressure from the US Army in 1854 due to drunkenness. In April 1861, he was selling firewood on the streets of St. Louis to survive and try to keep his wife. Three years later he was commanding the most powerful army in the world.

    There have been quite a few alcoholics who have made great contributions but today would not be allowed to serve.

    • #8
  9. She Member
    She
    @She

    I have the privilege of living in the McGuffey School District.  Yes, that McGuffey.

    All you have to do is take a look at the McGuffey Readers, year by year, to discover how it is that someone could “graduate” after eighth, or tenth, or–if they were lucky–the final year of high school, and have enjoyed a liberal arts (which in my view includes literary, historical, and cultural perspectives) education unsurpassed by many of those with advanced degrees today.

    Teachers used to believe that children could be challenged, and that–if they were–they would rise to the challenge and better themselves.

    Now many of them believe that children have been victimized, that they should be coddled and that they will–no matter what they do, never escape their preordained fate, so what is the point in trying to teach them anything?

    Better by far to use them by making them your stooges and useful idiots.

    One of my fondest memories is of the years of my adolescence and early twenties.  My family decamped to Prince Edward Island to escape the unbearable heat and humidity of the Pittsburgh summers.  We made friends with a local fishing family, of whom the five sons had carried on the tradition.  One of them had advanced through the eighth grade in the local one-room schoolhouse.  The others, not so far.

    This gentleman and my father (the privileged oppressor colonialist with a pretty good British public (that means expensive private) school education) regularly had competitions, on 4AM lobster-fishing, or early morning mackerel-netting trips, during which they spouted yards and yards of English literature quotations at each other until one of them begged for mercy.

    In my role as “daddy’s girl,” I was there for many of those encounters.

    Dad didn’t always win.

    Fast forward ten years.

    I find myself married, living in the sticks, in a half-completed home the late Mr. She and I built ourselves, after having sold our house in Pittsburgh and moved into a field in Washington County PA.

    Thank God for our neighbors.  We–ignorant urbanites–probably would have died without their kind and generous help.

    After a few years of hanging out with, and learning from, our neighbors, Mr. She used to say that he’d earned a second (more useful) PhD from them, one in country living and survival.  I agree.

    I can’t help noticing that many of my neighbors, those who never graduated from high school, or who–if they did–couldn’t go to college because the exigencies of rural life demanded they stay put and help their families out, not only displayed an encyclopedic knowledge of what it takes to survive out here in the real world, but that they also themselves, could hold their own when it comes to matters of culture, literature, and history.

    I contrast them with the illiterate Columbian loons:

    These are people who have been admitted to what was–once–one of the world’s great universities, one whose admittance rate is only 3.85% of all those who apply to it.

    So one must conclude that those who are there are the ones Columbia carefully selected to reflect its values and academic standards.

    I’m not sure there’s much else to be said.

    As far as her animadversions on “Obama the terrorist”: ICYMI, friend, she’ll be coming for you right soon. Shortly after she’s sorted out the Jews.

    • #9
  10. E. Kent Golding Moderator
    E. Kent Golding
    @EKentGolding

    I had a mechanical engineering professor  C.O. Smith.   Went by the name CoSine Smith.  Brilliant,  and demanding,  with lots of industry experience.  Did not have a Phd– only a master’s  .  Most students loved him.   Denied tenure and let go.

    • #10
  11. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    She (View Comment):
    These are people who have been admitted to what was–once–one of the world’s great universities, one whose admittance rate is only 3.85% of all those who apply to it.

    • #11
  12. Old Bathos Member
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    E. Kent Golding (View Comment):

    I had a mechanical engineering professor C.O. Smith. Went by the name CoSine Smith. Brilliant, and demanding, with lots of industry experience. Did not have a Phd– only a master’s . Most students loved him. Denied tenure and let go.

    Probably replaced by an innumerate who had done a dissertation based on an intersectional re-write of Vitruvius’ inherently racist and sexist Ten Books of Architecture.

    • #12
  13. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Credentials are only a problem when they are given in lieu of education.

    A world of gratuitous credential requirements is like some obnoxious little girl’s fantasy world–teacher’s pet gets to run the school and then the world.

    Participation trophies.

    • #13
  14. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    Fractad: Neither Ulysses Grant nor Robert Lee held a doctorate or had any formal professional training after graduating from West Point. Their lack of credentials would ensure that neither, today, would be considered for senior command in any branch of the armed forces.

    Not to take away from your larger point, but they did graduate from West Point…

     

    At one time many West Point grads majored in engineering.  To meet the goals of today’s military, the preferred major is social engineering. 

    • #14
  15. Fractad Coolidge
    Fractad
    @TWert

    She (View Comment):
    One of them had advanced through the eighth grade in the local one-room schoolhouse.

    My father went to a one-room schoolhouse in northern Wisconsin. He fought in the Korean War, went to college on the GI Bill, and ended up chairman of the Mechanical Engineering Department at Vanderbilt. He started Vandy’s Materials Science program from scratch.

    • #15
  16. Old Bathos Member
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Fractad (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):
    One of them had advanced through the eighth grade in the local one-room schoolhouse.

    My father went to a one-room schoolhouse in northern Wisconsin. He fought in the Korean War, went to college on the GI Bill, and ended up chairman of the Mechanical Engineering Department at Vanderbilt. He started Vandy’s Materials Science program from scratch.

    But he probably didn’t know squat about intersectional studies or even third-wave feminism

    • #16
  17. Fractad Coolidge
    Fractad
    @TWert

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    But he probably didn’t know squat about intersectional studies or even third-wave feminism

    Yes, there was definitely that gap in his knowledge!

    • #17
  18. Raful Member
    Raful
    @Raful

    Benjamin Franklin received honorary doctorates, but unlike the souvenir degrees granted to celebrity commencement speakers, Franklin’s reflected real-world achievements and he rightly used the title “Dr.” thereafter.  But the problem today is the devaluing of credentials.   A college degree used to indicate that one demonstrated mastery of college-level critical reasoning, with an understanding that rich bluebloods with “Gentlemen’s C” averages could probably have earned A’s or B’s had they deigned to study.

    • #18
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