Home > Economic policy > Same old, same old on university places

Same old, same old on university places

August 24th, 2016

Another day, another article complaining that we have too many young people going to university. I’ll pick this one by Nicholas Stuart, not because it’s particularly good or bad, but because it covers all the main points. Then I’ll ask, the following question:

If you substitute the word “Menzies” for “Dawkins”, is there anything in the article that wasn’t being said 50 years ago, when the proportion of young people going to university was about a quarter of what it is now (that’s a guess, which I’ll try to correct when I get time)?

I’m reaching back to my childhood here,so I can’t remember when I first heard these points being raised. But the way in which they were discussed made it clear they were cliches even them. Those points include massification, dropout rates (higher then than now, I think) the large numbers of graduates doing jobs that didn’t require a degree (Arts graduates driving taxis was the standard example back then), the merits of getting a trade instead of a degree, the role of the university as part of the capitalist system and the corrupting effects of Commonwealth money.

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  1. Newtownian
    August 24th, 2016 at 13:49 | #1

    If there was a 10 per cent failure rate for anything else we bought we’d be outraged: yet we happily accept the massive waste and despair that comes each year as thousands drop out of uni.

    Dont you just love selective statistics quotation tennis?

    ESTIMATES ARE THAT one in three new small businesses in Australia fail in their first year of operation, two out of four by the end of the second year, and three out of four by the fifth year.

    see – https://www.uts.edu.au/sites/default/files/Start_me_up.pdf
    Score = 15 all

    but

    Credit reference checking agency Veda Advantage, formerly Baycorp, studied businesses entering financial administration in 2006-07, and says relatively few closed in their first year. “Our analysis shows that only 1.5 per cent of businesses close within this period,” Veda information services general manager Erica Hughes said. “It appears that most SMEs face financial trouble in their median growth period, a stage we have defined as ‘corporate adolescence’.”

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/opinion/exploding-the-myth-of-sme-failure-rates/story-e6frg9lf-1111114570616?nk=5df5cddf928ff1198fe11f605b966952-1472009065
    Score = 30-15.

    Which is contradicted here http://empireone.com.au/why-most-startups-fail-within-the-first-few-years/ and here http://dnbsmallbusiness.com.au/News/Small_business_failures_up_48_per_cent/indexdl_8157.aspx and here http://www.dynamicbusiness.com.au/small-business-resources/managing/why-small-businesses-fail-in-australia-02052013.html

    The truth?

    More likely the big story is that to build up a lot of social capital irrespective of the field, be it business or education you need to spend money and you can expect failures at a significant rate – hence old lauding of creative destruction?. Tweaking the edges wont often change much though it will subsidize management consultants mightily until the changes implemented prove to be a real disaster.

    To properly evaluate education, business or whatever you need to do it properly which Stuart doesnt seem to have done regretably. One way might be cost benefit analysis which shows how much the government earns back from the successes of its university or business policy beneficiaries. But even that is incomplete as it woudl fail to capture the learning benefits for people of education whether they win or lose or more likely end up somewhere in between and transfer to another course all the more wiser.

  2. Ivor
    August 24th, 2016 at 14:02 | #2

    The complexities of modern life do require more university level education than before.

    We also need more technical skills in technical trades and the services industries which are becoming more scientific as time goes by. So VET sector needs to be boosted.

    However those who do not have the aptitude for further study must not be left behind.

  3. John Quiggin
    August 24th, 2016 at 15:07 | #3

    @Newtownian

    I looked at this in the context of a consultancy on penalty rates. My memory is a 20 per cent disappearance rate in Year 1, and up to about 40 per cent in Year 3. Note that in both business and education, leaving isn’t the same as failing. Perhaps something better came along. I suspect the credit results refer to people going bankrupt rather than simply packing up, paying their bills and moving on.

  4. John Quiggin
    August 24th, 2016 at 15:08 | #4

    Clicking the link, which I was too lazy to do, seems to confirm my guesses in the previous comment.

  5. Ikonoclast
    August 24th, 2016 at 15:09 | #5

    It’s the same old strategy. Part commodify something that was a social good. Then complain that the poor and undeserving are still getting too much of it due to part subsidies. Remove all subsidies. Kick poor and undeserving onto street. Then complain about all the social ills on the street. Then, in the end, unleash the killer cops (USA) or death squads (Philippines) or a Pinochet enabled by neoliberal economic theory and a right wing coup d’état. Sounds like I am exaggerating? Well no, that is where these regressive policies always lead sooner or later unless they are stopped.

  6. Nic Stuart
    August 24th, 2016 at 16:22 | #6

    Dear John,
    The trouble with 800 words is the need to simplify and condense, nevertheless thanks for saying I covered the main points. You may be correct in suggesting my critique is an old one. My reply to your question, though, is twofold. Firstly, as you mention, so many more young people are now attending university and secondly, many are crammed into courses that didn’t exist previously. Communications (Journalism) is a prime example of this. it raises the barriers to entry, making it more difficult for an economist (like, say, Peter Martin or Ross Gittens) to ever enter the profession at a later stage. I think that a world without the likes of them writing would not be quite as bright as the one we live in today.
    Regards,

  7. GrueBleen
    August 24th, 2016 at 16:43 | #7

    @John Quiggin

    I would seriously doubt that this was being said back in Menzies day – back then the seriously highest priority was to expand the miserably small percentage of the ‘non prosperous’ who could manage to get to university.

    So there was an enormous effort too create ‘High Schools’ (now called ‘Secondary Colleges’) to provide a path into Uni – and consequently to close and end the ‘2 year ‘Central Schools’ that cloased avery large number of kids out of advanced education – and by that I mean year 9 through year 11 (aka ‘Leaving’). At Brighton High School, of the 240 odd kids I started year 7 with, only about 35 made it to year 12 (Matric, ie Uni entry) and of that, only about 20 passed – but nearly everybody who passed, including me, did actually go on to Uni. And just about 50% of those were girls.

    Don’t forget that there was also a rush of university building back then – in Victoria, Monash Uni in 1958 and La Trobe Uni in 1964 (both under Henry Bolte) – plus the issuance of the long mourned Commonwealth Scholarships (invented by Chifley, implemented by Menzies) that allowed working men’s sons, like me, to get our fees paid and be given a (means tested) living allowance. Can you imagine anything like that being proposed now ?

    So, there wasn’t much attention then to attrition rates, so much as attention to take up rates. And degrees had most definitely not become “commoditised”. And wouldn’t become so for quite a while after that

    So nowadays, when you have to have an honours degree just to drive a garbage pickup truck, and lots of people who would really be better of doing proper, and serious, trade certificates, all get put into Uni regardless, was still several decades away.

  8. GrueBleen
    August 24th, 2016 at 16:45 | #8

    @GrueBleen

    Ooops. For “cloased avery” read “closed a very”.

  9. Apocalypse
    August 24th, 2016 at 18:14 | #9

    @Nic Stuart

    so many more young people are now attending university

    How much of this is the rebadging of CAEs and Institutes of Technology as universities?

  10. J-D
    August 24th, 2016 at 18:40 | #10

    @Apocalypse

    My understanding is that at the time when the structural distinction between the university sector and the advanced education sector was abolished, the number of students in each was roughly similar — so the combined higher education total at that point was roughly twice the previous university total. The total has grown a lot since then.

  11. tony lynch
    August 24th, 2016 at 21:39 | #11

    Let them forage. Good preparation.

  12. Ernestine Gross
    August 24th, 2016 at 23:21 | #12

    I read the original article to which JQ refers and my comments relate to the original article.

    Every traditional society teaches their children what they need to know to survive in their society (customs and traditions) and in their natural environment. We don’t.

    There is much talk about the ‘excess supply of law graduates’. This argument rests on the assumption that the purpose of a law degree is to earn a living from being a solicitor (or barrister, or judge). This is the point of view of those who consider education as a business and a degree as an input for future ‘economic’ production (eg something that enters GDP via an exchange of money for something, legal advice in this case.)

    There is another perspective. Every adult in Australia and every adult in similar countries is assumed to know the law. Not knowing the law is no excuse for violating it. To make this system effective and, ultimately credible, it would stand to reason that everybody has to be taught ‘the law’. From this perspective, there is either an excess demand for law graduates or an excess supply of law. Since most people in Australia (and similar countries where the ‘rule of law’ applies to everybody) don’t have a law degree (classified as ‘not educated in law’), ‘we’ don’t teach the young what they need to know for survival in their society.

    Getting more people out of law courses at universities and into trades makes the situation worse rather than better. On the other hand, having a drop-out rate of say 60% cumulative after 2 years at university studying law may be no more than individuals deciding they now know enough of what they need to know to survive in society as citizens and they move on to what they wish to do professionally, including becoming tradies, entertainers, well-schooled writers, etc.

    I don’t know whether universities could structure law courses differently such that some qualification can be obtained for the purpose of being a citizen and other qualifications which prepare law students for their out of university training as solicitors or barristers. But I do know there is a difference between procedures at various courts and legislation. Only those who act in a court of law need to know the former. How far legal training for the purpose of being a citizen needs to get into case law is impossible for me to form an opinion. However, journalists could ask academics in law faculties.

    A similar argument can be made regarding natural science. Surely, the persistence of the proverbial Christopher Monckten(s), Lord(s), regarding anthropogenic average global warming indicates there is something not quite right in the education of the previously young.

    The division of labour, underlying our social evolution is now showing up costs – the cost of educating the young to enable them to survive in society and in the natural environment. Treating education as ‘a (corporate) business’ that produces inputs to other businesses at minimum cost is not the solution. It would seem to me to be more helpful if education would be viewed from the perspective of each individual within a social (institutional) and natural environment.

    Finally, there is the argument about the limitation of the transferability of skills. I have a bone to pick with this one. Since the 1990s enormous pressure was put on academics in my area (economics and finance) to teach ‘applied’ economics and finance. It is easier to do this than educating students in the history of a subject area, theoretical approaches, including methodology, in their historical context and aiming to get as close as possible to where research is now. Academics resisted the pressure, at times at great cost to themselves, but for good reason. ‘Applied’ involves teaching methods not methodology, it teaches ‘how’ and not ‘why’. Purely ‘applied’ has indeed very limited transferability of skills; it is yesterdays’ stuff by the time students graduate, albeit a possibly more enjoyable experience (skill?) because it sounds ‘relevant’.

  13. GrueBleen
    August 25th, 2016 at 02:59 | #13

    @Ernestine Gross

    Sad to say, Ernestine, but I couldn’t agree more – we really don’t teach kids ‘basic survival skills’ for our complex, shifting, variable society and its economy. But then, maybe that’s because we really can’t afford for every kid to have to spend a decade or so in ‘advanced’ education. It’s all about “learning on the job”, isn’t it ? And what about ongoing refresher courses – say a course every 5 years – for old codgers like me who get left behind by all the changes ?

    I have, at various times, tried to envisage what I’d call a ‘minimal life skills’ education, and it wouldn’t stop at a lot of law and a bit of ‘natural science’, though they would be fundamental to it.

    At least in the USA some states tried to teach the kids a subject labelled ‘Civics’ – all about American government and governance and how it works – though that seems to now be almost discontinued. But there’d have to be some history, some geography, a fairly full list of what ‘natural science’ contains (some physics, some chemistry, some astronomy and cosmology, and quite a bit of biology and biochemistry, dietetics etc), some philosophy, some literature as well as just basic readin’ ‘n’ wrtitin’, some economics and finance and, most problematical of all: some mathematics*

    So, when do we start ?

    * old saw about teaching mathematics: “For those going on to professional mathematics, what is taught is too little, too late, for everyone else , it’s too much, too soon.” But then, isn’t that true of most education ? How about economics and finance ?

    Oh, and about people knowing the law: roughly 50 years ago, an American radio/teev entertainer named Art Linklater had a competition in his teev show for a member of the public to go for a walk in the streets (I think it was New York) and return just before the end of the show without having broken a single law. All contestants over a fair time period (many months IIRC) failed, all having broken multiple laws on their sojourn. Until one guy who got back into the studio without having obviously broken a single law. Hooray. Except then Art asked to look at the man’s packet of cigarettes and when examined it was found the poor guy hadn’t broken the tax stamp at the top of the packet which was required by law. So even he lost (he, like most smokers with cigarette packets on the Camel cigarette model, didn’t break the tax stamp because then the cigarettes tended to all fall out of the packet as it was carried in the smoker’s pocket.

    So it goes.

  14. GrueBleen
    August 25th, 2016 at 03:14 | #14

    @J-D

    Yair, I attended a CAE – College of Advanced Education – once, quite a few years before it was magically transformed into ‘Canberra University’. (Attending Canberra CAE was part of a year-long training and induction process into Fed Gov ADP employment back then – in 1974).

    And before that, my Associate Diploma in Mathematics at RMIT before it became RMIT University.

    Later on they even got the big Tech Schools into the act when, for instance, Footscray Technical School became firstly Footscray Technical College (1958) and then it was later transformed into Victoria University (in 1990, after absorbing a bunch of other western suburbs TAFEs).

  15. John Quiggin
    August 25th, 2016 at 05:50 | #15

    @GrueBleen

    50 years ago takes us back to 1966, when the Menzies expansion had mostly happened. My recollection is that the complaints started straight after that. But substitute Whitlam and 40 years if you want to be absolutely sure.

  16. August 25th, 2016 at 06:40 | #16

    Simple solution: require all universities to do a graduation survey and publish it. Let everyone know the employment outcomes of graduates of each program, with salary info. We do that here at Canadian colleges, and as a result they do a good job of trying to teach (and prepare for the job market) as best they can.

    We don’t do it at Canadian universities, and so they just collect their $7K per year from each student and blow it on cokehead administrator salaries.

  17. August 25th, 2016 at 06:44 | #17

    But I’d also try examining the author’s suggestion in detail. Looks like what he wants is to reduce university spots “because of the waste of money on kids who drop out and jobs that don’t need filling”. Problem there is that the bourgeois brats of the capitalist kleptocracy will still go to school for journalism and law: but the poor kids will be forever locked into minimum-wage slavery because they’ll no longer be able to compete for the reduced spots. Sounds like he’s really calling for a return to caste society.

  18. Jim Birch
    August 25th, 2016 at 09:11 | #18

    I had no idea that cocaine abuse was such a problem among academics at Canadian universities.

  19. Ikonoclast
    August 25th, 2016 at 09:13 | #19

    Canadian writer and philosopher has certainly made the point that each citizen of a democracy needs to be properly educated and informed. He also cautioned against merely vocational education. One of the main problems for the current system of increasing neoliberalism or market fundamentalism is that it depends in many ways on an ill-educated citizenry. It prefers an ill-educated citizenry outside of narrow technical, vocational education. A properly educated citizenry would start seeing through many of the scams perpetrated by the current system. The citizenry are not supposed to question the current system.

    Good points have been made above that citizens need to be, at a civic functioning level, law-literate and science-literate. At the same time they also need some economic and ideological literacy. Economics and ideology are intertwined although the current system pretends they are not. There is plenty that is contestable about economics and ideological arguments become even more murky. People need enough education to realise at least that complexities, ambiguities and doubts exist and that the extant system is not fully justified simply by being extant.

  20. Ikonoclast
    August 25th, 2016 at 09:16 | #20

    @Jim Birch

    Administrators are not academics or at least not practicing academics. 😉

  21. GrueBleen
    August 25th, 2016 at 09:21 | #21

    @John Quiggin

    1966 was also the last year of Menzies, Holt took over then. My own case was back in 1960 – but I predated the moderns by taking a ‘gap year’ and not actually entering Melb. Uni until 1962. Sure, Menzies largely set up the conditions, and as you are doubtless aware his old mate B A Santanaria roundly criticised him for opening up the universities without having put all the necessary conditions in place – such as having a sufficient number of experienced uni lecturers to look after the flood of new entrants.

    But I think it probably was Whitlam who completed the process (from memory, Holt, Gorton and McMahon didn’t really do anything much). But just looking up the Google Encyclopedia, it says that:

    “In response to the growth in student numbers in the university sector, the Martin Committee in the early 1960s recommended the establishment of colleges of advanced education (CAEs) as a ‘second tier’ of higher education.”

    So, ok, the expansion of universities had taken hold before the end of Menzies’ time, though I guess Whitlam’s act of ending university fees probably pushed it along somewhat.

    Google Encyclopedia says:

    “In 1974, the Commonwealth became much more involved in higher education, and with the agreement of all States and Territories, it assumed full funding responsibility for higher education. At the same time, the Commonwealth abolished tuition fees in universities and CAEs making higher education places available to all Australian citizens at no cost. The States retained legislative and regulatory responsibilities during this time.”

    (Both quotes came from posts on federation.dpmc.gov.au )

  22. Ben
    August 25th, 2016 at 09:25 | #22

    @Ikonoclast
    Isn’t that known as the right-wing ratchet?

  23. Moz of Yarramulla
    August 25th, 2016 at 09:35 | #23

    @Vic Twente

    require all universities to do a graduation survey and publish it. Let everyone know the employment outcomes of graduates of each program, with salary info.

    That would be very handy, especially if it was (say) one year and five years after graduation. But in general I think more disclosure of salary would be useful, which probably biases my opinion. There are also residual privacy concerns, which IMO are countered by the illusory nature of privacy especially wrt government data sharing. Which should also make the data relatively easy to obtain.

    My main objection to the universalisation of university is the debt load. A lot of post-secondary education seems to have as the primary outcome the imposition of significant debt. Some students obtain qualifications that lead to higher paid employment, sure, but I think many fail the “is this a profitable investment” test. Debt also has political and social effects, many of which I don’t think are desirable.

    But those questions are in a way unrelated to “is more university a good thing, for society and the individual?” I like being educated, in both senses of that phrase. I like being around educated people, too, so more of them is a benefit to me. I also think society as a whole is better off with more, more educated people.

    I think on balance we’re better off with the problems Ernestine Gross identifies than we would be in a society so simple that a single person, let alone an average person, could understand it. I *want* to live in a society where it takes years of training to understand some parts of it enough to meaningfully participate in them. I think a necessary consequence of that is that most people won’t understand most of what happens, and it will take a lot of work to ensure that most people can function in society. Where I agree with Gross & Grue is that I think we’re currently failing to do that well enough.

    I’m a computer programmer, one of the fields where it’s boringly obvious that a small-ish collection of simple rules can easily produce an incomprehensible system. Human society doesn’t even have the option of a small set of rules, so it can never be a simple system. But I do think that we could better construct our social system to not rely on confusopolies at so many levels.

    Perhaps that’s were the “pub test” should be used – if “the blokes in the pub” can’t understand how to work the system proposed, then it’s too complex and must be simplified. Whether that’s cellphone plans, voting rules or mortgage contracts… if a pissed punter can’t grok it, it’s binned.

  24. August 25th, 2016 at 09:48 | #24

    As someone who went through unit at that time, I can remember reading one government report that said “…and if only one in four of new graduates go into university teaching, the shortage of staff should be largely overcome by the end of the decade….” Ah, good times.
    The trouble was that I assumed the good times would go on for ever and didn’t take the gift when it was offered.

  25. Apocalypse
    August 25th, 2016 at 09:55 | #25

    The comments on this thread appear to be all by old farts. It would be nice to hear from someone under 30, since it is they who are affected by the subject under discussion.

  26. Moz of Yarramulla
    August 25th, 2016 at 10:13 | #26

    @Apocalypse

    The under-30’s I know are generally aware of blogs, in much the same way us old farts are aware of fax machines, but reading one would be unusual. If you want that, read twitter or whatsapp. So a comment on the blog of an economics professor is unlikely.

    From what I can tell, most of them consider university to be a job requirement that they’re not in a position to argue about, if they want a decent job. The non-uni youfs I know don’t seem to have consistent opinions on the merits of uni, other than that they don’t think it’s worth it for them.

  27. Ikonoclast
    August 25th, 2016 at 10:28 | #27

    @Ben

    It’s an aspect of it. I will outline both aspects.

    Someone on the Democratic Underground has identified the “right-wing ratchet” and described it very well. I independently came up with the idea recently on this blog and in relation to the ALP and the LNP. I don’t claim great credit for this. It’s a pretty easy idea to come up with after some observation of our political system in the neoliberal era. But let the DU person explain it;

    “The American political system, since at least 1968, has been operating like a ratchet, and both parties — Republicans and Democrats — play crucial, mutually reinforcing roles in its operation. The electoral ratchet permits movement only in the rightward direction. The Republican role is fairly clear; the Republicans apply the torque that rotates the thing rightward.”

    “The Democrats’ role is a little less obvious. The Democrats are the pawl. They don’t resist the rightward movement — they let it happen — but whenever the rightward force slackens momentarily, for whatever reason, the Democrats click into place and keep the machine from rotating back to the left.”

    The phenomenon I referred to – the endless, relentless pressure of neoliberalism to reduce wages, benefits and social goods while increasing and concentrating private profits – is both ideology and outcome of the economic strategy of neoliberalism.

    This is the ratchet effect in practice as it affects ordinary people. Pretty much from the day John Howard was elected, the Australian political-economic system has acted to ratchet down workers’ wages relative to productivity. Wages have gone up slower than productivity. The wage share of the economy has diminished and the profit share has increased. As a side comment, we can note that Hawke and Keating laid some of the groundwork for Howard but the real economic ratchet against workers kicked in under Howard.

    We have an economic ratchet whereby wages are retarded compared to productivity rises. The so-called “Fair Work” provisions, weakening of labour unions, protections and conditions along with other measures embody a programmatic redesign of industrial law in Australia to put this ratchet into effect. Commentators have already noted that “Enterprise contracts echo ‘take it or leave it’ world of WorkChoices ” – The Conversation.

    I saw how the Federal Public Service was affected by the intensification of neoliberal political and economic principles from Howard onward. There were a few key aspects. Rights and conditions had to be traded for “pay rises”. These “pay rises” in turn only matched inflation. So in real terms pay stayed flat and we traded away rights and conditions for the privilege of marking time. As I used to ask in management and union meeting, “What do we do when we have traded away all our rights and conditions.” Federal public service pay rights for front line workers, line managers and even higher slipped further and further behind comparable pay rates in state and local government.

    The next stage was the government (and their installed CEOs , yes we got CEOs) negotiating in bad faith and deliberately drawing out the process of new enterprise agreements. The delays meant the old agreements simply stayed in force and pay was thus frozen. When an agreement finally went through there was no back-dating of pay rises for the delays. The government of the day had the incentive to delay negotiations as much as possible. The workers came under greater and greater pressure to accept a poor deal as pay would otherwise stay frozen indefinitely.

    A system called “efficiency dividends” was implemented on government departments. An “efficiency dividend” was an annual automatic percentage cut in each department’s budget regardless of its actual position. This cut was made no matter what even if new programs were added. Computerisation and cutting staff numbers helped enable this process but there was an inevitable reduction in quality of work and service to the public. The recent failures in the ABS stats and the running of the census can be traced back to this kind of relentless cutting which degrades the capacity of government departments and agencies.

    The governments do not care about these reductions in service. They are fully intentional. The idea is to ratchet back provisions of public goods and welfare relentlessly and continuously. Part and parcel of this program is a plan to ratchet back expectations. If you are like many people in need of assistance, you just give up on certain attempts to obtain government services because it just isn’t worth the trouble, the long queues, the interminable waits for call-centre service, the assistance maze which has to be navigated and so on.

    Currently, federal public servants are again stuck by the governments unwillingness to renegotiate an agreement which is one and a half years beyond its expiry date IIRC. So this pressure to push down the real wages of public servants (the same thing happens too in private enterprise) is relentless. It has been going on since Howard’s first electoral victory. The ALP really act as nothing more than the ratchet which holds previous moves to the right in place until the LNP get government again.

    One is justified in asking what is the end-point of this relentless process against workers, pensioners and unemployed. It cannot continue indefinitely especially when all these people are also facing increasing mortgages and rents from housing stock asset inflation which is a completely unmeasured form of inflation in the official CPI numbers. The end point must come when a politically significant proportion workers, pensioners and unemployed no longer have enough income to meet basic needs of housing, education, child-rearing and food purchases. If this isn’t the endpoint, I wonder who will tell me where the neolibs intend to stop? One day will they say, “Oh okay, we have pushed wages down far enough. We will stop now.” Of course this will not happen. The process won’t stop until the people subjected to it rise up and force it to stop. It’s as simple as that.

  28. J-D
    August 25th, 2016 at 10:59 | #28

    ‘Every traditional society teaches their children what they need to know to survive in their society (customs and traditions) and in their natural environment. We don’t.’

    ‘Sad to say, Ernestine, but I couldn’t agree more – we really don’t teach kids ‘basic survival skills’ for our complex, shifting, variable society and its economy.’

    That looks like nonsense to me.

    Consider the possibilities.

    1. We don’t teach children basic survival skills. Lacking basic survival skills, they die.

    Well, that’s not it. Most children do in fact survive.

    2. We don’t teach children basic survival skills. Mostly they survive without them.

    That doesn’t stand up to scrutiny either. If people can mostly survive without them, we’re not justified in calling them ‘basic survival skills’. By definition, basic survival skills are the ones it’s mostly not possible to survive without.

    3. We don’t teach children basic survival skills, but somehow they acquire them anyway.

    That looks plausible if we conceive of children acquiring basic survival skills by observing adults using them, but when we refer to adults in other societies teaching children basic survival skills, most of what that means is the same thing as children being given the opportunity to observe adults using those skills and to imitate them.

    Most children in our society do survive, which by definition means they are successfully employing basic survival skills, and they know how to do so because they have acquired the necessary knowledge from adults. Most people in our society don’t acquire substantial knowledge of the law, or of natural science, or of many other subjects, but they survive without that knowledge which, by definition, means that those subjects are not basic survival skills.

  29. Ernestine Gross
    August 25th, 2016 at 11:32 | #29

    @J-D

    Your critique rests entirely on your focus and your interpretation of ‘basic survival skills’ and the low threshold of ‘most children do survive’ as well as qualifiers such as ‘substantial’.

    IMHO, ‘deconstruction of text’ is not part of essential education.

    Nevertheless, let play one round of this game.

    Consider your argument:

    “We don’t teach children basic survival skills, but somehow they acquire them anyway.

    “That looks plausible if we conceive of children acquiring basic survival skills by observing adults using them, but when we refer to adults in other societies teaching children basic survival skills, most of what that means is the same thing as children being given the opportunity to observe adults using those skills and to imitate them.”

    Yes, this is how the mafia survives.

  30. derrida derider
    August 25th, 2016 at 13:23 | #30

    Of course the fact that there were people saying there were too many uni students in Menzies’ time in no way contradicts those who are saying there are too many students now, precisely because there were a quarter as many then. There is such a thing as diminishing marginal returns.

    But my reading of the empiric literature that tries hard, with varying degrees of success, to separate screening effects (eg “credentialism”) out from real lifetime productivity effects is that in aggregate the social rate of return to a uni education is still well above the rate of return of alternative investments. MC<MR, so we should still be doing more.

    That does not, of course, mean more of everyuni education – there’s plenty of room for debate about just what form that extra investment should be.

  31. Apocalypse
    August 25th, 2016 at 13:40 | #31

    @derrida derider

    But this is the problem. This defenders of expanded university education say that, on average, there are high returns to university education. The critics say there there is a big left hand tail in the distribution where the returns are low. Both could be correct.

  32. Ikonoclast
    August 25th, 2016 at 13:41 | #32

    @Ernestine Gross

    I agree. The J-D you critiqued above was the one who gets into medieval schoolman mode. This is J-D at his worst unfortunately, when his whole argument turns on a literalised semantic interpretation clearly not intended in the original context by the original proposer of an argument (yourself in this case).

    It’s a pity because J-D at his best is very good. Where concepts and outcomes do wholly turn on definitional issues and algorithmically process-accurate logical steps, as in the “mitochondrial eve” question where J-D set me right, then J-D is very good.

    I am just wondering if he can improve his thinking to encompass understanding where the medieval schoolman method works and where it doesn’t work. That would mark a worthwhile intellectual development step IMO.

  33. J-D
    August 25th, 2016 at 14:45 | #33

    @Ernestine Gross

    ‘Basic survival skills’ was the expression used by GrueBleen. What you originally wrote was this:

    Every traditional society teaches their children what they need to know to survive in their society (customs and traditions) and in their natural environment. We don’t.

    I consider, as one specific example, my own daughter, now twenty years old. It is evident to me that that she is familiar with the customs and traditions of our society and knows how to survive in her environment. I am sure, also, that she acquired this knowledge at least in part from teaching imparted to her by adults around her. We taught her what she needs to know to survive, contrary to your assertion.

    Taking your example, it’s also true that mafiosi teach other mafiosi about the customs and traditions of the mafia, and how to survive in that particular environment. It’s not clear whether that’s supposed to demonstrate that I’m wrong in some way or have made some kind of mistake.

    What is true is that there are many subjects on which most people in our society are not well educated, and that there are many people who think that people should be much better educated in those areas than they are. Many people think, for example, that in our society there should be widespread knowledge of natural science in a way that currently there isn’t. But this leads me to suspect that the real meaning lurking hidden in your statement was this:

    ‘Every traditional society teaches their children the basic knowledge they think their children should have. Our society does not teach its children the basic knowledge that I [Ernestine Gross] think they should have.’

  34. GrueBleen
    August 25th, 2016 at 16:31 | #34

    @Apocalypse

    Ah, Apocalypto, keep in mind that it takes years of fermentation by us oldies to produce those farts that have just the right mix to produce a perpetually sublime scent.

    However, I put it to you that:
    1. Young farts, usually being shallow, assume that the world has always been as it is, and that tomorrow will be like today, but better.
    2. Old farts tend to believe that the world is still mostly like it was when they were young farts. And that is why, despite abundant and repetitive evidence to the contrary, that old farts are believed to be “against change” whereas lots of old farts are very much in favour of change.

    I, for one, am totally in favour of all the changes for the better in medicine, for instance. And to the changes (ie increases) in the size of the Age pension. And I could go on: for instance, I am in favour of the change that says Fermat’s last Theorem has, almost certainly, been proved – aren’t you ?

    But I digress. Yes it would be of more than passing interest to get testimony from some ‘young farts’ (iie under 30s), but as another has said, unlikely in here. However, given their assumptions, it is also good if young farts know how we got to where we are, which is something most of them don’t know, and generally don’t care about.

    So it goes.

  35. GrueBleen
    August 25th, 2016 at 16:38 | #35

    @GrueBleen

    Sigh. Just in case anybody is even remotely interested, that was Art Linkletter, and the law-breaking walks were around the city of Burbank near Los Angeles.

  36. GrueBleen
    August 25th, 2016 at 17:09 | #36

    @J-D

    Your #28 of 25 Aug.

    Oh you are a dedicated little literalist, aren’t you. And Ernestine has already more than adequately responded: “IMHO, ‘deconstruction of text’ is not part of essential education.”.

    However, you do say “Most children do in fact survive.”

    Actually, no, my dedicated literalist. Surely even you can see that, in fact, all children actually die, mostly, but not always, after having grown out of childhood. But as Ernestine also says: “Nevertheless, let’s play one round of this game.”

    So:
    1. Many children die, even in nice, civilized Australia, before they can grow out of childhood.
    2. Many who do grow out of childhood die “early” ie before they would have if they’d known better how to survive and even maybe thrive.
    3. Civilized nations such as Australia have a lot of systems and other facilities in place to protect people from their own ignorance (and stupidity) – we have road rules, we have hospitals we have law officers and courts, we have ambulances and paramedics etc etc. Once upon a time, many places eg Britain, did not have so many of those things and a lot of people died very prematurely. Is that what you’re happy to call “surviving”.
    4. But those protections aren’t universally effective, nor do they cover everybody in every circumstance, so many people, even if they haven’t actually died yet are living very much reduced and often painful lives because they can’t effectively operate in their complex society.
    5. In many ‘traditional’ societies (as Ernestine has described them), children don’t just ‘observe’ adults, they actually go through a serious form of apprenticeship – that is, doing their best to behave as adults and ‘learning on the job’. Being a literalist, you do understand that a ‘learning on the job apprenticeship’ is simply not identical with ‘observation’, don’t you.

  37. J-D
    August 25th, 2016 at 20:53 | #37

    @GrueBleen
    ‘Oh you are a dedicated little literalist, aren’t you.’
    I am unmoved by flattery.

    In our society the majority of children survive childhood. In many traditional societies the majority of children do not survive childhood. It’s not immediately evident how this observation supports the conclusion that our approach to education is not as good as theirs.

  38. Ernestine Gross
    August 25th, 2016 at 21:23 | #38

    @Apocalypse

    I am female and, making use of an unwritten rule in polite society, I won’t tell you my age.

    Assuming you are under the age of 30, what would you like to say on the topic?

  39. GrueBleen
    August 26th, 2016 at 09:13 | #39

    @J-D

    “I am unmoved by flattery.”

    Or by sense and logic, it seems.

    “In many traditional societies the majority of children do not survive childhood.”

    Name them, and provide the statistics.

    I’ll give you a little comparison or two, viz, British Society over several centuries. John Graunt, one of the first effective statisticians and demographers, calculated that, in the mid to late 1600s, 36% of ‘quick births’ were dead on or before the age of 6 and 60% were dead by the age of 16. Now that’s a prime instance to support your case.

    However, according to later actuarial figures, by about 1830 (or roughly the time of the foundation of Adelaide and Melbourne), things had improved such that only 33% of quick births were dead by age 18.

    Clearly the British Had begun to teach their young some ‘basic survival skills’. Strangely, even in the 1600s, the British population was increasing.

    “… supports the conclusion that our approach to education is not as good as theirs”

    Which is good, because that wasn’t the conclusion I was drawing. Why is it the conclusion that you drew ?

  40. J-D
    August 26th, 2016 at 11:27 | #40

    @GrueBleen

    The exact words used by Ernestine Gross were these:

    Every traditional society teaches their children what they need to know to survive in their society (customs and traditions) and in their natural environment. We don’t.

    What is the evidence that supports this conclusion?

  41. Ikonoclast
    August 26th, 2016 at 13:16 | #41

    @J-D

    E.G. gave supporting evidence in her statement. To be sure, it was a blog level argument albeit a pretty good blog level argument. One can hardly expect a sociology thesis with a hundred citations as a blog post.

  42. Ernestine Gross
    August 26th, 2016 at 14:15 | #42

    @Ikonoclast

    Good to know what I wrote made sense to at least 2 people.
    PS: I read your linked paper re corporations and their restricted central planning. I assume the purpose of linking to this paper was for me to deduce that my suggestion you are in favour of central planning is wrong because I know that you do not agree with corporatism. No more need to wait for a sandpit.

  43. J-D
    August 26th, 2016 at 14:19 | #43

    @Ikonoclast

    There is no evidence that people need to know the law to survive in our society; there is no evidence that people need to know natural science to survive in our society. On the contrary, the evidence supports the converse conclusion that people can survive in our society without knowledge of the law and without knowledge of natural science.

  44. Ernestine Gross
    August 26th, 2016 at 16:00 | #44

    @J-D

    1. There is no need to tell me what I wrote and what GrueBleen wrote because I know it. You merely undo your own muddle. You first linked the two and now separate them. Surely there must be a more ‘efficient’ way of communicating (ie same output with less input, both on your part and that of readers).

    2. Some evidence in support of GrueBleen’s assessment that you don’t seem to be unmoved by any sense and logic.

    a) Education in law (one example of two in my original post). You write:
    “Taking your example, it’s also true that mafiosi teach other mafiosi about the customs and traditions of the mafia, and how to survive in that particular environment. It’s not clear whether that’s supposed to demonstrate that I’m wrong in some way or have made some kind of mistake.”

    Because your reply to my argument also applies to the mafia, as you acknowledge, but the mafia is excluded in my argument (‘outlawed’) your reply is not a valid criticism. (More waste of time with your red herrings).

    b) Education in Science (one out of two examples in my original post): You write in reply:

    i) “Many people think, for example, that in our society there should be widespread knowledge of natural science in a way that currently there isn’t. But this leads me to suspect that the real meaning lurking hidden in your statement was this:

    ii)Quote, ” … Our society does not teach its children the basic knowledge that I [Ernestine Gross] think they should have.’ End Quote.

    You are saying i is an element in the set I = {1, 2, …..n}, n being an integer large enough to correspond to the word ‘many’, and then you conclude i = I. This is false. (GrueBleen is right regarding lack of elementary education in mathematics.)

    3. I did notice you changed my sentence about traditional societies just a little bit such that any your example of your daughter would eventually match. This is a trambling hand game with words.

    My last response:
    Can’t you develop a solitaire version of deconstruction of text? Mathematicians can do it in their language. They analyse a problem all by themselves without bothering anybody. They only speak up when they have convinced themselves that they have found a solution. Then they offer it for review. When no other mathematician finds an error then they say they have a result. I’d love to know how you would arrive at a result (solution) in a solitaire version of a trambling hand game in words.

  45. GrueBleen
    August 26th, 2016 at 16:01 | #45

    @J-D
    Your #40 of 26 Aug.

    I’ll basically go with Ikono’s response to this, because I don’t have testimony about all and every ‘traditional’ society to hand. But, depending on your definition of ‘traditional’ (was 1600s England ‘traditional’), unless those societies completely kept their children separated from their parents, then it’s impossible for ‘traditional’ societies not to instruct their young.

    Even in our own most un-traditional society we do some of that – frequently by ‘learn on the job apprenticeships’ as when a child learns from its mother the basics of cooking by being there and ‘helping’.

    So, please let us be clear that there are many forms of ‘instruction’ of which apprenticeship and observation (separately or combined) is one, and more formal, and especially classroom based, instruction is another.

    Now large complex societies like ours have (1) a lot more instructing to do and (2) written words, such as laws and statutes, which simply cannot be instructed via apprenticeship or observation. And that already brings us to an enormous difference between us and ‘traditional’ societies: we have reading and writing and arithmetic that are fundamental to any interaction with our world.

    So, the ‘traditional’ societies do a fairly adequate job of instruction in their context, and we do a much worse job in our much more complex and difficult context. For instance, it is claimed that 47% of Australianscan’t read well enough to follow a recipe or understand instructions on medication. Such a deficiency can have a significant impact on survival.

  46. GrueBleen
    August 26th, 2016 at 16:12 | #46

    @J-D

    J-D, may I suggest that you meditate on the similarities and differences between “all” and “some”.

    For instance, “some” of those who don’t understand any ‘natural science’ at all have died from curable and/or vaccinatable diseases and/or treatable cancers. “Some” of those (mainly women) who don’t understand the law and its limitations have died from trusting useless “apprehended violence” orders.

  47. Ikonoclast
    August 26th, 2016 at 16:30 | #47

    @Ernestine Gross

    It’s a complicated argument, the central planning argument. If asked if I agree with central planning, I would say it depends. It would depend on the definition(s) of central planning and the processes to which they referred. Without going into it more, I would also say I strongly suspect that I don’t have all my thinking clear on this issue. My usual process when thus confused is to attempt to write an essay for myself exploring my ideas, getting them on screen in the written word and seeing where contradictions arise. Then I can see whether I can resolve contradictions and synthesise better ideas or discard obviously unusable ideas. Since I haven’t done this process for myself, I agree there’s no need for a sandpit on this topic yet. I occasionally use J.Q.’s sandpits to first-draft some ideas arguments for myself but it gives the wrong impression perhaps. It sounds like I already hold the basic view suggested by the ideas when I am still exploring them.

  48. Nick
    August 26th, 2016 at 17:11 | #48

    J-D, you seem to struggle with the concept that words can have more than one meaning.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCR0ep31-6U

    Here is Gloria Gaynor singing ostensibly about surviving a breakup, but the song is made extra poignant because she’d just recovered from an accident that left her hospitalised and in a wheelchair.

    “In 1978 Gaynor discovered that her former manager had squandered all her earnings and had incurred huge debts in her name. After a fall on stage, she was sidelined by surgery on her spine, and wore a back brace from her hips to her underarms for three months.”

    “survive” @ dictionary.com: 3. to get along or remain healthy, happy, and unaffected in spite of some occurrence

  49. J-D
    August 28th, 2016 at 16:54 | #49

    Ernestine Gross

    A. I did not introduce mafiosi into this discussion. You did. It is not clear to me why you did so. It is not clear what you mean when you write ”the mafia is excluded in my argument (‘outlawed’)’.

    B. You write

    You are saying i is an element in the set I = {1, 2, …..n}, n being an integer large enough to correspond to the word ‘many’, and then you conclude i = I.

    You are mistaken. I am not saying that.

    C.

    My last response:
    Can’t you develop a solitaire version of deconstruction of text? Mathematicians can do it in their language. They analyse a problem all by themselves without bothering anybody. They only speak up when they have convinced themselves that they have found a solution. Then they offer it for review. When no other mathematician finds an error then they say they have a result. I’d love to know how you would arrive at a result (solution) in a solitaire version of a trambling hand game in words.

    I would love to answer your question, but I can’t, because its meaning is not clear.

    GrueBleen

    So, the ‘traditional’ societies do a fairly adequate job of instruction in their context, and we do a much worse job in our much more complex and difficult context.

    It is not clear by what measure the job we do is supposed to be ‘much worse’. For example, you write

    For instance, “some” of those who don’t understand any ‘natural science’ at all have died from curable and/or vaccinatable diseases and/or treatable cancers

    But there is no evidence that the rate of death from cancers and other diseases is higher in our society than in traditional ones.

    Nick

    J-D, you seem to struggle with the concept that words can have more than one meaning.

    Not at all.

    You write

    “survive” @ dictionary.com: 3. to get along or remain healthy, happy, and unaffected in spite of some occurrence

    Ernestine Gross has not confirmed that to be the meaning of ‘survive’ that she was using.

    But if it was, what is the evidence about comparative survival rates in our society and in traditional ones using that meaning of the word ‘survive’?

  50. GrueBleen
    August 28th, 2016 at 17:08 | #50

    @J-D
    Your #49

    Now J-D, the thing that most entertains me in “discoursing” with you is the question as to whether you are seriously illogical and anti-observant, or whether you are just a bent ‘troll’ having some fun trying to wind us up by appearing to casually misunderstand everything we say. The jury on this question is still out.

    Now if you assure me that your completely arbitrary re-interpretation of what I wrote isn’t just an intentional brainfart, then I’ll attempt, yet again, to inform you where you have gone wrong.

  51. Nick
    August 28th, 2016 at 21:02 | #51

    “Ernestine Gross has not confirmed that to be the meaning of ‘survive’ that she was using.”

    J-D, I won’t speak for Ernestine, but even a casual reader would note she opened with this:

    “I read the original article to which JQ refers and my comments relate to the original article.”

    Can you point to exactly where in the linked article it refers to ‘mortality’?

  52. J-D
    August 28th, 2016 at 22:31 | #52

    GrueBleen

    I’m afraid I don’t understand the meaning of the assurance you’re requesting from me.

    Nick

    Can you point to exactly where in the linked article it refers to ‘surviving’?

  53. GrueBleen
    August 29th, 2016 at 02:28 | #53

    @J-D
    Your #52

    Well of course you don’t understand me, J-D. That has been the one constant factor of our alleged interlocution all along.

    But think hard about it, and apply the Sergeant Colon approach, and you may yet get it.

  54. J-D
    August 29th, 2016 at 08:38 | #54

    @GrueBleen

    Of course if you have no desire to make your meaning clear to me, that closes the subject.

  55. Nick
    August 29th, 2016 at 10:26 | #55

    “Can you point to exactly where in the linked article it refers to ‘surviving’?”

    Why yes J-D. I can. The article refers to “transmission of life skills”. The things that might help someone to “get along” in our complex society. The things, we can infer easily enough, were more or less the same things Ernestine and GrueBleen were talking about. A good understanding of contract law etc.

    Can you point to exactly where in the linked article it refers to ‘mortality’? Because I can’t for the life of me work out why you thought anyone was talking about “teaching children not to die” (don’t touch a hot stove, don’t run across the road, don’t pat a strange dog, be wary of strangers etc)

    It’s not that those two things are entirely disconnected – university is the place we teach people to be teachers at all education levels. And that might be an interesting side discussion to have.

    But don’t persist in pretending what Ernestine wrote is “nonsense”, just because you failed to read her properly. I agree with Ikon. I think you can do better than that.

  56. J-D
    August 29th, 2016 at 11:06 | #56

    Nick :
    “Can you point to exactly where in the linked article it refers to ‘surviving’?”
    Why yes J-D. I can. The article refers to “transmission of life skills”. The things that might help someone to “get along” in our complex society. The things, we can infer easily enough, were more or less the same things Ernestine and GrueBleen were talking about. A good understanding of contract law etc.

    All knowledge whatsoever falls within the description ‘things that might help someone to “get along” in our complex society’. Many people ‘get along’ very well in our complex society without knowing anything about contract law; but it is true that a good understanding of contract law might help people to ‘get along’ in our complex society. The only way to transmit to people all the knowledge that might help them to ‘get along’ in our complex society would be to transmit all knowledge whatever, which is obviously impossible.

    If instead of setting up an absolute standard we ask ‘How well does our society do in transmitting to people the knowledge that might help them to “get along”?’, the answer is that results are variable. Some people are very well equipped to ‘get along’ in our society by the knowledge that is transmitted to them, while others are much less well so. Would the answer be any different for traditional societies? What’s the evidence?

  57. GrueBleen
    August 29th, 2016 at 14:02 | #57

    @J-D
    Your #54

    Ah, the closed mind closes the subject, thus is Samatha achieved.

    But of course, J-D, I have every desire that you should understand my meaning, but if I explain things to you evry time, when will you learn how to think for yourself ?

    However, to help your meditation, I will present to you a small example:

    Q: Would you like a drink of water ?
    A: It is 5:00 pm
    Q: What time is it ?
    A: Yes, a drink of water would be refreshing.

  58. Ernestine Gross
    August 29th, 2016 at 15:45 | #58

    @GrueBleen
    good one, #57

  59. GrueBleen
    August 29th, 2016 at 15:50 | #59

    @J-D
    Your #56 of 29 Aug

    In my #39 of 26 Aug, I quoted you as saying:

    “In many traditional societies the majority of children do not survive childhood.”

    Which you had stated in your #37 of 25 Aug.

    In reply to your assertion about “many traditional societies”, I replied: “Name them, and provide the statistics.”

    Now J-D, you simply ignored that earnest request for information to back up your wild claims. You didn’t even bother to acknowledge the question. And now, in your #56, you have the effrontery to ask of Nick “Where’s the evidence?” You, who never provide any evidence for anything you say, have the gall to ask another participant to provide evidence ? Oh, you devious little troll, J-D.

    Now isn’t this all a lot of fun ? Tell me, what do you do at home for entertainment, J-D ? Other than reading Terry Pratchett, that is.

  60. J-D
    August 29th, 2016 at 16:16 | #60

    @GrueBleen

    If you have every desire that I should understand your meaning, then you’re not trying hard enough. Maybe this is because you have reached the limits of your capacity for explaining; I wouldn’t know.

    You may have offered your small example with the intention of helping my meditation, but it has failed to have that effect.

  61. GrueBleen
    August 29th, 2016 at 20:49 | #61

    @J-D
    Your #60

    Yes, J-D, sadly I do know that you don’t know as you have long since passed the limit of your understanding.

    My small example did help your meditation – I can tell these things – unfortunately you just can’t seem to rise to the challenge. Indeed you can’t seem to rise to any challenge, no matter how trivial. And you particularly can’t rise to a challenge for you to give actual evidence in support of your various throwaway assertions.

    Now, apart from that, how much Pratchett have you read and what was your favourite ? Personally, Pratchett came far too late for me. I kinda stopped with Roger Zelazny’s ‘Lord of Light’ – you’d know it well, of course.

  62. GrueBleen
    August 30th, 2016 at 02:04 | #62

    @Ernestine Gross
    Your 58

    Merci 🙂

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