Thursday, May 28, 2009

A New Argument in the Case Against College

This beautifully written New York Times article makes an "I wish I would have said that" point, one that is self-evident once you read it. What's that point? That most skilled labor, such as car mechanic, requires at least as much thinking ability as white-collar work and generally is more rewarding because often, more gets accomplished.

And of course, with today's everyone-to-college fad having created a glut of dumbed-down and career-irrelevant bachelor's degree holders in sociology, art, psychology, etc., such folks are far less likely to make a living than are good auto mechanics, robotics technicians, machinists, etc.


Kelly said...

This is one of those articles I had to print to PDF so I could save and annotate it. In fact, it nearly brought me to tears. Unlike the author, I'm not especially good with my hands, but his perspective on corporate culture resonated with me 110%. Ironically, I'm finishing my degree in the hope it will eventually allow me to escape the corporate world and go into knowledge-oriented self-employment. But for now, I leave my home every morning with a feeling of resigned dread.

Frustrated Fed said...


This is a SUPERB article. I was thinking of sending it to you this past weekend, but I assumed (correctly) that you would see it eventually. I certainly can relate to the author's experience. The writer worked as an indexer where he also had to serve as the subject matter expert. I work as a technical writer, and I am not allowed to "bother" the subject matter experts. (Scientists) There is minimal quality control because the subject matter experts rarely review my work. The author also worked for a DC policy organization where he had to "project an image of rationality but not indulge too much in actual reasoning." I work for a government agency where I have to do the same thing.

Anonymous said...

This article reminds me of something I heard on the radio about 5 years ago. A talk-show host was talking about a conversation he'd had with an NFL player. The defensive player talked about all the possibilities that goes through his mind when the player with the ball is coming his way. The talk-show host's point is that we generally see these players as meatheads, when really they're playing a game that takes both physical and mental skill.

Same with this article. If you become skilled at anything, blue collar or white collar, you're going to use your brain, whether the causal observer thinks so or not.

Also, the part about how empty a white collar job can be really hit close to home for me.

I worked for years in a music store, until it closed about 4 years ago. Most of my customers thought I was merely a cashier. But when they needed to find a particular piece of music, they knew who to ask.

In my current job, I do data entry for a non-profit. On paper, it's the best job I've ever had. I am at the bottom of the totem pole, a spot of absolutely no influence. And even though I make more money, have a chance at a better career, and work for a good cause, it can feel very empty and dissatisfying at times. I don't use my brain in data entry. I must perform other tasks to use my brain.

My music store job had a lot of drama and very little money, yet at times I wish I were still there. I was an expert, and people listened to me. I didn't need a college degree to work there, either, but I used my brain.

No matter what you do, blue collar or white collar, it feels good to be an expert. Sometimes it satisfies more than a bigger paycheck or prestige.

Cornhusker said...

I agree that this is a great article. However, might part of the author's pleasure be based in working for himself?

Cornhusker said...


Congratulations on booking my fellow Nebraskan, Pete Peterson, on your June 14 show. I am a graduate of Kearney State College which is located in Kearney, NE, Pete's hometown. He has great ideas on how to "save" Social Security and Medicare. (If only Washington would listen to him.)I would also be interested in knowing if he read this article and his ideas on the American job market.