Education has become a bureaucracy focused on diplomas instead of learning

More institutional schooling emerged over the 20th century, and it created a type of educational inflation “diminishing drastically the content and quality of learning: more and more young people, after twenty years in schools, could not read or write without difficulty” (John Lukacs, At the End of an Age, p. 25).

Yikes! I surely do not know the numbers, but my impression is that during my lifetime reading ability has surely declined while years of education have increased.

Now, hold onto your hat, or your mortar board.

“In this increasingly bureaucratized world little more than the possession of various diplomas mattered” (p. 25).

Photo by Ekrulila

I’ve got three college diplomas, including a terminal degree, a Doctor of Ministry degree. (See this interesting essay about D.Min. degrees.) When I was growing up, no one in my household or my neighborhood had any kind of diploma beyond high school. Many of us who were kids back then changed that when we went off to college.

College degrees are definitely more plentiful now, and there are more types of degrees now. But in all of this emphasis on degrees, it seems that the emphasis on learning has diminished, at least for some.

In the 1970s, my dad wanted my sister and me to go to college. He wanted us to go because it would make it possible to have better paying jobs later, not that I would learn more about Plato and other great thinkers. He had been in a corporate workplace and had seen a steady stream of college graduates come to work there as functionally ignorant young people until he could train them and they could then get promotions that would not be offered to him. He finally held roles in which he was the only non-college grad, but it took decades. He wanted better opportunity for Dianne and me.

In college, I fell in love with learning and ended up with two majors — journalism (for a career) and political science (for my love of learning). That dual approach worked to my practical advantage through the years, but my love of learning far outdistances my love of journalism, as important as that function is in a democratic society.

Back to Lukacs. 

“Since admission to certain schools . . . depended on increasingly competitive examinations, the word ‘meritocracy’ was coined, meaning that the rise and positions to be acquired in society depended on the category of the degree and on the category of the college or university wherefrom one graduated. In reality the term ‘meritocracy’ was misleading. As in so many other spheres of life, the rules that governed the practices and functions of schools and universities were bureaucratic rather than meritocratic. It is bureaucracy, not meritocracy, that categorizes the employment of people by their academic degrees. The number and the variation of degrees awarded by higher institutions grew to a fantastic, and nonsensical, extent. Besides being custodial, the purpose of institutional education was now the granting of degrees to provide instant employment” (25-26).

I sense this. I encounter people with college degrees who don’t seem to have any deep love of learning and developing themselves into people of great merit. They have jumped through the bureaucratic hoops of getting a degree so they can gain more money and prestige. This is so sad.

Copyright © 2021 Ferrell Foster

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