N+1, You’re Not Helping (Higher Ed Misinfo)

I caught up this morning with hoity-toity  N+1 and wish I hadn’t. Not only because I had actual, paying work to do.

But also because it was stupid.

But since I enjoy getting miffed when low-relevance-but-engaging venues (does anyone reading this blog read N+1?) take on something really, really, really, bleedin’ high-relevance, (as in, it matters almost as much as my own blood matters to me), then welcome to today’s post!

The crux of my critique: The problem with higher ed is NOT that we overvalue the Ivy League (though we do, and it’s not my favorite thing in the world that we do). The problem is that we undervalue public education. And you, Nplusonemag, left that second part out. But by masking your critique in 60s-style Marxist manifestosity, you made yourself seem actually populist.

Which you’re not.

Because if you were truly populist, you wouldn’t imply that a college degree is nothing but a hollow credential pursued by vacant credential-grabbers.

You wouldn’t say things like this:

Introductory economics courses paint “rent-seekers” as gruesome creatures who amass monopoly privileges; credential-seekers, who sterilize the intellect by pouring time and money into the accumulation of permits, belong in the same circle of hell.

Now, I taught myself some credential-seekers. But at the public universities where I worked, they took the form of grade-grubbers. The B+ student angry that she could not get an A simply by fulfilling minimum requirements of the course.

But here’s the thing: You can say that grade-grubbers are letting us down. You can say our student debt crisis is a public emergency. You can say that our professional credentialing system needs an overhaul. You can say that it’s bad for our democracy that the entire White House and Supreme Court are exclusively (hah) Ivy League. And you can even say that there is no meaningful meritocracy in our economic and social institutions.

But you are leaving something out: The idea that a college degree does, in fact, contain value. It’s good for business and it’s good for citizens. College, when we let it, teaches people how to think better. Which we need.

This article compares any college degree to the medieval guild system. It implies that our student debt crisis is caused by our passion for ranks and hierarchies.

They write that education is only a credential. A meaningless credential. A credential that contributes to the continued destruction of our democratic values.

These are people that retell Baudrillard’s corrective of the classic Marxist theory of value. These are people that write long articles with many big words. These are people whose complex thoughts have influence.

I mean: these are people who believe that their education can help society.

Their radical 60s critique of the university system is no longer relevant. Since then we have faced a decades-long erosion of public funding and support of higher education. We are dealing with the consequences now. And the public still blames teachers for the problem. They blame greedy, lazy teachers for low test scores in grade school, and the blame greedy, lazy university faculty for problems in higher education.

N+1 adds to this problem. They repeat the charge of elitism, using it to blow up the entire higher education enterprise.

But in villainizing elitism, they are reinforcing it. Their misinformation hastens the death of our country’s greatest engine of populist growth and success.

If you want to be populist, N+1, drink some PBR or something. Leave the higher ed commentary to the people who fight on the front lines to save it. For you and for your children.

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