Shut Up and Get an EducationPosted by Jim Newman on March 4th, 2012 – 2 Comments – Posted in Uncategorized
Post by Jim Newman
Used to be getting an education was a good thing. It was the best way to a better job. It still is. It doesn’t have a damn thing to do with being a snob. It has been, was, is and will be all about clawing your way up the ladder to a better life.
The Atlantic has an excellent article “Making It in America,” which I will shamelessly plug because idiots like Santorum and the right don’t get it.
Let me back up. In 1890 my Great Grandfather FL Watkins left Missouri, rented the old Massonic Temple in Fargo North Dakota, and along with MF Knox started Dakota Business College. Soon after, Knox took the money and ran, leaving my grandfather without funds and a few students.
FL continued on. For lunch he would go down town, order soup, the cheapest lunch, and strike up conversations with Fargo’s businessmen. With the industrial revolution in full swing there was a need for secretaries to support new offices. Offices required accountants. Banks needed cashiers. Being able to take dictation and transcribe was essential in creating and fulfilling orders. Just wiring instructions were a task. Shorthand was invented to deal with quick dictation and expensive transmission. Rapid calculation was essential without calculators. Modern, rapid business penmanship, easy to read, facilitated communication.
Hell, just showing up to work, not drunk, was a boon; alcohol consumption was six times higher then and sotted men lazing about was a social problem we don’t talk about much anymore. It was women who bore the brunt of male intoxication as men separated themselves from house hold chores and child rearing, as well as income. Business too needed consistent labor so business ethics bloomed. Stores and businesses didn’t have consistent hours. Goods had been so needed on the frontier that Brigham Young decided to settle the verdant Salt Lake Valley to serve as a mercantile oasis rather than go on to the coast.
It was an exciting time. It was the end of the gilded age. By 1890 the US leaped ahead of Britain in manufacturing output. A second industrial revolution began with railroads and steel–goods could be shipped far more cheaply. The telephone, phonograph, typewriter, and light bulb were all invented within a short period. As was the automobile.
In 1913 Henry Ford invented the assembly line and mass production enabled him to reduce the price of a car by half. He paid his workers a high wage of $5 a day believing that employees should be able to buy his products. He was puritanical and he was a weirdo but times were so rich everyone gained, even the women he dissed, as was the norm.
My own grandfather talked about women being too emotional but he knew damned well that he owed much of his well being to her and until he physically could not, he removed her boats every time she came into the house—she and he were equals in spite of his talk. And she had a new Electra 225 Buick, Body by Fisher, every year or so, until the college lost its wealth. She was short, Irish, farm raised, and a national typing championship competitor who ran the DBC as much as Grandfather, and we all knew it. Why it took so long for the words to catch up to the actions I leave to bias control.
This period witnessed the greatest growth of prosperity in US history and has yet to be repeated. GDP doubled in one decade. In that same decade capital investment increased 500%. My grandfather wanted to be a lawyer, loved the law, spoke like Ingersoll, yet was dragged into the DBC to do business. He was almost denied free masonry because he couldn’t lie about faith—back then it was more important to be honest than conforming but I wonder if his lawyering was showing. Is it any wonder he admired meritocracy?
These early businesses retained small town values and lifestyles. They believed personal virtue, work, and thrift would bring success. Theirs was a fluid class structure and commerce was appreciated with excitement and enthusiasm. The heirs of these men would engender the largest philanthropies of the country, ever. Carnegie needed trained people and donated to that cause. In his case education was purely for work.
What these businesses needed were trained employees. DBC took young men and women off the farms of the midwest and educated them in accounting, penmanship, rapid calculation, typing, spelling, English, personal grooming, and for awhile Latin. The bought Edison Dictaphones and massive typewriters.
Character building was part of it. Unlike the previous factory work of generations before, employee regulations and greater mobility forced business to train rather then control or abuse workers. People needed to show up on time, not be drunk, do their job, go home, and be good family members. They were to join the freemasons, churches, sports leagues, and be civic minded. Optimism was easy then as it was truly possible for a person with pluck and luck to become a millionaire—or at least a new house with a picket fence and a car.
More recently, yet some years ago, Mark Anderson, who would later become Governor of North Dakota, came to my Grandfather and wanted to go to school but had no money. Grandfather, had a small room in the basement and Mark served as janitor while attending college. Grandfather repeated this work scholarship whenevere someone had initiative to come and ask for help with the desire to work for it.
If a student was doing poorly Grandfather did not hesitate to call up his or her family and talk about it. It was a paternalistic style, though benevolent, that is no longer legal now. Grandfather refused accreditation for years until it was obvious it was business suicide and then it was too late. The DBC closed in 1978 though Grandfather took on private students. He firmly believed that retirement was a death knoll and worked until he could not.
Education was the only way these farm people could get off the land and get jobs in urban areas, allowing them to rise up the economic ladder. I can’t tell you how many stories I heard of farm boys and girls leaving the homestead, as many of them had been, to make money in a bank or a business. Every week the DBC ran a story, “Follow the $ucce$$ful” detailing how a graduate had made it.
The Progressive Movement informed the increase of public education as well during this time. There was a dramatic investment in public schools, particularly in metropolitan areas and small cities. Dewey would become hated by conservatives but at first he invigirated the idea that one could be both a worker and a citizen.
This was not the education of intellectuals or nobility. They disdained public education and had no need for it. A plantation owner trained its sons and daughters on the plantation, or in Europe. The nobility trained themselves with mentors and at worst tutors. American education was never about snobbery. It was about the improvement of the lower classes. Only a fool would conflate the education of the rich with that of the masses.
The entire public education system was premised on moving people up the economic ranks. John Dewey added the idea of students reaching their full potential and learning skills for the greater good. But that ideal was as old as the Greeks.
Dewey insisted education and schooling were instrumental in creating social change and reform. Conservatives began to question schooling and there was a desire for some to concentrate on the three Rs again—reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic. Nevertheless, this was sentimentality as anyone could see the work was in the cities, in factories, technology, and in jobs requiring more education not less. The irony is that Dewey was a pragmatist.
Never, ever, in the history of this country has there been a need for less educated people. Anytime we have wanted more uneducated labor we have eased immigration barriers.
With the Depression there was another conservative backlash against education and a return to isolationism. This crippled recovery. More money was needed to propel workers but the gut feeling was to retract. Blame the poor as if they had control.
The technological incentive continued. Farm machinery increased production so greatly horses were sold for food—companies would buy your horses to sell tractors and those horses went to feed US soldiers. But now it took a mechanic to fix the tractor—a welder or milting machine operator. The production line simplified chores for some but also demanded knowledge of mechanics. The mechanical engineer ruled. It used to be the mechanical engineer was the top of the worker food chain.
Hell, it used to be, as Jefferson claimed, making nails was the best way to begin training a slave for farm industry. Few believed training slaves was of any merit. The Bower, in West Virginia, was noted for its training of slaves, allowing them, after the Civil War, to become merchants and independent farmers, and their children to become engineers and doctors.
Herreshoff the boat inventor at the beginning of the century was famous for being able to design an engine from scratch on demand by memory. This mechanical design need would soon end its glory as the electrical engineer would gain rule.
This schizophrenia of old time values and new time technology has continued to this day. Indeed, while some yearn for s simple life the truth is even in manufacturing the need for college trained workers who can program a computerized robot is most valued. No one is looking for an arc welder anymore–those vocation courses are dying. Companies need people to program the robotic welder.
Now it’s the nerdy geek that can program a computer, or just the low wage aid who can use computer interfaces with efficiency and no fear. A wannabe luddite is killing their own wage–without a farm or land to provide sustenance.
Even in the military, the infantry, is giving way to a person with an automated gun, or a pilot at home in the US with a drone. They make virtual reality goggles that guide the repair process but the money is in the goggles’ development. And the repairman better feel comfortable with intelligent technology.
Now, in the industry, when a job is done by a person it is because the robotic is too expensive. It’s just a matter of time. In the absence of new resources, the best way to make money is to improve productivity. You can bet the rising billion of Africa and elsewhere are going to have to improve their education and not reduce it.
30 years ago when I worked for Eaton-Kenway, who made Automated Storage Retrieval Systems (AS/RS),m a single operator with an 8 bit computer could control an entire warehouse whether full of weapons (Hill Air Force Base), liquor, (Hyrum Walker) or D9 s (Caterpillar). Engineers laughed, in private, at consumers fearing robots as they were already incorporating Robocarriers and knew full well that it was only public fear that limited us from a Jetson’s lifestyle, perhaps not in space but on land. Indeed, right now, if it were popular, no cars would be necessary. But the public wants them. Frankenstein has done its work.
Right now a plane can drop a massive, self-autonomous earth-mover anywhere in the world and it can do its job controlled entirely via computers and satellite communication. Drivers are obsolete—at least ones that touch a steering wheel. They hit the land running and we, the public, lap up antiquated vampire and zombie movies, devoid of technology.
Farm tractors are GPS led and have a driver for emergencies. Rail engines are monitored and driven remotely including sensors for engines, lubrication, temperature, vibration, and everything else. Humans are only used for backup and small jobs.
If you want a good job, if you want to make money, if you want to move up the economic ladder, you better get educated. Otherwise start practicing saying “Welcome to Walmart” and be hopeful the rest of society supports a rising minimum wage. The separation of classes is going to get worse and education is the only way out.
The need for education will not go away in spite of rising college expenses. If anything education will cheapen itself by relegating social education to the far cheaper computerized education found on the internet. It used to be if you could read better you could educate yourself better. It will be whether you can educate yourself through the internet, and you still need to know how to learn by reading, if not more so!
I love the idea of education for its own sake, as John Henry Newman the Catholic espoused (though he concluded the educated would choose the church while I think otherwise), but reality is education is essential for work–it was created and endured for work. Yet, critical thinking like good philosophy is useful everywhere.
I have used draft horses and have sold goods at farmer’s markets. I abandoned the high technology industry to raise a family on, first, a boat, then a barrier island, and now an old plantation. It wasn’t a denial of material knowledge but an extension of it as I learned older technology–an addition and not a replacement. While I respect everyone, regardless of their economics, I must recognize the need for education and the more education the better. Otherwise I’d be a liar. It’s not about Harvard vs a local school, it’s about education, work, and decent wages.
It’s still true as Johnny Simo, A&E Mechanic for the military, and my first boss, the aerobatic Hall of Fame pilot Bill Barber, told me years ago: “Jim, you don’t want to be an airplane mechanic. Go to college and get a degree!” This Hunky (Hungarian as I am 50% Hungarian as well) and his boss Bill were telling me from what I thought were lofty positions then, that the future was through education. How this old conservative truism has been drowned by neoconservatives and idiot theocrats is beyond me!
It’s not snobbery. It’s economics. True snobs don’t give a shit about education because they can stay out of it and still succeed.
Jim Newman, bright and well