Also, two posts from Megan McArdle are worth looking at. The first, from Wednesday, is about a so-called educational ratchet effect, wherein more and more jobs require a bachelor's degree. She cites, from a New York Times story, one law firm that has adopted a policy of requiring a degree of every one of its employees. I read this and think of my brother, who never entertained any thought of going to a four-year school, and how this kind of effect could impact him. A follow-up posted yesterday compares this closing off of avenues to imperial China. This post resonated with my own situation a bit more, for two reasons, both found in these two paragraphs:
And yet, this is apparently considerably more experience than many of my fellow journalists have, especially the younger ones. The road to a job as a public intellectual now increasingly runs through a few elite schools, often followed by a series of very-low-paid internships that have to be subsidized by well-heeled parents, or at least a free bedroom in a major city. The fact that I have a somewhat meandering work and school history, and didn't become a journalist until I was thirty, gives me some insight (she said, modestly) that is hard to get if you're on a laser-focused track that shoots you out of third grade and straight towards a career where you write and think for a living. Almost none of the kids I meet in Washington these days even had boring menial high school jobs working in a drugstore or waiting tables; they were doing "enriching" internships or academic programs. And thus the separation of the mandarin class grows ever more complete.
I'm hinting at the final problem, which is that this ostensibly meritocratic system increasingly selects from those with enough wealth and connections to first, understand the system, and second, prepare the right credentials to enter it--as I believe it also did in Imperial China.
Like Megan, I have a somewhat meandering work history, one that includes some of those menial jobs (video store clerk in high school, campus bookstore clerk, call center and other random tasking at a laboratory) in addition to the six years I spent in the Navy and getting my BS at 30. And my background most certainly does not include the wealth and connections of which McArdle speaks.
I recall Mary Schmich's famous 1997 commencement speech at Northwestern, which really entered pop culture when Baz Luhrmann turned it into a catchy song two years later. In particular, the line about not worrying if you don't know what you want to do with your life at 22. Is there more cause to worry a decade and a half later? The "laser-focused track" of which McArdle writes leads me to wonder if that's the case, and whether or not it's a good thing. I tend to believe it's not.