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Economics And Education

By Peter Goodchild

23 April, 2009

With the bursting of the credit bubble, businesses fail because they lack liquidity. When businesses fail, unemployment rises. When unemployment rises, what happens to students? Do they hand in countless resumes to the doughnut shops, or do they just stay in school? Teachers have often jokingly said that the main function of schools is to mop up unemployment, but nowadays that may be truer than ever.

The first element of the “mopping up” is that in today’s schools almost nothing is taught and almost nothing is learned. Secondly, even if that were not the case, there are no jobs for those who clutch their diplomas and go out into the streets. The third element is that schools at least manage to separate children from their parents. The latter might even be employed, although probably underpaid, but if that is the case they barely have time to breathe, let alone take care of their children. Let us look at these three elements more closely.

Educational standards throughout the world reached rock bottom several years ago, and there is really no such thing as passing or failing. The discarding of testing began in the liberal sixties, but that was a world in which utopia was imaginable, perhaps even tangible. It was not the economic cauldron of the twenty-first century. Instead of standards of any real sort, what we have now is the absurdity of “compulsory” education without the compulsion — without the tests that would reinforce any of that learning. (Of course, the wisdom of compulsory education is itself very much open to question. In an ideal world, would there really be such a thing?) If the students decide to mutiny, there is nothing the teachers can do about it, and if those teachers report the matter they are likely to be fired for incompetence. It may be fortunate for the teachers that the students are unaware of how much power for destruction they really have.

Secondly, since there are very few decent jobs for graduates anyway, there may simply be no point in educating them. The unemployment problem actually began with globalization: the more advanced a country, the more likely it was that the multinational corporations would export the jobs to countries where workers were paid lower wages. Even then, the main goal was to replace the workers with computers and other forms of machinery. The world’s economy has been suffering for years from overpopulation and a decline in resources, especially fossil fuels and metals, so no worker anywhere can count on keeping a job. There seems to be a tacit understanding that there is no point in enforcing high standards of education if that learning cannot be put to use in the outside world.

Finally, the schools are so busy keeping the children off the streets because both parents are at least trying to make a living, even though at best they are merely surviving, whereas in the 1950s only one parent needed to have a job. Knowing that there are others standing in line, workers always live in fear of losing their jobs, and they willingly work at high-level tasks for low-level pay. The old standard of full-time permanent occupations has been replaced by temporary work, no matter what euphemism may be applied to such “contract” work. Even then, the modern couple is heavily in debt and facing an uncertain future. For those parents who are completely unemployed, there may be more time to spare, but that idleness is hardly beneficial.

Today’s teacher is therefore just a babysitter. For one person to be in charge of thirty oversized babies, however, can be quite an unpleasant situation, no matter how cost-effective it may be for society. For all the above reasons, there will be a demand for teachers for a long time to come. A recent graduate, however, might do well to choose a path other than that of modern mis-education.

It is possible that students are aware of something the teachers have missed. As D.H. Lawrence pointed out long ago, it may simply be pointless trying to “educate” the average person, at least in the ordinary sense of the word. Most of what is called education is only applicable to a vanished world, and students seem to have some dim but genuine perception of the fact. There is no point in learning the geography of a country one will never be able to visit, or learning a language one will never be allowed to speak.

There are certainly skills that will be needed in the anarchic world of the future. I would even say that education for the real world begins with the principle that every teenager, at least in rural areas (where any sensible person would be living) should know how to use a rifle and an ax, since the first might provide food and the second might provide a home. A university degree that leaves its owner many thousands of dollars in debt, on the other hand, is not providing a foundation for survival in the Age of Entropy. The corollary is that education in such real-world skills will not be acquired by sitting at a desk.

Peter Goodchild is the author of Survival Skills of the North American Indians, published by Chicago Review Press. He is temporarily living in the Sultanate of Oman. He can be reached at


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