Friday, February 17, 2006


Contra Drum I did get the primary point of Cohen's article, I just recognized that the primary message was "I don't know shit and I'm proud of it." I don't think everybody needs to know algebra to function well in life, but the fact that Richard Cohen has been opining on politics and policy issues for decades despite the fact that he clearly and proudly is unequipped to do so at the level one would expect the Washington Post to demand from its political columnists.

As for the point, I think algebra is a reasonable requirement for high school graduation. No less reasonable than plenty of other requirements which we could quibble about on the margin. More generally the problem is not with curriculum requirements but with the emphasis on credentialling as a signalling device. Not only do I think plenty of people can do well in life without learning algebra I also think plenty of people should be able to do just fine without a high school diploma. I'm not advocating mass dropout, there's just no reason that obtaining the piece of paper should be given the importance that it is. It's so important that we recognize that if we deny it to someone they're going to have a much tougher time in life so it seems "unfair" to deny it based on the inability to complete one algebra class. In other words, it's a piece of paper that you need to enter respectable life but it's also a piece of paper that doesn't necessarily mean very much.

And, even moreso we should kill the idea that "everyone needs a college education." Everyone doesn't need one especially to the extent that it's really the diploma people care about and not the actual learning part. Lots of people have jobs which they could do with moderate on the job training. I think college education is generally a good thing for a variety of reasons not limited to its impact on your career prospects but it shouldn't be the case that a degree is a requirement for jobs that frankly don't really require it.