Whither Education?

Alicia Pickett at the Evangelical Outpost what might be the best form of education. A certain sort of price sensibility captures her thinking.

Academic vs. vocational. Should we train high school and college students in history, philosophy, and biology or in industrial arts, computers, and accounting. I’m not the most practical person in the world (and proud of it). But, in this case, it’s a lot of money and policy invested in one direction or the other. I’ve got to go practical. No choice.
Which is why I recommend academic education over vocational.

Price sensitivity aside, in an era of great economic inequalities (and their justifications) other thoughts come to mind.

For one, I should think that part of the push on vocational education results from a certain class divide. Traditionally, the academic education is not about a job, but about (how shall we put this?) ruling. thus its overwhelming bias towards the professional career. I think this may further explain some of the recent thinking of Charles Murray on the same topic.

For the Christian things get a bit more awkward, since the notion of gift is deeply subversive of these social distinctions. In a deep way, we can then understand the notion of Christian education (primary through college) as a kind of protest against the vocational thrust. And just to be clear, it also raises the skeptical eye at the notion of the “classically educated” dearly beloved of the Academic (there’s an ideology at work there, too).

Shame of the Working Class?

Discussion on Charles Murray’s essay in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal. He writes

It is condescending to treat people who have less education or money as less morally accountable than we are. We should stop making excuses for them that we wouldn’t make for ourselves. Respect those who deserve respect, and look down on those who deserve looking down on.
And Paul VanderKlay responds
Now of course we’re into our “ought” voice. I’ve been thinking a lot about stigma, shame and culture lately. Wish I had more to say.

The entire  shame thing carries with it an assumption of a common culture. Jonathan Haidt‘s work illumines how different our actual cultures are;  what binds us is the sacred.  Now here is the interesting aspect, Murray assumes that these working class folks belong to his tribe (and in his book, his “Fishtown” is rather ethnically or at least racially homogeneous).  Given his other work, such a position could be reasonably read as a kind of lament for the decline of white (maybe ethnic) culture.

Also, the emergence of a “why bother” culture, independent of its origin, would seem to reflect a certain conviction about economic stasis: it’s same as it ever was, thus one does not change. The driver of shame is aspiration. But what if you have the sense that things are basically stacked against you? then the culture of poverty takes over. There is an obvious point of engagement for the Church here: not to mark the shame, but to claim the possibility. Might even be a bit of the political there, too but I’ll leave it for now.

Base Appeal

Jason Ellis writes:

Ostensibly about Santorum, but a lot of good stuff, data etc. about the white working class voters…
http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/290450/two-decades-too-late-henry-olsen?pg=1

Despite partisan stances  — I think differently than Olsen on some of the specifics —  Jason is right, this is a very good article. The element not really dealt with in the article is the generational difference between older and younger working class.  Recent studies suggest that the church is losing its connection especially with this latter group.

This looking back to the Reagan Democrat (three, not two decades away) also lies at the heart of the now notorious Hoekstra senate ad and its asian-bashing.

On the Murray book, David Frum (these days a moderate conservative) gives a very sharp review at Daily Beast.

The Great Divide

In  the The Great Divorce, David Brooks , picks up the theme of the two-caste society, the separation of elites from the lower classes with an ambiguous middle caught. This, of course, is the favorite territory for Charles Murray. Brooks writes,

Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart” describes the most important cultural trends today and offers a better understanding of America’s increasingly two-caste society.

Brooks  picked up on the growing trend in Bobos in Paradise, and an interesting article on the education of the elites in The Atlantic (“The Organization Kid”). Interesting to trace this split back to the Vietnam era, and the division between New Left and Labor. As we came out of the 70s (this, the time of the Yippies and the Yuppies), the counterculture became more its true, class-oriented self. Wendy Wasserstein captures some of this shift in The Heidi Chronicles.

Murray however, is a more complicated character, in part for his alliance with the AEI. Their policies did contribute to this split (another story).Both Murray and Brooks still indulge in a kind of privileged perspective, both seeing that somehow it is the moral duty of the elites to remedy this split. That doesn’t strike me as exactly right, not with 50 percent in the middle unaccounted for.

Lost Egalitarianism

Roberto Saldaña comments

How interesting that he believes that the persons who should lead the crusade to restore our civic virtues are the economic elite. He provides no incentive why anyone in that group should care about this divide because things have been rather swell for them without paying attention to “cultural inequality.”

The failure to explain why elites should help reveals the essential contradiction in Charles Murray’s thought. He approves of the egalitarianism of two generations ago (can it be?!), even as he has been in the employ and the willing abetter of tearing down that equality. The outcomes are basically what his patrons wanted, and in that self-confirming of their own (moral) goodness. The data point to the evident moral quality of the middle and upper middle classes, reinforcing the narrative of personal achievement — a moral meritocracy as it were. Thus the status and virtue become wed, and the underlying warping effects of economic decline are ignored.

The same danger is at work among the Evangelical church, as it too becomes more resolutely middle class and distant from the damage being done on the working class. The rise of secularism among the workers reflects this shift, as well as the alienating turn the Christian Right has had on our politics.

Where Did our Egalitarianism Go?

From the Wall Street Journal
The New American Divide
The ideal of an American way of life is fading as the working class falls further away from institutions like marriage and religion and the upper class becomes more isolated. Charles Murray, author of Coming Apart, on what’s cleaving America, and why.

Charles Murray points to some real shifts in White America, but nonetheless it is something of an ironic book given his celebration of (perceived) intrinsic differences. Who really can forget the nonsense that was the Bell Curve, or for that matter Four Questions? The very things he celebrates would seem to be the levers that undo the egalitarian society that he misses. No word yet whether this is a Diane Ravitch moment or not. We’ll see.