Does anybody really know what time it is?

Yesterday, my Personal Due Diligence colleague Neil Morris wrote about the plight of the newly minted graduate who can’t find work.

There’s certainly no shortage of blame to lay at the feet of the government bureaucracies holding our educational system hostage to the twentieth century (even though we’re now well into the twenty-first). Read a high school textbook from the 1930s sometime (grounded in an era when communities controlled their own schools, didn’t have mandated gymnasia, electronic teaching aids, and the like, and often, in rural areas, were still seating students of many grades in one classroom). Your average graduate with their Bachelor’s degree would find it hard going. Of course, back then, they knew the opposite of “learn” was “fail”, not some sociological clap-trap about how important it is for peers to remain together whether they’re passing or not.

Even in the 1960s, when I went through elementary school, you still needed a 70 to pass (and your parents were counselled to hold you back if you’d scraped a bare 70, at that). But that was the last echo of a dying era in the last days before a central Ministry of Education overrode the local school board’s ability to set standards (neighbouring communities had already lowered a pass to 50).

There’s also no shortage of blame to be laid on all the rest of us for buying into the nonsense that standardized tests and “job ready” programs are all that’s required to assure “quality” and “value for money”. This year, in the United States, the No Child Left Behind provisions brought in a decade ago by then President George W. Bush will require all schools in America to ensure that “every child is equal to or better than the national average”. Obviously whomever laid down that test failed elementary school arithmetic. But the pabulum was lapped up by the electorate…

The greatest disservice we do to our children in education, frankly, is that we teach them they’re exceptional (when they’re not), that showing up is enough to pass. By the time they start graduate school (because two degrees are now the norm to get a toehold on the career ladder) they expect reports filled with A+, A or A- only — those of us who have taught at that level know the raking over the coals the instructor gets for marking honestly.

Then they go to work, and discover that the world doesn’t owe them a living for their “brilliance”. Nor are As handed out (you might actually have to pay people if you did).

What all of this points to is a collision with reality, coming hard and fast at all of us, for we stand at the end of more than fifty years of this nonsense. The entire workforce, pretty much, was educated by a school system that didn’t demand much of anything from them.

Note how few do the work for STEM programs (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) — this in an era when these would be the underpinnings of real innovation and hence job creation.

You can count on the fingers of one hand the number of net new jobs created by effective mastery of business administration, law, communications, public policy & administration, information studies, health administration, education, or economics. The degrees everyone loves to hate — philosophy, history, literature — actually have a better track record than most of the alphabet soup of modern professional graduate education.

All of those degrees — MBAs, MPPs, MISs, MHAs and the like — are to lead you to work in existing large organizations (most of which exist on the public purse, or because of regulations that bar effective competition). In other words, they’re jobs held up by the rest of the economy.

You know, the part of the economy that demanding that someone learn (or else they fail) depends on. Or the part required for growth in the economy, rather than vacuuming up its loose change.

More and more, those large edifices are crumbling.

Universities now depend (financially) on more and more of the teaching being done by people paid minimally, without job security. You went to Name Brand U and paid their fees because Nobellist X and famed researcher Dr. Y are there. You got classes, a third of which you had to attend electronically because enrolment exceeds room size, taught by someone being paid around $7,000/course to teach it.

Governments are bankrupt. Austerity (meaning don’t hire anyone new, because everyone’s unionized and seniority rules) is the order of the day. Five years from now, the real knowledge exodus will cripple the organization as retirements are unleashed.

I don’t have to tell you about the corporate world. Just ask yourself how many names you grew up with aren’t around any longer. I used to work for Eaton’s (gone), shopped at Simpson’s (gone), Zeller’s (gone), banked at the Imperial Bank of Canada (gone), Continental Bank of Canada (gone) and CBC Employees’ Credit Union (gone) … should I go on, or are you getting the picture?

Yes, some of those live on in their post-merger form. Simpson’s was bought by the Bay, which has been through three owners since. Who cares? (Certainly their owners, nor their staff, do.)

This is the world we really live in. Uncertain. Built on sand. Dying from neglect of the basics.

Of course, that also implies lots of opportunity, which requires a mind set shift, to demanding excellence of yourself and others, and to seeking to build your own future, not ride on someone else’s in a nice niche somewhere.

Whether you’re ready for that jump into the future, or just want to know that you can cling on to what you have long enough, talk to us. Helping you see reality is one of the things the advisors at Personal Due Diligence do for their clients.

13 thoughts on “Does anybody really know what time it is?

      1. Lynne Diligent

        Well, I did my student teaching about 1985 (second career) and at that time our minimal standards in the public district where I taught were 75%. The standards on all sorts of test in American society (competence tests for professions, drivers’ licenses, etc. are all at 70%). I have been living overseas for 20 years, but haven’t heard anything about standards going down to 50%. That would be a grade of F-. The very, very minimal level of acceptability is 70%, which is a C-. Conversely, in North Africa you pass at 50%. In France, they apparently pass at 50%. Speaking as an educator, anyone who passes at only 70% is somewhat LOST. Anyone who can only get 50% of the material is TOTALLY lost, in my view.

      2. Bruce Stewart Post author

        That’s the advantage of local control. You get that 50% nonsense when the system is centralized. You also get other destruction of standards, loss of rigour, and use of the educational system to run live experiments on human beings without ethical controls or any sort of double-blind structure to actually produce evidence of positive effects. And now early grandparents have known nothing else…

    1. Bruce Stewart Post author

      Hi, Don: I’ve been writing about the sorry state of education now for six years. A combination of home schooling my son, being on the board of an independent school, and having three times been a sessional instructor (Rotman, MET at UBC, and MI/MMSt at U of T) underlie my personal background to work from.

  1. Neil Morris

    Huzzah! One thing about reality: When it bites you, you know you’ve been bit. If getting up on the wrong side of the bed means telling it like it is, then let’s hear it for the wrong side of the bed.


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