Like the market for skin care products, the market for credentials is inexhaustible: as the bachelor’s degree becomes democratized, the master’s degree becomes mandatory for advancement. Our elaborate, expensive system of higher education is first and foremost a system of stratification, and only secondly — and very dimly — a system for imparting knowledge.
The original universities in the Western world organized themselves as guilds, either of students, as in Bologna, or of masters, as in Paris. From the first, their chief mission was to produce not learning but graduates, with teaching subordinated to the process of certification — much as artisans would impose long and wasteful periods of apprenticeship, under the guise of “training,” to keep their numbers scarce and their services expensive. For the contemporary bachelor or master or doctor of this or that, as for the Ming-era scholar–bureaucrat or the medieval European guildsman, income and social position are acquired through affiliation with a cartel. Those who want to join have to pay to play, and many never recover from the entry fee.
Well, to quote my second Extreme song title of this post, tell me something I don’t know. No, it’s a good essay, even if I think it’s a wee bit over-optimistic to call on people to burn their master’s degrees like draft cards in solidarity with the rest of us.
“And where did you go to school?”—heh heh, I got invited to a near-future business lunch in D.C. in connection with the corporate writing gig. I’m tempted to let my beard run wild for the next couple weeks, show up in my usual ensemble of Fidel cap, t-shirt, raggedy cargo shorts and Vans, and proceed to boast about only having a high school diploma. That counts as business casual, right?