[lbo-talk] U.S. working class: functionally literate

Doug Henwood dhenwood at panix.com
Fri Mar 4 12:31:25 PST 2005

Carl Remick wrote:

>I will state what I've said before: The US economic system doesn't
>merely tolerate mediocrity, it insists on it.

Quoting myself from After the New Economy, p. 75 (revised paperback edition, with a new 32-page afterword, coming in May!):

>Why do employers and their mouthpieces keep talking about skills,
>then? It may be that they mean something other than mental and/or
>manual dexterity. Of course, formal training does impart certain
>skills; there are no self-taught neurosurgeons. But work training at
>less elite levels has proved disappointing; for example, people with
>(nonprofessional) vocational training in high school find it easier
>to get jobs, but there's no evidence that they do any better once
>they're working. And while having a high school diploma is necessary
>to snag certain kinds of jobs, grade average correlates neither with
>the probability of getting a job nor with one's pay upon landing
>one. Studies of the relations among wages, schooling, and scores on
>standardized tests-admittedly imperfect measures of skills-show that
>while people with more education make higher scores on the tests,
>this advantage pales next to the higher wages earned by the
>credentialed; nothing in the scores can explain why college grads
>earn 60% more than those with only a high school diploma (Bowles and
>Gintis 1995).
> An elite spin on the Bowles/Gintis thesis was provided by Susan
>Mayer and Christopher Jencks (2000). Dissenting from the push for
>higher school "standards" measured by standardized tests, Mayer and
>Jencks point out that test scores explain less than one-third of the
>earnings difference between high school grads and dropouts.
>Employers must want something more than the kinds of skills measured
>by tests; they provide a helpful list: "Graduates have a better
>attitude; they are more responsible; they have better people
>skills." Concluding, they quote Woody Allen's famous observation
>that "90 percent of life is showing up. Students who finish high
>school do better than dropouts partly because they have learned this
>lesson." This is a much less inspiring view of the value of
>education than the more common excuses, like preparing for
>self-governance in a democracy or developing a critical
>intelligence. The real economic value of a diploma is that it proves
>that you've learned how to report cheerfully for duty.

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