This article is the most recent in a horrible trend that seems to infect both the right and the left of the political spectrum… I first heard of this happening in the Chicago public school system. In New Mexico, the charge was led by a Republican. In Chicago, it was self-evidently led by a Democrat.
The ridiculous assertion of Rahm Emanuel is that forcing kids to have a ‘post-secondary plan’ will somehow stop young, poor Black men from joining gangs and pursuing ‘money making’ [read: selling drugs, stealing, robbing, etc]. Then the Atlantic ironically highlights the story of a young man who joined a gang at age nine and didn’t straighten his life out until age forty. Whoops, sounds like he already had a ‘post-secondary plan’ at the age of nine. Of course said plan was not signed off on by a government official and led to all sorts of other problems, but it was a plan nonetheless.
The sheer ludicrousness of the above aside, there are many reasons why forcing kids to ‘have a plan’ or to apply for college is a bad idea. First and foremost, and I’m sure I’ll get a lot of flak for saying this, but not everyone is intellectually equipped to handle college. The average I.Q. of a successful college student [graduates with a bachelor’s degree] is about 120, the average I.Q. of the US population is about 100. The I.Q. scale is not linear. For instance, a person with an I.Q. of 120 is not 20% ‘smarter’ than someone with an I.Q. of 100, they are a standard deviation above in terms of intellect as measured by the test. I can hear the screams now about how ‘racist’ or unfair or what about emotional intelligence? That’s fine, but having emotional intelligence or any other type of intelligence does not translate into academic performance at the undergraduate level. As for whether or not you believe the trope that I.Q. tests are an unreliable indicator, the truth is that it is and wishing it to be otherwise is irrelevant.
The second argument in forcing kids into college is the economic gains in average wages. While certainly having a bachelor’s degree will give someone a leg up in a professional job, with the number of bachelor’s degrees now awarded, the much touted 50% more number has been dropping over the last couple of decades. To remain competitive in the job/professional world now means heading back to school–graduate school that is. And now, we hit the big elephant in the room: none of the studies I have seen touting the benefits of a bachelor’s degree subtract the horrendous debt payments of student loans from income. If you have a $1k a month student loan payment that is paid out post-tax, that significantly undercuts the wage increase benefits. Why do you think so many Millenials are still living at home, even though they might have a ‘professional’ job? For some majors the investment is probably worth it…others? If you’re paying off $100k of student loans with a gender studies degree, you’re probably in for a lifetime of debt-servitude.
Another economic factor: many tradesmen (and women) make far more than many people with bachelor’s and even graduate degrees. I know journeywomen (men) who make or exceed my earnings with two masters degrees and a bachelor’s in applied math (one of the high earning bachelor’s degree). Yes, if you choose to work at McDonald’s as a cashier for your adult life, you will definitely make less, but even an apprenticeship or any of the many certificate programs can launch you into a rewarding and lucrative career.
So I can here the chorus murmuring here: “but Rahm’s plan doesn’t compel you to go to college, just that you have a plan and New Mexico only makes you apply. This may be true for now, but how long do you think that will last before it becomes mandatory? Where we turn into a German or English model that decides, based on a few high stakes tests years before high school graduation who will and will not be allowed to go to college? And, what of those students who want to start their own business? That’s not on the menu. So we will crush the entrepreneurial spirit out of kids by forcing them to take an illiberal, conventional route. Be a good little wage slave kid, conform, pay your taxes, do NOT step out of the box we’ve put you in.
As this is a depth psychological oriented blog, I would be remiss in not addressing the potential psychological damage to kids. Most kids I knew in my high school intrinsically knew whether they were ‘cut out for college.’ Many of them just hated school and couldn’t wait to get out–they maybe wanted to be a cop or go in the military. Some of them were struggling academically just to get through high school. Can you imagine the trauma of a C- or D+ student being forced to submit a college application which will probably be rejected if it’s an evenly remotely competitive college. We’ve all seen kids that didn’t get into their ‘number one’ school. Can you imagine the forced humiliation of being rejected by a school when one is barely getting by? I don’t know what that would feel like as I’ve never experienced struggling academically. I feel lucky for that. But, I knew plenty of kids in my high school who just wanted to graduate and figure themselves out for awhile. Forcing this one size fits all on students is really, in my mind, a potentially soul-crushing experience: a kid has to relive their inner ‘cops in the head’ reinforcing that they are ‘stupid’ or ‘unworthy.’ Can you imagine if these kids are forced to read their replies in front of their class?
Finally, what if the kid just wants to take a year off to travel, take care of a family member, whatever? The much vaunted ‘gap year.’ That’s not on these mandatory menus either. What if you don’t know what the hell it is you want to do? Tough shit kid, this is your ‘plan,’ stick to it, pay your taxes and shut up about it. Tyranny always sneaks in under the guise of protecting…these are just the opening salvos for something far more despicable to come. The only encouraging signs that I see are millionaires paying kids to start a business rather than go to college and short-term coding bootcamps with phenomenal placement rates.