02 December 2012

Selling the Autodidact Style

Definition of AUTODIDACT: a self-taught person — au·to·di·dac·tic
Origin of AUTODIDACT:  Greek autodidaktos self-taught, from aut- + didaktos taught, from didaskein to teach.  First Known Use: 1748.

 I found this story, tellingly, in the "Fashion & Style" section of the Sunday New York Times. It is about kids forsaking college in the quest for something 'more meaningful' - a career, riches, changing the world.

I actually think that the idea of not automatically heading to college is a good one. Lot's of kids should not be in college, there is just no where else to warehouse them and protect the unemployment rate from soaring and the prisons from filling even further. The problem is that there are no jobs (jobs, that is, on which one might support oneself) that don't "require" college. So at the SUNY college where Susan teaches we have not only the traditional degrees in, say, liberal arts and nursing, but bogus degrees like recreation & leisure, business, criminal justice, and so forth. All preparing students (by making them pay) for crappy jobs that they might do just as well without a degree. The problem is that companies and government agencies have off-loaded their vocational training programs onto colleges.

All that, however, is not what I want to talk about. Instead, I want to point out that there are lots of adults out there hoping to exploit the malaise of teenagers for their own advantage. Let's see, 'If kids are anxious, or undisciplined, or impatient to strike gold, how can I cash in on that?' Hence my comment on the section the story appears in in the newspaper. These people are selling "un" college like they sell jeans or lawnmowers or vacuous self-help manuals. These clearly are exceptionally committed people. Consider this fellow:
Mr. Ellsberg, 35, graduated from Brown University and spent years trying to translate his expertise in post-colonial critical theory into a paying career. So his book tries to impart real-world skills, like salesmanship and networking, which he argues are crucial as white-collar jobs are being downsized or shipped to Bangalore. The future, he added, belongs to job creators, even if the only job they create is their own.
So, having failed at one intellectual fad, Ellsberg tries to help the subaltern speak in the self-help marketplace?

One of the things that a decent student in college would learn about is probability. Pointing to the handful of successful tech sector zillionaires leaves to one side the zillions of people who have failed in the tech sector. As Schumpeter put it, capitalism consists in creative destruction. And that does not happen without casualties. And, of course, another thing that a decent college student might learn is about psychology. Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg, et al were not just bright and driven. They were lucky (there's that pesky probability stuff again) and they were ruthless and unrelenting. Can you learn that in a book? Can you learn it in online courses? Can you learn it in a start up? Can you teach yourself to be a sociopath?



Blogger Stan B. said...

How about a degree in art? I hear photography's very in right now...

03 December, 2012 15:20  

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