One More Beef With Education

Bus Driver
Park Ranger
Computer Programmer

These are a few of the things that remember wanting to be when I grew up. Except for the first two (which were on my radar when I was about five), I realized that I wanted to be these things through the help of school career counseling between 7th and 12th grade. Every year during that time, a counselor would come into one my classes and I would have to take a questionnaire that asked me things like “Do you prefer working individually or as part of a group?” and “Do you prefer having a set, rigid work schedule or a flexible one?” The questionnaire would narrow down all possible careers and tell me what type of career I should pursue.

Looking back on this experience, I can’t help feeling like this was an epic waste of time. While I can’t fault the system for my changing interests each year, I do question their approach and execution of my “career guidance.” I feel that too much emphasis was placed on the “what” and not enough on the “how.” Unless my memory fails me, we spent very little time discussing the best paths for me to choose to make my dream career possible. To make my career become a reality, I was taught, I should go to college and major in that field. However, the older I get, the more I am coming to the realization that going to college and majoring in what one wants to do is only one of many ways to make a dream career possible. As an 18 year old recent high school graduate, I knew next to nothing about internships, work-study programs, specialized vocational schools or other opportunities that might have been a good fit for me.

So what did I do? I went to the educational equivalent of Wal-Mart. At my “big box” university, I got a quality education for a low-price. Seven and a half semesters later, I left my alma mater with an amazingly bland degree in general business. At the time, of course, I didn’t know that my degree was bland. I had been taught to go to college and major in what I wanted to do, and that’s what I did. Yet, in just the first couple of years since graduation, I have learned the (now obvious) lesson that a very general degree gets you a very general job.

In retrospect, I don’t know what more direction on the “how” could have done for me. After all, what I wanted to be changed radically from year to year and essentially has nothing to do with the path I’m now pursuing. On the other hand, with more “how”, I might have gained skills and learned about opportunities that could have opened me up to something other than a bland big box bachelor’s degree and set me on a more efficient track.

Sand Dollars Less, Real Dollars More

In college, I took a course in personal finance. In the class, I studied useful topics like how to buy and finance a house, how to invest and save for retirement, and how to use credit responsibly. I took the class only because it was required for my major, but it turned out to be one of the most practical classes that I took in college.

In my eight years of high school and college I was required to take the following science classes:

High School - Biology, Chemistry, Physics
College - Biology, Physics, Physical Science

In all, I took nine semesters of science. Now this would be well and good if I wanted to be a scientist, or even a doctor. But I don't. I want to be a businessman. I can understand the need to familiarize students with a broad range of topics, but why does our education system insist on requiring so much science when few people will ever use it in their life or their jobs?

Conversely, I believe that our education system has largely neglected the importance of teaching about money and finance. These topics, I would argue, have a much more practical application for more people than science does. I consider myself lucky that I had even one semester of finance training. But if it had not been part of my major, I would have left college knowing more about mushrooms and mollusks than about money.

I don't mean to say that science is worthless. I could have just as easily described all of the humanites, social science, or English classes that I was required to take. I definitely see the need to teach all subjects for a well-rounded education. My point is that I think that our "general education" is a top-heavy with subjects that many people do not need on a regular basis. As a result, more useful topics like finance are glazed over or omitted.

Though blame for the current financial crisis can be appropriately placed upon greedy bankers and businessmen, I strongly feel that there is some culpability left over for our education system. Over the last 20 or 30 years, if our schools had spent more time teaching students how to spend and save responsibly, we as an American people might not have gotten ourselves into this mess in the first place.

On the other hand, my knowledge earthworms have five hearts is bound to pay off someday.

Taste Testing in Politics

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has found himself in some hot water over racial remarks he made during the 2008 presidential election. Amidst the stir, one thing is strikingly absent: the outrage of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. It seems like every time a prominent figure makes a comment with even the slightest hint of racial overtones, those two "civil rights activists" pounce immediately. But not in this case. In my opinion, their noticeable silence after Reid's comments further proves my belief that these two Reverends have something other than equality on their agenda.

I just finished reading an excellent chapter in Predictably Irrational called "The Effect of Expectations". In this chapter, the author recounts the Pepsi Challenge, a study that essentially showed that in a blind taste test, a majority of people preferred Pepsi to Coke. Unfortunately for Pepsi, when consumers know which cola they are drinking, they prefer Coke to Pepsi. In other words, somehow Coke has branded itself in a way such that cola drinkers actually change the way they think about how something tastes, depending on the expectations they hold and experiences they have had.

My guess is that in a "blind taste test" (if you read Reid's quote without telling them who said it) that Jackson and Sharpton would be up in arms. Yet when they know that it came from one of their own (a powerful liberal), there is no controversy.

One Way to Get Free Publicity ...

... is to develop a product you know very few people will ever buy, and then price it so outrageously high that it turns heads.

Here's an example I came across a couple of years ago. This $1,000 Pizza is topped with caviar and lobster tail. The pizza's creator was quoted as saying, "Sure, some people will say it is just a publicity stunt, but I have researched this for over a year and think there is a demand. I have already sold one."

Ridiculous. Tell me, was that guy more concerned with the $1,000 he made from his one sale, or with the hundreds of articles written and 1.3 million Google search results that now come up about his pizza?