John Kenneth Galbraith coined the expression ‘conventional wisdom’ – the kind of stuff that everybody takes to be axiomatically true. He also pointed out, with a great wealth of historical examples, how conventional wisdom keeps changing from one era to another. Thus, for instance, ‘everybody’ knew once upon a time that dragons existed, and the earth was flat, and monarchy was enjoined by divine right, and woman’s proper place was in the home, and so on and so forth. He also discussed how people of every age scoffed at the conventional wisdom of their ancestors while passionately and uncritically clinging to their own.
One such piece of conventional wisdom that is currently accepted as gospel truth is that every kid must be sent to school and college, and kept there for twenty years at least. It is said that the young ought to be given a chance to ‘enjoy life’, and also all the ‘benefits’ that formal education can provide. Now pursuant to what I wrote in the last post titled What price education?, I would like to rock the boat violently, and suggest that 99 per cent of the population neither needs nor wants schooling beyond class 8, which means up to the age of fourteen. Given that neither they nor their parents want anything more from education besides jobs, and given that most jobs definitely do not need any education beyond class 8 and a few weeks or months of training (think of everyone from a shop attendant to a bank teller to a hotel receptionist to a petrol pump manager to an office clerk or an insurance agent or a factory worker), who needs to hang on to high school and college and ‘learn’ all sorts of stuff from the calculus to Shakespeare to the way our digestive system works or how imperfectly-competitive markets operate, stuff that they are not remotely interested in, stuff that they will forget within months of their examinations, and which they will NEVER need in their working lives? As for other professions requiring a little more education, such as those of mechanics and nurses and primary school teachers, it’s very little mind work and mostly repetitive, hands-on training, nothing that cannot be started off after class 8 really – why waste four more years and then go to college to learn such basically elementary stuff?
Consider honestly – how many people do you know who are genuinely interested in medicine, or the law, or history, or literature, or mathematics of a high order, things that really need many years of study beyond high school? Why send everybody to college when they could be making a living by the time they are 18 or 20? Look around you: it is an open secret that the overwhelming majority in our colleges are actually what economists call ‘disguised unemployed’, doing nothing but having fun at their parents’ expense, sleeping, partying, chatting on Facebook, idling at cinemas and shopping malls, putting people’s lives at risk zooming about on snazzy bikes, having silly affairs, experimenting with drugs, getting unwittingly pregnant, waiting to get married off, or for ‘campus recruitment’ into the kind of jobs which, as I said before, don’t really need any education beyond class 8, and involve pretty menial work and pay peanuts anyway. All they get from their long ‘education’ is ingrained laziness, irresponsibility and swollen egos, which actually makes it tough for them to adjust to the rigours of the working life. Think: if they had been working since mid-teenage, in however humble a capacity, they would have been contributing something to the family fund as much as to the gross national product; instead, they are allowed to live as high-expense parasites till their mid-twenties: who gains from that?
The very worst thing about these millions of pampered brats is that they have been conditioned to look down upon people who are actually much more valuable than they. Thus the ‘smart’ schoolgirl sneers at the ‘mere housewife’, and so does not want to get married early, though she might be dreaming of becoming nothing more than a waitress in a hotel or a call-centre employee, blithely oblivious of the fact that being a good housewife (not the rich couch potato type who leaves everything to in-laws and maidservants) calls for much more hard work and worldly wisdom than their aspired jobs do, and is nothing if not a respectable occupation. Likewise the ‘smart’ male bank teller talks to the fishmonger as though the latter is an infinitely inferior being, though his own education and job is nothing that any truly civilized man can be proud of (and he might be stupidly ignorant of the fact that the unpretentious fishmonger actually earns much more than he does!). As for the so-called all-important chance to ‘enjoy life’ while young, who says that being idle and fooling around all the time at one’s parents’ expense is the only way one can enjoy life, or even the best way? Millions of people down the ages – from super successful ones like Dickens and Sachin and Bill Gates to much less famous ones without number – have dropped out of school or college and started working early: who dares to claim that they never enjoyed their lives? In any case, doesn’t the idea of ‘enjoying life’ sit very uncomfortably with the idea of getting educated, which, unless grossly caricatured as it is being these days, has always meant hard slogging round the year?
Let me stop at this point and wait. I am hoping this time round many more people will come in with comments, and thus join in a debate…