When being "college-educated" no longer means anything

published Jan 15, 2009, last modified Jun 26, 2013

When minor computer trouble makes you drop out of college, it's time to examine your conscience, and recognize the massive failbag you are.

Let me start with a personal anecdote.

When I took my first WordPerfect course (at the age of eleven, if I recall correctly), the teacher taught us which key combo bolded text.  Fortunately for us (both a large bunch of 40-year old secretaries and a squeaky 11 child like me) the teacher did not stop at the key combos.  He actually took pains to explain how all those functions worked.  Metaphorically, he didn't stop at "here's the gas, the brake and the gearshift" -- he made it a point that we understood "the engine and drivetrain" as well.  I was very fortunate to have a teacher like that; the net result is that WordPerfect concepts (what experts call the system model) carried over pretty well when I moved to Microsoft Word.  And, ultimately, to OpenOffice.org.

WordPerfect's internal model is somewhat different from Microsoft Word's.  I know that.  But bear with me, I'm trying to make a point here.

It's now 2008.  Let me introduce you to the antithesis of my fortunate experience:

"I had to drop out of college because my laptop came with Ubuntu on it."

So here's the story, in short:  The klutz referenced by the article bought a laptop with Linux.  She could not go online, nor could she save a word processing document in Word format.  So, let's recap:

  1. She bought a computer that was prominently labeled as shipping with Ubuntu, and the implications of that fact were also explained before she forked over the cash.
  2. "Save as..." is three clicks away in OpenOffice.org, had she looked around for 30 seconds.
  3. OpenOffice.org has extensive contextual help, which she would have discovered if she had clicked the prominent "Help" word in the menu bar.
  4. Her Net connection can work with her OS (it's no rocket science, you just plug the USB port or Ethernet plug in the right hole), and she could have called her ISP's tech support, demanded that they send a technician.
  5. She can open and save Microsoft Office documents just fine with her new laptop.

 Yet what does she do?

She drops out of college and blames it on Ubuntu and Dell.

Truly, there is no other conclusion to draw but this: we are now witnessing one of the finest examples of the extremes people go to in order to disavow themselves of adult responsibility. She just finds it easier to blame Ubuntu (or Dell, or anything that could conceivably be blamed) for it, than take charge of her general level of imbecility which is making college impossible for her.

And we're all the poorer for the existence of imbeciles of her grade.

Two damn hundred years ago, every educated individual who wanted to get stuff done had no problem researching and reading to get the information into their brains and successfully do what they set out to do. Today, every self-righteous self-entitled brat wants it all, now, without any effort; what's worse is that everyone is making a concerted effort to "idiot-proof" the world in an attempt to appease this demand.  Well -- guess what, punks -- reality has not changed; you still have to do the legwork if you want to actually learn instead of stuffing your brain with factoids and procedures, so don't go blaming companies or operating systems for your own shortcomings and your inability to muster available resources to solve your predicaments.

Surely the world has become more complex. But it is also true that the average human has become more complacent and apathetic (heck, arguably outright hostile) towards learning, and that honest transferential / critical learning has been largely replaced by reproductive factoid hoarding.

This is the sore state of our society, confirmed by great contemporary minds, such as Richard Feynman.  What I said earlier bears repeating: People no longer learn by internalizing concepts anymore; they merely engage in cargo cult, mindless repetition, factoid hoarding and an unhealthful dose of entertainment that has replaced intellectual growth.  Unsurprisingly, they bawl when more is demanded of them.  This is true whether they are applying differential calculus or word processing concepts -- move around a menu entry, change the name of the dependent variable, and you've created an unsurmountable challenge to the vast majority of supposedly "educated" people.

The world cannot run on mere stored procedures. It requires critical thought and concept transference. If one cannot muster it, then one is rightly screwed and one has no right to complain. And no, however simple modern computers are, they are not an exception to the rule.

You see where I'm going with this, right? Public schools aren't (nor were they ever) in the business of creating rational, resourceful, inquiring people with knowledge, but rather arrogant self-righteous little shitheads with entitlement complexes like the one in the article.  Unsurprisingly, from time to time, one of them acts up, throws a tantrum, and the net result is this article or something akin to it -- because, of course, there is no shortage of friendly ears if  a tantrum that sells copy is involved.

Our world is sick with a systemic educational disease.  Demanding that everything be idiot-proof the world is not the answer.  Demanding that people overcome idiocy is.