Credentialism and the New Elites, by a Curmudgeon: Degrees of Glory

September 14, 2005 | 108 comments
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Bloggentiles have been arguing over credentialism–the belief that everyone needs a degree. Not an education, mind, but a degree. Preferably several.

The debate is not about whether having a degree is a good idea. Of course it’s a good idea. Folks with degrees and credentials make more money, get more respect, and are far too often the only acceptable pool of candidates for jobs that have nothing to do with the degree. The debate is about whether the creep of credentials and higher education into more and more spheres of life is a good thing.

I think it isn’t. Let me take a shot at explaining why. Forgive the lack of nuance and so forth. Pretend we’re around a campfire on one of those nights when its dark enough that a man can try and articulate what’s bothering him that he’d normally be too embarrassed to admit are bothering him.
And don’t bother pointing out that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. I’m aware.

Most of the bloggentilic complaints about credentialism are about equality. Credentialism ruins it, they say, by tying wealth and prestige to big university credentials, wealth and prestige in turn making it easier to get into the big universities. I don’t know how valid this complaint is. I’m told that one of the factors in the turn towards credentialism was laws making it difficult to give intelligence tests to prospective employees, making employers turn to the exclusiveness of the school from which one graduated as a rough substitute. Which suggests to me that credentials aren’t creating the differences, they are just exacerbating them. I do have to admit that the Book of Mormon does seem to suggest that differences in wealth become more insidious in societies where greater learning gets greater status, irrespective of talent, character, skills, and wisdom:

And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches.

Even so, it isn’t the inequality that bothers me. What bothers me is three-fold. First, I hate credentialism because higher education these days is a process of acculturation into the new elites. Besides the elite liberalism that is actually taught–and the inevitable national and even international outlook of the university–the entire atmosphere of learning as a competitive endeavor designed to enhance one’s status and wealth promotes a certain outlook. In my own experience with law, I found that it took an actual exercise of will to decide not to try to get into the best schools, get the best grades, get the best jobs, and so on. I’m happy where I’m at in a fair-to-middling market doing small city legal work, but its not really what was expected of me.

Second, I hate that college is such a waste of time for people (the majority) who probably would not be there if they were not hunting a credential. The result is that people in the energetic prime of their lives give themselves over to frivolity and license. I said that elite liberalism and the expectation of learning for success were how universities acculturated students into the new elites, but I think it’s really the social atmosphere that does the most damage. One does not have to be an ‘I am Charlotte Simmons’, either. The experience of living away from family and all other ties, among a bunch of unrestrained youth, can create a dangerous tolerance and non-judgmentalism,* along with a false sense that one’s values are personal, in almost anyone.

Finally, I hate how credentialism affects liberty. I hate the implicit assumption that people who don’t have credentials need people who do to run their lives. I hate how it stifles local differences and projects, because no one who hasn’t gone away and learned what the elites do is qualified. I hate the fetters it puts on will and imagination. Want to write for the paper? Sit at a desk for four years. I’ve stated my belief before that semi-consecrated family businesses are ideal for Mormons, but the more kinds of work that are regimented and professionalized, the less kinds of work that afford the flexibility that such a business needs (I’m kind of dubious of unions, for the same reason).

I don’t know what to do about it. One of the suggestions among the bloggentiles was to resist attempts to convert more and more jobs into formal professions, requiring specialized advance degrees and licenses and so on. Journalism, e.g. That sounds like a good start to me.

* See Comment #8 for what I mean by dangerous tolerance and non-judgmentalism.

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108 Responses to Credentialism and the New Elites, by a Curmudgeon: Degrees of Glory

  1. GeorgeD on September 14, 2005 at 4:30 pm

    Credentials are the arm of the flesh.

    My degree is in accounting. Accounting degrees have been around for along time but this should be on the list of things that shouldn’t have degrees. The subject is trivial. I would add the following to your list of things that one shouldn’t need a degree to do.

    Education
    Social work
    Any business degree

    I will even be bold and suggest that admittance to the bar should be based on examination only and omit any specific education requirement. They used to read law in a lawyer’s office.

  2. C Jones on September 14, 2005 at 4:44 pm

    “The experience of living away from family and all other ties, among a bunch of unrestrained youth, can create a dangerous tolerance and non-judgmentalism, along with a false sense that one’s values are personal, in almost anyone.”

    If one definition of increased intelligence includes Joseph Smith’s “clearer views” or the idea of greater light and truth, that greater light should allow a greater ability to distinguish between choices, or in other words greater ability to judge as opposed to the dangerous relativism you refer to.

  3. Melissa on September 14, 2005 at 4:49 pm

    I can’t say much now—-since I’m busy working toward another degree ;) —–but the following point caught my attention

    “The experience of living away from family and all other ties, among a bunch of unrestrained youth, can create a dangerous tolerance and non-judgmentalism, along with a false sense that one’s values are personal, in almost anyone.”

    I generally think tolerance and “non-judgmentalism” (to use your language) are good things. However, I too recently contemplated the “danger” that can result when these two virtues are taken to the extreme especially on a college campus. During the commencement exercises at Princeton a couple of days ago the president of the university (whom I actually like a lot) gave an address in which she counseled the incoming students to “beware the idealogue.” She went on to advise the fledgling first years to avoid those who voice too-strong opinions and show an unwillingness to be persuaded by contrary evidence. She also made it clear that a reluctance to “change one’s mind” was an academic trangression to be avoided by those who would be successful Princetonians.

    Although a certain amount of this sort of encouragement to be open to new knowledge and experiences is expected and appropriate in a speech like this given to an incoming class at a place like Princeton, the fact that it included a “warning” against those who take unyielding positions on any issue was troubling.

  4. Soyde River on September 14, 2005 at 5:05 pm

    But credentials ARE important.

    Think of how a much better world would have been created if the good Lord had possessed a Phd. from Harvard.

  5. Clark on September 14, 2005 at 5:25 pm

    I think that degrees, while not totally informative, are important ways for people to guage others backgrounds. The problem is that not all degrees are created equal and not all are of equal worth. I’d disagree, for instance, with George’s comment about accounting degrees. Exactly how am I to be sure whether the person I hire is qualified? Or that the company I hire is using a qualified person? Speaking as someone who does use an accountant, I’d want to be as sure about that as I would that the doctor treating me actually went to medical school.

    There are more useless degrees – mainly in most of the humanities. That’s not to discredit the majors, just that the degree as a public sign of much doesn’t seem to matter in the job market. I’m not at all convinced a PhD in English, for instance, means a whole lot unless you are trying to teach English in Universities.

    The other problem, of course, is that many (not all) journals require you to be associated with a facility. Not necessarily a University (but it helps). Once again I can understand why. But at the same time I think this unfortunate. I remember being blessed to spend the larger part of a day with Freeman Dyson, the famous physicist (and some think someone who should have been granted a Nobel Prize for his work). He had very entertaining things to say along these lines. I think a lot of “creedalism” is simply laziness on many people’s parts. I think degrees and the like are important for laity to have some sense of whether people are qualified. (As well as passing board exams or inspections) But in other places they are just silly overall.

  6. Geoff J on September 14, 2005 at 5:27 pm

    Melissa,

    It seems to me that we as Mormons can afford to take the counsel from that University president without trepidation. The idea is that we can consider any idea but we believe the most persuasive evidence. Of course for Mormons the body of evidence includes direct evidence from God which trumps most every other kind of evidence for us (except further or greater revelation I guess). She might not approve of that, but it does technically meet her request.

  7. Russell Arben Fox on September 14, 2005 at 5:30 pm

    A simply superb post, Adam. Never apologize for being a curmudgeon.

    Regarding “equality,” it seems to me that each of your very valid complaints about credentialism–that it generates a competitive attitude towards life; that it replaces actual judgment with an artificially cosmopolitan non-judgmentalism; that it crushes real diversity and liberty–are nonetheless related to egalitarian priorities, though they may not often be noted as such. Competition breeds discontentment: we are not supposed to be happy with our starting places, but are rather supposed to be racing away from them, hopefully more quickly than others. Such discontentment often leads to diffidence, if not outright hostility, towards ones fellow runners; thus to be yoked (through any sort of social program or expectation) with anyone not your equal–not running as fast, or running in a different direction–becomes something to be avoided. Similarly, the sort of abstract, un-embedded “tolerance” which usually follows a credentialized worldview (“I don’t care what you believe; I just care if you can do the job”) is actually and profoundly judgmental, only the judgment is sustains turns upon jargon–on your ability to speak the lingo, embrace the terminology, accommodate the dominant values. It’s information-work, in other words, a Mandarinism which guards its (hidden and perhaps not even conscious, but still real) gates quite closely. As for your last point, about liberty, I suppose we could get into some real arguments there. Suffice to say that the sort of positive or collective liberty I take to be most valuable sees credentialism as something which aims to “liberate” us in accordance with elite, individual markers (how you did on a test, for example), as opposed to the liberation provided by groups indexed to actual forms of life and work (unions, fraternities, social clubs, etc.)

  8. Adam Greenwood on September 14, 2005 at 5:31 pm

    The dangerous kind of tolerance I mean, Melissa, is the unwillingness to classify any goals or behaviors as devil-chained. I also mean–this will be difficult to express–a false sense that some kinds of behaviors and thoughts and ways of being are inevitable. Just part of the landscape. Nothing to see here, move along, move along.

  9. NFlanders on September 14, 2005 at 5:35 pm

    Heaven knows we’re running dangerously low on judgmentalism; pretty soon we won’t be able to judge anyone! How are we going to feel better about ourselves?

    That bit of silliness aside, I agree that the Bachelor’s degree has become the new High School diploma. I think degree inflation is dangerous because we’re charging often over a $100,000 and using up four years for a scrap of paper that is becoming increasingly meaningless, other than as a economic marker. Even very unintelligent children of wealthy people almost always get a college degree.

    I think the resources could be better spent, but they won’t be. Running a college is too profitable.

  10. Adam Greenwood on September 14, 2005 at 5:36 pm

    GeorgeD,

    I don’t know about accounting, George D., but you are rock solid otherwise. Rock. Solid.

  11. Adam Greenwood on September 14, 2005 at 5:38 pm

    Oh, yes, the cost. Thanks, NFLanders. That’s objection number 4.

  12. GeorgeD on September 14, 2005 at 5:53 pm

    10. Am I to take that to mean dumb or thick as a rock? :)

  13. Michael Towns on September 14, 2005 at 5:58 pm

    I agree with the tenor of the original post. I’m an autodidact, and I wholeheartedly endorse the idea that credentialism has run amok. It’s getting to the point where the plant janitor needs a college degree to get hired. An absurd concept.

    After all, if EVERYBODY possesses a baccalaureate degree, the value of said degree has decreased significantly. The metaphor alludes to the printing of dollars by the Federal Reserve. The more dollars that are printed, the more the dollar supply. And that means that every dollar in circulation loses value and becomes worth less. Now you know why a dollar in 1970 could buy more than it does 35 years later. Same goes for the ubiquitous college degree.

    –Michael, a college dropout and PROUD of it (yet also gainfully employed and richly blessed) as well as a firm believer in self education.

  14. GeorgeD on September 14, 2005 at 6:05 pm

    5. An accounting degree doesn’t provide any basis for me to trust. I have one and I know smart accountants and stupid accountants and they all have the same degree. I also know a lot of engineers who took up accounting somewhere in their corporate careers and they do very well with no accounting degree thank you.

    I hate to say that examinations are the way to go but I do trust them better than degrees. Having said that there are many very useless “by exam” credentials.

    We all need to quit having nanny institutions take care of us. The best way to know if someone is good is by their network of references. Plugging ourselves into networks (communities etc) that have some accountability to each other is the best assurance of quality.

    The church could do that if we had real brotherhood. But we are afraid to tell a member who is a plumber, accountant, electrician, lawyer or whatever that we are unsatisfied with their work so we avoid using our brothers and sisters. (We are also afraid to pay each other what we are worth.) We just won’t hold members accountable and we seem to refuse to be accountable ourselves.

  15. Clark on September 14, 2005 at 6:55 pm

    “After all, if EVERYBODY possesses a baccalaureate degree, the value of said degree has decreased significantly”

    And major and location of degree increases…

  16. Kent Larsen on September 14, 2005 at 8:18 pm

    Michael (post #13):

    You are correct only if the value of a degree (in terms of what it helps you produce) is zero. If the knowledge you gain from a degree actually helps you become more productive in some sense, then if everyone has a degree, there is immense benefit to society.

    While I would never say that all degrees are valuable, I do believe the vast majority of those degrees and the knowledge they represent does have a positive impact.

  17. Melissa on September 14, 2005 at 8:55 pm

    Geoff writes,

    “It seems to me that we as Mormons can afford to take the counsel from that University president without trepidation. The idea is that we can consider any idea but we believe the most persuasive evidence. Of course for Mormons the body of evidence includes direct evidence from God which trumps most every other kind of evidence for us (except further or greater revelation I guess). She might not approve of that, but it does technically meet her request.”

    Geoff I felt no personal “trepidation” regarding her counsel nor worry over whether or not I could “meet her request.” I also did not even consider any other members of the Church who may have been in attendance (at the most 2). I was troubled on a more intellectual level that the central message to eighteen year old incoming students during commencement was “beware the idealogue,” especially since the “idealogue” was described as someone who holds (too) tenaciously to any belief. This sort of advice seems to risk functioning as an officially sanctioned bias against convicted religious beliefs.

    Adam, sorry for the threadjack. I realize my comments weren’t really on topic here.

  18. Jared on September 14, 2005 at 8:59 pm

    And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches.

    I think one way to combat this is to have a serious committment (particularly as a society) to providing access to education for the poor. It may not be perfect, but the American system allows the poor to become the elite in less than a generation–something that both the poor and the rich need.

  19. Nathan Oman on September 14, 2005 at 9:17 pm

    I am not entirely clear about what it is that credentialism is suppose to refer to. It seems to me that in some sense the value of creditials is linked to the value of expertise. I think that it would be a mistake to pooh-pooh this value too much. As Adam knows, I am very much opposed to what I think of as the Harvard disease, namely the conceit that the world’s problems can be solved by giving smart people more power. On the other hand, as an inveterate dilettent and generalist, I think that there is a tendency by me and my ilk to under value the technical expertise. This expertise, in turn, is frequently the result of specialized training at those nasty, cosmopolitan research institutions.

    Another thing to think about is that perhaps the rise of credentialism is tied to the increasingly competitive nature of much of economic life. This rise in competition, however, seems to me to be mainly tied to dropping barriers to entry. In other words, a world in which more and more people have opprotunities is simultaneously going to be a world in which competitive pressures are greater. Hence, the retreat from credentialism may involve more than Adam’s laudable choice to practice smaller city law rather than big city law. It may be that such a retreat is only really possible on a social scale by limiting the opprotunities of others.

  20. cameron steinbusch on September 14, 2005 at 10:30 pm

    In Canada getting a PH.D. in almost anything is too hard for too long for too little money.

  21. Jonathan Green on September 14, 2005 at 10:32 pm

    Adam, I’m torn. Half of me wants to suck down a hit of pure propellant from a can of Reddi-Indignation before letting loose with something like: “If you’re so concerned about universities, why don’t you stop moaning and DO something about it? Take a decade and earn a degree in the field of your choice, or stop making excuses and get serious about academic law, or whatever it is you want to do. Sure, it entails some sacrifice and risk, but if you want people to take your complaints about the modern university seriously, why don’t you, you know, just FIND OUT WHAT THE H*CK YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT FIRST? Teaching four classes and trying to publish your way into a better job just doesn’t leave you a whole lot of time to corrupt impressionable youth. You’re not going to save the American university by constantly complaining about it, but maybe you could have some ACTUAL influence on the lives of REAL students if you’d pay the required dues first.”

    But then I would just sound bitter, which doesn’t stack up well against your curmudgeonly post, and in fact I agree with large swaths of it. Not all of it, mind you, but large parts of your core complaint about credentialism. Education warped by competitiveess? Unserious students? Preach on, Brother Adam. What bugs me the most about credentialism is its anti-competitiveness, to pick up Nathan’s point. It seems there are any number of fields that were once open to any reasonably bright person that have now been professionalized in order to secure the positions of the original colonizers. Credentialism closes off career paths, lessens social mobility, and forces people to spend time and money gaining certifications that would be better spent in gaining actual experience. My experience as a temp taught me that there are a lot of jobs whose essential qualifications can be learned in somewhere between 15 minutes and 2 hours, or in periodic chunks of similar duration.

    Of course, even more galling than credentials outweighing actual knowledge is how celebrity can trump both.

  22. Kaimi on September 14, 2005 at 10:35 pm

    Melissa,

    Was she saying to beware the idealogue — “One given to fanciful ideas or theories; a theorist; a spectator”; see http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=idealogue ? Or was she saying to beware the ideologue — “An advocate of a particular ideology”; see http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=ideologue . From your explanation, it seems like she may be saying the latter.

    Not to accuse you of Omanistic (Omanesque?) spelling or anything . . .

  23. cricks on September 14, 2005 at 11:26 pm

    Great post Adam. And very apt for this particular blog. One of the first things I noticed when I began reading T&S was a sense of preoccupation with academic pedigree in the biographies of T&S contributors. Your post reminded me of this, so I decided to do a little reviewing. Nearly every permanent blogger on this site lists not only what degrees he or she holds, but from which university they were granted. The lone exceptions are Adam, and somewhat ironically, the most prominent academic in the group. Just to push buttons a little more, about a third of the permanent bloggers cite degrees and schools before mentioning family. Granted, many of these biographies are chronological, but I still find it curious.

  24. Wade Poulson on September 14, 2005 at 11:51 pm

    I am the 9th of 11 children and the only one with a four year degree – B.A. – in my family (inlcuding my parents). I’m currently in my second year of law school and think degrees are utterly rediculous!!! School now days is virtually a bunch of red tape. Sure, you learn things, but nothing comes close to what is learned in the “real world”. My three older brothers each own their own company and make very decent livings – they think I’m crazy for “wasting” so much time in school. I tend to agree with them but have wanted to be a lawyer for a long time and unfortunately one can’t sit for the bar until he gets that silly piece of paper from law school. Of course one cannot go to law school until he gets that silly piece of paper from a University. I wish I could just “read law” with someone who actually knew what they were doing instead of having to sit through hours of mindless propoganda every day!

    I share all your sentiments Adam.

  25. Kaimi on September 15, 2005 at 12:14 am

    Wade,

    Have you considered signing up for my classes? I try to make sure that all the propaganda I teach is mindful, rather than mindless.

  26. Geoff J on September 15, 2005 at 12:19 am

    Melissa,

    It appears I gave you the wrong impression with my comment. I was not implying that you or any other Mormons there felt trepidation over her request (and I definitely didn’t mean I thought your faith was shaken or something). I meant that I see no problem with her suggestion. As I understand your comment, she said always stay open to new and better evidence on any issue. I think that is wonderful advice for anyone — young or old. If we, as Mormons, have direct revelation from God on a subject then we have already received the best evidence in existence on that particular subject. So we are built on the rock of revelation. My thought was that this ideologue concept she warns against is the very thing that keeps others from seriously seeking the greater truth the restored church offers. It sounds like it is very much in line with the this verse in D&C 93:39

    And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers.

    (Also if this is indeed threadjacking… I felt bad that I might have misled Melissa with my comment.)

  27. Kaimi on September 15, 2005 at 12:20 am

    Adam writes:

    “I found that it took an actual exercise of will to decide not to try to get into the best schools, get the best grades, get the best jobs, and so on.”

    I appreciate that that can be a legitimate sentiment, Adam, and I have no doubt that you have arrived at it legitimately. However, I hear such sentiments expressed from time to time, and I tend to be very suspicious of them. It’s my observation that such statements are often infected with sour grapes. Many people who don’t get good grades (for valid reasons including lack of aptitude and/or lack of effort) suddenly hop onto the bandwagon of “who needs good grades anyway?” That move seems at least as cynically self-interested as seeking good grades in the first place.

  28. Barb on September 15, 2005 at 12:26 am

    Adam, I too have thought about some of which you have said. I am glad the T and S has shown a little diversity of late letting people with degrees relating to fashion blog. Having a degree lends itself to as a whole be more articulate in many cases. Yet, I think people can through discipline gain a good self-education.

    This may be neither her nor there but I find that I feel like a real loser when I read all the blogs and see everyone’s credentials. Maybe if I had a husband and children, I would not feel so inadequate. Or if I had a job with a little prestige or something. Well, it is probably the big stamp on my head that says, mentally ill that rounds my self-image.

    However, I find it all so stimulating and at times entertaining so I keep on coming back.

  29. Jack on September 15, 2005 at 12:37 am

    Jonothan, what are you saying? (or wishing you could say?) That one needs to become credentialed in order to fight the “evils” of credentialism?

    It’s my understanding that universities in Germany don’t offer degrees in the arts. If you want to move in the higher circles there you have to show them who you’ve studied and worked with–kinda like what GeorgeD was talking about earlier. Of course, this cannot apply to every field of study as artistic expertise (or the lack thereof) tends to be more easily worn on the sleeve than most other academic expertise.

    I like Nibley’s little essay on the Amateur wherein he laments the loss of the pursuit of knowledge/skill solely because of the love of it. I think it might have been in that same essay (I may be wrong) where Nibley tells the story of how a mediocre music instructor was chosen over a brilliant music instructor at a particular school because the former was degreed while the latter was not. This, of course, does not mean that the two will always be mutually exclusive. What it does mean is that I have an ax to grind because I’m too lazy to finish the damned degree.

  30. Jack on September 15, 2005 at 12:39 am

    Jonathan, sorry for spelling your name wrong above.

  31. annegb on September 15, 2005 at 12:42 am

    I didn’t know Adam was a curmudgeon. Last I heard, he quit blogging. Or was that…..some other guy…I can’t remember.

  32. Jack on September 15, 2005 at 12:46 am

    annegb,

    That was Jonathan Max Wilson, another beloved conservative.

  33. Russell Arben Fox on September 15, 2005 at 12:47 am

    Kaimi,

    “That move seems at least as cynically self-interested as seeking good grades in the first place.”

    Which I think just goes to show how deeply we embraced their meritocratic ideal. “Of course everyone must be constantly striving to better themselves (and not coincidentally, better their competitors) in some measurable field of endeavor; how could it possibly be otherwise? It’s human nature; it’s what makes the world go around!” The notion that we ought not allow the rush to specialize and prove ourselves to prevent the possibility of simply tending to (and supporting those who tend to) one’s own little patch of a discipline or practice too often strikes us as, at best, as maudlin and quaint, at worst, as weirdly Zen-like and downright un-American.

    Nate,

    “This expertise, in turn, is frequently the result of specialized training at those nasty, cosmopolitan research institutions.”

    I don’t think I’ve called cosmopolitan research institutions “nasty.” Personally, I like them a lot. I do, however, think that there may be more of them than are necessary, and more particularly, that the culture and expectations which they inculcate into the broader economy is not necessarily contributing to the justice or the stability of the work of the nation as a whole.

    “It may be that such a retreat is only really possible on a social scale by limiting the opprotunities of others.”

    Or by making more people cognizant of the fact that enclosed social or economic environments are not necessarily, by definition, oppressive ones.

    Jonathan,

    Put down that Reddi-Indignation. All us academic elitists ought to be foursquare behind Adam on this point; it is the proliferation of credentialism which is at least partly responsible for the debasement and dissolution of the guild-like mentalities which used to inform and protect many professions, not just the academy. Our own fields have greatly contributed to this development, hyping our grad programs and closing our disciplines off ever more firmly from the contributions of non-specialists or (worse!) specialists who dare cross disciplinary lines. A world where credentials in general were less important would be a world where the contributions that particular specializations (whether credentialed or not) make possible could better stand out and be appreciated.

  34. Kaimi on September 15, 2005 at 12:48 am

    Wade,

    Also, a number of jusrisdictions allow attorneys to sit for the bar without completing seven years of schooling, or even completing law school. New York is one of them, for instance. There are many others. For one online discussion of these jurisdictions, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J.D. .

  35. Kaimi on September 15, 2005 at 12:56 am

    Russell,

    You’re misreading my comment. I’m not saying that it’s not perfectly valid to come to that position. It’s fine to choose to eschew the system altogether, to opt instead for the hymn 270 path of tending a lowly place.

    What does make me suspicious is when the conversation goes along these lines:

    “You know, I attended college. I didn’t do very well. But then again, grades are overrated anyway. Rant rant rant about ‘college doesn’t teach real world skills,’ yada yada yada. ”

    It’s a conversation that I’ve heard a lot, and it screams out “sour grapes” much more than “conscientious objector to the rat race.”

    Let me turn the tables on you — do you think that everyone who downplays the importance of credentials does it because they’ve had an epiphany and chosen to become a yeoman farmer at one with the land? Or is there the possibility that some (significant) subset of the people who repeat that argument do so out of sour grapes bitterness?

  36. Sue M on September 15, 2005 at 1:41 am

    Every child in my large family has an extremely high IQ. Only two have graduated from college (so far), but six own their own highly successful businesses and are fairly wealthy (six figures and up). Not attending school had nothing to do with laziness or stupidity, it had to do with impatience and perhaps arrogance. Why sit through years of classes when you can teach yourself much more quickly, and when it often seemed that those doing the teaching were often completely clueless – with no real world experience whatsoever.

    This overemphasis on credentialism in the bloggernaccle smacks of nothing more than snobbery to me. It’s one of the last socially acceptable identifiers we can use to say to ourselves – I’m better, I’m smarter, I’m a harder worker, etc., etc.

    As for sour grapes, I hear the opposite just as often – people with lots of credentials and degrees who get mighty irritated when someone with a GED makes a million bucks by using plain old ingenuity, hard work and common sense.

  37. Kaimi on September 15, 2005 at 1:57 am

    Sue,

    Not denying that such people exist. If one can do well in life without formal education, more power to them.

    But just take a look around. For every non-college-grad who is a millionaire business owner, there are dozens of non-college-grads who are low-earning construction workers, pizza delivery people, Starbucks counter workers, day laborers, temp workers, failed business owners, and so on.

    Sitting through classes is a pretty good way to get knowledge and skills. There’s a pretty simple reason why Jim Faulconer is pretty knowledgeable when it comes to philosophy, Nate Oman is pretty knowledgeable when it comes to law, and Rosalynde Welch is pretty knowledgeable when it comes to literature.

    It’s absolutely true that there are instances where formal education is not the most effective way to impart knowledge. And it’s absolutely true that there are people who do better outside of the formal learning environment.

    But the existence of exceptions doesn’t disprove the general rule: For a large number of people, formal education is a relatively efficient way to learn. And given that general rule, the presence of indicators of formal education — college degrees — is a relatively good indication of intelligence and dedication. It’s not a perfect proxy by any means, but it’s one that works well much of the time.

  38. Wade Poulson on September 15, 2005 at 2:37 am

    Kaimi,

    I have always wondered about whether one could sit for the bar without a degree in some states – thanks for verifying the myth. Unfortunately however, I’m too much of a southern California boy and refuse to move to any other state. I guess I can’t have my cake and eat it too.

  39. Russell Arben Fox on September 15, 2005 at 8:59 am

    Kaimi,

    “Let me turn the tables on you – do you think that everyone who downplays the importance of credentials does it because they’ve had an epiphany and chosen to become a yeoman farmer at one with the land? Or is there the possibility that some (significant) subset of the people who repeat that argument do so out of sour grapes bitterness?”

    Oh, absolutely. As Nate regularly, and accurately, points out, the whole “simple life” ideal is at least as susceptible to (self-)delusional manipulation and commercialization as any other way of life. There wouldn’t be expensive high-end catalogues selling tons of retro “authentic” knicknacks, or shelves full of books written by psychologists with Ph.D.s telling people how they should be congratulated for being just who they are, if that wasn’t the case.

    “For a large number of people, formal education is a relatively efficient way to learn. And given that general rule, the presence of indicators of formal education – college degrees – is a relatively good indication of intelligence and dedication.”

    For the record, I should emphasize that my agreement with Adam is not such that I actually believe that credentials, per se, are a bad thing. It’s good to be able to reliably know who has what what experiences and who has learned what–it prevents one from being taken advantage of by false teachers, untrained doctors, lousy mechanics, etc. What I don’t like is the tendency for the quest for credentials to warp the choices people make.

  40. Taylor on September 15, 2005 at 9:09 am

    I think I’ll just follow the prophet and “get all the education I can”, which he has constantly instructed us to do. :) Why would anyone want to publically disagree with the prophet?!?

  41. Gavin McGraw on September 15, 2005 at 9:26 am

    The value of a Baccelaureate degree has decreased not just because of their proliferation, but also, I would argue, because deep down, we realize that increasing levels of formal education just don’t work as well as they used to. High School is little more than baby-sitting in most places UNLESS the students’ parents take an active role and teach them to self-educate themselves.

    This is why we value the number of hoops someone has jumped through as a measure not only of their knowledge, but of their initiative. It takes gumption to stick it out through four years (or more) of undergraduate and additional years of graduate study. Even so, it is those who ultimately are self-educators who gain the most from formal training, precisely because they realize that it can be a fairly efficient way to go.

    Unfortunately, credentialism has dramatically increased in the arts as well (even in Europe, Jack), and for two reasons. First, the nature of the competitive market and the arts economy is such that those in hiring positions have a lot to choose from. Often they’ll go with somone who’s got real experience as well as a Master’s and Doctorate. This goes for performance situations as well as arts academia. Second, because of the increasing number and prominence of formal arts degree programs, the artists themselves have been conned into thinking that if the degrees are out there, they must be necessary. These two factors also tend to perpetuate each other. This is especially true for Classical music, and increasingly so for non-conformist (but also non-popular) arts like Jazz.

    I am the first to recognize that the division of labor is the key to economic advancement (to use Adam Smith’s terminology), but it gets silly when we relinquish our judgement to the arithmetic of counting up a candidates qualifications, at the expense of really evaluating their skills/expertise. I think this is what relying on the ‘arm of flesh’ means in this case.

    What really gets me is that one can get advanced degrees in Human Resources, which is basically the study of institutionalizing credentialism! Because Hum.Res. people have so many applicants to choose from, they feel they have to rely on the ‘numbers’ more and even this gets more complicated, so they have to go get a degree to prove they can tell whether a degree is valuable or not!

    So much for hiring practices. I think the odd thing is that in some weird way we are repeating earlier stages of the economy, where most people were farmers or tradesmen with little hope for advancement, until the entrepreneurial types created a commercial society. Now that that commercial society has been saturated and specialized to the point where most people have commercial jobs, even degrees don’t guarantee advancement anymore, so again it’s entrepreneurial types (with or without degrees) who ultimately advance themselves. So even in the trenches of formal learning, it’s self-education and initiative that counts.

    But not having a degree in Economics, perhaps I wouldn’t know.

    “Never speak disrespectfully of [academic] society…Only people who can’t get into it do that.” -Oscar Wilde

  42. Jonathan Green on September 15, 2005 at 9:29 am

    Russell: Right, I’ve put the Reddi-Indignation back into the pantry, and I’m pretty much in agreement with Adam that credentialism is the kudzu of our times.

    A couple of comments have brought up credentialism in the context of online discussion, where I’m not sure how much its evils really outweigh its benefits. Too often things proceed more or less like:

    Commenter A: “I think missionaries should be allowed to wear fish ties.”
    Commenter B: “When I was a missionary, I snuck out every morning wearing a fish tie, and I had TONS of baptisms.”
    Commenter C: “I ran a double-blind study for the church’s research division on use of fish ties among missionaries, and we found that it had a statistically insignificant correlation with convert baptisms, and a small negative correlation with retention. You can read the article, published in the Journal of the American Fish Tie Society, here.”
    Commenters A and B, in unison: “Credentialism! Just because you have a piece of paper doesn’t mean anything!”

    It drives me crazy.

    Jack, that’s a good point. Looking at other countries shows that we don’t have to organize universities like we do here and we don’t have to accord them the same role in society, but that has as much or more to do with the nature of the American university as it has to do with credentialism.

  43. Matt Evans on September 15, 2005 at 9:40 am

    One of my professor’s research focused on regulatory agencies, and he found that it took an average of seven years from the creation of an agency for the regulated industry to take it over and aim the regulatory framework toward new competitors by erecting barriers to entry that protect the established players’ economic rents. It’s the same with barriers to taking the bar exam, becoming a family doctor, or becoming a taxi driver: the drawbridges are controlled by those on the inside.

    Kaimi asked: do you think that everyone who downplays the importance of credentials does it because they?ve had an epiphany and chosen to become a yeoman farmer at one with the land?

    No, and not everyone who says it’s a colossal waste of time to break the pole-sitting world record actually has the patience or ability to break the pole-sitting world record, but that doesn’t disqualify their arguing it’s a colossal waste of time to try to break world records. The arguments against such endeavors, whether world-records or getting alphabet soup credentials behind your name, have no bearing on whether the person could do it themselves.

    Or here’s a simple way to explain why the sour grapes response is inappropriate: despite your and my being run-of-the-mill basketball players, I think that fact is completely irrelevant to our argument that the celebrity and status afforded to NBA players is bad, though of course a defender of such credentials could point out that we’re only sour because we didn’t have what it takes to make the NBA and get fawning fans and an entourage.

  44. Matt Evans on September 15, 2005 at 9:48 am

    Jonathan,

    I think your fish tie example is inapposite to the conversation, because credentials are the antithesis of research; credentials are merely appeals to authority. Research is a great example of true meritocracy, as research stands or falls on its own weight without regard for the reputation and credentials of the author. Einstein’s theory of relativity is brilliant because it’s brilliant, and not because he had the right credentials. It is wrong to dismiss his theory because it was conceived by an uncredentialed drop-out, and right to dismiss Peter Singer’s theories despite his having impeccable credentials.

  45. Kaimi on September 15, 2005 at 9:56 am

    Matt,

    Einstein was exceptional. For every one person who can come up with brilliant mathematical theories without formal training, there are 99 or more who can’t.

    And it takes time and effort to examine theories. Which is why if a research lab has three thousand resumes to sort through, and a limited time frame to do it in, they’re going to start out by looking at credentials.

    It’s just like law school admissions. Yes, it would be nice to read a lengthy essay by each applicant and learn about all of their extracurricular activities and have breakfast with everyone too, just to learn what nice people they are. But at the end of the day, there are limited slots available and limited time in which to evaluate applicants, and proxies get used. The “let’s read a fifty-page paper from each applicant to see if she’s the next Einstein” approach is simply impractical.

  46. Matt Evans on September 15, 2005 at 10:07 am

    I think many people are confusing credentials with reputation. (Even Russell treated them as equivalent in his last response to Kaimi.) Everyone agrees that those who do good legal work do better legal work than those who do bad legal work, and, I believe, that should be the only consideration one should consider when hiring legal work. The problem with credentials is that they are both under- and over-inclusive — many people with the right legal credentials don’t know diddly about a particular legal issue, and many people without those credentials know a great deal. For example, real estate brokers know more about real estate law, and CPA tax preparers know much more about tax law, than do typical lawyers, and they could become bona fide experts in the field if they weren’t prohibited by inefficient credentialling standards erected to protect existing lawyers, even though the stated rationale is always to protect consumers. The problem is that the credential protects too many bad lawyers, as people wrongly assume that because the person has the credentials they needn’t research the lawyer’s reputation, but anyone who’s spent any time reviewing the work of credentialed lawyers knows credentialed lawyers do crappy legal work all the time, and knows that reputation is essential to guaging competence. Because reputation and skills are essential and sufficient, the supposed benefit of credentials, to reduce information costs, is zero. Credentials don’t reduce information costs because credentials are neither necessary nor sufficient.

  47. GeorgeD on September 15, 2005 at 10:14 am

    Big name law schools and big corporations have got to resort to credentials but that doesn’t mean that we have to play along.

    Mormondom is still busy producing too much lump and not enough leaven. Every summer our ward gets a crop of bright young interns who are more concerned about the health plan and benefits that the company will offer them if they are employed than their potential for growth . Maybe it’s our obsession on family that keeps us from taking risks. It shouldn’t be so. We need to encourage our best and brightest to take risks that are commensurate with their intelligence and capacity.

    One of the risks they need to take is choosing education over credentials.

  48. Jesse on September 15, 2005 at 10:17 am

    I would highly recommend Kurt Vonnegut’s book “Player Piano” to anyone out there who likes a good poke at academia. I was in grad school at the time I read it and the hayseed farmer’s discussion of the value of a dissertation (he told two “learned doctors” that when they were through discussing their dissertations, he’d be out in the barnyard shoveling his) made me laugh so hard that tears came to my eyes. I still can’t re-read that passage without dissolving into laughter. Such a marvelous skewering of education induced pomposity.

  49. NFlanders on September 15, 2005 at 10:17 am

    Kaimi– Sure, you can sit for the bar in some jurisdictions without a J.D., as long as you don’t mind being an unemployed (and nearly unemployable) attorney.

  50. Matt Evans on September 15, 2005 at 10:21 am

    Kaimi,

    Of course applicants must demonstrate that they are qualified, but it’s wrong to treat credentials as necessary, because they aren’t. Bill Gates is qualified to teach computer programming, and Michael Dell to teach entrepreneurship, for example, even though they didn’t graduate college, let alone get doctorates. And of course everyone who’s sat through college courses knows that many people with the right degrees can’t teach, either. Our reliance on credentials is much to blame for the sorry state of teaching. That is why we should look exclusively at reputation and skills. Credentials are neither necessary nor sufficient, and are therefore inefficient proxies.

  51. Adam Greenwood on September 15, 2005 at 10:26 am

    Thanks, Kaimi, for assuming that I’m not having sour grapes.

    The opposite, really. I’ve always done much better at tests and schooling than my actual abiliities. For me, part of the struggle was reminding myself that just because everyone thought I was qualified to hit it big didn’t mean I was.

  52. Russell Arben Fox on September 15, 2005 at 10:42 am

    “I think many people are confusing credentials with reputation. (Even Russell treated them as equivalent in his last response to Kaimi.)”

    I don’t think I actually did this, but my comment could be read to suggest that I was, so this is an important point to make nonetheless. We want to be able to determine who does good work, who speaks with experience, who knows what they’re doing, and who doesn’t do any of those things. A credential, broadly construed, is just supposed to be a marker from one’s peers–people who, in theory, can do all of those things–saying that the holder of the credential can do such things too. But when a preoccupation with credentials warps the choices people make in buying and selling and hiring and firing–with the credential viewed as the goal in itself, as opposed to the experience or talent or skill it presumably represents–then we need to find a way to wean ourselves away from the self-sustaining “reputation” conveyed by the possession of credentials, and turn to something else.

  53. Sue M on September 15, 2005 at 10:43 am

    Kaimi,

    I’m not arguing against education. I plan to finish my long postponed Bachelors degree as soon as my children are older. We are saving for their college educations and expect that they will attend.

    “And given that general rule, the presence of indicators of formal education – college degrees – is a relatively good indication of intelligence and dedication. It’s not a perfect proxy by any means, but it’s one that works well much of the time.”

    I disagree. I don’t believe that a credential, in and of itself, is a very valuable indicator of the intelligence of any given person. I think it’s definitely an indicator that they are a somewhat intelligent person who lived a particular kind of life – one where education was stressed, where education was available, one where education was achievable, and where formal education fit their particular learning style. I think that someday, when distance degrees are more common and practical, more people will have the opportunity for higher education. But I still don’t think the degree or lack of one, is an indicator of innate intelligence.

    I know plenty of education majors who are absolute simpletons (and yes, that’s a terrible generality). Seriously? In my field – IT – I know plenty of brilliant people who never bothered to get credentials because it was the knowledge they possessed that was important, not whether or not they sat through a class with a professor whose technical skills were 10 years out of date.

    “For every non-college-grad who is a millionaire business owner, there are dozens of non-college-grads who are low-earning construction workers, pizza delivery people, Starbucks counter workers, day laborers, temp workers, failed business owners, and so on.”

    I also know plenty of college graduates making less than the construction workers you mention, especially here in Utah where college degrees are like drivers licenses. I don’t automatically assume that someone with a law degree is someone with a great deal of common sense. Of course, common sense and intelligence are different things, but I digress.

    I value knowledge over education. If it comes through higher education, great. If it comes through work or life experience, great. Different things work for different people.

  54. Sue M on September 15, 2005 at 10:46 am

    (Hmmmm…. I have know idea why the “Seriously?” is in there – held over from another thought or something. Darn, I left myself open to it now – perhaps if I had a college degree, I would have better editing ability.)

  55. Michael Towns on September 15, 2005 at 10:48 am

    “I think I’ll just follow the prophet and “get all the education I can”, which he has constantly instructed us to do. :) Why would anyone want to publically disagree with the prophet?!?”

    What’s your defintion of “education”? I can go to a library and spend all day learning. I don’t think we should automatically assume that the prophet is necessarily referring to “formal” education.

  56. Sue M on September 15, 2005 at 10:50 am

    And I think it’s hilarious that I was eligible to TEACH computer science at a state college in Nevada (5 years ago) based on my knowledge, skill and work experience, but I didn’t (and still don’t) qualify for the computer science credential graduates of the college received, because I didn’t have the time or patience to sit through enough humanities classes. It’s just silly and it makes me chuckle every time I think of it.

  57. Kaimi on September 15, 2005 at 11:00 am

    Sue,

    Granted, there are many fields where skill is easy to demonstrate through simple tests. Sports, music, and computer programming all share that attribute to some degree or another.

    Many fields do not share that attribute. Say I want to hire a new banker for my Wells Fargo branch. What do I do – put a bunch of people in a room and see who can outbank the others? And, of course, there are fields where it is not an option to simply let the market sort itself out. We could tell who is qualified to be a heart surgeon, without resorting to degrees, by simply letting 20 people try a bypass and seeing whose patients die. That seems like a bad way to make decisions.

  58. Nate Oman on September 15, 2005 at 11:06 am

    Jonathan wrote: “Commenters A and B, in unison: “Credentialism! Just because you have a piece of paper doesn’t mean anything!” It drives me crazy.”

    Exactly. Technical expertise and training matter. A well crafted social scientific study may well tell us more about the world than the conclusions that you reached in a bull session with your buddies. Populism is frequently simply a mask for sloppy thinking.

  59. Sue M on September 15, 2005 at 11:11 am

    Actually, that’s exactly how many credit unions and banks do it. They hire the people with demonstrated skills, not necessarily those with degrees. I actually provide software to credit unions and most of them have internal skills testing to see exactly what the people who they hire know. The CUs hire based on the results, not based on resume. So banking is probably a bad example.

    Of course, I agree with your general point – that there are some fields where there must be formal instruction. But there are many other fields where it’s not necessary. If you learn best that way, great. But someone without a degree may or may not be more proficient, however they achieved the knowledge.

    In Nevada, people with advanced mathematics degrees are not qualified to teach elementary or middle school math, despite a severe shortage of teachers. This is a good example of the distortion of the importance of credentials.

  60. Michael Towns on September 15, 2005 at 11:19 am

    “In Nevada, people with advanced mathematics degrees are not qualified to teach elementary or middle school math, despite a severe shortage of teachers. This is a good example of the distortion of the importance of credentials.”

    Exactly. Yet one of the many reasons why America’s public school system is in shambles.

  61. Kaimi on September 15, 2005 at 11:29 am

    Sue, Michael,

    I’m halfway in agreement on the advanced math degree / teaching idea.

    I agree that teaching is often subject to unnecessary red tape. It should be easier to get qualified teachers into the classroom.

    On the other hand, existing barriers aren’t totally without reason. It’s entirely possible for someone to hold advanced math degrees, yet be completely unqualified to teach math. I have had such a teacher (in college, no less!). She could not communicate in English, and could not explain any of the concepts to the students. She also had assigned a course book that was completely bereft of any guidance on the concepts. The result was chaos. This is how bad it was: She posted people’s grades from the quizzes, and so I could see, when I dropped the class three weeks in, that literally three-quarters of the students were getting F’s on every quiz. She had advanced math degrees, but was not a capable teacher.

    Now, as far as implementing a system that will weed out people like her, but let in qualified instructors — that’s a hard balance to strike. My feeling is that the system often errs towards overprotectiveness. But again, there are legitimate reasons for that desire, and the problem is coming up with the right balance.

  62. Adam Greenwood on September 15, 2005 at 11:31 am

    I don’t think education school does much to fix those sorts of problems, Kaimi. Certainly not enough to justify it.

  63. Kaimi on September 15, 2005 at 11:46 am

    Re #23:

    The “granted, many of these are biographical” exception seems to swallow any possible rule that we could draw from the evidence. For example, both Nate’s bio is essentially a straight chronology: BYU 1993, mission 1994, marriage post-1999, Law school 2000, law firm 2003. Is that evidence that Nate values his BYU degree over his marriage with Heather?

    After all, if Nate were really intending to construct his bio in a way that maximized his credentialed value, wouldn’t he put Harvard first rather than BYU? (I know, BYU is the Harvard of the Wasatch Front ;) ). Given his ordering, I don’t think that we can draw conclusions about credentials from his bio — it really looks like he just put in events in the order in which they occurred.

    (Note that identical analysis applies to Greg and Frank. There’s no credential-based reason to put the BYU undergrad degree ahead of the Columbia or Stanford degree. It’s all chronological. )

  64. Jack on September 15, 2005 at 11:48 am

    Jonathan & Nate,

    What can be even more frustrating is when commenter C comes back a year later with a whole new set of results–not because the data points have changed, but because the research methodology has changed. So much for his/her former credentials.

  65. Russell Arben Fox on September 15, 2005 at 11:52 am

    “I don’t think education school does much to fix those sorts of problems.”

    I agree with Adam, Kaimi; I don’t see how making sure teachers have an education degree would have prevented the situation you describe. What you had there was the result of a different (but not entirely unrelated) way in which credentialism effects schooling–a big university whose professors are all caught up (whether selfishly or out of desperation) with research and committee work, leaving classes to be taught by whatever grad students or foreign Ph.D.s the school can manage to suck up and stick into classrooms to satisfy their enrollment. Especially in basic math and science classes, the reliance of many large universities on unprepared (not in the sense of “don’t know the material,” but in the sense of, “have never conversed with any number of undergraduate students in English before”) instructors is a scandal.

    In general, while I remain open to the possibility that someone will show me an important and effective contribution that encouraging teachers to get advanced degrees in education will have on schooling in the U.S., I’m pretty skeptical of the whole Ed.D. idea. When it comes to teaching, again, apprenticeships matter a lot more than theory.

  66. Kaimi on September 15, 2005 at 11:55 am

    Further evidence of chronology over credential-whoring: Kaimi lists ASU ahead of Columbia, Melissa lists BYU ahead of Yale, Matt lists SLCC ahead of Harvard, Gordon lists BYU ahead of Chicago. None of which make sense if the goal is to emphasize credentials, but all of which make sense if the bio is just a quick chronological description.

    However, Kristine went to undergrad at Harvard. So she must be an inveterate snob. :P

  67. Kaimi on September 15, 2005 at 11:56 am

    Russell, Adam,

    I don’t know that requiring an education degree is the best answer, either. I do know that “throw open the gates and let anyone with an advanced degree teach math” creates its own set of problems.

  68. Nate Oman on September 15, 2005 at 12:15 pm

    “What can be even more frustrating is when commenter C comes back a year later with a whole new set of results–not because the data points have changed, but because the research methodology has changed. So much for his/her former credentials.”

    No Jack. At that point one has a debate about methodology and tries to figure out which approach is more likely to get us better information. This, however, is going to take a bit of investment in understanding the methodologies in question. Cheap populism won’t be of any use.

  69. Kaimi on September 15, 2005 at 12:17 pm

    What about expensive populism, Nate?

  70. Adam Greenwood on September 15, 2005 at 12:33 pm

    Nate Oman,
    I am not arguing for cheap populism. What I object to is not looking into the methodologies at all because, hey, the guy has a degree. Or the guy expecting us to take his word without revealing his research or his methodologies, because he has a degree. Or, relying on philosophical assumptions in doing the research and then claiming that his philosophical assumptions are somehow unassailable because other people in his field share them.

  71. Adam Greenwood on September 15, 2005 at 12:34 pm

    Kaimi,

    that you think degrees recieved is an important biographical marker is symptomatic. Not wrong, not indefensible, but symptomatic.

  72. Matt Evans on September 15, 2005 at 12:42 pm

    Nate (Comment 58),

    What do you think of my rebuttal to Jonathan’s argument that I made in Comment 44? Credentials are neither necessary nor sufficient to crafting or citing a sound study.

  73. Matt Evans on September 15, 2005 at 12:46 pm

    Adam: that you think degrees recieved is an important biographical marker is symptomatic.

    Symptomatic of a church whose bios of General Authorities mention their academic degrees before their children! The Church Almanac even lists spouse and family last!

  74. Nate Oman on September 15, 2005 at 12:50 pm

    Matt: Your point about necessity and sufficiency is correct, however, we seldom make decisions on the basis purely of necessary or sufficient facts. Generally speaking a close correlation is good enough. In a world where I have limited time and energy to devote to studying this or that topic, I am likely to rely on credentials for making a first cut not because credentials are necessary or sufficient but because they are a rough and ready way of getting at higher quality stuff more quickly.

  75. Kaimi on September 15, 2005 at 12:51 pm

    Adam,

    Nate’s bio lists from the time he started school. And why not? That is an important biographical marker, particularly if (when) it causes families to be moved across the country. Pretending otherwise is ignores reality.

    Nate uprooted his family and moved to Massachusetts. Not because he wanted to eat more clam chowder; he did it to attend school. And if his bio didn’t have a nod to that, it would be incomplete.

    You uprooted your own family to move to Indiana and then Oregon, yet you seem to think it would be illegitimate to mention that on your bio. Adam, if it’s a good enough reason to pack up everything you own, uproot family, and move to a new community, then it’s good enough to mention in an online bio.

  76. Adam Greenwood on September 15, 2005 at 12:53 pm

    Kaimi,
    That’s the point. Why do you think its wrong of me not to mention my schooling on my post about myself?

    And do you really think the thought process was, ‘I should mention I lived in XX. That’s important. But wait, people will want to know why I lived in X, so I should mention schooling’?

    I’m not in the business of criticizing my coblogger’s autobiographical posts, so I’m going to bow out here, but I think your account is not convincing.

  77. Jack on September 15, 2005 at 1:01 pm

    “At that point one has a debate about methodology and tries to figure out which approach is more likely to get us better information.”

    As long as the debate is not centered on credentials.

  78. Matt Evans on September 15, 2005 at 1:01 pm

    Nate, but isn’t it simpler and more efficient to rely on the reputation of the journal than the credentials of the author? Notice, too, that Jonathan’s commenter C doesn’t appeal to exemplary credentials, only that he did a double-blind study that was published. For that reason I think his example is inapposite to the question of credentials. If commenter C claimed that he should be heard simply because he has a Ph.D., that’s just pulling rank. I can’t win a legal argument by saying I went to law school.

  79. ed on September 15, 2005 at 1:03 pm

    Most of the research I’m aware of agrees with Adam and Russell about the value of educational credentials for schoolteachers.

    For example here’s a recent working paper dealing with what determines teacher quality. From the abstract:

    The analysis reveals substantial variation in the quality of instruction, most of which occurs within rather than between schools. Although teacher quality appears to be unrelated to advanced degrees or certification, experience does matter — but only in the first year of teaching.

    From everything I’ve seen and read, I think graduate schools of education overall probably make society worse rather than better.

  80. Adam Greenwood on September 15, 2005 at 1:41 pm

    Ed,
    How do we know that paper is reliable? What schools did the author go to? Does he have degrees?

  81. lyle on September 15, 2005 at 1:59 pm

    I’d read the thread and comment; but I don’t have an elite degree and thus lack worthy participation credentials.

  82. Tatiana on September 15, 2005 at 2:20 pm

    I agree with much of what Adam said, but I want to add a couple of ideas to the discussion.

    First, entrepreneur college dropouts do sometimes excel wildly, notably Hewlitt and Packard, but they themselves then often go on to hire mostly people with prestigious degrees and high GPAs. I wonder why that is?

    Second, there is simply no way to tell in advance how well someone will perform on the job, and hiring the wrong person is quite expensive, so in the absence of foreknowledge people seem to look for whatever the signs and augurs portend, whether meaningful or not. I don’t see any way around this phenomenon. The only answer I can see is to come up with more accurate signs and augurs.

    Lastly, I would say that the ultimate trump card in a free-enterprise society is to start your own business, and excel at it. There are lots of barriers to entry for this as well, mainly governmental regulations and tax law, but it still remains doable for almost anyone.

  83. Karter on September 15, 2005 at 2:45 pm

    Funny that in a post on credentialism, many permanent bloggers here have managed to reference their exclusive school and occupation:)
    Kind of proves Adam’s point.

  84. Jack on September 15, 2005 at 3:08 pm

    Lyle,

    I’ve cast MY sour grapes before the, er, well, you get the picture.

    You can do it man!

  85. Ryan Bell on September 15, 2005 at 3:27 pm

    Adam, this was a great post. You have exactly expressed my own thoughts on the problem. Sadly, reading it, and the ensuing conversation, got me in a really bad mood. Not your fault of course, but is there anyone else here who feels like membership in the accomplished class will begin exacting far too high a price on our children? I can’t imagine paying more for admission into affluence than I did, but my kids almost certainly will. I’m very depressed about our society’s ability and or willingness to reverse this troubling trend.

    Sad.

  86. GeorgeD on September 15, 2005 at 3:31 pm

    82. Degrees and credentials do make a difference when you are running an organization that doesn’t rely on the Spirit. Degrees ensure a manageable level of mediocrity.

    The argument here though isn’t about mediority it is about excellence. Degrees make no difference in that sphere.

  87. lyle on September 15, 2005 at 3:51 pm

    Yes, I can deadpan.
    Ryan hits the right note though: there isn’t a viable solution and those that truly suffer will be the coming generations.

  88. Jonathan Green on September 15, 2005 at 4:16 pm

    Matt, you’re making quite a big deal out of an imaginary dialogue concerning fish ties. While I think it was adequate to express something that annoys me, I don’t know if an imaginary study of fish-tie use among missionaries is a stable foundation for much more than that.

  89. Kristine on September 15, 2005 at 4:19 pm

    “However, Kristine went to undergrad at Harvard. So she must be an inveterate snob.”

    Guilty as charged. Fortunately, in the only Proclamation-sanctioned women’s profession, credentialism never rears its ugly head. Mostly, my degree is good for a fair bit of social ostracism (particularly at church) and exclusion from mommies’ book groups. Reverse credentialism?

  90. Russell Arben Fox on September 15, 2005 at 4:23 pm

    “Is there anyone else here who feels like membership in the accomplished class will begin exacting far too high a price on our children?”

    [Raises and waves hand.]

  91. Nate Oman on September 15, 2005 at 4:30 pm

    My autobiographical post is entirely devoted to showing off. As is my blogging…

  92. Ryan Bell on September 15, 2005 at 4:39 pm

    Thank you Russell and Lyle. By the way, Adam and I are currently in discussions to found a Mormon-agrarian compound where our children will grow up to be swineherds and milkmaids and smoke Longbottom Leaf. If either of you are interested, you can reach me by handwritten letter at Ryan Bell, Bag End, the Shire.

  93. S. Wineherd on September 15, 2005 at 5:57 pm

    “the accomplished class”

    Yikes….

  94. Nate Oman on September 15, 2005 at 6:08 pm

    Ryan: Just so long as you, Adam, and Russell don’t start any Cambodia-style projects for acheiving agrarian contentment and the proper limiting of the striving of the accomplished class. Watch Russell… ;->

  95. Eve on September 15, 2005 at 6:41 pm

    What a stupid post. Like Karter said in 83, the permabloggers on this board reek of credentialism, including Mr. Greenwood, who at some point changed his bio from credentialist snobbery to genealogical snobbery. By the way, Adam, I don’t know you, but I suspect you have no need to worry about losing your ability to be judgmental.
    It’s kind of like the folks in the great and spacious building complaining about how drafty and loud it gets inside while sitting on fine furniture and eating the spoils of their privilege.
    Yeah, there’s a great idea, let’s change the game after we have played it to our advantage. And as a reason for the change, let’s cite our poor children who will have to — gasp — play the same game. Could be worse; they could live in Indonesia or China.
    And while we are undoing credentialism, can we do something about the whole dating/mating thing — because I have been on the wrong end of that screwed up system for too long now.

  96. GeorgeD on September 15, 2005 at 7:01 pm

    Eve 95 is just droll. You have a very accomplished sense of humor.

  97. manaen on September 15, 2005 at 8:00 pm

    Proposed subtitle: “Degrees of Glory”

  98. Adam Greenwood on September 15, 2005 at 10:16 pm

    Ryan Bell,
    I’ve thought about that some. Sort of half-seriously. If someone ever really started talking it over I’d probably freak out, but who knows?

    Droll Eve,
    Mr. Greenwood’s autobiographical post has always been ‘genealogical snobbery.’

  99. Melanie on September 16, 2005 at 1:17 am

    I was amused by this post & the comments… I am a senior in college (at a private school here in Washington state) and just Monday I considered dropping out. Why? I’m bored. I feel like I have the skills I need, and it’s not all that fun or meaningful… it’s just happening. It’s just too easy. My mom told me I could come live with her in Germany. Why am I still enrolled? Not for the intellectual discussions on trolls in folklore or the papers on historiographical periodization.

    I knew that if I dropped out, I would lose social prestige amongst my middle class peers because I would be a “quitter” and a “drop out” and would thus be labeled as a girl in the YSA ward “who doesn’t go to school because she wants to get married.” (which isn’t exactly the case…) (And of course, I’ve already committed $25,000 for the year and I really have nothing better to do… but that’s beside the point…). Credentialism keeps me going back for more, even if the whole experience is starting to lose a lot of its meaning. I do it so I can get some “better” job in a field I am not trained in. And don’t think my college didn’t warn me about the evils of a consumerist education… but it’s just too late to transfer.

  100. mrs on September 16, 2005 at 1:48 pm

    So, is one problem just that current credentialling just isn’t very good? If having a law degree doesn’t indicate how good a lawyer one is, is the solution a law degree that does accurately indicate how capable one is?

    I realize it’s pretty much impossible to actually achive this, of course. Law practice (and life in general) is too complicated and varied. As long as one has an accurate sense of what a given credential DOES measure, then it’s useful. It’s really just another life experience on one’s job application resume.

    Now, as to what the problems are when credentials are not properly evaluated for what they are, and are use as a much stronger and semi-exclusive indicator than the actually are — I agree with a lot of the posts. Just pointing out that one of the solutions besides deweighting credentials is to make any given credential system better.

  101. GeorgeD on September 16, 2005 at 3:03 pm

    We spend a lot of energy making systems better that just need to be thrown out. Credentialing is too entrenched to see it out the door that quickly but we’ll see the pace pick up. Home schooling (which I never did but looks better and better all the time) is the pebble that will start it all rolling.

    The Internet is another major threat to credentialing. We only are seeing glimmers of it now (particularly in journalism) but it will grow as a force against credentialing.

  102. Gavin McGraw on September 17, 2005 at 12:29 pm

    “My education has continued throughout my life, except for the period when I was in school.”
    -Mark Twain

  103. comet on September 18, 2005 at 4:15 am

    There is another aspect of credentialing that seems to have been overlooked. Credentials often function like titles; they are a kind of status assignment. Titles impute an essential characteristic to the entitled who is then expected to live up to that essence; to make good on the attributes assigned to his or her status or position. This goes against the “self-made” Yankee grain but it can have a liberating and motivating effect, to have the institutional weight, the institutional mandate (and not just solely one’s own personal drive and motivation) behind one’s charge to master a field of knowledge (especially knowledge that is neglected by the broader market).

    We do this kind of status ascription all the time in the church. We charge our men (esp the youth) with magnifying the priesthood. We tell them that they are a “royal priesthood” with a divine charge to live up to spiritual and moral ideals. We tell them that they are the finest, the most spiritual generation yet (having been withheld from the world thousands of years to come forth during the turbulent last days). We ascribe to them dizzying virtues and a spiritual pedigree that extends back to premortal realms. Think of tribal assignment, a status that has only a marginal practical function within the church. When was the last time priesthood meeting broke up into tribal units — Ephraim down the hall, Manassah in the cultural hall, etc? It may be that few explicitly think about their lineage but I think the claim to the Abrahamic line inescapably looms large as a powerful theatrical backdrop in the mormon self-image of a chosen people with spiritual identities and destinies that compel in us strong ambitions for great achievement on the world stage.

  104. Hugh Nibley on September 19, 2005 at 10:26 am

    What on earth have a man’s name, degree, academic position, and, of all things, opinions, to do with whether a thing is true or not?

    -Of All Things

  105. Hugh Nibley on September 19, 2005 at 10:27 am

    Being self-taught is no disgrace; but being self-certified is another matter.

    - Op cit

  106. Marty P on September 19, 2005 at 11:04 pm

    Ryan, I hear you man. I feel the pressure of being a member of the accomplished class. As a wealthy professional I find myself envious of most other parents in the world (the less accomplished ones—or are they the unaccomplished ones?). After all, how hard is it for some poor plumber’s kid to live up to expectations? His lucky parents don’t have to worry about how Joey is going to get into Harvard, or get a good clerkship, or all those other important things.

    Had I read the phrase “accomplished class� in the New Republic or New Yorker I would have dismissed it as effete snobbery, but to read it in T&S is frightening. Isn’t the very idea diametrically opposed to Mormon ideals?

    And whoso knocketh, to him will he open; and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches—yea, they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them. (2 Nephi 9: 42)

    Degrees are fine. And sometimes necessary. But to think they make us more accomplished than our brothers or sisters, well, that’s just absurd.

  107. TJ on September 21, 2005 at 4:19 pm

    I am a college dropout. And any typos or grammatical errors I may make are not due to this fact.

    I had been studying International Business for 2+ years when not so all of a sudden I simply became tired of playing all of the professors’ games. Instead of learning what I needed to know, I learned what the professors THOUGHT I should know, and then I needed to appease them by regurgitating their rhetoric and knowledge through essays, papers, etc. I refused and then I quit.

    I was also enrolled in a World Religions course when 9/11 happened. The next day the professor’s class was attended more than it was the first day of school. We wanted to know about the Muslims, what they believed, and why they did what they did. Everybody wanted to know. However, instead of being relevent to the times, he simply said that he knew we had a lot of questions about Islam and they would be answered–when we got to that section the following month. That pretty much summed up my college experience. Except for my history classes, which I enjoyed, I considered those two years as waste of my time and money, and not just because I didn’t finish.

  108. charles munger on September 30, 2005 at 6:50 pm

    I think we ought to be careful about painting with a broad brush. Some people thrive well in academia, and it helps them, and others do not. For those who enjoy analytical and logical rationalism, academia is a great place. For those who are not into that, its pure hell.

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