As a left-leaning contrarian, I’ve never regarded conservative columnist David Brooks of the New York Times as a must-read, although his recent claim to fame as the poet laureate of the American exurb seems to me justified.
That being said, here’s a Brooks column worth reading:
“The Education Gap,” by David Brooks, New York Times, September 26th, 2005 (the story link is to a web site that has taken the liberty of reprinting Brooks’s column, with or without permission of the NYT, which has added his works to its "select" for-pay plan).
Here are excerpts:
As you doubtless know, as the information age matures, a new sort of stratification is setting in, between those with higher education and those without. College graduates earn nearly twice as much as high school graduates, and people with professional degrees earn nearly twice as much as those with college degrees ...
… A social chasm is opening up between those in educated society and those in non-educated society, and you are beginning to see vast behavioral differences between the two groups.
For example, divorce rates for college grads are plummeting, but they are not for everyone else. The divorce rate for high school grads is now twice as high as that of college grads.
There are other behavior differences, large and small, which reflect the different social norms in the two
classes. High school grads are twice as likely to smoke as college grads. They are much less likely to exercise. College grads are nearly twice as likely to vote. They are more than twice as likely to do voluntary work. They are much more likely to give blood. These behavioral gaps are widening …
… In an information society, college is the gateway to opportunity. Crucial life paths are set at age 18,
which means family and upbringing matter more.
Educated parents not only pass down economic resources to their children, they pass down expectations, habits, knowledge and cognitive abilities. Pretty soon you end up with a hereditary meritocratic class that reinforces itself generation after generation …
… now the gap between rich and poor is widening. Students in the poorest quarter of the population have an 8.6 percent chance of getting a college degree. Students in the top quarter have a 74.9 percent chance.
According to Brooks, “only 28 percent” of American adults have a college degree.
At the same time, according to the 2000 census, a bit less than 16% of New Albany’s residents can make the same claim.
In a key passage, Brooks writes of the necessity of individuals being “culturally prepared” for college.
Seeing as the concept of culture embraces the community outside the home and family, and given New Albany’s wider gap, it seems fair to ask whether we as a city are “culturally prepared” for college, in the sense of possessing a culture that values higher education and understands that unless the city gets “smarter,” (in this way and in many others) it is likely to be left even further behind than it is now.
Our local newspaper, the Tribune, commonly embodies the educational disconnect that afflicts New Albany. On the positive side, and owing primarily to the personal interest of its managing editor, the newspaper does a fairly good job of covering issues pertaining to area elementary schools and high schools.
Unfortunately, the coverage usually stops there. Universities are confined to the sports page ghetto, and Indiana University Southeast seldom makes the cut when it comes to education news in the Tribune, an omission that handily reinforces the notion that a high school education is sufficient in today’s job market, and college is an institution one watches play ball on television -- and, as Brooks explains, the facts indicate that this simply isn’t so.
And who can forget the night that Councilman Dan Coffey disparaged reading, in public, during a council meeting?
The arrival one year ago of our first full-service bookstore in fifty years caused much excitement, but the pathetic thing is that for every dozen customers, there are two or three others who actively fear, and more often than not loathe, the possibilities engendered by literacy, and symbolized by rows of books that they themselves detest, and would deprive from others if given the wish.
We can take Brooks or leave him as we please, but it remains that now more than ever, education isn’t everything – it’s the only thing, and that’s why NA Confidential will never “give a break” to any elected public official (or, for that matter, any private citizen) who expresses contempt or derision for the concept of learning as a means of human betterment– or behaves in such a manner as to suggest that there is virtue to be derived from such a position.
There is none. The sooner we get smarter, the better.