June 30, 2004
Philip Greenspun on everyone being educated to Harvard graduate standard

Alan Little kindly emails with a link to this posting, and singles out this paragraph as likely to be of particular interest to me:

If everyone in a poor neighborhood were educated to the standard of the average Harvard graduate all of the other problems would be solved. ... [but] ... Schools for poor people are government schools. Everyone who works there is either a bureaucrat or a union member. None of these people incurs any kind of pay loss or risk of firing if the kids remain totally ignorant.

Alan also supplies this entertaining potted biog of the writer of this, Philip Greenspun – gratuitous photo of Greenspun and friend to our right, obtained here – thus:


Philip Greenspun is a guy who made a pile of money by founding a dotcom software company and selling it out to a bunch of venture capitalists just before the crash. Smart move. Now he flies planes and writes a bitingly cynical but sometimes sharp weblog.

Smart move indeed.

I think that countries like the USA (and Britain) may now be entering a period of their history where the pressure to get educated (if not to Harvard graduate standard then at least well above barbarism) is reasserting itself, after a period of educational slackness that may now be ending.

In the first period, you did as well as you possibly could, including educationally, to get as far away from starvation as you could. (A lot of Indians and Chinese are in this phase now.)

In the phase of relative relaxation, if you were willing to work (without much in the way of education) then, wars and slumps willing, you could work, and have a reasonable life. This was the time of "Fordism".

But now, in countries like mine and like Greenspun's, there are just two classes: educated class, and underclass. There is now no "working" class in between, i.e. a class using physical effort, physical skills and little else.

That is of course an exaggeration and an over-simplification. But it's the way things are headed. And that's the sense in which Greenspun is right. He's probably overdoing it to say that we are already there.

By the way, the comments on Greenspun's posting are interesting, especially the ones defending public sector educators, quite eloquently as it happens.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:00 PM
Category: This and that