Scott Hambrick interviews podcaster, author, former test prep educator, and education contrarian Brett Veinoitte about the rapidly changing role of school and, particularly, secondary school. As the recent scandal involving celebrities paying bribes to obtain university admissions for their children has revealed, college has become so ingrained as a symbol of status and opportunity that an entire industry has sprung up to facilitate the admission of subpar students. Meanwhile, the costs of college steadily rise, in both dollars and time.
Brett offers a history of schooling, tracing the modern public school system we are familiar with back to the Prussian educational reforms in the late 18th and 19th centuries. The Prussian system groomed common-born children for military service by establishing free, taxpayer-supported schools with a basic curriculum of technical skills needed in a modernizing world (such as reading and writing). The curriculum attempted to impose a strong sense of national identity and a strict ethos of duty, sobriety and discipline. These traits linger in our contemporary school system — the bells dividing class times into regular schedules, the teachers reprimanding students to remain silent until called upon. Even the hierarchy of the school resembles something militaristic, with approximately platoon-sized classrooms, led by teachers, grouped under assistant principals, themselves guided by a principal and her staff of advisors.
None of these features was implemented to develop critical thinkers possessed of the skills to challenge authorities, status quo, or paradigms. Yet, for a time the system worked, and produced a workforce more suitable to the factories, assembly lines, and schedules of the new industrial world. Now that this industrial world is undergoing rapid change once again, graduates find themselves without the skills to find meaningful work. This disconnect has extended to secondary education as well, and with the cost of college education rising to astronomical levels, the value of a degree has plummeted.
Nevertheless, the myth that college is a golden ticket to opportunity and prosperity persists, with very real costs to the young people that acquire debt and delay families in search of the golden ticket. Brett and Scott hope to change that through their businesses.
- Introduction to School Sucks website
- John Taylor Gatto’s book
- Charlotte Iserbyt on experimental education
- Brett’s brief history on the formation of American education
- Our mission at Online Great Books
- Scott introduces the Delphi method
- Scott’s school experience
- What a fixed curriculum entails
- Conversations omitted from history books
- The new individualism
- Obsolete schools in college
- College admission scandals
Resources/Articles/People Mentioned In The Podcast
- School Sucks podcast
- John Taylor Gatto
- The Undergrad History Of Education
- Tragedy and Hope podcast
- Charlotte Iserbyt
- The Deliberate Dumbing Down Of America
- Common Core
- Horus Mann
- Delphi method
- Frederick Taylor
Scott Hambrick: Welcome to the Online Great Books podcast, I am Scott Hambrick and today I have one of my favorite human beings with me, one of my mentors. (I want to blow smoke up your ass.) Brett Veinoitte of School Sucks podcast and website, and who’s a big inspiration to me and pulling my kids out of school and home-educating my kids and then ultimately myself, and then later the folks at helping people at Great Books further their own educations. Today we wanted to talk about the history of schooling and some current events, I think, that have bearing for all of us but welcome, and thanks for doing this, man.
Brett Veinoitte: My pleasure and thank you for the great introduction, I’m looking forward to this as always.
Scott Hambrick: You introduced me to the works of John Taylor Gatto, and we lost him last year and I’m still sad about it, probably always will be. He wrote The Undergrad History Of Education. Most of what I know about the history about American education I learned about from you and Gatto and Richard Grove of the Tragedy and Hope podcast so, I wanted to bring you on and have a little conversation and maybe bring some of these ideas and some of this history to our listeners.
Brett Veinoitte: Absolutely, and we get to stand on the shoulders of those folks and learning this stuff, they’ve made it so much easier. I always mention Gatto, thirty years ago, writing letters to Harvard University and trying to find out about some obscure education program they had in the 30s and taking that info and putting it into his book, it gave us a map of a labyrinth there were unknown and unseen places to navigate but it made it so much easier to at least get in there and start trying to find our way around and understand this vastly complex history of schooling in the United States and that also includes higher education.
Scott Hambrick: Yes. If I could say one thing that I learned about American education from Gatto, there are a lot of things, but if I can think of one big over-arching thing that I learned from him is that the way we “educate” people or the way we school people in the United States (being a forty-four year old guy) that seems to be the way that people do this. It’s normal for me but I learned from Gatto that it’s an experiment and people haven’t been doing it this way for very long.
Brett Veinoitte: Right, and it’s an ongoing experiment that is being refined behind the scenes. Are you familiar with Charlotte Iserbyt?
Scott Hambrick: I know the name.
Brett Veinoitte: Charlotte Iserbyt wrote a book twenty years ago called The Deliberate Dumbing Down Of America. I think that was the first edition of this book. Charlotte Iserbyt was somebody who worked as a liaison in the Reagan Administration in the Department of Education, and she was very passionate about these issues, very much a traditionalist, very much in favor of traditional, liberal education, was more conservative. So, she didn’t like progressives making inroads and trying to change it with some kind of political agenda. So, she was always very sensitive to that and she’s definitely an older woman and I think today she’s probably in her 80s and she’s still out there speaking about this but she was somebody who through that book and through her experience so she recounts in the book, really turned up the volume on this idea that how children are “educated” has been an ongoing experiment and a lot of it is about producing desirable, behavioral outcomes for those in power and attitude outcomes. This is called outcome based education: another thing that she spoke about her in her book and beyond. So, the experiment goes on right up until something I’m sure most listeners are familiar with called Common Core. Which in many ways was a project that moved throughout the 20th century but this was not the intention not the entire time but certainly a realization of the public private partnerships in public education. By that I mean the public foots the bill and private, unaccountable people get to decide how the system works for a variety of their own interests and motivations.
Scott Hambrick: So, before we put on our tinfoil hats.
Brett Veinoitte: Oh, we’ll have the monsoon I hope.
Scott Hambrick: I do to, that’s where it gets fun, that’s where the good pod comes in. Let’s go back to the beginnings of what we call modern schooling in North America. So, in the beginning there was man: Horus Mann. Is that where we start, Brett?
Brett Veinoitte: I think it’s a pretty good place to start as far as the United States is concerned and the only pre-history that’s really necessary is that in the early half of the 1800s a Central-European kingdom called Prussia, most of Prussia became modern-day Germany, was involved in a number of military skirmishes with France at that time controlled by Napoleon and they had suffered some embarrassing defeats, and one was a place called Jena, and at that point they said, “we’re not going to be able to expand this kingdom; we’re not going to be able to realize our empirical ambitions if we don’t have good fire discipline. If we can’t produce soldiers who will stay in line and absorb gunfire for the good of the state”. This was where the state school project was born in the first and second decade of the 1800s in Prussia. So, they basically produced a system where the idea of nationalism, the idea of prioritizing the state over individual interests would be put into the heads of one class, a very large class of children it was probably over 90% of the Prussian population. They would go to school and they would learn to be obedient, and then there was a second tier of this education system. The bottom tier that almost everybody attended was called the Volksschule and the middle tier was called the Realschule which basically meant the real school. So, you have the people school where you learn obedience and you have the Realschule where you learn to manage the obedience. And then there was an elite level: Academician which would be basically like the top tier of education like the Harvards and the Yales and the Columbias, in the United States. So, they have this three-tiered system that many people, not just Horace Mann, many people from the United States: people from France, people from England and again people like Mann from the United States went on these tours in the middle of the 1800s and issued these travelers reports back to the people who are interested in creating a national education system or even state education systems in the United States or obviously they are looking to borrow from Prussia and England or Prussia and France. Mann issued his report and said, “I think we can do this in the United States and yes this system is very authoritarian: it demands obedience, it demand conformity but we’re American and we could find a way to use it in furtherance of our Republican institutions”. That’s almost a direct quote but he got the Prussian style of education adopted in Massachusetts and it spread like wildfire across the country in the latter half of the 1900s. So, you had this system that we know how it wound up in Germany one hundred years later, now implemented in the United States where most people were learning obedience, and conformity and as a result of that they were predictable. As a result of that in many impt ways the things we’d like to think about education: not putting into people but def accentuating already existing qualities that we’d like education to accentuate like curiosity, individuality, creativity, ambition: all of those things just kind of replace with apathy. As a result of obedience and conformity you’re outsourcing personal responsibility. You are schooled to do that so, what’s left, and I think this is very relevant to a lot of the people who are part of Online Great Books you’re left with very much with a political, historical, and philosophical apathy. Most people leave school with absolutely no interest in those pursuits and that is very much by design.
Scott Hambrick: So, there are a couple of elements that you describe here in this design. It is a militaristic system and we still see that. Elementary school class sizes are platoon sized: you stand, you move by the bells, you ring the bell you stand up, you ring the bell, you sit down. So, early on you get kids used to that size of a group, moving by orders, standing in line, all that really basic stuff and the apathy thing is one of the most insidious things about schooling in the United States. I think, and I think Gatto would agree with this, that it’s specifically designed to frustrate the student and if we can frustrate the students curiosity early on and if you can do that persistently enough by choking down the curriculum and by subjecting them to their peers you end up with a person who doesn’t feel like they have agency and they’re apathetic.
Brett Veinoitte: Yeah, and it’s also very desirous of input from authority. More than input, right, input is a euphemism. They want leadership, they want control that can be presented as leadership they crave it. Somebody will tell us what to do and I think a part of that is, yes, like you said, a lack of trust in self and a lack of trust in others. School has become increasingly worse of coherence and togetherness of communities over the course of the 20th century. It pits people against each other teaches distrust. Schools claim that they prepare people for citizenship, I would say that they make good on that.
Scott Hambrick: If riding a school bus doesn’t shatter your faith in mankind I don’t know what does.
Brett Veinoitte: Yeah, they def make people into wanting to be governed and of course once the schools are an institution they can be modified to get people over time to accept more and more governance as a result and we’ve seen that in the 20th century.
Scott Hambrick: But, Brett, don’t you think that’s a good idea in a republic?
Brett Veinoitte: No, no I don’t. If you think about the unaccountable nature of the schools to the public in many ways and there are little performances of PTA meetings and school boards. Even if you look at the history of those things: if people want to make that kind of argument or expand the kind of argument that you just introduced like isn’t this good, and isn’t this what you wanted in a republic and can’t people participate in this? However, they want to expand that argument. If you actually looked into the history of school boards, you would see in the latter half of the 20th century and certainly since maybe the last thirty years in the federal department of education and this ramp up to federalize and centralize education in the United States: that’s only been in my lifetime. There were precursors to a federal department of education all the way back to (probably) the beginning of the 20th century maybe before the 20th century. The idea to centralize public schooling and have a central national control for it. You can see the number of school boards drop off starting in 1950 right up to the present day. There is a fraction, I wish I had the numbers I don’t: a fraction of what there used to be as far as the number of school boards. The number of entry ways to participation in this system and quickly back to Charlotte Iserbyt. She was talking about when she started to turn up the volume on these concerns, a friend of hers who I think was sympathetic and she said, oh you must go to Maine to this training and you can see how bad it is. She got Charlotte Iserbyt into this training in Maine and it was like, change agent training which was basically how the techniques you need to use to covertly adjust the schools behind the back of the parents and the students but then also who you need to manipulate to make sure that nobody interferes with those changes. How do you identify the troublemakers in your community and silence them but also how do you identify the influencers like the people at the chamber of commerce and get to them first and get them to agree to the changes that you want to make in a system. This was a project that people were being sent away to camp in Maine to learn how to do this and that’s only one example.
Scott Hambrick: Is this the Delphi method?
Brett Veinoitte: Absolutely.
Scott Hambrick: Let’s do a show about that later. Go read about that on Wikipedia, Delphi Method is super spooky, and once you read about that method and start to see how that works. You’ll find that everywhere you turn you’ll see that in these supposed town-hall meetings, the op-ed columns in your local paper (if you still read that rag), the school board meetings and so on, it’s used to influence public discourse all the time. It’s pretty remarkable. So, you said performances, PTA is a performance…
Brett Veinoitte: It is something that people can latch onto to feel good to maybe feel efficacious like; the PTA exists, the school board exists, there is still such a thing as parent-teacher conferences but from my perspective (in addition to being the creator of the School Sucks project) I also worked in this system and I saw it from a variety of different angles. One of the last angles from which I viewed public schooling was as a private service provider, and I would sit through these meetings where they would talk about accommodations and modifications and I remember walking out of there and thinking gosh, if I said anything that I thought in that meeting, I would lose my job. I worked for a company, but I would lose these clients and the whole thing really felt like a play, like everybody was role-playing a part of “let’s help Steve while making Steve feel bad about himself and hopefully Steve just conforms. Hopefully we’d just break Steve in making him sit here and listen to us drone on about making accommodations and modifications that’s how it felt to me. But I already had people like Gatto in my ear at this point and that wasn’t helping my positive attitude.
Scott Hambrick: Making I can say something that sounds less cynical although, I’m as cynical as you are. You’ve got Common Core that has been a big stink about that, there have been many movements over the last hundred years like Common Core: it’s nothing new but we know that there is more and more top-down control of schooling from the federal level every day. Even if you’re hopeful and feel good about your efforts about participating with the Parent-Teacher Association or whatever or the school board you have to realize that even if that was a good organization or even if that was a good structure the things that were left up to those organizations are getting smaller and smaller and smaller. If you’re like me and you you’d think it was all Kabuki theater anyway.
Brett Veinoitte: Sure. When really throughout the 20th century, like I said it’s not a uniform plan run by the same group of people but it is this behind the scenes competition of who gets to be the Archimedes of society using education looking to get the right place to stand and their hands on the lever to be able to make dramatic changes. And there are ideological interests that compete for this. Most of the control has been corporate interests at least in the latter half of the 20th century. How corporations can order from the public schools the type of labor that they need. Even though the school’s original intention in Prussia was military, in the United States at first adoption in Massachusetts and beyond it was about a homogenization and standardization of immigrant population. It was a convergence in the latter half of the 1800s of three big things: you have the end of slavery which was certainly a reliable labor force in a significant region in the country and a lot of these people moved down south to set up schools there. You have this influx of immigrants, the first big wave of immigrants to the United States, and you have the Industrial Revolution. So, all three of these necessitate the existence of school but with the Industrial Revolution building good industrial workers is really the first input from business but once corporate interests start giving input they never stop. So, all of these national education initiatives that we’ve seen, at least in the 21st century, starting with No Child Left Behind and moving on to Common Core basically work towards that same purpose that there are corporate private interests who want to use publicly funded resources to create the labor force that they want.
Scott Hambrick: We, started with this big military interest in training the citizenry, essentially. My mother’s side of the family is from rural Oklahoma, Chelsea, Oklahoma area and I would talk to my grandmother and my mom and I had a bunch of great uncles who would have been World War II age and none of them were in World War II. I thought what the hell’s going on here? I now know they were farm people and they weren’t nationalists; they didn’t care, and they hid. They weren’t acculturated by school. If they get a draft notice they didn’t care.
Brett Veinoitte: Right.
Scott Hambrick: In Chelsea, Oklahoma they’re like we got cows to milk and we got crops to get in and France can go France. They didn’t care and so the schooling didn’t extend to them and it didn’t work. So, a lot of people would say, oh, they were a bunch of bumkins, and they only went to school through 4th grade or 6th grade or whatever. Well, that’s right, but they also didn’t get their ass shot off and one of the reasons they didn’t was because they weren’t acculturated in that way. So, it works in that way. How do you get people to show up when they get a draft notice? You start when they’re in kindergarten, I think, is how you do that.
Brett Veinoitte: Absolutely. They didn’t have that experience. It kind of reminds me of John Dooly’s attitude about war itself. John Dooly was obviously a huge proponent of public education, but I learned from Thaddeus Russell that despite his… (well, I shouldn’t say despite him being a progressive- because progressives loved war) and John Dooly loved war because he saw it as a way to standardize society. It was another tool of the standardization of society. So, somebody’s school…
Scott Hambrick: Never waste a crisis.
Brett Veinoitte: Exactly. Somebody is schooled basically leaves with them a hook right in their back, that somebody can just come and pick them up and put them obediently where they need to go- no questions asked. As was the case in World War I and World War II and that didn’t start to change until Vietnam. If you hadn’t been schooled your attitude about exactly what Prussia was trying to prevent, 120 years before this, 130 years before this. If you’re not trained in this that’s an insane proposition that I would go and take gunfire from people I’ve never had any problem with, I’ve never even met.
Scott Hambrick: I went to an insanely crappy school in Roger’s County, Oklahoma and we took the ASVAT: Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Test. The military would come to school, they would put everybody in the lunchroom, and we all took the military aptitude test. Then they knew who we were, they knew what our aptitudes were, and then the recruiters came after us.
Brett Veinoitte: Yeah and then they came to tell you about a story like, “Oh, you want to be in the army, you could do this in the army. you’re good at that.” Yeah, exactly.
Scott Hambrick: They talk about the school to prison pipeline in rural Oklahoma, there’s certainly a school to military pipeline so they would use us for that purpose. And then you said there’s the military purpose for the school and then there’s this also this acculturation. How do we make people Americans? I think that’s actually a very interesting problem. You said we’ve got this slavery, reconstruction issue. How do you make these people who were former members of the confederate states of America American again? How do you deal with the slaves that have no prior western style education, how do you deal with those people? How do you deal with the influx of Italian and Eastern European, and the Irish immigrants in the late 19th century. How do you deal with that? My answer might be that you don’t deal with it. But the powers that be, the architects of schooling thought that that needed to be dealt with in some way in schools. So, Now we have this giant country that we all know a lot of the same things: 1776, George Washington chopped down the cherry tree story and we all can play the trivial pursuit game and get the same score on it.
Brett Veinoitte: To a certain level we can all play that game. A side note is that only one of the last statistics I knew, this could be more or less today, but it was about one in six Americans get some kind of education in History or Social Science beyond high school. The pattern that I identified when I was in school and when I taught school is that elem school is very much about inculcating mythology in America so, that’s where you get the 1776 cherry tree stories, etc. The next six years, history is made so boring that most people never want to open another history book or anything that even relates to that pursuit. They never want to touch anything like that again in their lives.
Scott Hambrick: I think that serves to preserve the mythology.
Brett Veinoitte: It absolutely does. I used to think that only one in six Americans some history education after high school. I started thinking what do the Humanities even look like in college these days, maybe that isn’t even a bad thing anymore? I used to think it was a bad thing. I will say even though I had no intellectual self-defense, I had no critical thinking skills when I went to college. Where would I have learned them? I took on a very ideological, left-wing world-view that was limiting and it came with an air of superiority because I went to college. Even though it set me off down the wrong path for a while, it was a life-changing experience. There’s plenty of things about college that I regret, and it is actually something that I’m grateful for: that professor that I had. My point is that I’m really conflicted on that one in six problem today, I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing because a lot of people, I think, don’t get to have the experiences and the revelations that I was fortunate enough to have beyond college that changed my thinking away from that mindset and opened up the world to me in that exciting and ultimately rewarding ways. Back to your point, I think that is an indoctrination that gives people a vague idea of like, oh there’s nothing to worry about: this is the greatest place I could live. Maybe it is but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t fraught with all kinds of different problems. I really don’t need to think about it because of this American mythology and the next six years of school taught me that I never want to think about it again so I outsource any of that responsibility or agency to the people who know at CNN or Fox News, or wherever. That’s unfortunate.
Scott Hambrick; I think some amt of this acculturation, this mythologization is probably useful. It makes it easy to relate to people.
Brett Veinoitte: Culture, sure.
Scott Hambrick: It’s culture but the problem becomes where do you get it from or who gives it to us? What is it? Is it something you can get organically or is it something that must be set down in a curriculum. I certainly don’t think it has to be set down in a fixed curriculum. Here’s one of my issues with schooling: we’ve already talked about that we have a conflict of interest when the govt is that which educates or informs the governed. I think that Dooly in particular was keenly aware of that and sought to take advantage of that and use that to the governments advantage and that’s something I have a big, big problem with, so we’ll put a bookmark there. We’ve talked about the acculturated of the military problem, and then we talked about the Industrial Revolution and those corp interests. Started expressing interests in developing the industrial workforce. It’s hard to get agriculture people to stand in that one place for eight hours and push the button and yank the lever on the assembly line and show up by the clock and they were very interested in having that industrial workforce created for them; ready to go, ready to plug in to the assembly line just like all the other interchangeable parts on the Model T or whatever else was being built.
Brett Veinoitte: Yeah, who is the efficiency expert?
Scott Hambrick: Taylor.
Brett Veinoitte: Frederick Taylor, who was working around the turn-of-the-century, had this long quote, I have in the past have attributed this quote to the Rockefeller Education Board, but I think it might have originated with Fredrick Taylor. This idea that we’re not looking to produce poets and lawyers and men of letters and scientists: we’ve got enough of that. What we want is people who do in a perfect way the things that their parents are currently doing in an imperfect way. That was what schooling became about at the turn-of-the-century. If you line up our last two topics of conversation- people given a mythology as sort of a foundation of understanding like, here’s the only understanding you need of culture of political science of philosophy- all of that is traded out for mythology. What was Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with John Adams? Wouldn’t that be much more interesting and inspiring to most people than these bland mythological stories about cherry trees and lying, and Plymouth Rock? I would think so. I always think about the Pilgrims and their encounter with Squanto who’s there to…do you know this story?
Scott Hambrick: Yeah, he magically speaks English. Nobody says a word about it.
Brett Veinoitte: It obscures one of the most fascinating stories about American history that Squanto had been kidnapped by British fishermen and had been taken to Europe. He’s a kind of magical figure, he’s kind of the MacGuffin of the Pilgrim story. He’s kind of there, you must accept that he’s there to help, he knows the language, he’s by himself, it’s very weird. His story, twenty years leading up to his encounter with the settlers in 1620, is one of the most interesting/inspiring stories that a young person can come across. With that obscured from education, you multiply that x1000, the missed opportunities, and it relates so much to what you guys at Great Books. Think about all the conversations that are omitted from history. Some do exist if they move the narrative that the textbooks want to portray in the right direction. Obviously you can’t obscure every conflict that happened in history. The founders were not a uniform group of people who agreed and who all wanted the same thing. People would get very little of that from the mythology, especially in their elementary school understanding of it. So, what you’re left with is school as something that isn’t about education it is about industrial training because all that info the wonders of learning is lost and what people accept is this kind of training that people have moved onto in this other topic. That’s what school is for, that’s what you’re there to do. You need to become accustomed to not enjoying how your time is spent eight-ten hours a day. You will change stations periodically, a bell will tell you when to do so, very useful the schools were, in replacing learning with industrial conditioning that could have a military function, an obedience to authority function but could also have this conditioning to boredom; accepting boredom as a huge part of your waking life.
Scott Hambrick: So, the progressives…Do we? Said that’s kind of what it’s about and maybe that’s what it should be about. Maybe not the liberal education maybe not giving them the intellectual self-defenses. But giving them the tools they need to succeed in the new world. We would be doing the student a disservice if we weren’t putting them into position: to benefit from the Industrial Revolution from being able to get that good factory job as opposed to the coal mine job. I think he meant well.
Brett Veinoitte: That the new individualism, as he called it (that was his phrase), was the recognition of the psycho-social benefits of conforming to the collective, of merging your identity with the idea of this social superstructure of society, that you are part of a group that’s the new individualism. The old individualism was the rugged individual who pursued his own goals and was enterprising and that’s not what we needed in the beginning of the 20th century in America. I think he understood that, and I think from what I’ve read of Dooly and what I know of Dooly, he’s cast as an evil figure by some, especially people more on the conservative side of education. He’s basically like the devil but I think one of his concerns (he was trying to make people illiterate) when you dig into what he was saying, and he’s not saying that at all but he was very much a utopian socialist and he saw and was influenced by the industrialization of America. I think the best spin you could put on it is (I don’t think it’s insincere) he didn’t want people left out in the cold. This is where we’re going, and this is how you get involved and this is how you onboard people into a new society.
Scott Hambrick: I don’t know that he’s wrong. If it’s 1912 and Ford Motor Company is starting to come online and all these industrial powerhouses that changed the west are starting to come online: tractors are becoming less expensive, nitrogen fertilizer is showing up, crop yields are going way up. The economic necessities of the time are telling us that agricultural payrolls are going to go down and the economic pressure is to go to the factory. What do you do with that? What do you do? The free-market folks will say, “it’ll be ok, it’ll be taken care of”. Now, we still have this school that is fitted for creating these industrial citizens but it’s changing again, and I think we’ve gone through the Industrial Revolution and we’re going through this economy knowledge Revolution and maybe that’s even halfway over. The job market is changing again, and people are merging from this and college (and a person who’s employed a lot of people) there coming out of there unemployable as they are. They spend a lot of money and a lot of time and they’re twenty-two and twenty-four years old and in Catoosa we’d say, “they don’t know shit from fat meat”.
Brett Veinoitte: What sticks out to you the most about that?
Scott Hambrick: I have talked to people who had accounting degrees that did not know the difference between an invoice, a purchase order, and a statement- an account statement: basic skills in these various disciplines are lacking. There you go, there’s a concrete example and I’ve run into that and I’ve talked to someone in the accounting department who didn’t know what those various accounting records were.
Brett Veinoitte: Right.
Scott Hambrick: They didn’t know! There’s an acculturation piece as well: you go through k-12, you go through college and they have all these expectations that aren’t’ in line with reality. They get out and they’re shocked to find out what reality is like. I don’t want to sound all boomerish, but they have all these expectations that, maybe, are fair to have. They’ve been told that they can go to school for lo these many years and they’ve been told that they can have some sort of income and, “by golly I’m a college graduate and I shouldn’t have to get dirty”. That’s the story we’re told and fairly or unfairly that may not be the reality and so they have expectations that frankly don’t jive with reality sometimes. That’s not fair to them but it’s a problem we all must deal with. They have the profit model where one of the steps is missing the specific instructions (that trope) and that’s kind of their story. I think it’s fine that people alive today have high expectations for the quality of life. How could you not be looking at the opportunity.
Scott Hambrick: They’re told from the beginning: go to college, accrue debt, profit.
Brett Veinoitte: that’s the problem. If you look out at the world and you look at the opportunity, and you have some appreciation (if you’re thirty years old or even if you’re in your late twenties, you can see the amazing changes that have taken place in your lifetime like you want to have a great life) it’s just that you have no idea what is the path that you have to walk to do it. I think that the children of the baby boomer generation are in a particularly bad spot with, a lot of this, especially those who are too young to appreciate the changes we’ve witnessed in the past twenty years. It’s exciting that they have, I wouldn’t call it ambition, some vision of what they want but they have no idea how to reverse engineer it to where they are currently standing. No level of schooling taught them how to do that.
Scott Hambrick: So much of schooling is crazy. At the University of Oklahoma, where I went, there is a college: a School of Journalism. Who’s going to get a job in journalism at this point? They need to learn to code. That industry is collapsing and there a probably more journalists than ever before but they’re independent. I think that you serve as a journalist, to some degree, Brad. There may be more journalists than ever before, but the employment isn’t there and the structure is different than it was before but they’re still cranking out journalists from that school and it doesn’t jive with reality.
Brett Veinoitte: Sure.
Scott Hambrick They’re doing a disservice to those people.
Brett Veinoitte: There’s still plenty of places to write, we would agree but that industry is changing, and I was a communications major in 1995. I found out the college I went to is closing and I’m debating going back there for a farewell in a couple of months. I am afraid to go and see how much their communications programs have changed. It must be different than it was. I was there at a really bad time while everything was changing over to digital in the real world. We were still learning about the analogue ways of doing things.
Scott Hambrick: Were you splicing tape with a razor blade?
Brett Veinoitte: Splicing tape with a razor blade. No, we were doing mostly VHS, you didn’t have to splice any VHS. We were laying out newspapers with hot wax. A lot of people have that story even now: I’m going to be putting out a story next week on School Sucks with a guy who trains people in digital marketing and he was telling me that people are coming out of four year marketing programs in college having learned nothing. Being told that Facebook ads are a fad. Depends on how you define fad: maybe if your time scale is twenty-five years, fifty years, maybe you could call Facebook ads a fad. That doesn’t mean it’s something that should be dismissed as part of a curriculum for learning marketing. Right now, it is a crucial part of marketing operations for many businesses, but a professor says, “oh, that’s just a fad. Facebook: give me a break”. It’s here now, and it’s relevant now, and it’s relevant to the jobs that a person is going to have in marketing a year or two from now.
Scott Hambrick: It can drive sales in marketing for a company right now.
Brett Veinoitte: Absolutely.
Scott Hambrick: I have a young friend named Aren Johnstone, he was going to a magnet school here in Tulsa and he ended up buying an online retail business. It’s called Cherryloop.com and they sell figure skating supplies. Interesting niche. He learned how to place Facebook ads and run google ad words and learned how to write decent email ad copy when he was doing that. He got a couple of free-ride scholarships to some good schools and he told his parents, “I’m going to take a cap here”. He ended up continuing to work on his business and he got all these up-to-date, cutting-edge marketing skills in running his own small business. Later on he has shifted and now he does online marketing for other online retailers. He has a company called Battle Bridge Labs. Never went to college for it, is crushing that market because his education in that market is day-to-day, up-to-date and it has been since the minute he hit the ground. He wasn’t given any preductal info about Facebook being a fad from some professor. He is practical, he wants it to work, and that’s his test. He never went to college, never got the debt, has employees, is killing it. He’s living the dream, I think.
Brett Veinoitte: It’s definitely something we have done a lot of encouraging of on my show is finding paths around higher education. How do you find the right apprentice, how do you find the right mentor, how do you find the right fast-track training programs. Things like Praxis that I talk about all the time. Praxis is a company that places a person in an apprenticeship, and it works lateral to a professional development training, it’s the cost of one semester of college, and it pays for itself when you’re doing it. That kind of an overpass where all the fad is cut, all the waste is done away with, there isn’t all this bloat like you have with in higher ed. Those are the things we’re looking for; those are the people that I want to talk to, those are the solutions that I want to promote. It is so destructive for so many people to start out their lives not only losing maybe 150,000 dollars lost wages. That’s lost wages that they spend in those four or five years that they spend in college but also up to 100,000 dollars in debt in some cases. They have been shielded from the real world. It’s not universally bad across the board, there’s lots of good reasons to go to college, there’s lots of people that college is the right choice for. The problem is, what we’re trying to make a dent in, is this egalitarian idea that everybody needs to go to college. That college is the thirteenth grade, that you’re not successful educationally until you’ve had a two or a four year degree. That’s a problem especially with the opportunities in this economy; digital marketing is one of the best examples but there are others, of ways that you can be learning. You build a foundation of going to work every day, it could be anything. My father said to me, when I was seventeen, I was debating, I didn’t want to go to college, I had serious reservations about it because I had done so poorly in high school. I was so uninterested in school. The best info that he had in 1994 was that this was the opportunity. This is the opportunity to turn things around and he said to me, “you couldn’t get what you think is a pretty decent job, right now”. I detailed cars making six dollars an hour. He said, “you might get a job making ten dollars an hour, twelve dollars an hour and compare to the work you are currently doing you might feel rich and you just might make a career out of that”. He said, “I’ve seen that happen to so many people”. I appreciate that he was trying to protect me from he thought was going to be a bad decision. In my case, one of the difficult things was, I was so unfocused and so wayward that I think the exposure to the college environment (even though I almost got kicked out for academic and disciplinary reasons) my freshman year, eventually I came to see the value of education there. I always remember that when I criticize that I proved my abilities to myself in college. That doesn’t seem to be the experience for a majority of people. I had one professor who demanded a lot of me, expected a lot of me, demanded a lot of me, and when I met those demands I felt accomplished. I felt a real sense of intellectual accomplishment like, “oh my gosh, I actually have interesting things to say in the world of ideas”. That was startling to me. I had never had that experience in your schooling life. I don’t issue this as advice but the idea that college is the rule, that idea must go. I don’t say, “go to college, don’t go to college”, I’m not making any hard and fast rules about it but the idea that it’s for everybody. The people promoting the egalitarian idea of college for everybody, they love to use words like diversity and inclusion except when it’s diversity of paths and choices, inclusion of options. Then it’s off the table for some reason but everybody is so different and that’s been a big part of what I’ve argued at lower level of education which is why I promote un-schooling, home education, self-directed learning. Why we talk so much on School Sucks about intrinsically motivated education because you could never have a one-size-fits-all for education and I think the same is true for the upper levels is true of schooling of higher education. Starting with the very choice to go or not.
Scott Hambrick: The idea that you should go. In 1958 if you could go to college and did (I don’t know that that was an automatic, but it was pretty close.
Brett Veinoitte: That was probably the best opportunity that you had.
Scott Hambrick: Sure so, that’s 1958. At some point that stopped being true and I don’t know if that was 1998 or 1978 or if it was 2008 but at some point that stopped being true. Now info and trades (I’m going to call digital marketing a trade) changed so rapidly I don’t know how you can teach people in a static setting over twelve, sixteen, four years, and prepare them for what is “the fast paced world of work in the United States at this point in higher education. I went to this crappy school in Oklahoma, my I.Q. is alright but my education there wasn’t very good. I went to the University of Oklahoma and I didn’t know how to play that game. School’s a game, there’s a certain way to do it: there’s a certain amount of butt-kissing, there’s stuff you must do if you’re going to win that game. It’s not just do the homework, it’s not just do well on the test. If you want to go to medical school in the early 90s, when I went to the University of Oklahoma, there was a game that had to be played. As this quasi-reformed red necked go into the school, I would see people there in that pre-med program who knew how to do that. Maybe their dad or their mom was a doctor and maybe both of their parents were professional people, and their parents had gone through it. My parents were this baby-boomer age, so these were these baby boomers and maybe they had done it and maybe their grandparents had done it. They knew how to do school. I knew how to not be truant. I knew that I was at a disadvantage in that venue. I was keenly aware of it: for example, I think that people that go to college know that if you’re not in a sorority or a fraternity you don’t have the test files they have access to like the past tests. There’s an infrastructure that those people have access to that if you’re an independent like I was, I didn’t have.
Brett Veinoitte: Sure.
Scott Hambrick: I didn’t have that, and I was keenly aware of that, the whole time I was there. It felt like a rigged game to me. I’m not going to say that the whole thing is rigged and there were a select few winners but there was definitely a piece of institutional knowledge that needed to have to go to a big four year university and had the best possible outcome.
Brett Veinoitte: Sure.
Scott Hambrick: You can’t go in there with no shoes and some “Hillbilly”” and crush the shit out of it. You can have a good outcome but if so and so’s dad is an attorney and his mom is a doctor and their grandparents went to school and all their fucking grandparents went and they all come on alumni day they’ve got the advantages I didn’t have.
Brett Veinoitte: The legacy.
Scott Hambrick: The legacy. Yes, it’s worth something. Then yesterday I saw this news break about these Hollywood mediocrities that were paying hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars to get their kids to go to these, frankly not that good of a school, and be placed on these sports teams. Felicity Huffman is one of them who has been named and Lori Loughlin (Aunt Becky from Full House who I always thought was piping hot).
Brett Veinoitte: Yes, absolutely!
Scott Hambrick: I’m so upset that Aunt Becky did that.
Brett Veinoitte: I learned that this was the plot of an episode of Full House, season six called “Be true to your pre-school” where Uncle Jesse forges or fakes certain info, he fills out forms (they have twins eventually). If people didn’t follow Full House all the way to the end, they got married eventually and they had two twin boys, I think. So, he’s fudging this pre-school application to get the boys into the school. I’m sure that episode is currently circulating (ironically). What’s irritating to me I’m somewhat suspicious because only famous people are involved. When these things happen people post in the Facebook group, people email me links and I’m thinking, “is this news or is this just all of mainstream America saying the phrase, “college scam” for the first time”?
Scott Hambrick: you know what I think this is? This has been going on forever. Everybody knew that if you had a wing named after your dad, you got to go. That has always been a trope. I think this is ultimately about going after Kushner.
Brett Veinoitte: Oh, interesting, whenever a story takes the national news by storm. My new question is, “how are they going to tie it to Trump”? If something has all this momentum and energy and interest and anchor enthusiasm- how are they going to get this turd and throw it at Trump and get it to stick to him? I think there’s going to be a few outcomes out of this that we’re going to find disappointing, I’m pretty neutral on the Jared Kushner thing, I don’t really care about him one way or the other. But, you’re right, I have started to see that most of the commentary on this seems to mention that at the time Jared Kushner was applying to Yale or was it Harvard?
Scott Hambrick; Harvard.
Brett Veinoitte: His father who, also: side note, wound up in jail for other reasons made a…
Scott Hambrick: I did not know that.
Brett Veinoitte: It might have been some kind of fraud charge, I’m not sure, but he made a 2.5 million dollar contribution to the school at the time that Jared was applying. There’s obviously one thing that is newsworthy of the current scandal is that when somebody is super-rich, what we’re seeing right now is a path for the medium-rich: the people who can’t afford to buy the building or put up the new dining hall or the new beautiful glass building where all these unnecessary administrators are going to go that the college as it bloats because of its federal funding, these people need a pen to be in all day and probably to do nothing. I’m sorry that’s commentary. But for the people who can afford to provide the college with these kinds of resources we see through this current breaking news a new path that has been created over the last ten, fifteen, twenty years, however long this has been going on. I think that’s an interesting component to this is that when Jared Kushner’s dad (and none of the people criticizing Jared Kushner thanked the dad) because everybody at the school got to use that money. Right?
Scott Hambrick: Right.
Brett Veinoitte: This is money going into the pockets of individuals at various levels or various places in the chain of the admissions process.
Scott Hambrick: From what I understand this was money paid people to forge papers, frankly.
Brett Veinoitte: Sure.
Scott Hambrick: Some of it was to certain figures in the athletic programs and it’s all over the place apparently. In the context of the conversation we’re having, it’s not so much in the particulars of the scandal, it’s what is this schooling? What is it, what is this game, what are we doing? You’ve got Lori Loughlin’s kids and Felicity Huffman’s kids there (I think it was at USC: both of those) and you’re a poor Hispanic kid from East L.A. trying to get into that school and this kind of stuff is going on, it’s like what is that that you are doing? What are you participating in? Is it an education of is it some sort of a validation process? They get their kids in there, you get out, they’ve stamped your passport. This person is the kind of person that goes there. It’s a club membership at this point.
Brett Veinoitte: And there’s kind of a paradoxical thing happening here, right? Obviously, in the public mind, largely due to propaganda, this egalitarian campaign that’s been running at least since you and I were in high school that everybody must go to college is a progressive idea. A lot of that propaganda, people will learn this in the next episode of School sucks is generated by college organizations. The college board and beyond and I think NACE- National Association of Colleges and Employers- is another conglomerate that produces a bunch of data. Data that is collected, no problem, but then the way that a lot of the data is presented is definitely a problem and it’s very misleading. In the public mind the value of the degree has been inflated, everybody needs one, this is the key to opportunity in life but at the same time it’s devalued in its attainability because anybody can get one and it’s devalued in its practical meaning because anybody can have one. It doesn’t separate people like it used to, the four-year degree, I don’t think this is an elitist argument I think this is a recognition of reality. Now you have people who are in the 1%, I’m using that as a short-hand, but they’re not in the .01%. They’re people of means and they’re saying to themselves, “just getting a B.S. or a B.A. is worthless Now what?. How do we get an edge”? This has been, “how do I get so-and-so on the crew team at this prestigious school for crew”? “How do I get people into ivy league schools”? Your right, the variety of schools is pretty mixed so, obviously the guy who’s running this scheme (Rick Springer?) Rick Singer. (Sorry, I merged him with Rick Springfield, in my mind for a second, who was a singer.) His name was Rick Singer. I’m guessing he’s catering to his clients so, the parent says, ‘we want USC” or this ivy league and he comes up with a path or a plan to get them there. I saw the list of schools and a couple of them were curious choices. Why would you…:? I think the top price I saw being paid was six million dollars. I saw another one that was like 1.2 million dollars. There are people who are saying it needs to be more than just a bachelor’s degree from the college that Lori Loughlin’s daughter could probably get into. I don’t know if you saw her quote on her YouTube channel? Somebody pulled a clip of her going, “I’m going to college but I’m really just going for the parties and the social thing. I really don’t care about school; you guys know that”. You don’t need to make an argument that that spot could go to a more qualified candidate.
Scott Hambrick: She didn’t want it.
Brett Veinoitte: No! I don’t know if it was her or Huffman’s daughter where it was a Photoshop of one of them rowing crew. I’m thinking to myself, “could that be real”? What is the vetting process at the college like if you could submit a Photoshopped photo? There’s no background check on that.
Scott Hambrick: That’s Singer’s expertise. He knows what sports you can get into without a tryout.
Brett Veinoitte: Right. I think that exposes that obviously there’s admin expansion and admin waste. That’s not the only place where you have that happening. First of all, worthless programs of study, unnecessary administrators. But I think athletics is a problem as well. Coaches of sports like water polo are having that much sway in the admissions process that’s probably also something that needs to be looked at. But somebody posted the Reason article. Reason wrote that “we need to shoot the admissions process into the sun”. I pulled this little excerpt from it, “bribing athletic officials to falsely claim the client was a high-value recruit for a certain sport”. This often involved sending fake photos of the kids engaged in athletic activities. Pole vaulting, swimming, etc…that’s ambitious, that’s brazen. A pole vaulter, and your face has been Photoshopped on a pole-vaulting person, for sports they don’t actually play. It was either Loughlin’s daughter or Huffman’s daughter that was presented as somebody who was a high-up member of this crew association, I think, in Los Angeles and they get into USC as a result of this.
Scott Hambrick: All you people listening, if you got somebody who’s good at Photoshop, I want you to Photoshop Brett’s head on Allison Stokke pole-vaulting. We’re going to submit that to every university in the country and see if we can get Brett a scholarship.
Brett Veinoitte: I love that, I could at least use it as cover art for this episode.
Scott Hambrick: Alison Stokke.
Brett Veinoitte: That’s ridiculous.