When they’ve tortured and scared you for twenty-odd years, then they expect you to pick a career. – John Lennon
For the most of human history, education and work have been partners. Tribal leaders taught the younger generation about the world and how to provide for the tribe. Parents taught children how to till the land and provide for the family. Masters taught apprentices while both improved and practiced their trades. With the exception of nobility and clergy, education was for the purpose of learning to provide.
The invention of the printing press, subsequent industrial revolution, and the national revolutions that followed increasingly made education more widely available — for a cost — often meaning education was available only to the wealthy. However, by 1870 free elementary schools were available throughout America providing the U.S. population access to education regardless of financial standing.
Following World War II, college education expanded quickly as returning veterans attended universities with available GI Bill funds. This allowed the first large generation of Americans to receive a college education. Subsequently, the Boomer generation raised by these veterans were also expected to go to college as a requirement for good employment, and this trend has continued until only recently.
Beginning around the turn of the century, the value, necessity, and type of education one receives has become an increasingly heavy topic of debate. For the last half of the twentieth century the economy grew at a pace that was fast enough to absorb all college graduates with employment opportunities that paid salaries large enough to cover the cost of earning the degree. The social contract was that spending time in college to earn a degree, regardless of field of study, would prove that an applicant had discipline enough to be employed in a professional service.
Our social contract with our youth has been broken. Today, we pressure teens to make education decisions based on future employment opportunities when we ourselves have no certainty of what the employment future holds. We are penalizing them for an education breakdown we created. We are asking them to cater to an economic deficiency we have yet to acknowledge.
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