Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Importance of a Good Education

Over at the CoffeeRoom, some of the folks were having an interesting discussion concerning the merits of getting a secular education. Most of the people there seem to believe that getting a secular education (at least through the high school level) is a good thing. As is usual in these types of conversations, some one puts forth the fact that there are those who have managed to succeed without an education. One poster put it this way:

there have been many successful people who have droped [sic] out of school

My response to this was:

I think that I would ask for a definition of the word "many" in this context.

Nonetheless, yes, there are people who have been successful despite dropping out of school - but those people are the (exceedingly rare) exceptions and not the rule.

Sure enough, someone pulled out a small list of people who did well despite dropping out from school. The list they provided was Albert Einstein, The Wright Brothers, Billy Joel, Tom Cruise "and a ton more."

Well, right off the bat, we can eliminate Einstein. While he may have dropped out at one point, he did end up earning a PhD from the University of Zurich. We can, in theory, also eliminate Cruise who did graduate from high school, but we'll discuss him a bit later.

The Wright Brothers did not complete high school -- that is a fact. Nonetheless, they lived in an age when completing high school was more luxury than necessity. Many people in the 1880s and 1890s did not complete high school; they were often forced to go looking for work to help out the family. That reality, however, does not exist today. You really can't use The Wright Brothers as a comparison. Were they alive as teenagers today, you can bet your bottom dollar that they would complete their high school education.

Billy Joel and Tom Cruise have a fairly unique quality -- they have been blessed with very unique talents. Not any shlub off the street can walk into a studio and open a $100M movie based on name recognition alone. Not any shlub can announce a concert at Shea Stadium and sell out the tickets 45 minutes after they go on sale. The fact is that these people (like many professional athletes) have such unique skills that they don't need an advanced education to make a ton of money. But the fact of the matter is that the reason they can make so much money is because their skills are exceedingly rare. You can't tell the average kid "it's okay to drop out of high school like Celebrity X," because the average kid doesn't have the God-given unique talents that Celebrity X has.

That being said, let's talk about what the more typical kid might find. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here are the usual median weekly earnings of people in the US by education for Q3 2008:

Less Than High School: 471
High School Diploma: 618
Some College Education: 725
Bachelor's Degree: 1020
Bachelor's Degree or more: 1131
Advanced Degree: 1333

I have data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics going back to 2000 (email me if you want them, or you can get them from here), and the relationship between education and salary always holds. The more education the average person has, the more they earn.

Is it possible for a person with little or no education to strike it rich? Absolutely. But in just about every case, you'll find that the person either has an incredibly rare and valuable skill or is incredibly lucky (and won the lottery). For the other 99.99999% of the population, you need an education. In other words, you can't look at the exception and posit it as the rule.

It should be noted that an interesting development seems to be occurring in the chareidi world. The Jerusalem Post reported on Sunday that chareidim want to go to college. Many, however, cannot go to college because they lack the necessary skills that they would have learned in elementary and high school. However, I wonder if this isn't the beginning of a change in chareidi society towards seeing the value of a decent secular education as necessary to get by in day-to-day life. Even if these particular chareidim can never go to college, you can bet that they will see to it that their kids don't follow the same path that they did, and that their kids *will* get a decent high school education, even if they have to go through "back channels" to get it for them.

The Wolf

UPDATE (1:20 pm): The person who posted the original comment came back with this response, which I hereby dub "the stupidest quote of the day:"

i hold that statistics dont affect us yidden.

The Wolf


Michael Koplow said...

Very interesting. Two trivial questions. First, what does "usual median" mean, given that you're talking about a specific quarter? Does it mean something other than "median"? Second, could you please clarify the categories? "Bachelor's Degree" is a category, and so is "Bachelor's Degree or more", but the first one seems to be a subset of the second one.

BrooklynWolf said...


Good questions. I'm not sure about the first... that's the wording that they used on the BLS site.

I would assume "Bachelor's Degree or more" means one who has started grad school or taken continuing education beyond undergrad but not attatined an advanced degree.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

Poeple always note the exceptions, but that's precisely because they're exceptions.

Everyone knows or has heard of "someone" who was injured in a car accident because they were wearing a seatbelt. So are seatbelts unsafe? Of course not, there's no disputing their utility. Which is why when someone is injured because of a seatbelt (as opposed to going flying 50' through the windshield) everyone hears about it.

It's the same with education. Yes, there are self-made millionaires out there. There are even people learning at a high level who never went to yeshivah. They're the exceptions, not the rule. Not the way to plan one's life.

Anonymous said...

Wolf, don't worry about this BLAHBLAH commenter, he/she is just bored and looking to get a rise out of someone (e.g. you). There are other commenters who believe what they say, but not BLAHBLAH.

Anonymous said...

Funny, in some pre-shiur discussion this AM I commented to my rebbi that I wish I could get people to stop assuming that their own anecdotal experience was representative of the state of the universe. His response was what I would characterize as a guffaw.

Having said that, your respondent does have a point, a true maamin (in R' Dessler's terms)can claim that the hashgacha pratit for him will outweigh anything else and that the fallacy of composition does not hold for the community of true maaminim. How he would explain results to date would be interesting, but certainly doable
Joel Rich

BrooklynWolf said...

How he would explain results to date would be interesting, but certainly doable

God helps those who help themselves?

The Wolf

Ezzie said...

i hold that statistics dont affect us yidden.

I hold that people who think statistics don't affect yiddin are freaking morons.

DAG said...

Wolf, push him. Why doesn't he think that stats "affect" Yidden?

Baal Devarim said...

He doesn't believe in science or statistics. Or math, for that matter. How can you expect a rational person to believe in an irrational number? Goyisher kop.

Logo Yid said...

What the poster probably meant was: "I hold that (income) statistics don't affect us yiddin (who don't report our true income)."

ProfK said...

Wolf, I must be channeling your thoughts somehow; I have two postings scheduled for next Monday and Wednesday on what a college education is worth, and the breakdown is given for various age cohorts and for the various types of degrees that can be earned, undergrad and graduate. There is also a posting upcoming on the various diploma mills that cater to the frum community.

As to the comment on statistics and yidden, much as we'd like to deny the fact, we have always had the intellectually deficient as members of Klal.

Gil Student said...

75% of all statistics are made up.

ProfK said...

Hmmm, including the statistic that "75% of all statistics are made up"?

Anonymous said...

"i hold that statistics dont affect us yidden. "

I have never laughed so hard at a comment in my life.

The Hedyot said...

> The person who posted the original comment came back with this response, which I hereby dub "the stupidest quote of the day...

And yet, you seem to continue engaging these people in debate, expecting rational responses. It doesn't seem the brightest thing either.

BrooklynWolf said...

And yet, you seem to continue engaging these people in debate, expecting rational responses. It doesn't seem the brightest thing either.

Everyone needs a hobby for entertainment purposes.

The Wolf

mlevin said...

Statistics do not affect yidden or anyone else, statistics reflect life.

On the other hand, I'm sick and tired of people siting college ed as an answer to everything. College is just a stepping stone. The real answer to getting there is hard work, educating yourself about your field or expertise, staying focused and be organized. One can educate himself without stepping into the college or high school. And one could have that BA/BS diploma and it would be totally worthless, because that one didn't learn anything attaining it.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately Wolf, those chareidim who want to go to college but can't will probably be much more likely to see their kids:
1) brainwashed back to chareidism
2) off the derech (partly due to their parents' angst)