Sunday, November 4, 2012

Too dumb to go to college? Stoopid! (UPDATED)

Blame it on auto-correct? I think not.
My friend (and fellow wardog) Frank Weathers found this funny little exchange and shared it on Facebook.  Suffice it to say that, while I agree that English is a tough language to learn, one should be fluent in written English before one tries to insult others in it.

However, I need to point out that Garret Herschel's comment is not the first example of the "too dumb to go to college" trope I've seen this month.  Where it comes from I'm not certain; I suspect it's being handed down like an heirloom from senescent hippies to their quasi-liberal grandkids.  Anyway, like heirlooms and hippies, this meme is outdated.  It's also unbelievably bigoted.

Once upon a time — many, many years ago, before TVs, telephones and political action committees — it was true that there were no special intelligence or education requirements to join the Army or Navy, see the world and kill people. Even after the foundations of the U.S. Military Academy (West Point) in 1802 and the U.S. Naval Academy (Annapolis) in 1845, both of which have always been premier engineering colleges, for many years afterward you didn't absolutely need a college education to have a long, satisfying and successful career.

Perhaps the last example of this fact still living is Brig. Gen. Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager, USAF (Ret.), who was promoted to warrant officer and then lieutenant when the Army Air Force changed its policies during World War II. [The original version had him promoted on the retired list to major general; while this was backed by Pres. George W. Bush and authorized by Congress, the Air Force hasn't acted on it.] To say his service record and fame were built on a high school diploma is to overstate the case a bit; he also had specialized education as a test pilot, which by his own account was a tough slog without the math and engineering background other test-pilot candidates had. Still, the closest he came to a university was the Air War College, a military professional education program that doesn't confer a traditional degree. [On the other hand, aviation pioneer Gen. James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle earned his master's and doctorate in the then-new field of aeronautical engineering from MIT on the Army's dime (at the time, the Air Corps wasn't a separate service).]

Today, it's a whole new ballgame. If you don't have the intelligence, discipline and motivation to succeed in the military, most likely you'll end up dropping out of college, too.

Ever since moving back to an all-volunteer military in 1973, the services have used tuition assistance as a major portion of their recruiting strategy: "Give us at least four years' active duty, and we'll help you get your college/professional education without incurring massive student loan bills." In 2010 the DoD spent $542 million on tuition assistance, $24 million more than in '09, on everything from professional certification courses to doctorates, on veterans both off and still on the military payroll, on reservists and retirees alike. [In addition, some colleges offer military discounts; Drexel's program is often tuition-free for active-duty and veteran servicepersons, and another college — American Military University (AMU) — specifically serves military members and their families around the world.] In fact, the growing education budget is putting a strain on the rest of the Pentagon's purse; said Continuing Education Programs chief Carolyn Baker last year [2011], "The current program growth is unsustainable."

Nevertheless, prior to 9/11 tuition assistance was the big draw for enlistments, and remains a powerful recruiting incentive even today; most people who wear/have worn the uniform are/were/know/knew people who joined precisely so they could go to college without borrowing the equivalent of a 15-year mortgage.

This is just our first indicator of just how important education is to the American military establishment. Indeed, getting degreed and certified isn't just a good idea — if you want to have a twenty-year career, let alone reach a rank above E-4, you will need to get a degree. The higher, the better [my cousin, who used to work in Personnel for the Reserves in Arizona, informs me that they normally recommended a bachelor's at minimum]. In limited circumstances, it's possible to become an officer without a degree; however, you won't get to O-3 (lieutenant in the Navy, captain in the other branches) without a bachelor's. And to reach the starry heights of an O-5 (commander/lieutenant colonel) or O-6 (captain/colonel), you'll need a master's.

To even enlist in the military, you first have to pass the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery). In testing for your skill set, the military also breaks out four of the scores (word knowledge, paragraph comprehension, mathematics knowledge and arithmetic reasoning) and uses them in a formula for a basic qualification score (the Armed Forces Qualification Test, or AFQT), which weeds out most of those who won't survive or thrive in the classroom environment. Believe me, boot camp isn't just calisthenics and weapons training; plenty of time is spent in classrooms and "school circles". And after boot comes further schooling in your MOS, or military occupational specialty; for instance, if you're a Marine whose job code is 3451 (Fiscal/Budget Technician), they don't just throw you a calculator and stick you behind a desk. And some specialties require the same certification required in equivalent civilian jobs. No, the $542 million doesn't fully reflect the massive amount of money the Pentagon spends on educating our servicepeople.

The result of all this emphasis on education is that the US fields not only the most technologically sophisticated military in history but also the smartest military since mankind first made war, filled with men and women who can not only go toe-to-toe with any other country's forces but also win academic honors as well.

How long this will be the case is uncertain, as economic difficulties force new budgeting realities on us all.  For now, though, we all need to realize that the "too dumb to go to college" myth is stoopid.