Monday, March 10, 2014

Too Dumb to Go to College 2: The Return of the Stoopid

By the way, if you're thinking of razzing me for misspelling "stupid", watch the first ten minutes of that under-appreciated Bruce Willis movie The Kid and you'll see where I got it from and why I use it.

So anyway, about a year and a half ago I wrote about a kid named Garrett Herschel, who wrote, "People only join the military because there to dumb to go to college." On Facebook. And his first response was from Marine Pfc. Jon Booth, who typed back, "They're*". At the time, I suspected that the "too dumb to go to college" trope is "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 Anyway, like heirlooms and hippies, this meme is outdated.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."

 As if to prove that nothing, no matter how ignorant, ever truly dies on the Internet, we have Miley Hayes ("Another stupid Miley," one person sneered ... perhaps thinking of Ms. Cyrus?), who has repeated the trope almost word for word. Except that she got "too" right. And again, we have a Marine, Austin Turner, who corrects her typo. The poster of this screencap, "Uncle Sam's Misguided Children", remarks, "Well played, Marine ... Well played."

The Internet treats intelligent, well-documented statements of fact viciously, so there was no hope for this piece of snotty ignorance. The best of them came from retired sailor Bill Woods III:

Yes and my dumb retired Navy ass got more technical electronics training, more discipline, more life lessons all while completing my college with no student loan debt. Now I really regret just doing what I want to do, not having to worry about money, don't have to worry about medical care for my family or myself, get all kinds of other perks, watch my girls go to college a little better off than most, enjoy seeing my sons follow in my footsteps knowing my grand kids will be ok as well. Yea I guess I was dumb alright. Wish you the best young lady. Just remember when you lay your head down at night at least thank all the millions that served and still serve for your right to post your ignorance for all to see.

So let's go over it again [recent additions in red bold type]:

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.
No, nothing truly dies on the Internet, especially if it's a trope or meme that allows people to feel superior to others, so I'm sure we'll be seeing it again in another sixteen to eighteen months. The thought that really depresses me, though, is that Miley is probably a college student herself.

She may even be a Ph.D. Ph.D.'s have been known to say stupid things.