Closed Shops

There is a lot of talk lately about the evil, nasty unions. But they are not the only closed shops in town. Many professions refuse entry to those who do not possess the proper credentials: lawyers, engineers, teachers. Used to be that a person could apprentice to masters in these arts, and when the master had determined that the apprentice was sufficiently practiced so that he wouldn’t embarrass the master when representing his office to the public, the master would declare the apprentice to be fit and capable to perform the duties of the profession.

Nowadays, the state requires that aspiring whatevers attend school, for a pre-determined amount of time, take a minimal exam, pay the required fee, then voila! the student is magically transformed into an expert, and allowed to hang out a shingle. Book learning has become all. And by book learning, I mean the payment of vast sums of money to attend class and take tests. The practicum, the nuts and bolts of each profession, have taken a back seat to the rote pedagogy. But this system does do its job—not to prepare students for the professional life they are about to enter—but to keep the number of possible aspirants to a particular profession to a minimum.

You think there are lots of attorneys now? Just imagine how many there’d be if the rigors of three years of law school weren’t thrown in their path. If apprentices were permitted to contribute to their upkeep somewhat while in the throes of mastering a new way to deal with the world. The same holds true for teachers, engineers, scientists. Amazingly enough, we have come to accept that years spent in the classroom are better preparers than are years spent in actually doing the work.

The current common wisdom is that everyone needs a college education in order to be successful. In addition, the push is for schooling to begin earlier and earlier. But more schooling does not necessarily equal more competence, more ability. In fact, in many cases, it seems that quite the opposite has occurred. What more sanctioned schooling does do, however, is provide the establishment with many more years of opportunity to mold and create the kind of citizenry that is most amenable to the thinking and tactics of persuasion of the powers that be.

The ostensible reason given for the  need for more schooling is standardization. Just a glance quickly gives the lie to that concept. Even within a school district, the opportunities available to each student are quite varied. Within a school, even more so, depending upon how individual students are tracked and guided. Even if the methods of teaching and the materials available to each student were somehow able to be measured and doled out precisely, every student is different, and will achieve a different outcome. No, it doesn’t seem that the actual goal can be competence for all.

The next time you wonder about the power that the unions have over industries like construction, automobiles and the like, consider the power the non-acknowledged unions have over the professions, as well. Gone are the days when professionals were deemed competent based on their output. Gone are the days when a master would not dream of holding out his apprentice as skilled unless and until the apprentice could perform up to the master’s standards. Now, students are given a certificate of completion, and their potential employers (and clients) can only hope that they know what they’re doing.

What we have done to the education system in general, we have also applied to the professions in particular. Years spent, or misspent, listening (or not) to lectures have been substituted for actually doing the real thing. When we are contemplating how to deal with the power of the unions, let’s not forget those invisible closed shops that exist all around us.

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Filed under Critical Thinking, Education, Politics

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