Home college: one simple truth for bringing America's schools back to reality

According to Charles Murray, the author of the upcoming Real Education (pub date 8/19), for most people college is a waste of time. In yesterday's WSJ, Murray -- best known as co-author of the controversial Bell Curve -- argues that a college degree is essentially worthless because it tells an employer "nothing except that the applicant has a certain amount of intellectual ability and perseverance". Instead of improving the quality of undergraduate degrees, Murray suggests that we should eliminate them. And in place of the BA, he proposes a professional certification which would qualify young people as apprentices in their chosen trades:

Here's the reality: Everyone in every occupation starts as anapprentice. Those who are good enough become journeymen. The best become master craftsmen. This is as true of business executives and history professors as of chefs and welders. Getting rid of the BA and replacing it with evidence of competence -- treating post-secondary education as apprenticeships for everyone -- is one way to help us to recognize that common bond.

As a former university professor, I agree with this attack on the essentially worthless nature of undergraduate education in America, but I'm surprised that a libertarian like Murray has come up with such a centralized solution -- a wet dream for bureaucrats. In many professions -- poetry, politics or the sex industry, for example -- Murray's examinational idea of "evidence of competence" is a logistical minefield. Who is to determine evidence of competence? And who can guarantee that this professional examination won't become just another way for professional cliques to pursue their own agendas?

Yet Murray is correct in his attempt to disintermediate most overqualified, overpaid and under-producing college professors. So if they aren't providing much value to their students, who can replace them? The real victims of the college scam are parents -- parents who fork out hundreds of thousands of dollars to finance four generally wasteful years of drink, drugs and fornication. College has become camp before the real world -- a four year sleep-away extravaganza financed by hardworking moms and dads.

So here's one simple truth to bring America's schools back to reality -- home college. It's the next chapter in the home schooling experiment. This is one area where the self-organization of amateurs trumps formal professional qualifications. Most parents are experts in some revenue producing activity and could provide their kids with both caring and professional guidance in a trade. This is back to the ideal of medieval apprenticeship, encouraging kids to follow the same profession as their parents,thereby strengthening our pride in our family lineage and its chosen trade (the Smiths would all, once again, become proud smiths).

Digital technology is the great enabler of the home college model. Parents could self-organize, on and offline, so that they provide networks of fellow parent-professors, able to tutor other kids in their trades. Using e-learning tools, this network could be internationalized -- cooking classes, for example, could be tutored by parent-chefs in Rome, Beijing, Tokyo and even London. 

For most parents, college is a waste of money. And the best thing about home college is that it would make college free. That money could go to a downpayment on a house or toward a six month vacation for both kids and parents in Europe. Home college is a win not only for the family, but for America. In our anti professional cultural climate, it could be politically popular too. Might home college be Obama or McCain's secret weapon in '08?