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Image via the National Archives

As I was writing my book, I looked for evidence of a pretty common trope, the idea that we are sending too many people to college compared to trade school. It would be perfect for my argument, which among other things is that the preeminence of college in 21st century life (both economic and cultural) is a bad thing that creates perverse incentives. I had done some research earlier in life that seemed inconclusive, but I was eager to have the very direct and practical bullet point “Send More Students to Trade School” in my list of recommendations. So I was really keyed up to find out that, aha! …

cross-posted at

I told my agent, early in the process, that the biggest criticisms of my book would be scientific, as I am a (well read) total amateur attempting to engage with scientific concepts. Science people tend to hate this, and will generally police the borders of any conversation to deny the input of the amateur. Well, look: the influence of genes on human behavior is a matter of scientific controversy, and I am in no position to adjudicate that controversy. I have attempted to accurately reflect one position within that controversy, but it will not surprise me to have gotten it somewhat wrong. It is true, however, that some serious people with serious evidence believe that our genetic endowment shapes our behavioral outcomes like how well we perform in school. …

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“Studying” by mer chau is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Perhaps the fundamental argument of my upcoming book (out August 4th) is that it is both economically ruinous and cruel to maintain a society where the education system sorts economic winners and losers when not everyone enjoys the same academic gifts or abilities. But there’s an ancillary point that I think is just as important even if you maintain the myth of universal academic potential: the economic benefit of education is relative to the scarcity of being educated, and so efforts to spread education universally as a means to spread the advantage are doomed to fail.

One of the single most important pieces of research I pulled for the book, among hundreds, was this 2007 paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research. The authors examined the college wage premium from 1890 to 2005 and found that it was largely explainable by a simple ratio between the number of college educated people and the number of jobs requiring a college educated. As the authors write, “Overall, simple supply and demand specifications do a remarkable job explaining the long-run evolution of the college wage premium.” But of course they do! How could it be any other way? Educated labor is subject to the law of supply and demand like any other good. If you increase the supply of something until it is ubiquitous, you are necessarily cutting the legs out of the value of that thing. And what is a nearly-universal policy goal of our politicians and think tanks? Universal college completion. …

Years ago the Nation (I believe) ran a piece titled “Feminism Should Make Men Uncomfortable.” It’s thoroughly evaded my Googling, but the thrust of the piece was simple: feminism’s tendency to make men uncomfortable was a feature, not a bug, as making those in places of privilege uncomfortable is itself a liberatory act. The author was a man. He did not seem uncomfortable; rather he seemed supremely self-assured as he took on the mantel of feminism to declare that men should be made uncomfortable by feminism. At the time it was published I dropped the link into the Twitter search bar. I found many men sharing the piece. None of them seemed uncomfortable. On the contrary, sharing the piece seemed to have made them seem more comfortable, as the act of implicitly indicting (other) men inherently elevated their moral position. …

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Image by Hades2k used under a Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0 license

The following essay is adapted from my forthcoming book, The Cult of Smart: How Our Broken Educational System Perpetuates Social Injustice. Pre-order it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or wherever books are sold.

Over the past several decades, the American educational system has seen a broad embrace of more and stricter standards. Variation and flexibility in curricula have been driven out in favor of uniformity in both the courses students are expected to take and how well they are expected to perform within them. This push to standardize has been going on at the local and state levels for a long time; since 2010, the action has happened at the national level, as the (in)famous Common Core is now enshrined in 41 states as well as several U.S. territories. …

Let’s try this one more time.

Suppose you and a friend went to a basketball game where Bronny James, Lebron’s son, was playing. Suppose that friend said “he’s good at basketball because he’s black.” This would be a claim about group genetic influence. That is to say, it would be a claim that a population of people share genetic ancestry and that this population-level influence influenced a particular tangible human trait. And most people, I think, would find it offensive. It’s certainly not a claim I would ever make.

Now suppose instead that your friend said “he gets his athleticism from his father.” This would be a claim about individual genetic influence. That is to say, it would be a claim that individual people receive a genetic endowment from their parents, and that this genetic endowment influences particular tangible human traits. Their genotype influences their phenotype. This is a profoundly different kind of claim — different scientifically, different pragmatically, different morally. And in particular it is not a very controversial claim at all. While I’m sure some people are out there who deny genetics, most people accept that our biological parentage shapes us in many profound ways. …

Somebody sent me this New York magazine article about the socialism trend with the clear intent of me getting mad about it. This is not unusual, even now. When you are someone who is known to be easy to provoke, people will provoke you, especially if you blow up as entertainingly as I have been known to. Well, I decline to get mad at that piece, in part because it was written precisely to get people mad. Some will get mad at the socialish young boppers it skewers, some at the absurdly reductive lens it uses to examine them. Either way I think the best thing is just to not let it make you mad. …

Well gang it’s looking like my site is dead, in its current iteration. (And there was much rejoicing!)

So the story goes like this: on Saturday I woke up to find emails from readers that the site was down. This in itself isn’t that unusual; sometimes it’s crushed with traffic, sometimes we forget to pay. But it seemed that the page was in fact suspended. So I contacted my ex-girlfriend, who was the one who originally set it up and with whom I have still been sharing hosting. It turns out that her sites had been taken down too. She contacted Bluehost, who informed her that the problem was in fact with my site, which was supposedly infected with several different types of malware, which meant that according to company policy all the sites hosted under that account were suspended. In a twist like out of Brazil, Bluehost couldn’t say precisely what the malware was or where it was on my site, and would not bring the site back up live so that I could root out the malware… because doing so would be having a site live with malware. …


Freddie deBoer

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