Is Tiger Woods setting a bad example for America's youth? Well, maybe. At least according to one syndicated columnist.
In the aftermath of Woods' epic performance at the Masters golf tournament, Clarence Page of The Chicago Tribune decried the "racially charged, money-linked sports obsession" fueled by a "fixation in which the riches and fame of such sports heroes as Michael Jordan have caused a wildly disproportionate number of young black Americans, in particular, to focus on the brass ring of professional sports at the expense of more realistic and productive career paths." (The Denver Rocky Mountain News, 4/24/97)
And how is Tiger Woods exacerbating this problem? Well, he dropped out of Stanford, you see, to pursue his golf career. As Page writes, "That works out fine for his bank account, but, for too many others it only reinforces the wrongheaded notion that academics should take a back seat to athletics."
Woods, Jordan, Dallas Cowboy running back Emmitt Smith and other athletes who have left college early to pursue what many see as the filthy lucre available in pro sports are not at all bad role models. (That Lou Gehrig left Columbia after two years to pursue a baseball career does not seem to have tarnished his role model status.) They are merely doing what millions of others, including countless blacks, between the ages of 19 and 21 have done, very often with vigorous support from friends and family. They have merely taken a different, more beneficial path in their lives.
No, they do not all end up drug-crazed, unemployable, and sleeping on park benches. Many return to complete their degrees (a la Jordan and Smith) and many find success and happiness away from campus.
If college dropout Tiger Woods were a Marine Corps private at Parris Island, SC, 130 miles southeast of the home of the Masters, no one would dare say he was a bad role model. If 21-year-old Tiger Woods were a nuclear power specialist aboard a submarine at Kings Bay, Georgia, 250 miles south of the home of the Masters, no one would dare say that he had forsaken his education. If pencil-neck geek Tiger Woods found computers more interesting than college, and left the "Stanford of the East" to found Microsoft, no one would say that he had taken a fatal turn in life.
A college education is not necessarily a bad thing. Yet Americans have simply developed too many wrong attitudes about it. As usual, government intrusion makes matters worse.
Consider the way we congratulate ourselves about the number of people who attend college in the United States. In reality, the United States has done with college diplomas what banana republics have a propensity to do with their currency. We have printed so many pieces of paper that many of them are mere certificates of having warmed a chair for four years. I received a fine education at Arizona State University (ASU), yet I do not hesitate to call it a diploma mill.
As a liberal arts major, I received my share of ridicule. Yet, in order to earn my degree, I had to write numerous term papers and organize my thoughts rapidly and succinctly on numerous essay exams. Even though my course material may not have appeared to be practical, I fine tuned intellectual and analytical skills which would benefit me in any profession.
Unfortunately, too many students pursue courses of study which may appear practical, yet are of questionable value.
Consider life in the ASU business college. Classes of several hundred students were commonplace. Many courses consisted of taking notes and filling in dots on computer cards. Many projects were team projects in which, say, two students did all the work while four of their classmates were just along for the ride. One could easily receive an ASU business degree without cultivating any intellectual skills. The horrendous quality of so much business writing is a direct result of the fact that so many people do not have to write in order to get through college any more. The situation at ASU is in no way unique.
Better yet, consider life in the education college. Arizona has some of the strictest teacher certification requirements in the nation. I have often said that Winston Churchill could not teach history and Albert Einstein could not teach math in the Arizona schools because they did not have their silly-posterior (this is a family page) pieces of paper from Arizona education colleges. As a substitute teacher, I met several substitutes who had taught certain subjects in other states without certification. Yet they could not teach these subjects full-time in Arizona because the Arizona Department of Education would not accept this experience in lieu of having jumped through the right hoops.
Perhaps, I digress. However, so much of what happens at college is mere fluff. The huge transfusion of government aid in recent decades has not helped matters. It has perverted economic incentives relevant to higher education and, in the end, made college much more expensive. (See links below.) Students graduate tens of thousands of dollars in debt, and are saddled with this burden for years to come. Moreover, college life very often makes it too easy to postpone personal maturity.
There is rapidly growing grassroots support for getting government out of primary and secondary education. Evidence of this may be seen in the popularity of the school choice and home school movements. Indeed, there is now a superb organization called the Separation of School and State Alliance. Similar attention needs to be paid to eliminating the government's role in higher education.
Not only will costs decrease when colleges are faced with competing in the educational marketplace. Quality will increase, because students will pay real money and, hence, demand real courses. So many of the nauseating examples of political correctness we hear about are perpetrated by people who are exempted of the ever having to compete in order to eat.
In the absence of student loans, it may take a little longer for many students to complete a four-year degree. Big deal. If they take ten credits a semester instead of 15, because they are working to get through school, they may graduate at 25 rather than 22. However, these students will emerge with more maturity and real world experience than they currently do.
Higher education is like so many other things which were historically handled by the free market. The key results of government funding and regulation have been higher prices, diminished quality, and a whole lot of unnecessary nastiness. Reversing these trends requires reversing, and ultimately ending, the government's role.
Freely Speaking: Essays By Doug Newman *** ***
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