A reader directed me towards Heather Mallick’s column in today’s Toronto Star, concerning the Star‘s recent expose of high-school credit mills, where those students who can afford the tuition are able to “jump the queue” of University and College admission standards, through inflated grades. The Star’s series of articles was summarized in an earlier blog post, which in turn generated at least one reader’s response.
Mallick’s column is deservedly pointed. While I’m not sure that the repeated references to her colleague’s book benefit her argument, she offers a forceful reminder about why we hold education as a social value, and the way that the fetishization of academic credentials threatens to pervert the educational system.
The article is reproduced below:
Credit mills grind up young futures
by Heather Mallick, Star columnist
Revelations about Ontario “credit mills” offering underachieving high school students a way to buy inflated marks are both a shocker and a warning.
Yes, the unregulated fly-by-night schools, as revealed by Star reporters Jennifer Yang and Robert Cribb, are a disgrace to the Ministry of Education’s grip on what we most value, our children’s future. But it gets worse. Students who take the path of least resistance — who fork over money to avoid studying — are headed for a permanent grief.
The grief continues when they cheat — and that includes cheating another genuine hard-working student out of a place at university — only to discover that university or college is too tough for them. You can’t buy your grades at the University of Toronto. You have to do the work.
So your misspelled essays and disastrous multiple-choice tests in first year force your university to put you through makeup classes more appropriate to Grade 10 students. Tenured professors shun teaching such students so they hand over classes to an army of underpaid adjunct professors, with PhD students to do the marking.
When you bought your marks from the pathetic non-credentialled teachers at unregulated schools taught out of garages, you infected the education system. Proud of yourself?
Maybe you are, maybe you’re not. It’s not really your fault. Students are hustling like this because they’re frightened, and who can blame them?
That was the shock. Here’s the warning: They’re reacting to a world we built for them and it’s our job to fix it.
Credentialism has overtaken education. You don’t want to learn in high school, you want the diploma. You don’t want to study in university but you want the degree. In fact, you don’t even want the degree so much as the job you pray it will get you. When you’re told that a BA isn’t enough, you get an MA to set you apart.
But what sets students apart is their ability to think, spell, create, interpret, generate ideas, do the work and in general be the product of what the education system was intended to be: an improver of human beings, an enlarger of personal worlds.
When we regard universities as job factories, increasingly filled by students popping out of credit mills, then who cares about the content of the courses?
I have nothing against vocational schools. Indeed I wish we had more of them because you either know how to take a photograph/engineer a bridge/maintain a machine or you don’t.
But instead we have a chain of lowered standards, starting with credit mills and moving on to credential generators feeding “job” factories. In 2010, Toronto author Russell Smith wrote a novel called Girl Crazy about this world, his protagonist the depressed (but still idealistic) community college teacher named Justin who suspects his students are being forced to buy marks.
Smith, one of Canada’s finest writers, dares to approach an unthinkable subject, an approaching class warfare in which everyone fights for status measured out in money but also in degrees.
We are told the arts don’t matter, but little has made the educational struggle as real to me as Smith’s stark scary novel of modern Toronto.
Justin straddles worlds. He has the credentials his students yearn for. He teaches strivers like the ones Yang met when she went undercover. But he is miserable because credentialism got him nowhere and yet he knows credentialism makes the world go round.
The corrupt reptilian school administrator in Girl Crazy sums up the attitude that is killing genuine learning: “It’s not really an education that helps you do well in the world. Nope. What helps you . . . is skill at a particular job . . . How are you going to do that if you don’t have a foot in the door? Hey? We provide that foot in the door.”
“Why would we make getting that thing more difficult for them?” he asks.
Because it’s immoral not to. Because it costs them money they don’t have. Because they’re going to crash and burn with an education that teaches nothing.
The Ontario government has to shut down credit mills. It has to end credentialism because it doesn’t educate and doesn’t lead to jobs. This can’t go on.