Closing off the Ghetto

The teaching ranks are loboomized. Administrators are bullies. We interpret and give tests in the wrong way. Our test scores are stagnant, and our bad schools trap parents in stressful jobs and expensive neighborhoods.

Our low performing students (low-socio-economic status and under-represented-minorities) do very badly, but others are merely average. Helping low-performing students is a different tasks, but we can help mediocre-performing students by fixing not just K-12 education, but also colleges.

One reason mediocre students get mediocre outcomes is the presence of the humanities ghetto: a nowhereville of few jobs and little income where most political scientists, historians, and sociologists end up. High school students are famously stupid, and see this ghetto as a promised land where they will make more money than they do in high school, have a socially acceptable job, only have to do fun stuff, and (most importantly) can actually reach.


So our goal should be to dissuade students away from the humanities ghetto, and into outcomes with greater return-on-investment that are more socially beneficial (or at least less socially harmful), like marijuana distribution or go-go-dancing.


To do this, we need to make the on-ramp to humanities ghetto a ghost ramp. It’s already a road to nowhere, but if we can severe it we can divert the flow of students to other places.


We need to decrease the visible attraction and increase the visible costs of getting onto the humanities ghetto on-ramp. To decrease attraction, we should make any humanities courses in high schools optional, and allow students to work in those hours instead. To increase costs, we should either end federal student loan all together, or at least for non-STEM majors. (Both of these approaches are imperfect, but they definitely tilt the playing field away from ghetto majors).

Education reform isn’t merely about better teachers and better tests, but changing the context in which education takes place. Demagogues like Diane Ravitch are right when they say teachers can’t do it all. Policy makers need to do their part, too.

7 thoughts on “Closing off the Ghetto”

  1. I wonder how many of the majors in the humanities ghetto would be good preparation for police, military or non-lobotomized teaching?

  2. Hey Michael,

    Vague claims that these majors are good preparation for life doubtless explain why many students leave college with years of potential work experience wasted, and with thousands of dollars in debt.

    As police tend to be dumber than college athletes (and only slightly above the general population), I doubt they are in a population that benefits from or is capable of a great deal of abstract thought in any case. [1,2]


  3. 1. Wasn’t asking rhetorically, I genuinely don’t know. I can see where a knack for languages would be valuable for any of those fields and others besides, but I don’t know if such talent is either required for (or nurtured by) linguistics study. Similar questions could be asked about some of the other humanities majors.
    2. Is that an argument against hiring smart cops or lobotomizing police work?

  4. To use your pimp/ho/escapee model, I’m wondering about professions outside of academia that provide a chance for escape.

  5. Michael,

    Ah, gotcha.

    There’sa avenues for escape, but a major problem is lack of optionality [1] — with student loan debt not bankruptable, a would-be escapee’s course of action is limited.

    The humanities are not the best training ground. For instance, foreign language coursework is based on how we taught Latin and Greek, where philosophical exactness mattered more than easy fluency. Thus, students learn past-perfect third-person plural conjugation, but now how to interject into a conversation between two high school sophomores. But certainly the time spent is (often) better than being in a coma.


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