Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Degrees and the Waving thereof

As both a Degree Waving Asshole™ and someone who observes reality I'm often conflicted by a fundamental question: Do degrees mean anything? We all know that people waver back and forth in their interpretations of academic accomplishments. So, is there a foundation for any of this, or is it all entirely subjective? To begin, I think we need to address the mechanism which allows the duality and wavering.

I think we can break down the rigmarole of assessing academic achievement into three categories: Ability, Desire, Means. These are in no way perfect but rather are meant to illustrate a point.
Ability: A person's intellect, smarts, brain-power.
Desire: A person's desire and motivation.
Means: A person's finances, time available, transportation. Basically any non-"smarts" required or utilize to achieve a given end

These are the three categories into which the reasoning behind academic achievements fit. If I get a high score on my paper then I obviously have high Ability, Desire, and Means. If I gets a low score on my paper then obviously my Ability is fine (How dare you say that I am stupid!). The problem must be with Means. The teacher graded unfairly, I was tired, bullshit bullshit, crap. We've all experienced this and understand it. The question of valuing degrees also utilizes these categories. A professor we like obviously had high Ability, Desire, and Means. Or, perhaps, the professor lacked Means so required far greater Ability. A professor we don't like obviously has only marginal Ability and compensated for this with Means.

So where does this end?

While one may modify one's interpretation of a degree what one cannot change is a person's having that degree. An individual with a degree has jumped through the hoops required to receive that degree. It doesn't necessarily indicate how they jumped but rather indicates that they jumped. So having a Ph. D. does not indicate a specific combination of Ability, Desire, and Means but rather indicates a sufficient combination of those requirements to have reached that end; degrees indicate hoop jumping ability.

So does that mean that degrees are meaningless, that those with them are little more than hoop jumpers? Well, consider a story a professor once told me. When his intro to philosophy students asked "What gives you the right to tell us that we're wrong?" his answer was not "Because I have a Ph. D.". His answer was, "Well, I've been thinking and reading about this shit for 30 years."

That's where the meaning is found. The meaning does not come from the degree. The meaning does not come from the hoop jumping. The meaning is found in the individual. We can't simply stop at "Player A has a degree". We have to utilize a scope that goes beyond merely the degree and look at the entire situation. Yes, "hoop jumping" is an important part of the scope. Yes, "hoop jumping" affords an individual access to important points of growth those outside the "hoop jumping" arena lack. But the degree is neither the end nor the ultimate defining factor.

The question of "does a degree mean anything" is where the flaw lies; our desire for degree to be the sole point of qualification is the mistake. The real meaning comes from the entire scope of the person. Plenty of brilliant people have obtained degrees just as plenty of exalted morons have hung around academia long enough to get their degrees. What is meaningful is not the degree; the degree is only part of it. The meaning is found in the scope of the person who has the degree.


Roscoe said...

That was a lot of work to answer avoid answering your question.

a simpler answer is yes - that the holder accomplished the required tasks to aquire one.

In all honesty, and asking as someone who does this to a degree himself: Are you more amused by creating an esoteric and complex structure for your questions than you are interested in the question itself? Because you just made some architectual wonders to answer a question you allready knew the answer to.

_J_ said...

I like pointing out that the answers to questions are esoteric and complex. That, in fact, the questions themselves are far more esoteric and complex than we want or intend them to be.

I like focusing on the unwanted depths of things which people ignore to get through life.

Roscoe said...

.. I guess what I'm saying is.. I don't think most people ignore anything in that post.

If anything, most people are intuitively aware of everything you conclude with.

except the meaning of the degree isn't found in the person at all.

Rather, the degree is shorthanded to stand in for "has studied X to a relatively extensive degree". People will then make assumptions from that, but again.. not that's not ignoring anything.

If I may? You've become too reliant upon a set of criticisms that they've become default for you. That you assume that the root cause of your criticisms are willful ignorance, without being able to prove the assertion that assumption leads you to make.

_J_ said...


(After a few attempts at other replies I'm just going to go with "Yup".)