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Going to university does not broaden the mind (economist.com)
212 points by godelmachine 89 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 273 comments

University definitely broadened my mind. I grew up in an area that was 99+% white and 50+% Jewish. We literally had “the black family” with twins who were our top track stars. And a few Asian families who hid their Asianness.

It was at University that I learned about Asian culture. It was the first time I used chopsticks. It was the first time I drank tea without sugar. It was the first time I ate Chinese food that wasn’t deep fried. It was the first time I had dim sum. I learned to understand people with heavy accents (it was the first time I’d ever met someone for whom English was a second language). It was where I learned the diffence between Chinese (north and south), Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese people.

It was also the first time I ever met someone who was home schooled, someone who a lesbian or pretty much anyone who wasn’t straight, other than the one openly gay kid in high school.

It was the first time I learned that making racist and homophobic jokes was not ok.

It was the first time I learned the girls can write code.

Without college I would probably be a racist and not believe that social programs are necessary.

I wouldn't describe the cliche post-highschool hard left swing of someone with a sheltered upbringing as "broadening".

I don't mean to be too dismissive, but I spent enough time in a university town after my own graduation to see this trajectory play out a number of times. Kids come in, and adopt a new set of ideas that suit their new environment just as blindly as they adopted ideas compatible with their previous environment.

Before I make it sound too much like I'm painting with a broad brush, I expect people's political positions to change around this time. There is a difference between a position someone can articulate from their first principles, and someone that sounds like they're repeating the media they picked those positions up from. I'd rather have a productive disagreement than talk to someone I agree with that can't show their thought process.

Eventually they might have their mind broadened. But it's not guaranteed. And if they discover pot when they got to the university and/or internalize their change of heart as a 2nd rebellion against their parents, it'll take a few extra years.

You definitely are “painting with a broad brush”

As someone who has also spent a lot of time in a college environment I disagree that students blindly accept new positions to suit what’s around them. In fact, I would say a change in opinion shows they were not only able to take in new information, but also make the personal decision to change firmly held values that no longer make sense.

99% of his post is about learning new things.

>hard left swing

I mean, it's the swing that's hard, not the positions. That's why I said the bit about positions I support but with but reasoning I can't. But in retrospect that distinction wasn't that clear, my writing is almost as muddled as when I speak out loud.

jedberg didn't spill out the terrible recent-convert gobbledygook I'm used to hearing. Maybe he's did it right, or maybe he's adult-ed up his standing in the meantime, but it fits the mold and was as good a place as any to talk about the archetype.

True story. At work, folks going out for lunch. Ask if I want dim sum. I had never heard of it. All I could think of, in redneck fashion, was "that boy ain't bright, he's dim some." I declined going. Still not sure what it is. I think it is a soup.

But why didn't you just google it or look it up? In the time it took to write out this comment you could've googled it and seen the brief one-sentence description that appears and explains it. I get not doing that in the moment but you seem to be implying this happened a while back and you've been okay just assuming they're all going and eating soup for lunch. Were you never curious about it after that initial invitation?

You're truly missing out of one of life's greatest pleasures. Carts and carts of delight, oh what a sight!

I'll be honest, I'm not the biggest fan. But no it isn't a soup. It's a bunch of small little bites and they generally bring them around on carts and you tell them what you want and then pay for what you eat. Usually the items are steamed and the carts have hot water at the bottom to keep the steam going as they cart it around.

It's Chinese buffet. Or maybe more like tapas. It's a great way to sample the huge variety of Chinese food. Some of which, to my Americanized palette, is quite alarming.

Edit: Deep-fried chicken feet vs pork rinds is a toss-up, I admit. But there are items about which I've never gotten a clear explanation ;)

Try something new, you may like it.

bro you gotta try cha siu bao

If you don’t know what a food is you can just go with them and then you’ll know after

These accomplishments are easily possible by moving to uptown of top 10 cities. You don’t need 4 year college.

"Going to university does not broaden the mind" is a claim about sufficiency, not about necessity.

I would agree, going the other way.

Before university, all I knew of rich folks was that they poached the good teachers from my high school (we were a magnet school in the poorer inner city, back when cities were poor). Lets just say that I found that there was more nuance to all those kids from suburbia.

I went into university steadfastly believing the roster sheet of progressive policies. Then there was economics class, and the in-depth conversations around that, and I came to realize that a lot of policies are double-edged swords, either difficult to implement correctly, or just outright too good to be true. For example, you can't really elide the fact that prices provide important signaling to the markets, that in turn influence supply and demand.

That having been said, I don't think the libertarian wing nuts I'd met came to the same sort reckoning,... they still seemed to think the free markets are magic pills... so I figure that I learned more from the experience than they did.

University was a confusing time. There were a lot of folks who were a lot more privileged than me, who were smarter than me, but not very motivated. It would take many years after college before it became clear how things even out. (They are still on good footing thanks to their privilege, and they're not bad people. I have sometimes enjoyed seeing them again – when I do – like it was old days. I don't envy them anymore. And I wouldn't switch places either.)

Life is complicated. University forces a kind of mixing – and a certain kind of critical thinking – that forces you to look at how complicated it is. Sometimes, things just are.

I've been to the other end of the spectrum, been around lots of people who never went to school or who dropped out. Or who had it easy in university. I interact with folks who never had to pick up that kind of critical thinking. It eventually becomes plain and clear the kind of subtle difference it makes in people's lives over time, and across generations.

It is in life as it is in board games. Randomness and complexity obscure the "winning" strategies.

I distinctly remember the day I was in line at the bursars. The girl in front of me paid for the entire semester on her credit card! I had heard that people with huge limits existed but it did not even occur to me that tuition would be one if the things you could pay with a VISA.

Article is about German university. You can't assume it is the same as American experience.

My university was not about broadening anything either and peer group was way more homogenous then high school or extracurricular clubs.

different countries, different experiences. the research was done in germany, and to a german student none of the kind of experiences you had are available.

Why are social programs necessary?

Because everyone isn't as smart as you are, and with the elimination of many jobs at the bottom of the economy we no longer have a good way to ensure the pie of wealth us equitably divided.

But looking at it as a pie that needs to be divided is wrong. One of the core tenets of capitalism (well, in theory) is that wealth is created literally from nothing. It's not a zero-sum game. In practice, unfortunately, one needs certain prerequisites to be able to do this. So in my view, the problem is not that something is unequally divided, but that a class of people systematically aren't able to create enough wealth and so are stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty.

"wealth is created literally from nothing."

Most of the real wealth I see being created has ultimately come from the exploitation of natural resources. Far from being 'nothing', most of these limited resources (which in another theory belong to all life on Earth) require underpaid 'human resources' to turn them into the highly-profitable 'nothing' of which you speak.

Much of which winds up in the garbage. (E.g., here in the U.S. we build housing to last for maybe two generations.) If anything, much real wealth comes from turning valuable resources into nothing.

Primary extraction (mining, farming, forestry, fishing) is something like 6% of the global economy.

On average, the things you or I use consist of 6% exploitation of natural resources and 94% of labor after that. Natural resources are important, but now (as opposed to 19th century) they are a tiny part of what we make and use, they are not the main part of wealth.

How do you estimate the "consumption" of clean water and air? How much of the non extraction economy relies on the extraction happening?

I cant imagine how to estimate those numbers, but I do imagine they'd be significant.

I see a significant difference between 'real wealth' and the 'global economy'. Apples and pears.

I'm not talking about equality, but rather equitablity - the system should be fairer than it is, meaning people ought to be compensated fairly for the value they contribute to the system, the issue is, they're not.

My beliefs on sharing the pie are summed up by the following quote "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement" the issue is, we've systematically deprived those of lower ability of paths to opportunity, and deprived those who do succeed of their fair share of the pie.

Shouldn't it be quite clear to us right now that this theoretical assumption never worked because we have limited resources on this planet?

The older I get the more I realise resources are limited in some ways but not in others. Running out of petroleum isn't as bad as it sounds. Other candidates have already appeared. Reclamation will occur.

That said, polluting the air and water is still not a good idea. Burning coal is still stupid.

Humanity had more than enough food to feed everyone but we are too greedy at the top to actually do so. We dump food in stupid ways for stupid reasons.

Actually, the theory is the opposite: Wealth can be created from anything.

But, it has to come from somewhere.

This is a very reasonable comment I completely agree with. Even if you don't agree, it's a valid point of view that contributes to the discussion, it doesn't deserve to be downvoted.

> One of the core tenets of capitalism (well, in theory) is that wealth is created literally from nothing.

Yeah, and that theory is nonsense

Its in my opinion that people don't use the computer properly. There's very little you gain from social programs that you can't gain if you watch the right kind of content, read the right kind of articles, and just talk to people.

I've met far more smart people on the internet than I could ever meet in real life. In fact most people I meet in real life are stupid.

> In fact most people I meet in real life are stupid.

I've also felt like this for a long time before I grew up.

Maybe you have better peers than I do

Because not everyone is born into the privilege necessary to “pull up their own bootstraps”. In fact it was on college that I learned a lot about libertarianism, and was a strong believer in pure capitolisim. As I’ve aged I’ve realized that it just doesn’t work.

It's not privilege, privilege makes it easier, but it's certainly not impossible without it - unless you count things like intelligence and personality to be privilege.

That said, a certain subset of the population doesn't have the wherewithal, drive or ability to do it - and for an even smaller, the best in life they can hope for is to perform some sort of manual labor.

We mustn't forget about the self selection bias of being smart - we tend to only socialize and know other smart people - meaning, don't fall into the fallacy of assuming you're the median.

> It's not privilege, privilege makes it easier, but it's certainly not impossible without it.

No, but it is much, much harder. Assuming all human beings are equal, how can you justify working a lot harder for the same outcome?

As an example, we generally want to help the disabled, it is generally a good policy to remove barriers, install lifts etc. not for them to 'just learn to walk properly' or whatever.

> No, but it is much, much harder. Assuming all human beings are equal, how can you justify working a lot harder for the same outcome?

I can't, that's my point we need to provide good opportunities for people of all abilities, not just for the smartest, we're failing at this goal.

I want a more just and equitable society not necessarily just an equal one.

> I can't, that's my point we need to provide good opportunities for people of all abilities, not just for the smartest

I agree, I was talking about affordability. You can be super smart, but if you're 2/3 as smart and also rich, you're still likely to do better in life than the smart, poor kid would.

I'd agree, I believe poverty is at the root of most of our social ills, and we need to make a serious effort to solve it. We can do it while trying to solve the other social ills, but without solving poverty, we won't fix the other issues.

Such an experience could be described as the replacement of one ideology with another, rather than an increase in personality trait openness.

What's the difference between north and south China?

North is generally colder in climate to the more tropical and warmer South, Northern Chinese traditionally eat grains and wheat-based foods like baozi and jiaozi (dumplings) while Southern Chinese will eat rice and rice-flour based foods like rice noodles. Northern China was occasionally under the influence of nomadic powers which shaped its culture. Southern culture is shaped by the gradual immigration of Han Chinese peoples from the North and assimilation of the native peoples into Han Chinese. Roughly before 1000 AD, Northern China was more economically powerful and the South was generally a hinterland while roughly after 1000 AD Southern China was more economically powerful (for example, see Guangdong/Canton region). Non-Han tribal minorities in the North tend to be descended off nomadic horse tribes while in the South they are usually descended off river and mountain-based tribes.

As of Modern China, the North tends to be politically powerful as it is dominated by Beijing while the South tends to be economically powerful, dominated by Shanghai, Guangdong/Canton, Shenzhen, etc.

For more info, click here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_and_southern_China

To some degree, similar to the North-South Indian cultural divide if you want to look that up too.

To add on to the informative sibling comment, historically South China communities have been more isolated from each other due to its rugged terrain, whereas North China has been dominated by its plains, especially the central plain. Hence the phenomenon that in the North, historically, Mandarin dominated as the lingua franca, whereas the south was host to a staggering variety of Chinese languages.

Very different foods. The north is a lot more spicy stuff. The south is more about sauces and freshness.

Sitting next to my Chinese girlfriend in Chongqing.

Sichuan food is “麻”, which is a way to say it makes your tongue numb. Not “spicy” (though to me it’s very spicy).

North China food is normal, not spicy ( like dumplings, baozi, and such).

South China food is “清淡” , or something that is light. Typically this applies to Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Taiwan, etc.

But east China (shanghai, jiangsu, ) is sweet food

It's the complete other way around. Source: Lived in China, ask any Chinese person.

It is understandable why they would think this. I've had multiple people from Guangdong refer to the food from the North as spicy, even though Sichuan, Hunan, and Chongqing are considered central China. To most people Southern Chinese food is just Cantonese food.

that's just not truth, every Chinese is aware if difference between sichuanese/hunanese and Cantonese cuisine

That isn't what I said at all. You are conflating two separate statements there.

> Very different foods.

This I agree with, just like the US has varied cuisine depending on locale.

> The north is a lot more spicy stuff. The south is more about sauces and freshness.

Citation needed, please.

>> The north is a lot more spicy stuff. The south is more about sauces and freshness.

> Citation needed, please.

Not really true; here is an anti-citation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sichuan_cuisine

Sichuan cuisine is renowned for having dishes/spices from many different places... which makes it not a good anti-example.

It is assuredly not northern Chinese cuisine. I think the point that is being made here is that your original statements about the distinguishing characteristics between northern and southern Chinese food are incorrect on any level.

Using a place which is intentionally pan-regional to make a statement about regions is not an anti-example. Also, I didn't make the original statement. And, no one said Sichuan was northern Chinese cuisine. So I'm a bit confused as to who and what you think you're responding to.

I cannot speak for the intent of the other person in this thread, but I was attempting to tie it back to your comment at the root of this thread, but based on your response it appears that the comments are intended to standalone. I apologize for the misunderstanding.

Still, your comments about Chinese cuisine are strange.


> The north is a lot more spicy stuff. The south is more about sauces and freshness.-

This is wrong, where did you get this information from?


> Using a place which is intentionally pan-regional...

How is Sichuan cuisine "pan-regional"? Can you elaborate, please?

I didn't say the first quote -- that's twice you've misattributed the same thing -- and the second is what Chinese people tell me about Sichuan cuisine, that it incorporates spices and dishes from many neighboring regions.

Eep, I'm sorry. I should learn to read better. Totally was not trying to put words in your mouth.

To your comment about Sichuan, I'm not sure I would be in the same camp as the people you've spoken with. Ultimately everyone shares culinary attributes to some degree, but it seems to be unique enough to have warranted being considered its own cuisine.

The people I talked to didn't say it wasn't unique and wasn't its own cuisine.


>Without college I would probably be a racist

Quite a statement. If you don't mind me asking, do you see people who don't go to college as probably racist?

No not at all. I just mean that I had never been exposed to anyone who wasn't white before college. And while I didn't dislike them, I never even gave a second thought to making fun of people of other races. I suspect that had I not been exposed to other races, I would have turned those jokes into actual beliefs.

>I never even gave a second thought to making fun of people of other races.

You shouldn't make racist jokes because you shouldn't needlessly hurt or offend the people around you.

That isn't quite the same as being racist (although depending on the intention it could be). Racist means hating someone based on their ethnicity or skin color. It isn't quite the same.

>I suspect that had I not been exposed to other races, I would have turned those jokes into actual beliefs.

This is such a strange and cynical view. Are you sure you want to make the argument that you would have been a racist in America in 2018 had you continued to live in your neighborhood??

I know people like him, their perceived racism is as much fear from a lack of familiarity as it is anything - a broadly diverse society is important - it's specifically important for Americanism to flourish.

For those interested in broadening their minds, I highly recommend living in a country other than the one you were born in for at least a year. Preferably one with a different language than your first language. It's pretty hard to do that while still hanging on to your narrow mindset. I work remotely and I've had the privilege of being able to live internationally since 2012. But even if you don't work remotely there are ways to have a similar experience. I once volunteered for a school in a foreign country for two years. Volunteer opportunities are abundant. And if you can't live internationally for one reason or another, learning another language and joining language meetup groups is a great way to connect with people and ideas that will expand your mind. And reading books from authors outside of the places you're familiar with is also a great way to expand your mind by exposing yourself to new ideas.

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." Mark Twain

I'm sure that Mark Twain didn't have today's tourists in mind, who are rushing from tourist attraction to tourist attraction, calling themselves "traveller" instead of "tourist".

To get from tourist to traveller, just add 8000km to any flight taken.

I'm very glad that OP included "at least a year".

All the distance in the world means nothing if a traveler is still mentally tied to their home country. There's a good number of expats in [country] who hang out at Irish pubs with other expats, bitch about [country], and don't bother learning the language.

You have to be willing to unmoor yourself, which I think deep down a lot of people aren't seeking to do.

You can say "English people in Portugal or Spain", and you've got a stereotype that's actually accurate.

Cheers--I didn't want to single out any country in particular because it's a fairly common stereotype in whichever expat scene.

I like the “unmoor” phrasing. Thank you :). To truly immerse oneself, primarily communicate in a language foreign to one’s country of origin, and eat local foods (no harm in indulging in foods from back home every once in a while). And give people the benefit of the doubt whenever possible.

Actually, check out his book, "Innocents Abroad." It's a great travel native and lampoon of his cruising companions who manage to stay small-minded in a big world.

That's neo-traveller, a different breed than the past. They do ruin the concept for others, as profit now leads enlightenment and disentanglement.

I really think the US should require all college grads to spend a year overseas in a country that speaks a different language.

I got an education and then I got a real education from travel myself.

My daughter just started college, so we got our fill of the whole process of choosing a college. Virtually every college claimed to offer some sort of overseas study, either as a requirement or as a frictionless option. The exceptions are regional and commuter colleges that tend to be geared towards being more affordable.

I spent a while living abroad. Here is a nugget I found out. You don’t have to go through the schools exchange program. It’s vastly cheaper to simply apply yourself. Then make sure the credits transfer back (most will if the school isn’t particularly choosy). Most exchanges charge you standard tuition. Works out great for the foreign student but not so great for the American exchange student paying US tuition.

A colleague of mine (french) did his exchange at Stanford. He really enjoyed it. Enjoyed it even more once he found out what Stanford students were paying ($$$$) compared to what he was paying, PARIS-IX is practically free.

100% this. I studied abroad in Istanbul, and when I was there I was blown away at how normal it was to either study abroad, study abroad multiple times or take a gap year abroad. It seems like a given to Europeans that they will do something like this.

Not studying abroad is my biggest regret from college. Wish i could somehow do it again.

How will that help them with their CS education exactly?

Most CS professionals are going to do work that has a potential global impact. It's at best negligent, and and worst destructive to do work without understanding the impact of the work you're doing. (See Facebook, Twitter, et al.) On top of the ethical factor, there's also the fact that understanding and empathizing with more diverse perspectives makes one a better developer of user facing software.

Only the privileged can afford to go to college to “broaden their mind”. Most people go to college to compete in the market and get a job.

It’s amazing how much push back I get about computer science degrees should teach marketable skills and people say they weren’t meant to be ”vocational degrees” and you shouldn’t go to college for “job training”.

Just the idea that people are suggesting in some of the comments that everyone should be “required to live a year abroad” as part of college is more evidence of the bubble that many HN posters are in. How many middle class[1] families can afford to send their children overseas for a week let alone a year?

[1] By middle class I mean the real middle class income of about $60K a year not the Silicon Valley/west coast definition of middle class.

I feel there's a bit of a strange tension in this argument. Why can't you have both?

While I was in classes it wasn't job focused, or at least not directly. I often hear people complain, for example about how they never use anything they learned in college for their programming jobs. I find this impossible to believe. The process of building a binary search tree or proving the pumping lemma are all exercises. Just like anything else being good at things takes practice, college is (or should be) as good of an environment for this as we can create.

If you're looking for a solution to the feeling that college doesn't do a good enough job preparing you for the working world, I'd like to at least mention how much of a fan of coop programs I am, and how they can be integrated into the higher education process.

People telling you directly that college shouldn't be about job training are feeling a bit nostalgic and idealistic, while holding on to a hint of truth.

So I say again, what's stopping the underprivileged student, paying for college with loans and scholarships, from broadening their mind, while getting the skills to pay the bills?

The process of building a binary search tree or proving the pumping lemma are all exercises. Just like anything else being good at things takes practice, college is (or should be) as good of an environment for this as we can create.

Your examples are at least related to software. What good is Art History? The 6 courses of calculus, differential equations, and three or four other classes math classes I took over 20 years ago.

Another retort people say is that any specific language you learn in school will be obsolete soon as you graduate. That’s only true if you are teaching the latest $cool_kids_front_end_framework. Even that could be alleviated if you had courses your senior year focused on what’s in demand right now.

But, from my vantage point, the five go to industry languages haven’t changed in the past 10-15 years. By 2004, the web was already a big deal as was Jsvascript. Java and C# were big in the enterprise and while scripting languages that start with P (Python, Perl, Php) go in and out of style knowing one of them would help you move to another one and of course C/C++ will never die.

While I was in classes it wasn't job focused, or at least not directly....People telling you directly that college shouldn't be about job training are feeling a bit nostalgic and idealistic

Again, you had the privilege of not “being job focused.” So did I to an extent, I already knew how to program before going to college - I was hobbyist Basic and assembly language programmer for six years prior. The only thing four years of college did for me was expose me to two useful classes - C and data structures. But by then, I already had a C compiler for my Mac and was playing around with it.

But my parents growing up in the segregated south didn’t have that privilege. They knew their only way out was college. There only reason for going to college was to get a job. Middle class families aren’t sending thier 2.5 kids to college to be “better citizens of the world”.

So I say again, what's stopping the underprivileged student, paying for college with debt and loans, from broadening their mind, while getting the skills to pay the bills?

How much less debt could they have if society didn’t look down on “vocational training”? Schools/degrees that just focus on learning just what you need to get a job.

It seems to me that you equal Computer Science to Computer Programming. The later is just a really small subset of the former, and like you write most people already know how to do it before they attend University.

In my CS studies we never learned any programming, it was kind of assumed that you already know how to do it. Instead we focused on all the other things like computational complexity theory, computer graphics, programming language theory, design of computational systems, theory of computation, human–computer interaction, artificial intelligence and all the other much more interesting stuff.

After I left university I in practice haven't written any code yet (in 5 years), I've been only working with designing big systems which are later populated with components which are programmed by programmers.

But even though, the mantra at university was always, we don't teach you any specific language, we teach you the building blocks behind those languages with the goal so that you can take a new language and learn it within two weeks because you already know most of the paradigms behind it and you only need to learn the syntax, the libs you can look up in the documentation.

Learning a language in two weeks is easy. Every language has its own paradigms and way of doing things - you can write Cobol in any language.

I came in as a dev lead with “database developers” who were just learning C#. They wrote C# just like they wrote SQL - one long program in the main method.

Learning a language is not difficult. Learning that you don’t have to write your JSON yourself and you should use a library, learning the difference between structured logging and non structured logging and the libraries that are out there for each. Learning any framework is going to take longer than “two weeks”. Just because you know the syntax doesn’t mean you can write maintainable software. Get in front of C compiler and just “learn the syntax” and see how that works out.

Anyone who comes out of computer science thinking they can hit the ground running as a developer for any company, says a lot about the current state of “computer science” degrees and why so many “developers” can’t do FizzBuzz.

Ah something we can agree on. There should be nothing seen wrong with getting in depth job training at various kinds of vocational schools. As someone who works with a number of people out of bootcamps who are now great programmers I can only hope this is a good sign, at least in my field, some other fields are surly less progressive.

I agree that programming is something which totally sufficient can be taught in vocational schools, no need to do that in university. My brother never went to university and he is a much better programmer than me when it comes to specific languages, etc. The idea behind my Computer Science degree is to learn the theory behind it. I would consider it a failure if it was just programming which I would have learned at the university.

And 90% of developers will never use the “theory”. They will be writing bespoked internal apps and yet another software as a service web app.

Even if you are on the opposite end of complexity and writing drivers (few people will), embedded software, operating systems etc., you’re more than likely not going to be using a lot of the theory. Yes I have a CS degree, I was a hobbyist assembly language programmer before going to college, and I spent well over a decade as a low level C bit twiddler.

I’ll take someone any day that can hit the ground running and knows how to develop over someone who knows “theory” and can’t write FizzBuzz in the language that we are using.

Agreed, I remember in first year our engineering professor teaching us all these abstract concepts about robot controllers and the philosophy behind them and then finishing the lecture by telling us, "Also, when you get to your first job, just read the manual to figure out how your specific controller works so you can do your job" :/.

P.S: Also Waterloo grad here. Co-op FTW.

Hah. Our numerical methods professor once remarked during a lecture that programming is a technician’s job and if we want to just learn it, we should be be in a vocational school, not in univeristy learning CS. He was not wrong IMO.

The supervisor of our bachelor thesis said something similar, interestingly he was Pakistani and said "Sure you can try to program this thing as your thesis, or you could do something more stimulating like research of this topic. The implementation you should give to some Indian programmers, they are far better, faster and cheaper in it than you guys anyway."

And as racist ad bad it sounds, now a couple of years later, in the real world, that is exactly what happens. We, the ones in Sweden, we do the research and design of the system, and then our customers more often than not find teams in India who with our mentoring implement it.

I don’t disagree. But you have to start somewhere. I’ve seen so many computer science majors who couldn’t get their foot in the door because they knew “theory” but couldn’t compete with developers from other countries that actually focused on learning what they needed to get a job, had experience and they are willing to work for less.

Of course that’s not meant to be a knock against them. I agree with them.

Yes in theory, I’m a “developer”, but I don’t compete in the market by studying leetCode and algorithms. I compete by being able to discuss architecture.

I’m actually in the weird position that half my learning agenda for 2019 is getting caught up on the cool kids front end frameworks of the week. I’ve been focused so much on higher level “architectural theory” and the back end for the last few years, I haven’t been keeping up on the front end. It’s weird because yeah, I make more than most “full stack developers” in my market, but if I had to get a job tomorrow, I don’t have the table stakes to outcompete a developer with four years of experience when a company wants someone that can hit the ground running now. Especially if they are looking for contractors.

Sure, I am qualified for an over paid “digital transformation consultant”, “cloud consultant” type of role, but those aren’t as plentiful.

But he was a judgmental snob.

> Just the idea that people are suggesting in some of the comments that everyone should be “required to live a year abroad” as part of college is more evidence of the bubble that many HN posters are in. How many middle class[1] families can afford to send their children overseas for a week let alone a year?

they need not be able to afford it, if society would recognize the benefit and find ways to finance it.

the moment something becomes a requirement, then it's the responsibility of those who defined the requirement to make sure that everyone has access to it. it is no longer an obligation of the student but a right.

also, whether you pay for the dormroom in a US college or in another countries is not going to make that big of a difference. and if the school requires you to go abroad, they also better make sure that the cost is covered in the tuition that you already pay.

universities in different countries can make deals with each other and agree to exchanges that make sure that students are not burdened with additional costs.

Don't many of the "go and live abroad" types mostly self fund by getting work in their target countries? eg waiters, fruit picking, or whatever they can get

I used to live in shared apartment where plenty of people were coming and going. Imagine a backpackers, but people lived there for long stretches of time.

All the uni students who came for their OEs definitely worked jobs, some out of their comfort zones. Most were in hospo, some doing construction, and the rest fruit picking as you said.

If they weren't doing that, they had joined those programmes where you work on a farm in exchange for free board and food. Some were on couch-surfing programmes which weren't too dissimilar.

Yes and no.

I definitely feel where you're coming from. When I was in university I marvelled at the kids studying liberal arts. I thought it was a crazy extravagance to spend 4+ years and tens of thousands of dollars on something that had no evident financial return. At least I was getting an engineering degree that would pay the bills someday and I thought of the arts kids as subsisting on handouts from their affluent parents, freed by wealth from having to worry about ever making a living.

But it's also a product of our user-pay educational model in North America. In many developed countries, tuition is free and students even receive a stipend to pay their living expenses. So if we assume for a moment that it is indeed possible to 'broaden the mind' in university, it is not the exclusive preserve of the privileged since in these more egalitarian societies everyone has access to it. And now I think that may not be such a bad thing.

Nothing is ever “free”. How are you going to convince the middle class family to subsidize someone else’s “liberal arts” degree when that family is struggling themselves? Why should my taxes go toward paying someone else’s overpriced tutition? I graduated from high school and went to the local state college, stayed at home, and three years after graduating, I was making just as much as people sitting beside me who were mired in debt because they paid as much for one year of school as I paid for all four - without debt.

This is not a hypothetical, it's a system that already exists in several countries.

Why do people accept it? My answer is in two parts.

First, in developed countries very little of the overall tax burden is shouldered by struggling families. Whether we're talking about the USA or Finland, the highest income earners pay most of the income tax and the poor hardly anything at all. So unless we're talking about people who are just 'San Francisco poor' (i.e. have high incomes but feel poor because they earn less than their neighbours or friends), these are the people who will be subsidized not the ones subsidizing. Struggling families, rather than being the ones put upon by universal social programs, are the ones who benefit most. For instance, in the USA the top 1% of income earners pay a greater share of total income taxes than the bottom 90% (39% to 29.4% respectively).[1]

Second, one constant among countries with either zero tuition or very low tuition is post-secondary education sector is almost entirely public. There are no overpriced schools, universities regardless of their quality do not profit from their operations so there is no distinction between the state college you attended and the $50k/year private schools. And because universities can't increase their revenue by simply ratcheting up tuition, it's much harder for administrators to wake up one day and decide they should all get a raise paid by for the students which is a form of cost disease that is endemic in North American universities.

[1] https://taxfoundation.org/summary-federal-income-tax-data-20...

they aren't the ones financing it because those that struggle to make ends meet are paying much less taxes than those with better income.

and with what little they do contribute, their own kids too get the opportunity to go to university.

Of course you are correct, it's not "free". I always chuckle when I hear about "free" education, "free" healthcare, etc. Somebody is paying for it. It might not be you, at least not at this moment. But if you ever make any money you will be paying for someone else's education. And maybe you are ok with that, improving society and all, assuming you believe what they are learning in university actually does that.

> I always chuckle when I hear about "free" education, "free" healthcare, etc. Somebody is paying for it.

That's because you probably choose to misinterpret what is meant. If you genuinely don't know, I find this quite astonishing, but let me explain; As someone with "free" healthcare as a citizen of an EU country, I never think it is free as in literally costs nothing and nor do my left-wing American friends advocating for "free". It's "free" at the point of use, paid via our tax dollars, to which I contribute.

The U.S. spends more on its current healthcare than the "free" one would cost them.

You can think of "free" healthcare as giving you freedom from being sick, rather than in terms of cost.

Would you rather spend money on "free" healthcare or tanks? Because it's going to be one of these.

I suppose you might convince yourself to think of it that way. As long as you don't mind the fact that you are subsidizing the large number of people for whom it is literally free because they pay but a tiny portion of their actual cost. A certain amount of that would be fine with me since I do feel a duty to support the less fortunate, although being forced to do it and having it done by a large and inefficient bureaucracy makes me resist at every opportunity. I am more of a pay-my-own-way kind of person, which I do. And I prefer to put the money directly into the hands of people whom I know need it, which I do.

> you are subsidizing the large number of people for whom it is literally free

In every system, be it the justice system, a social system, or the free market, you're going to have a percentage of people taking advantage of it. That is no argument for not having it in the first place. That's an argument for reasonable laws and regulations. As for the people who do not temporarily have a job due to say family circumstances, or even permanently due to illness or disability, I have no problems whatsoever with it being "free" for them.

> because they pay but a tiny portion of their actual cost

You do the exact same thing. Your taxes do not solely pay for the roads and bridges you cross on your way to work, nor the police or firefighters that are on call to help you out, not for the regulators that ensure the food you buy is safe...

In some way or another, we're mutually subsidizing each other somewhat via taxes. And taxes will be collected. So the only question is where they should go? Be it private military contractors, or helping someone with their cancer treatment? I'd opt for the second option every time.

> I am more of a pay-my-own-way kind of person, which I do.

No, you just like to tell yourself that to feel better. As part of a nation state, there's a whole bunch of not "pay you own way" that you rely on every single day.

I realize why you'd need to convince yourself that you're entirely "your own man", but that doesn't change the fact that is it false.

There are plenty of places in the world where you can pretty much opt out of the system and go at it all yourself. I suspect you wouldn't like it that much, but it exists.

There is a whole other discussion as to whether taxes are the right way to do it and what debt are we really paying for, which is interesting in itself, but my argument is that assuming taxes will be collected anyway, at least I'd prefer to spend them on things like healthcare, education etc., than say excessive military spending.

P.S. Even posting your comment here on HN required resources that you did not pay for, (servers, programmers, electricity, free software).

You’ve been paying for healthcare for the uninsured forever - just inefficiently.

Hospitals are required to treat anyone who comes in to stabilize them - you pay for that through some combination of higher insurance if you are insured - the hospital jacks up prices - or some cities fund the hospitals.

It was often understood that the privileged should travel and broaden their minds as a kind of antidote to their privilege.

Consider encouraging the privileged to have narrow minds and experiences

Privilege used to be understood as a positive thing and something to be held with responsibility.

Does it have to be expensive countries ?

Cost of living in Asia is vastly lower than that on European countries.

One can easily live in Urban India safely and somewhat lavishly, with ~300-400/month.

A summer of travel in India would cost $2000-3000 including international flight tickets. The one caveat being that they would need a local Host to help make sense of things.

If they were a part of NGO programs teaching under privledged students or part of structured camp/trek/exchange program then they don't even need a local contact and part of the trip may actually get funded by the org.

I can easily see a $60,000/yr. Salary being sufficient for such an experience once in a decade.

30k euro per year here. I am now finishing my 4th year abroad. It is easier than you think even if you do not stop unnecessary expenses.

I believe that universities should not teach marketable skills only because these are what some employers like - instead they should teach skills that are not trivial to learn by yourself (some of which might be marketable). If you have already learned Python in uni for example there is no reason why they should also teach you C or Java just because employers like these languages as once you learn one of them learning the others will be trivial. Teaching type theory, formal proofs, and other stuff about theoretical CS however sounds like a good idea as learning these alone will probably be difficult for students that do not have a good background in functional programming.

As for "widening" your mind, I don't think that I would be interested in "widening" my mind on anything not relevant to CS. I would avoid any degree that claimed that it tried to do that.

actually, the most important thing to teach, which not all schools are teaching is "how to learn"

for example teaching multiple programming languages has the benefit of learning how the languages are related to each other. a student that learned several languages over the course of their studies will be much better at picking up yet another language when they start working.

in my university each different programming concept was taught with a different language. object orientation with modula, functional programming with scheme, etc. we pretty much learned a new language every term.

and the point was not to learn those languages. that just happened as an aside. but that aside produced the benefit of making the students comfortable working with whatever language the job might require.

I probably did not express myself clear enough in my previous post. I certainly support teaching different languages as long as they are very different - such as Prolog + Haskell + C for example. I simply do not see the point of teaching multiple language that are basically the same (C++ + Java + C# + Python for example).

yes, that's a good point. but the benefit holds even if the languages are basically the same, because students don't know that until they learned a few of them.

Wouldn’t it be better instead of learning a ton of languages, to learn how to “engineer” systems? By that I mean, learning how to build and manage complex projects?

learning how to build and manage complex projects doesn't conflict with learning new languages along the way. unless you work on a project that takes longer than 6 months you can still start new projects with another new language each term

And this is at the opposite end of the spectrum....

On one hand, you have computer science majors who know theory but can’t code their way out of a wet paper bag.

On the other hand, you have the computer science majors who can do leetCode in their sleep but don’t have the stamina to see a project to 100% completion and easily get distracted by the oooh shiny.

And let’s not forget the computer science majors who can code and know theory but don’t know anything about business or how to communicate and deal with large organizations.

Out of those three - I speak from experience in two. I always knew how to “program” as a professional developer. I was a hobbyist before going to college.

> On one hand, you have computer science majors who know theory but can’t code their way out of a wet paper bag.

If their plan in life is to do research on theoretical CS, does it matter? That being said, I doubt that these are that many of them considering that most CS degrees focus on programming.

> And let’s not forget the computer science majors who can code and know theory but don’t know anything about business or how to communicate and deal with large organizations.

They have a CS degree, not a business or management one.

Out of all the CS majors, what percentage do you really think are going to be in an ivory tower doing “research” and not working for for profit businesses?

Have you never been on discussion boards where brand new CS majors ask for advice on how they can convince their boss to move from their $x million dollar oracle implementation and Java stack to some open source NoSQL database and Node?

I don’t see too many people posting on HN - a site sponsored by VC company that funds for profit businesses - talk about their “research”.

> what percentage do you really think are going to be in an ivory tower doing “research”

Quite small, but does it matter?

> and not working for for profit businesses?

It's not as if for profit businesses do not have research departments, consider Microsoft Research for example.

> a site sponsored by VC company that funds for profit businesses

I fail to see how this is relevant.

Why the use of the term "ivory tower" and the quotes around the word research? Are you implying that CS research is not real research or something?

Quite small, but does it matter?

Yes it matters because there are 55,000 people graduating in computer science every year (https://danwang.co/why-so-few-computer-science-majors/). How many of those do you think will be doing research versus getting a non research job?

It's not as if for profit businesses do not have research departments, consider Microsoft Research for example.

And they employ a grand total of around 1000 people. How many of those do you think were hired with just an undergrad degree in CS coming straight out of college?

I fail to see how this is relevant. Why the use of the term "ivory tower" and the quotes around the word research? Are you implying that CS research is not real research or something?

No, it is real research but the vast majority of opportunities for CS grads are outside of research and most businesses are looking for people who can contribute to profit making projects.

Ivory Tower research is the type of research that MS does. Very little of it has ended up in shipping products. Compare that to Google, Apple, or Amazon (AWS). MS is littered with failed research. The best thing that Jobs did was kill the research department at Apple and focus research on shipping products.

The researchers in the article compared German university students with German vocational students. Maybe that is the case for those groups.

I was born and raised in Northern Canada. I'm ethnically India. University is where I first met a gay person and realized they are regular people just like me. Where I made my first Asian, Black, and Jewish friends. Where I first started reading philosophy and classic literature. Where I first realized that I could start a business myself.

I have a degree in computer science but took many liberal arts classes.

Maybe university isn't useful to the upper-middle class other than for signalling? ‍️¯\_(ツ)_/¯

nice catch. if the article focuses on european higher education, it may not apply to north american systems, which aim for breadth. my understanding is that even in university, european students pick a track before matriculation and keep to it.

I'm German. We have a three tiered school system: the lowest one where you go to school for, iirc, 9 years is usually bound for people who are ... more hands on and later do an apprenticeship as a e.g. hairdresser. Middle tier is where you go to school for 10 years and do an apprenticeship as e.g. accounting clerk or IT system specialist. The higher tier is where you get the Abitur. It's mandatory that you have this if you want to go to university, but it takes 13 years to get one. You pick 2 classes that are maybe equivalent to AP classes in us high school. You can also pick the rest of your classes, but they require less time. E.g. mine where math and English.

After that you have a choice between two different kinds of universities. One is more traditional, but you pick the subject before hand and maybe you have some classes that you can choose for yourself but usually they have to have something to do with your main subject, e.g. some electrical engineering classes if you study mechanical engineering.

Then there is the university of applied sciences, which is a mix between an apprenticeship and university, with a more hands on approach. It's where you would study software engineering instead of computer science.

That's the reason our universities are more focused, we cover lots of ground in different topics at school.

Just a detail to add to what you said, the school system is defined by the Bundesland, meaning there can be differences through the country.

not at the broad level that kuerbel described it. that's pretty much the same all over germany and even true in austria for the most part.

don't know about other european countries though.

Link to abstract:


At first glance, it seems like the Economist article is drawing broader and more politically charged conclusions than the original authors. On an initial skimming of the whole article in "Psychological Science," I can find no similar sweeping statements about college education anywhere. In fact, the word "broaden" does not appear in the text of the published article at all.

Compare the Economist title with the actual article abstract below:


School or Work? The Choice May Change Your Personality


According to the social-investment principle, entering new environments is associated with new social roles that influence people’s behaviors. In this study, we examined whether young adults’ personality development is differentially related to their choice of either an academic or a vocational pathway (i.e., entering an academic-track school or beginning vocational training). The personality constructs of interest were Big Five personality traits and vocational-interest orientations. We used a longitudinal study design and propensity-score matching to create comparable groups before they entered one of the pathways and then tested the differences between these groups 6 years later. We expected the vocational pathway to reinforce more mature behavior and curtail investigative interest. Results indicated that choosing the vocational compared with the academic pathway was associated with higher conscientiousness and less interest in investigative, social, and enterprising activities.

As with many things, probably has a ton to do with the specific student. University broadened my mind incredibly and I’m quite thankful for it. But then, I tended towards multidisciplinary programs with subjects I didn’t naturally excel at. And I had good professors and smart peers.

Taking up those subjects which make you uncomfortable is very important. And of course, multidisciplinary.

I dropped out - I’m a fairly successful and happy computer engineer.

Generally anti-college in terms of 13th grade, but I agree this depends entirely on the student.

I was bored to tears with the entry computer science, but really liked anthropology and geolgogy. Seems like they were mind-broadening.

I consider myself a successful software developer who enjoys his work. I took one single programming class as an undergrad and it sucked. Everything else was literature, philosophy, art, with some science mixed in when I could. I think that decision served me well. It also made me less appealing to people hiring for boring positions and much more appealing to those trying to find smart weirdos who thought differently. My first real college programming job was with people who specifically did not hire out of the CS department. It was awesome!

> My first real college programming job was with people who specifically did not hire out of the CS department.

Not going to lie, that sounds incredibly counter-intuitive. However, as long as the people have the right skills or mindset I don’t see the issue. There may be a lacking in deeper underlying systems knowledge, though.

>However, as long as the people have the right skills or mindset I don’t see the issue.

That is exactly what they’re looking for, regardless of degree type. Without digging up all the numbers, soft skills in the hiring process are important to a great deal——as long as that person is able to understand the on-the-job training you’re going to give them.

You can have person A and B interviewing for a PM position.

Person A graduated from CS dept, 3.9cGPA, introvert, no experience.

Person B graduated from Literature dept, 3.8cGPA, study abroad, sociable, 5 years work experience with deadlines.

In my opinion, I would take person B over A. I’ll tell you why, though.

Person A has (1) shown they are able to understand different cultures and environments—as the company may be Fortune 500 or non-profit, the workforce can be diverse. (2) they have shown they can take responsibility and (3) be willing to engage with others, coworkers in particular and (4) is willing to get out of their comfort zone by wandering into CS.

Person B will bring me (1) experience but they may not be able to communicate effectively with coworkers, managers, customers, etc. due to their personality. They may know how to fix a problem but (2) they’re personality makes them get confrontational when you say there’s a better way than their way. In the end, the amount of worry I’d have with how they’d work with my other employees is much greater than the time it’ll take me to take an apprentice and teach them how and what I want and need them to learn.

The five years of work experience is going to override almost everything else about either candidate.

Isn't assuming that just because person A is not too social (by not having many friends, not going to parties, and being shy maybe) that he will attack anyone who disagrees with them and that he will not be able to communicate effectively on job-related issues nothing but prejudice?

uh I think you swapped A and B in the last 2 paras.

I think you need a switcheroo.

A computer science degree really doesn't teach any deep systems knowledge. It's a rather broad survey of operating systems, data structures, algorithms, machine architectures, and programming languages. An undergrad with a CS degree will have a lot to learn about developing software. A CS degree is probably most useful to identify people who are interested enough in computers and software to have stuck with it for 4 years.

It's completely possible to get a deep systems knowledge along with your computer science degree, but it's by no means a requirement.

This is not true for all jobs, but for some jobs it’s much easier to find people who are smart, creative, and passionate and teach them some programming skills than the other way around. Also, I had been teaching myself coding since high school, so I had skills.

Outside of specific academic focus, nearly everyone I know who has graduated a US university thinks basically the same way.

A cynical view is that US universities teaches you the opinions and manners you need to assume your role in the ruling class.

Haha, as if the average US university graduate is joining the ruling class

Haha, as if the average member of the ruling class didn't graduate from university.

Who would say such a thing?

As a counterexample, Gina Rinehart who is Australia's wealthiest woman and number 7 worldwide, never graduated. So there are exceptions, but I get that it is not the norm.

> average member

> but I get that it is not the norm.

And most available evidence suggests she did not get there through high intelligence, in lieu of a university education, but rather, complete and utter greed.


As such, it is not a counterexample!

Edit: you keep editing your comments, but I was replying to the self-quote, which, at the time was your entire comment.

Yeah. I'm a slow thinker and sometimes I need the entire edit window to string a sentence together. Sorry about that.

Sure, bad choice of words on my part. I'm pointing out, perhaps badly, that there are other attributes other than intelligence & education that can get someone there, eg. luck, greed, being a sociopath etc.

General rule of thumb is to post a new comment or declare an explicit edit if the change is non-trivial and substantially changes the purpose/point of the comment.

Sure. Have a nice day.

If there's a "ruling class" conspiracy theory it's more reasonably rooted in the ivy league/Harvard/Yale/Princeton, not so much US universities at large. That just covers too many people.

I think that’s more SciencesPo which grooms the political/ruling class. It’s too diffuse in the US to say so.

I prefer that US universities teach you have to learn. What you learn doesn't really matter.

Until they try to get that first job out of college...

Ah yes, the infamous “entry level” position that requires 3 years experience of Java|C++|C#.

My first entry level job required C# knowledge. So I went to the nearest Barnes and Nobles and read the Microsoft guide cover to cover. I was not a C# major in uni but being able to study, abstract, and internalize concepts was something I did learn.

Yes it sucks from both ends. Companies aren’t willing to invest in teaching employees because they know as soon as they do, the employee will leave for greener pastures and the employee can’t get experience without a job or a job without experience.

The usual retort is why not bring someone in as a junior, train them, and give them a raise to market rates? But then you’ve invested x amount of dollars on someone and y amount of time to bring them up to speed when you can find someone who already has the skill you need and they can hit the ground running.

But the whole point of entry-level positions is you get someone inexperienced at below market rates. What they are really aiming at is getting someone experienced but desperate enough to take an underpaid position. Then hope they don't leave for a better paying job elsewhere.

Bringing in someone inexperienced not only costs the amount of salary you’re paying for someone who doesn’t bring in business value, it also takes time away from experienced developers - costing even more.

Even worse, some junior developers do “negative work”. Work that is so bad, you have to take more time to undo the damage than just doing it yourself.

Whether it’s right or not, the only way for a potential employee to break that cycle is via side projects that they can show as experience.

How does one make it to the age one normally goes to university without already having learned how to learn?

It is literally the exact opposite. The ratio of leftist to right professors in university is 12:1, even more pronounced among faculty. 1 out of 5 professors in America identify as Marxist.

Marxist, so even more in favor of a ruling class above all.

This sounds pithy, but is inaccurate. Marxists (in particular Leninists, because Marxism is a broad church) think that there is a ruling class, that in capitalist societies the ruling class is the minority of owners of capital, and that, in order to transition to a classless society, the capitalist ruling class needs to be replaced temporarily by a ruling class composed of people with the interests of the working class in mind.

The purpose of this period of working class rule is to eradicate the capitalist class and its ideology (not necessarily through violence, although in practice what ruling class yields to another without compulsion?), and develop the productive forces of the society in order to enable communism.

This last point is one of the big things that distinguishes Lenin's theories from Marx's, because Marx thought that revolution would naturally arise in the most advanced technological societies once the industrial base necessary for a transition to communism was already pretty much in place. As we know, the revolutions occurred in places with a lower level of development, thus requiring this theoretical modification and extending the period of rule by the working class beyond the brief duration that Marx envisaged.

The USSR, while it existed, always said they were "building socialism" and never said they had arrived at the destination, which is a classless society. The PRC says that it is "building socialism" and that the process might take a hundred generations. The purpose of their rule, according to their own theoretical framework, is to eventually give it up.

So no, Marxists are not "even more in favour of a ruling class above all."

I know you're just trying to be snarky, but how does that make any sense?

In command economies, someone needs to do the commanding. Unsurprisingly, the revolutionaries that install such systems often choose themselves for that role.

Yes, the Left is the ruling class. Or the establishment if you like.

Probably the idea that instead of class divide by wealth it would be class divide on political hierarchy (which would undoubtly divide on wealth as well)

I guess it's a reference to George Orwell's "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others".

Maybe a reference to collectivization in Soviet Russia.

The peasants did not go willingly.


This is very wrong, assuming that the concept of academia is to have any scientific meaning.

We can see it, for example, in the GDR, the former East of Germany where social sciences basically died. At the very same time, West-Germany developed a hugely influential discourse (...with a lot of Marxists, despite all the tensions).

One could say that specific individuals from academia might profit from having symbolic capital to convert into political power, but that's hardly an idea that could be universally applied.

This is not wrong at all. Compared to other professions, university-employed academics did well.

How is it controversial that it is easier for someone who is directly employed by the state to be a socialist?

You mention Marxist discourse in West Germany. It was easy for Adorno to be a socialist, because all he could do was talk in a convoluted, content-free manner.

Celibidache (who actually did something), called him the biggest windbag of the 20th century.

>1 out of 5 professors in America identify as Marxist.

I wonder how they're distributed among the various disciplines.

Here is a helpful chart that gives this data:


Whoa! I used ti lean left and professors tilted left, I hadn’t noticed it was so pronounced.

I gotta think they are more idealists than bona fide marxists though; I mean, if they read enough, they must know the drill (they wouldn’t have influence and any countertevolutionary ideas and they are sent off).

Jeff Schmidt's book "Disciplined Minds" is a great read about this kind of thing -- http://disciplinedminds.tripod.com/

Here's some discussion from a review of Disciplined Minds by Brian Martin:

> Jeff Schmidt provides an answer in his book Disciplined Minds: professionals, including teachers, are selected and molded to have politically and intellectually subordinate attitudes, thereby making their creative energies available to the system. In short, "professional education and employment push people to accept a role in which they do not make a significant difference, a politically subordinate role." (p. 2).

> The first step in Schmidt’s argument is the claim that professionals - including police, doctors, lawyers, teachers and many others - think less independently than nonprofessionals. He cites opinion polls taken during the Vietnam war showing that support for the war was greater among those with more higher education.

> Schmidt argues that what really makes an individual a professional is not technical knowledge, but rather "ideological discipline."

> A key to creating docile professionals is professional training. Through their training, budding professionals learn to orient their intellectual effort to tasks assigned to them. Schmidt has a wonderful expression for this: "assignable curiosity." Children are naturally curious about all sorts of things. Along the road to becoming a professional, they learn how to orient this curiosity to tasks assigned by others.


The journalist Lyn Gerry read and recorded most of the chapters in the book, they can be listened to here: https://www.unwelcomeguests.net/Disciplined_Minds

> He cites opinion polls taken during the Vietnam war showing that support for the war was greater among those with more higher education.

The rationale for American intervention in Vietnam, rightly or wrongly, was based on sophisticated geopolitical concerns. Things that are harder to understand tend to be better understood by more educated people for fairly obvious reasons. US intervention in World War II, to name one counterexample, was justified by a sneak attack on American sailors in Hawaii. Almost any idiot understood why we were fighting then.

Another difference was media influence, with the media firmly in favor of America going to war against Japan and Germany, and firmly opposed to America going to war against North Vietnam. If something is harder to understand, and the overwhelming message from the mass media is one of opposition to the government's position, then most uneducated people will oppose it. It's not that complicated.

> He cites opinion polls taken during the Vietnam war showing that support for the war was greater among those with more higher education.

ie, people whose peers and children were less likely to be drafted.

He cites opinion polls taken during the Vietnam war showing that support for the war was greater among those with more higher education.

Of course they did. It wasn’t them or their kids getting drafted....

76% of the men sent to Vietnam were from lower middle/working class backgrounds.


This insight should be more commonly accepted.

That said - just like in Science - the consensus among thoughtfully educated people is probably 'more correct'.

Where things can go wrong ... is when the systematic class is wrong, or where there is a value shift.

Populism is a super example of this: educated business type see the world through economic lenses, and can't for a second understand how 'Brexit' could happen. Most people have an affinity for their culture and a few extra cents on off their pint (and massively more surpluses in the pockets of bankers) is not going to change their mind over it.

Doctors are a funny bunch in this regard: all of them seem to me to be the most intelligent, boring folks! They have to be in a way extremely small-c conservative, very orthodox, there's no experimentation or zaniness with human bodies. The system, and frankly the work (years of total work, oversight, convention) keeps them in the mould. And frankly, they have no reason to try to go outside it either, once inside the mould, it's just too lucrative to leave.

>Populism is a super example of this: educated business type see the world through economic lenses, and can't for a second understand how 'Brexit' could happen.

The same thing comes up whenever we talk about splitting states or cities/towns in the US. Some people are like "why would you want that, it's not in your economic interest" and the people who want whatever the split is to happen reply "we'd rather be poor and in control of ourselves"

The fundamental difference is that states and towns generally are not ethnocentric. Nations usually are.

Germany in the EU with open migration may possibly present an existential challenge to the nature of what Germany is in the long term. Some people don't care, some people want that, some are against it.

Whereas making SF Bay area '1 city' would be a matter of pragmatism, not much more.

Also - there's actually scant evidence that federalization is better for everyone in the long run, it depends a lot on many things. I actually believe the EEC with slightly better rules for movement would be fundamentally better than the EU - even in raw economic terms. But that Bay Area - with the right leadership - would be better off.

> He cites opinion polls taken during the Vietnam war showing that support for the war was greater among those with more higher education.

If support for the war was lower among the less education, does this mean the less educated do not think as independently?

Most people I know (I'm in university) can recite facts rather easily, they understand the theory and practice relatively well.

What they seem to lack (what most people I meet seem to lack) is questions and a questioning mind.

Wow, that’s the polar opposite of my experience (the “lacking a questioning mind” bit). Maybe you’re in the wrong program or studying a major that doesn’t fit your intellectual needs?

(Added later...) I don’t know what you’re studying. And I know philosophy and fine arts programs get shat on sometimes, but one thing those subjects allow (when taught properly) is a very, very deep questioning and thoughtfulness towards many things. In my experience, anyway.

I was in Engineering, then Applied Math, now in computer science.

I don't do well in university style math classes. It takes me a long time working through something to understand what is happening (and why - the why of a thing is one of the first questions I ask when I'm learning something new).

It takes me about twice as long to learn a math concept as my peers (or so it seems). But I'm typically the first to speak up during a lecture.

It takes me about twice as long to learn a math concept as my peers (or so it seems). But I'm typically the first to speak up during a lecture.

I wouldn't be so sure about that. If you're anything like me, you hold yourself to a higher standard when it comes to understanding a concept. A lot of people I know (I'm in second year math) do way better than me on exams but can't even explain some of the basic concepts in the courses, like:

* what is a basis?

* what does it really mean to diagonalize a matrix?

They've mastered the on-paper calculations but haven't put any thought into the deeper meaning of these concepts. When I try to explain they give me an odd look, as if to ask why anyone would care about these things. Are we raising an entire generation of Clever Hanses? [1]

I think the problem with university is that it's become too closely correlated with economic and social status. Or perhaps it's always been that way, though in the past it was not so much a cause of status but an effect.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clever_Hans

Some universities teach "follow the rules", others teach "here's where the rules come from." I was fortunate enough to have attended one of the latter.

This was brought home to me when I had to calculate the moment of inertia of some gears in a gearbox. I started with the concept of MoI, and worked it out with a bit of calculus. Another engineer was looking over my work, and asked "what book did you get the formula for MoI out of?" (The shape of the gear was unusual and the book formulae didn't match.)

It would actually surprise me if any university had the ability to impose an overall bias in one of those directions over the other. There would seem to be too much variation among the individual professors, teachers, students, etc.

Anecdotally, I live in the shadow of a Big Ten university, so I know a lot of academics, and I don't think any of them have expressed a "follow the rules" approach that I was able to discern. Likewise for the people I know who are K-12 teachers, private music teachers, and so forth.

I don't know about any university, but at Caltech it was consistent that everything used was derived from first principles. There wasn't any "trust me, use this rule".

That wasn't consistent at my school, but classes that did derive everything from first principles were consistently the best ones.

I went to a small religious college, and my experience was similar to yours.

Edit: There were some exceptions, such as my double bass lessons.

I think it depends on the choice of professors and lots of good ones do teach in not so Ivy League but in regular city univs. I had 50/50 hit and misses with professors in my university. I think that's a decently good number too..

How would gear tooth profile affect MoI?

I just drew a box around half of the teeth. But the rest of the gear cross-section, being an airplane part, was sculpted to put material only where it was needed. Ideally, the strain at any point should be the same as any other point.

So the MoI was not simply a stackup of some stock shapes.

It's not that the calculation was particularly difficult, it's just that calculus was needed, and one couldn't just copy the formula for a stock shape.

It was just clear to me that some engineers were formula-pluggers and others learned it at a deeper level.

Stock shapes were certainly handy to check the math with, however. Fit the gear into a stock shape envelope, and have the gear envelope a stock shape. Your calculation should fall in between the results of those shapes.

The purpose of calculating the MoI was to determine if the stops at the end of the screw were strong enough to stop the gearbox without shattering.

>being an airplane part,

That explains it.


Airplane parts are a whole 'nother world. I imagine that rocket parts take that to the nth level, which is one reason that working on rockets is the ultimate for an engineer. A real engineer would pay to work on an F1 engine design <g>.

It would change the distribution of mass, presumably.

Ask your professor questions, even if it feels weird to you. Go deep! Good professors and people truly interested in their fields of study will want to get into the nitty gritty with you — oftentimes the reason they can’t in class is more practical than anything: Lack of time, presumption of disinterest from students, etc. I have taught classes at universities and I’m always super-excited when students stick around wanting to talk more after class. It’s a sign that you’ve connected.

Maybe take a good literature or philosophy class if your university offers. They won’t help you understand CS (most likely — although some weird parallels can crop up), but they’ll expand your mind. If you let them!

>>It takes me about twice as long to learn a math concept as my peers (or so it seems). But I'm typically the first to speak up during a lecture.

This is actually an excellent habit, and you should nurture it as much as you can. It looks like you have done a careful SWOT analysis, and thats the way to go.

Being a Marxist in art school is not being questioning.

Being a Marxist in business school would be, as would being a libertarian in art school.

A major step of growth for me was to be able to focus on what I lack; it was (and is) a much more worthwhile use of my time.

This is a universal quality, and necessarily so, or society would crumble due to instability.

Just out of interest- what questions are your peers are not asking?

Most of them. All of them?

From some, I never hear any questions. The others, I hear domain specific questions (how do I do X?), or disambiguation (when you say this, do you mean ...?), or what's on the test, etc.

There are few forward looking questions (what can I use this for? where is it used? what is the state of the art?).

US universities seem terrible.

Mine opened me to a variety of specialties, opinions, skills, cultural movements that I had never seen before.

This was my first contact with unions, entrepreneurs, metalheads, gay community, ultra-christians, drug users, researchers.

It’s narrow minded to generalize that massive groups of people think “basically” the same way... I can honestly say that when I went to college, there were definitely people who had a multitude of ideas and opinions—there was no groupthink or even a super majority consensus of opinion. Maybe you went to the wrong school and have a narrow social circle if all the people you know think the same way.


I'm a hard liberal, but these days I feel like a conservative. I'm sure I too have been changing in ways, but it's true the buckets have gotten too large and far apart.

Unless your definition of slaves includes all workers under capitalist regimes, this is wrong. Plenty of conservatives don't think slavery is acceptable.

I've never run into anyone that did.

I have talked to some libertarians that once you push them a little seem to view slavery as a lesser evil than taxes or environmental regulations.

And some libertarians think that most liberals support slavery by supporting universal healthcare or thinking bakers should have to bake cakes for anyone who wants.

There are a lot of bad framings, and "all conservatives think slavery is ok" is a terrible one

But they're still thinking of it as evil.

Slavery is completely anti-ethical to libertarianism.

True. I would still argue that they should get their priorities straight. Slavery is much worse than taxation and even mentioning them in the same context is not OK.

This doesn't make sense. Slavery is obviously a particularly bad form of taxation.

I hope you are trying to be funny.

This isn't funny. I'd argue that it is true, though. Taxation, as an idea, is simply the idea of taking something from someone 'for the common welfare' (ie, other people's well being).

Taking everything, including choice, (in essence slavery) could be called a 'tax' using the above definition.

To compare taxes (as they are presently levied against any first world population) to slavery is quite a stretch, though.

No, I’m saying that even if you think taxes are the only evil possible, slavery is effectively a 100% tax. So there is no possible sense in which it’s less bad.

Is it? What if it is entered into voluntarily?

Your rights are inalienable. This means that you cannot transfer them, even voluntarily. They remain your rights. Slave contracts are worthless for this reason.

Who defines which rights you have and which ones are inalienable?

Rights are inherent in our nature. They are discovered.


I think you just did...

Grew up in a medium sized mostly working-class town in Northern England. My whole childhood I felt like an outsider, nobody cared about the things I cared about, whenever I spoke it was met with complete silence or indifference. I thought there was something wrong with me at a fundamental level, perhaps autism. First day at uni (19 yo) I stayed in my room most of the night, terrified. Finally summoned up the courage and socialised. Week later I stepped out of my room into the communal kitchen. A conversation was going on and someone asked my opinion. It suddenly occurred to me that that had never happened to me before entire life. I wasn’t some weirdo everyone was scared of or didn’t understand. Normal person, normal interests; just different to the tiny society I gre up in. Now married 35 living in Boston at junior faculty at Harvard Medical School, that tiny moment in the dorm kitchen shaped my whole life for the better, and university is the reason.

> and university is the reason.

But not the sole mechanism by which you could have gained that experience.

Prior to uni I spent time drifting around youth hostels in western Europe. That was affordable even for someone from a Belfast council estate. I bunked with people from literally all around the World and learned more about humanity than I had done in 18/years prior.

Within weeks of starting a job I was sent to Illinois for three months and again had an eye-opening in blue-collar American culture. The Simpsons suddenly made sense.

In contrast for me uni was boring, partisan and segregated. It even had an International Students' Centre where they could congregate away from the locals, because their parents were paying huge fees whilst we were there on meagre Giro grant cheques. I suppose I learned about capitalism there.

I'm keener for my kids to do six years in the military before even thinking of uni.

In short, the study suggests university does not change personality or attitudes; however while vocational training increases conscientiousness, it decreases investigative or enterprising traits.

Would it be wrong to say it sounds like a lot of people doing vocational training end up just wanting to do a good job and get on with enjoying their lives? Is that a title more in-line with the article, and not even surprising?

As for broadening the mind, I believe there is an absolute derth in teaching/testing for those kinds of critical thinking skills (willingness or ability to question ones own assumptions or biases).

Tangential, but from my experience, "critical thinking" meant regurgitating whatever views the professor espoused. I had a lot of views produced by the bubble of my campus. Now out in the world, I wouldn't want to hang out with myself from that time.

> willingness or ability to question ones own assumptions or biases

This is alternately discouraged or demanded in today's educational institutions, depending on whether your current assumptions and biases are the correct ones.

I wish I had better critical thinking skills when I was in college. I'm an English lit major with a minor in Russian lit. In the years since I've reread a lot of my favorite books, and I see a hell of a lot more than I did then. I think I was too immature, too inexperienced with life, to understand about suffering, joy, or love (and wayyy too self centered). College got me started, though, so I'm grateful for having been exposed to so much great literature, even if my understanding was a bit shallow compared to now.

Hi folks, as one of the co-authors of said paper, I'd like to share some of my thoughts about the write up and the study. First, IMHO the Economist article does not reflect what we reported or tested. We did not test whether university "broadened the mind." There are many ways, as a researcher, that I would test that including some of the ideas expressed here, such as examining changes in ideology, changes in knowledge of different theoretical and knowledge systems. We didn't do that. The closest we came was testing changes in openness to experience. But even that measure is not a good proxy for "broadening the mind." Second, the changes found in the vocational sample aren't necessarily negative. When people decide on what they want to do with their lives, they naturally diminish their interests in alternatives that reflect paths they have chosen against. We've found this pattern in other samples, including college samples and view this as a natural, if not healthy development. Third , while the changes found in the vocational sample may be construed as "different" the other way to view them is that they are the changes that the college sample will eventually experience. They just don't have to because of the opportunities for exploration and not choosing offered by university life. In closing, we appreciate your interest in the study. We have registered our objections about the way the article was written up with the Economist. The entire process was botched in our opinion--in part because of a breakdown of QC at the Economist and in part because we were not as timely in our responses to the writers queries as they needed us to be given their tight deadline.

University let me grow up. I had three 'safe' years to learn to be a better adult, make some bad decisions (and some good ones), meet new people etc etc.

I was a really young 18. Going straight into work would have been a baptism of fire.

I'm not sure my degree has helped a whole bunch, but I don't regret the time I was there.

The title is a bit sensational. The bigger picture is in the first paragraph.

> However, it was not the case that university broadened minds. Rather, work seemed to narrow them.

Basically, going to university doesn't make your mind broader, but not going to university does result in a narrower mind.

I would advise reading the paper, if possible. It seems that this is the Economist's hot take from reading a few of the figures rather than the authors' conclusions.

Wrong. You're misreading

> those who had chosen the vocational route showed marked drops in interest in tasks that are investigative and enterprising in nature.

Am I incorrect to think that this is narrowing of the vocational route?

University in most part didn't broaden my mind when I really think about it. But I was curious what the pinnacle of formal education was, a level that no one else in my family has been able to achieve. I'd say it's partly sham (when I studied business and psychology), partly lived up to its standards (when I studied the most difficult courses in CS).

The most mind broadening experience I had was taking one course in Buddhism. I did this outside of my degree, the course doesn't show up on any of my diploma's. That truly was a mind broadening experience. That experience was also unique unfortunately.

It was a mixed bag, but ultimately worth it.

I'm not at all surprised that vocational training and work narrows the mind. Many jobs require focusing on required skills. Initially, the goal at university is exploring many options. Maybe that's doesn't involve broadening the mind. But it certainly puts off the narrowing. Once you declare a major, however, and especially in grad school, you're definitely on the narrowing path. Because you're merely human, and need to focus.

At least from the article, the study seems to be too-small-n and does not control for participants' socioeconomic backgrounds, nor for the environment where participants ended up (i.e. participants with degrees who move to a city after university may be more open-minded than participants without degrees who move to rural villages where less diversity and fewer opportunities exist).

Not sure how much stock should be put in these results.

Honestly, I broadened my perspectives more at community college than at my state school, and that was just general education classes.

In the formal setting of an educational institution you get to engage your mind in analytical and creative thinking in a variety of subjects and on daily basis. Such a consistent process does broaden the mind, for sure, but maybe not every mind and not under some circumstances.

The title comes across as controversial subjectivism for the sake of attracting attention.

The question isn't whether university broadens the mind, but what is the alternative and does it broaden it more.

Vocational work got you feeling over-conscientious and under-enterprising?

No worries! Your midlife crisis awaits. :-)

I disagree with this in my own case. At my university, I was bombarded by so many different beliefs and worldviews that it forced me to reevaluate my own. My values didn't change much, but I certainly become more accepting of differences.

Ya, I bet a lot of people who grew up in cities don't have the same experience.

Going to school, college and a university only conditions your mind to be a mediocre player. In the absence of great teachers, all we do is acquire knowledge through out life and apply it wrongly when time comes.

Open minds can be broadened by experience. Closed minds stay closed.

I took a inter-disciplinary arts degree and combined with a semester abroad it completely changed the way I looked at stuff. Maybe if studied engineering it would be different.

Sure as hell broadened my mind. Getting broader ever since.


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