Less than 1% Graduate

“My college accepted 1200 students in the freshman class and graduated about 16. From what I understand that’s something like AAU’s numbers.” (That’s 0.8%.) The speaker was one of my instructors at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

Did you know the completion rate at many universities is less than 1%. The relationship between rates of graduation and employment opportunities and public investment in education is a politically charged issue. Those of us in education want Congress to support and expand the various programs that fund education and students but there are edges to this issue I had not previously examined. Academia has been protected by the fact that children of middle class families on both sides of the aisle are equally at risk and academic credentials have been a standard employment requirement but increasingly, such credentials are meaningless in our job market.

“Our plugged-in society requires more and more visual literacy and, if anything, what we’re doing [at AAU] is teaching people how to ‘read and write’ using media.”  I replied that I could see this.

But I didn’t feel comfortable defining “literacy” on a sliding scale, as if reading a road sign is akin to benefiting from the allusions in Love’s Labors Lost or Finnegan’s Wake. Visual literacy could mean training lab rats, dogs or parakeets. There’s a difference between reading a manual or the vehicle code and comprehending Cervantes or Joyce Carol Oates, notwithstanding that reading the Law has become a foundation for national elected office.

Looking at this with a wider lens, movable metal type initially led to a commercial market for Cervantes but it was Cervantes work that exploded the market potential for books by expanding the market to include the “average” citizen, which had a much greater impact on book commerce than Gutenberg’s designs had and not only because Cervantes addressed his story to a wider range of readers but also because his work was at the time a perfect fit for the tradition of professionals who traveled from town to town reading to many others. Ultimately it was content, not printing technology that had the commercial impact. Modern novels, cinema, radio and television melodramas all owe their existence to Cervantes’ invention.

“Literacy was only for monks until Gutenberg. One day, we’ll be adding ‘Recording’ to the three Rs in grammar school and film schools might be unnecessary all together.” Maybe, but imagine if these electronically proficient youngsters have no literary legacy.

During the period of time in the western European and Mediterranean culture that we call, Medieval, over centuries, superstitions by means of which provincial bureacracies that served demagogues in the hierarchy of the Catholic church deprived their already uneducated, illiterate subjects of the benefits of reading and writing, except in the narrowly proscribed litanies of convents and monasteries, and destroyed the heritage of libraries developed by earlier semitic cultures, and made the unauthorized study of science, art and engineering a crime, on pain of death. These idiots compare favorably with the clerical leadership of Iran, the Taliban and the American system of public education but there’s a difference. Monastic orders became the only place where books were found and sometimes, albeit it seems most monks were illiterate drones who had escaped the harsher realities of the secular world, or who possessed some talent useful to the hierarchy or carried out their orders and viewed writing and reading as heresy, and this was both before and after Gutenberg printed his bible. In the U.S., the system pretends commitment to literacy but since the results show otherwise, since this is betrayed by curricula, administration, pay scales, hiring practices and university education that teachers recieve.

150 years after Gutenberg made his first bible, in Cervantes’ day at the turn of the 17th century, a plethora of books were being published in Europe using variations on Gutenberg’s metal type. Most were only pamphlets, stylistically primitive, containing material as preposterous as modern day tabloids you see in supermarkets, or in the Blogosphere, YouTube postings and the 4″ x 4″ graphic novelas popular among illiterate Spanish-speaking fieldworkers in the United States and Mexico, cartoons that are similar to the popular literary tradition in 1601. Because of the oral tradition of semi-professional, touring readers, who often accompanied their stories with a kithara or oud, doubling as singers of traditional ballads often taking off on liturgical hymns, there was a market for marginally literate verbal stories, read by those who were trained by parents and the most popular of these were on familiar themes of chivalry, exploits of legendary and mythical warriors and heroes of the so-called, crusade, to rid Christ’s world of those from whom the Christian icon was descended.

In the introductory pages of Don Quixote, Cervantes revives his literary antecedents, claiming that he had found the history of Don Quixote in the 16th century version of a garage sale and he assigned creative credit for the story to an Arab historian, Cid Hamet Benengeli. But this was a conventional subterfuge of writing at the time, given the political nature of those who actually carried out the Inquisition, one had to be careful.

Perhaps, thousands of other people were writing, reading, trading and promoting books a century after movable metal type was implemented but the percentage of material they produced that qualifies as literature was so small as to be irrelevant. This percentage declined faster than the number of readers grew. Today, a good book is 1 in one billion. Then, it was 1 in 10,000. Digital publication has been accompanied by a similarly greater decline in literacy. The Christian padres may have burned our literary legacy but commercial media simply covers it in shit.

So, what does this have to do with graduation rates below 1%?

Since, it’s common knowledge that literacy and rates of graduation are declining at every level of education, wouldn’t it be at least relevant to identify why and how and where? We in America have unwittingly become a population of numbskulls led by apologists and at the local level, mostly, nitwits and among those least respected for their intellectual acumen are lawyers and doctors generally and the best known for their lack of integrity are lawyers in Congress and medical administrators. The reasons for this state of affairs, like the reasons given for declining graduation rates are obvious: the media–the idea that graphic communication obsoletizes language and therefore, all learning associated with reading and writing. Graphic media is unfortunately, more easily corrupted and proscribed than print, and more subjected to pandering than print. Ostensibly, our population wouldn’t be dumber than a stack of 9s if advertisers didn’t benefit from media that depends on gullible consumers. (Say it isn’t so.)

With the graphic communications industry irrevocably bent on exciting the interest of consumers of video games and numbskull movies and has been holistically committed to promoting materialism, the literary culture is carried forward only by a legacy that is increasingly neglected.

There’s actually a greater danger with this than declining rates of graduation, literacy and the aesthetics of a culture led by bumbling, apologetic, fools. This aspect is but the icing on the cake. The greater problem, however, can be seen in the growth of a political class of ardent ignoramuses committed to archaic superstitions like virgin birth and biblical literalism. The greater problem stems from the fact that all that we each know, we know in language–literally, a thing that can’t be named does not exist. While a great number of such distinctions can be drawn in an oral tradition associated with graphic images, this collection of ideas, for most people would place them in or around the 12th century A.D., not exactly an age of enlightenment.

But the more complex relationships and distinctions are made in more sophisticated literature that names higher concepts about how we perceive the world. Since illusions that are shared by a linguistic population constitutes their culture, the interpretations of language, concretizes the illusions that define the culture, and see what we have become.

On a macro scale, there is another problem with the growth of illiteracy coupled with graphic media proscribed by materialist philosophy: Over the span of perhaps several millions of years, human language came to embody the logic of how we think and altered the structure of our brains, particularly the left half of our brains and how the two halves interact: parts of human organic machinery that contains the traits that distinguish human being from all other forms of life. What we are is defined in how we relate to language and it’s words.

We notice that people from different linguistic cultures appear to think differently, while polyglots, chess masters and musicians and others, who have learned to think in at least one complex language in addition to their native tongues show greater facility for analysis and synthesis, all else being equal. Synthesis is creativity. Over the next few generations, because of digital media our languages and the legacy they contain will become a domain forgotten by all but a few, eventually resulting in changes in the hard-wiring of the human brain and what defines human being will  change, regressively. What you don’t use, you lose.

An example of this effect is a side effect of the de-literazation of the American people: The future of civilization will continue to follow trends that are contrary to the current hyperbole of technology development. Until recently, innovations in technology were hallmarks of progress in western civilization but we have reached a point where the eastern linguistic intellect has challenged our entrepreneurial authority and won and thus changed the direction of economic development in favor of eastern models.

If it is true that students in higher education are unwittingly attending vocational trade schools like the one I attend (AAU) to acquire skills for which there will be no trade, what will they do? Do they now aspire to work in the literary continuum, a tradition almost unnoticed in the excitement about the imagined electronic future? Is the 0.8% completion rate a result of our failure to nurture their motivation with substance? What do completion statistics tell us about inspiring creativity in our students? What leads to better and more employment opportunities for graduates?

Where have the jobs gone? Why?

Global economics is a zero sum game and even though the logic of this means that the economic growth model is a myth, while a growing crowd of the discontented is actively protesting national and international economic conventions, politicians and economists are still judging the state of economics in terms of economic growth, as if they could balance the outsourcing of U.S. production to Asia by something other than returning production here. As long as Walmart, Amazon, GM and Sony sell products (including media) produced in India and China, places that are using profoundly dangerous nuclear energy and paying wages that are a small fraction of salaries here, our suppliers will continue to increase their holdings as our creditors. Since the cost of living here is artificially higher and inflation is worsened by every dollar we print, there is no hope of competing with Asian labor cost and even in the area of electronic media we will see fewer media job opportunities in the U.S.

These propositions are true in a general sense, albeit in particular cases there are exceptions that are irrelevant unless such exceptions point to possibilities for a solution:

Content and design is king because these things determine commercial success. Theft of intellectual property of all kinds is a state-sponsored industry in China, India and Russia. But this theft is not mere opportunism nor is it an attempt to compete in areas relevant to arms and defense, it is pure and simple, economic warfare. Knowing this fact is useful because it points to solutions. Defense is the largest single part of the U.S. federal budget and this is and area in which defense spending can benefit people other than those employed to build munitions and their delivery systems.

Taking a page from Cervantes’ inspired approach to publication, the most beneficial education we can offer toady includes literary aspiration as well as artistic execution. Cervantes’ innovation shows us that to succeed today, a “reel” must hit both targets. But this is not the approach of our media industry nor of education.

If the advantage of nurturing a creative, literate approach in media amounts to increasing demand for our media product, what is the downside of educating media students in our literary tradition as well as technical proficiency and multiplying rates of graduation? Costs per individual graduate may increase.

What are the risks if we don’t respond to the fact that universities are full of young students most of whom will not be able to find work in their fields after graduation?

Today, we are teaching students to homogenize ethnic cultures with ubiquitously shallow graphic symbols and stereotypes and encouraging them to ignore their own heritage and reduce language to a minimum, eliminating the power of imagination with the stupid idea of pitting them against the labor markets of places like India, Romania and China while internationalized media conglomerates promote the outsourcing of jobs to cheap economies. We need to ask, before it’s too late, where companies like Google, for instance, fit into this?

7 thoughts on “Less than 1% Graduate”

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