Thoughts on the value of degree’s with remarks about some of the problems and illusions they create

In a recent conversation I said something interesting . . . I said that degree’s were misleading, an illusion, and not what they seem.  It made me wonder of their value.  Here are some of my thoughts:


It seems, to me, that there tends to be several different purposes of the degree.  These are:

  1. The degree as some sort of “certification”.  The “degree” really began with the Catholic church as something like a “certification” of a priest, saying that he “knew the information and doctrine”.  This shows that a degree is a form of “certification” from its earliest origin. Its basis in the church may be why there is still great ceremony surrounding the degree.  In this form, it is primarily used for practical reasons and that the people using it see it only for practical means . . . it shows that the person knows what they are doing.
  2. The degree as a “badge of distinction”.  In this type, it is primarily sought for social prestige or status.  Specific fields, specific Universities, and specific scholastic accomplishments (such as a PhD) are often sought in order to achieve this.  It makes a person look good and can even help a person “get ahead”, even if it has no real practical value.
  3. The degree as a “human robot”.  This is primarily a manifestation of work and jobs. The idea behind this form of degree is that it says that the people “know everything before they are hired”.  In other words, the degree is treating the employee much like a “turnkey system”, already to go, just plug it in and it goes.  In short, a degree is used to make human robots geared to perform a specific function.

I tend to feel that the degree was originally created as something like a “certification” and that is its primary value.  As a result of this, the question of the value of a degree, in my opinion, really rests on its “certification” qualities.  This means that the importance of a degree primarily rests in what it certifies.  The “badge of distinction” is just social prestige and status . . . really, it has no practical value.  The “human robot” is taking this “certification” quality more to the extreme, to guarantee that a person “knows what to do”.

But the big question is what needs to be certified?  Does someone knowing how to work AutoCAD, for example, require a degree as a “certification”?  As a draftsman for a quarter of a century, I’d say no.  I don’t believe a person needs to have a degree in drafting to do it, but they need to know how to do it.  A degree, with all the general ed, miscellaneous classes, and such, seems an overkill to me and completely unnecessary.  I tend to believe that a person could do things like take night classes, on-the-job training, or an apprentice program and that would be sufficient.  This is because drafting is just “something one learns to do”, like learning how to cook or drive a car.  Its not like some great complicated beast of a thing like surgery.  A person only needs to learn how to do it.  In other words, I tend to believe that “something one learns to do” does not need “certification” (that is, a degree), only the knowledge of how to do it.  They don’t need to know all the other stuff that is required for a degree.  In actuality, most people forget it in a matter of years anyways.  As a rule, I tend to feel that degree’s are a waste of time and money for most people and fields.  The bulk of fields is nothing but “something one learns to do” which don’t require a degree (at least, in my opinion).

It seems, to me, that degree’s, with all their complexity, should only be used when several qualities are needed:

  1. The need for an overall base of knowledge (meaning general education, which is needed in some fields but not many, such as a teacher).
  2. The need for the learning of a mass of critical information (such as all the information required to be an Engineer).
  3. Where there is great responsibility in what one does (such as a Medical Doctor, to ensure that they know what they are doing).  

Fields that fit these qualities include an Medical Doctor, Engineering, Law, and such.  These fields require a degree as a “certification”.  Most fields don’t need the extent of what these require, I don’t think.  As a general rule, most fields do not fit in these three qualities.


With the way business and the economy is now many companies want a person to be more than certified. They want them to be a “human robot” that knows what to do the day they are hired.  Examples of what causes this include:

  • Big companies with a large turnover of employee’s.  They don’t want to continually teach people what to do.
  • Companies where people are just “cogs in the machine”, behaving much like a machine.
  • With the new technologically based “machine economy” the person, as a “human robot”, has its benefits.  It makes people fit the “machine economy” environment better.  In other words, people have to make themselves like a machine in order to fit into the “machine economy”.

Recently, the “human robot” point of view has become increasingly critical.  In many cases, it has become the reason for degree’s and its main value.  It says to the employer, “here is a human robot who has been pre-programmed”.  But one of the effects of the “human robot” point of view is that it has given the degree a quality that is not a lot of different than “programming a computer”.  The person, in this case, is whats “programmed” to do a specific function, task, or work.  What this means is that, in the “human robot” point of view, the person is treated much like a computer, of something that has been “programmed”.  Accordingly, they are expected to behave like a computer in the working world, to do “what its programmed to do”.  I should point out that this doesn’t just mean that we are talking about menial-like work, such as working some machinery.  It could also include intellectual-like work, such as some Medical Doctors and Engineers, for example.  In fact, I have been surprised how many intellectual-like work is becoming more and more “robotic” in nature, to the point that many of these jobs are really no different than being something like a “human calculator” to solve specific problems.  The fact is that a lot of work nowadays, both menial and intellectual, is becoming increasingly “robotic” in nature, requiring “human robots”.  Accordingly, this point of view is becoming increasingly prevalent.

The main value of the “human robot” point of view is:

  • From the employers perspective:  the employee is a “robot” that will do his job with minimal effort and expense.
  • From the employee’s perspective:  a wage

The prevalence of the “human robot” point of view seems to be a result of the conditions of business and economy today.  As a result, the “human robot” point of view is one of necessity that the times have created, both for the employer and employee.  Because of this, it has increasingly become a common reason for a degree.


It seems like there is a historical progression of the degree.  It seems to go in this pattern:

  • The Church.  The degree is something that descends from when the University was controlled by the church and was primarily for clerical or church purposes.  In other words, it wasn’t to train doctors, lawyers, engineers, and such.  It was primarily a place where people learned church matters.  A degree often allowed them to rise up in the church.  This phase seemed to give a quality of holiness or sanctity to degrees.  This began in the early middle ages.
  • Politics.  Over time, the church became associated with politics.  As a result, many people in the church would be involved in politics and the power associated with it.  This would give a degree an even greater social status and importance in the society.  It also gave it a political power.  This phase seemed to give a quality of power to degrees. This seemed to appear during the Crusades.
  • The learning of the classics.  The discovery, and growth, of the Greek and Roman classics were added to the curriculum.  People like Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates became a requirement.  Because this is not inherently associated with the church or politics it gave a new dimension to degree’s.  It seemed that “knowledge for knowledge sake” became more important, and not church or politics.  Because of this it increasingly became associated with “common people” (non-church people and non-politicians).  In some respects, it was when the “common people” began to learn the classics at the University that the idea of the “educated” appeared, as if to imply that the “common man has become elevated above his station”.  This gave this almost magical and, sometimes, superhuman quality to the idea of education, which persists to this day.  This phase gave qualities to degree’s such as social status (“educated”) and “knowing things”.  This began to get particularly strong during the late middle ages.  This phase would help the establishment of the next phase.
  • Social status. This began primarily after the French Revolution and, in some respects, is in response to it.  Getting a degree became a way to turn the “common man into a nobleman”, so to speak.  In other words, it “broke the social structure”, reflecting the ideals of the French Revolution.  Because of this, it was often looked at very highly and was greatly esteemed.  Many common people would get a degree for this reason alone.  This phase gave a quality of something esteemed and social importance to degree’s.  This phase would particularly be supported by the next phase.
  • Science.  With the coming of science, and what it created, the University would become associated with scientific knowledge.  As a result, a person had to “know this” and “know that”.  In some respects, this phase is just a continuation of the Classics phase, except that it changed to scientific knowledge.  This gave the quality of novelty and “knowing stuff” to degree’s.  This phase got really established in the mid 1800’s.
  • Professions.  Science would create many new professions.  As a result, a degree would be associated with this profession.  With the “regulation” of many professions (such as medicine or engineering) a degree would be required.  This phase gave the quality of social status and wealth to degree’s.  This appeared in the late 1800’s.
  • Trades and jobs in general.  The industrial and consumer revolution created many new trades and jobs.  Many of these were new and, because of that, would follow the already existing pattern of degrees for professions.  They ended up creating “lesser degree’s” but followed the framework of the professions, of learning all this stuff that you don’t need to know and is unnecessary.  In actuality, a lot of these news jobs are really “something you learn to do”.  This phase gave the quality of “accessibility to the common man” and making a living to degree’s.  This phase started to grow in the early 1900’s.

The progression of the degree seems to follow this pattern but, keep in mind, that when one phase appeared the previous didn’t die.  One phase did not supplant the previous one.  In actuality, each new phase tended to be something that was additional, that gave a new dimension to degree’s.  As a result, qualities found in each phase are often seen associated with degree’s.  Which quality is most prevalent, though, depends on the field you’re in.  As a result, in one field the quality of “knowing stuff” is most important.  In another it is social status.

What the different stages of degree’s shows is that the awarding of degree’s reflects the societies values and conditions during that era.  That doesn’t necessarily mean it is important or necessary . . . its what is viewed as important and necessary at that time.  What this means is that degree’s were not really created out of the context of a practical working situation but as a manifestation of the ideals and conditions of an eraIn other words, degree’s were not really created out of need and requirement.  This is part of the illusion of degree’s . . . they often only “appear” to be important.


A myth that I used to hear a lot when I was a kid is that degree’s somehow “make better people” or it, somehow, puts people on a higher plane.  At one time even I believed that.  This attitude is actually a mixture of several qualities found during different phases of the degree, as described above.  These include:

  • The influence of the church – a degree makes a person on a “higher” reality, divine, holy, or even super-human.
  • The influence of social status – they rise above the common people and become something like nobility.
  • The influence of professions – they make a living that gives the wealth to act important.

These qualities tend to create this idea that an “educated” person is this great person that is better than everyone else.  But when I went to the University I found that this was not true.  I did not see any proof (and still haven’t) that an “educated” person is better than an uneducated person.  In fact, my inquiry and experience has shown that the most descent, genuine, natural, and intelligent people tend to have little education or are uneducated.  The more educated the more phony and artificial a person is, typically.  One reason why is that they have spent too much time listening to other peoples ideas and such . . . they haven’t had time to develop themselves or their abilities.  Most of what they do is repeat what they heard or read in class which gives the illusion of intelligence.  This brings up the question of over-education . . .


In actuality, I tend to view that going to the University or College – “advanced schooling” – is something most people should not do.  In other words, I tend to view that too much schooling adversely affects most people.  To me, “advanced schooling” is something only some people should be doing. My general feeling that, after learning the basic stuff for life, its better for most people to NOT do any “advanced schooling”.  If they do go on to “advanced schooling” then its because of things like these:

  • They have to do it in order to pursue some other motive, such as to become an officer in the military.
  • They are inclined to do it, such as by a great desire or “dream”.
  • They have an ability which makes them want to develop or use it.

Most people, from my experience, continue on to “advanced schooling” for other lesser reasons, such as:

  • They want to make more money.  I was surprised when I went to the University how many people really didn’t even have that much of an interest in their field of study . . . it was all about the money.
  • Because they are told to do it or its expected of them.  This has become increasingly prevalent nowadays, where public school system is literally “forcing” kids to go the University.
  • Because everyone else is doing it.  This seems a problem with girls nowadays . . . all their friends are going so they have to.

In my opinion, none of these are good enough reasons.  Sadly, they are probably some of the most prevalent reasons.

The prevalence of people going for these “lesser reasons” has created, in my opinion, a degradation in scholarship nowadays.  I generally speak of this as the “cheap scholar”, which I think is becoming more and more of a problem.  Basically, the “cheap scholar” is someone who has no real interest or ability but is able to do what the system requires to pass.  Accordingly, they “appear” to be scholars but really aren’t.  Personally, I think the “cheap scholar” is a threat to scholarship nowadays.

Making everyone continue on to “advanced schooling” causes a lot of problems for people.  Some of the things it causes include:

  • It makes everyone the “same”, with the same thoughts, the same point of view, the same basic knowledge, the same perspectives, etc.  They’ve all read the same material, are told the same stuff, and all from the same point of view as everyone else.  Modern schooling is a “blur of sameness”.  More than once have I compared the schooling system to an “assembly line” because that is what it is.  Because of this, it actually impairs peoples ability to “develop on their own”.  It does make the masses more alike, though, almost like robots.  For this society, this sometimes seems like an ideal.
  • It impairs natural abilities.  I seem to feel that there are many natural abilities that are being destroyed or neglected by over-education.  For many people, the abilities destroyed or neglected are often the qualities that need to be developed.
  • It tends to favor a specific type of person.  This is usually a person who has an ability to do what is required.  This ability, I should note, is not necessarily the same as being “intelligent” or “educated”, though it may appear to be the case.  Its primarily a person who displays the qualities the system or system “thinks” is important.
  • Most people do not fit the character of person described above.  As a result, many people will try to force themselves to be that type of person, even though they aren’t like that.  In other words, over-education tends to alienate people from themselves and who they are.
  • It tends to create too many people who “know” things that have no value in the real world and life.
  • It creates a condition where people live in an “abstract world” detached from everyday life.
  • It creates illusionary abilities.  Many people develop this idea that they have abilities they don’t have.  This is because they are repeating what someone else did and, because they understand it, they think that it originated from them.  This, I think, is far more prevalent than what it may seem.
  • It is a waste of money, time, effort, and stress.  Many people waste these things when it could of been put to better use in other ways.

Personally, I think there should be a movement away from education and “advanced schooling” for most people.  The time and energy that is used for “advanced schooling” could be used for other ends.

In my opinion, a degree typically means that someone has only “done what the system wants” . . . it doesn’t guarantee anything more than that In other words, they learned what the system views as important.  They learned it, repeated it on a test, and all in the way the system views as important.  This brings up the question: who made the school system the authority in what constitutes education and learning and how to measure it?  I sure didn’t!  Frankly, I don’t view the schooling system as the authority in these matters.  I don’t go to the Harvard Admissions Department to find out what the qualifications of an “educated” person are.  I’ve always said that if everyone in history had to pass the modern school system, and get a degree, very little would of happened in the world.  The main reason why is that there are qualities, abilities, and attributes that the schooling system doesn’t not take into consideration and are probably unaware of.  Not only that, a lot of people in the world are not scholastically inclined anyways.  I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people who did things in the world probably would of failed in school.  Basically, the modern school systems limited scope of vision, particularistic requirements, and method of measurement would of excluded a lot of people.  That’s how accurate I view the methods of the modern school system!

And doing what the school system wants doesn’t necessarily mean or guarantee that a person is knowledgeable, “smart”, “educated”, or anything like that.  In fact, I’ve talked with quite a few people who have expressed how dumb University students are.  I don’t view University trained people as “intelligent” or “educated” necessarily (though they could prove themselves that way . . . most don’t).  To be frank, I tend to consider people who go to the University as “University robots” who have done nothing but what the system wanted and so are “robots to the University system”.  As a result, they tend to only know “University system stuff”.  With the prevalence of the “human robot” point of view, though, this is what this society wants at this time and thinks is neat.  I don’t agree with that.


In my opinion, the main value of a degree is as a “certification”.  The times, though, has created a need for the “human robot” and the degree is used to ensure that.  It seems, to me, that they have gone a little “overboard” with degree’s and are making everything require a degree including “something that is learned”, which is unnecessary and an overkill.

Copyright by Mike Michelsen

This entry was posted in Education and learning, Historical stuff, Modern life and society, The 'system' and 'systemism' and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s