Sunday, October 5, 2014

On the Origins of the Education-Complex State

Boris Vallejo, paying the rent

This is not a complicated story. It at least seems clear that when you increase the market supply of a scarce commodity, you lower its price. Therefore, increasing the number of college graduates ought to push down the value of a college degree through the bargaining leverage of the "reserve army of the unemployed." Here are six footnotes aggregated over 20 minutes by Googling "X school scam." (1,2, 3456.) I was inspired to do this by Katie Zavadski, who decided last week that   "Pharmacy School Scam" would be a good lede for a New Republic article.  Otherwise I might have written about humanities graduate school, and that would not have been good for anyone.

Of my quickly assembled footnotes, only the last is really important, even if you might enjoy trolling through the same old answers, endlessly repeated. (There is no pharmacist surplus because so many pharmacists are working part time nowadays!) That last link is to "The Myth of the Science and Engineering Shortage." Here I think I have some insight, as a historian of science and technology, and as a product of the STEM mill. (Not as an inadequate student, but as an anthropological observer. Like Bruno Latour.) Someone even tried to recruit me into what I now recognise in retrospect as a "quants" laundry off my department's matriculation list, way back in 1989. This is, in short, going to be a contribution to the origins of the "educational complex state," and not of the modern school scam, which is, in my opinion, part and parcel of how the educational complex state works today. So, sorry about that.

This is not to be construed as an admission that I could not say a great deal more, very specifically, about how it works today. I've somewhat whimsically linked to a private college that spams my Facebook feed above, but this is not a criticism of the idea of charging tuition to teach people to be electricians. I may think that this is the wrong way to go about it, but the social harm that I experience is indirect. The student loans that fund this kind of training may or may not pay off in the students future. Right now, they act as subsidies for entry level employers, who can get away with paying below-maintenance wages because the student, or, more often, their partner, is living off their student loans. But enough about how you can have a generalised labour shortage without wage inflation.* I've probably already said more than I can say out of work.

 What is open to be said here goes to my interests as a historian of science and technology. You will recognise the idea of the "Educational -Complex Statement" as a riff on President Eisenhower's "Farewell Address" to the nation, a speech whose actual contents seem to me questionable. 

The old Republican Marshal ("General of the Army," whatever) is worried about the federalisation of research and development and the rise of "a scientific-technological elite" who will dominate public policy with their scientific know-how. I am at a loss to understand how "know-how" is bad for public policy, even though I have seen the argument many, many times. Eisenhower just stands out in fearing "scientific-technical" elites. In previous eras, it might have been Confucian gentlemen, learned caids and ulamas and canon lawyers. For the purposes of this post, it is worth dwelling on the legendary "mandarin," who goes from Eton to Oxbridge to the Civil Service exams and then tries to manage the "white heat" of the modern industrial-technological state with his (of course) grasp of Greek and Latin tags. How absurd! And how absurd that President Eisenhower wanted to reject their technocratic replacements. The rhetoric is familiar, its content malleable, the blatant underlying theme is "Court versus Country," or "Ins" versus "Outs," stripped of the chummy English Settocentism. The insiders claim expertise, so you question the value of their expertise. But you have not been in the old Marshal's shoes, dealing with Curtis LeMay's nuclear planes and pre-emptive strikes that will leave the Earth uninhabitable but who cares because we'll all be living in the asteroid belt anyway. Eisenhower is backward looking and not mistaken. LeMay is borderline insane, but not entirely wrong, either. They are trying to make sense of the educational-complex state in its own terms, sensing that something is wrong without seeing where the intellectual bankruptcy actually lies. 

So we want to float in time, from, when bureaucrats were trained out of the fiqh, or the Five Classics, or Greek and Latin literature, or even out of Woolwich vice Camberly, and to, not the era of the technocratic elite, because that has never really come, but rather to that of the endemic "STEM shortage," and figure out what is actually going on.
Cranfield University. Source

To Bishop Higbald and the whole community of the church of Lindisfarne, good sons in Christ of a most blessed father, the holy Bishop Cuthbert, Alcuin, a deacon, sends greeting and blessing in Christ:
When I was with you your loving friendship gave me great joy. Now that I am away your tragic sufferings daily bring me sorrow, since the pagans have desecrated God's sanctuary, shed the blood of saints around the altar, laid waste the house of our hope and trampled the bodies of the saints like dung in the street. I can only cry from my heart before Christ's altar: "O Lord, spare thy people and do not give the Gentiles thine inheritance, lest the heathen say, 'Where is the God of the Christians?'"
What assurance can the churches of Britain have, if Saint Cuthbert and so great a company of saints do not defend their own? Is this the beginning of the great suffering, or the outcome of the sins of those who live there? It has not happened by chance, but is the sign of some great guilt.
You who survive, stand like men, fight bravely and defend the camp of God. Remember how Judas Maccabaeus cleansed the Temple and freed the people from a foreign yoke. If anything needs correction in your way of gentleness, correct it quickly. Recall your patrons who left you for a season. It was not that they lacked influence with God, but they were silent, we know not why.
Do not glory in the vanity of dress; that is cause for shame, not boasting, in priests and servants of God. Do not blur the words of your prayers by drunkenness. Do not go out after the indulgences of the flesh and the greed of the world, but stand firm in the service of God and the discipline of the monastic life, that the holy fathers whose sons you are may not cease to protect you. May you remain safe through their prayers, as you walk in their footsteps. Do not be degenerate sons, having such fathers. They will not cease protecting you, if they see you following their example.
Do not be dismayed by this disaster. God chastises every son whom he accepts, so perhaps he has chastised you more because he loves you more. Jerusalem, a city loved by God was destroyed, with the Temple of God, in Babylonian flames. Rome, surrounded by its company of holy apostles and countless martyrs, was devastated by the heathen, but quickly recovered through the goodness of God. Almost the whole of Europe has been denuded with fire and sword by Goths and Huns, but now by God's mercy is as bright with churches as the sky with stars and in them the offices of the Christian religion grow and flourish. Encourage each other, saying, "Let us return to the Lord our God, for he is very forgiving and never deserts those who hope in him."
And you, holy father, leader of God's people, shepherd of a holy flock, physician of souls, light set on a candle-stick, be a model of all goodness to all who can see you, a herald of salvation to all who hear you. May your community be of exemplary character, to bring others to life, not to damnation. Let your dinners be sober, not drunken. Let your clothes befit your station. Do not copy the men of the world in vanity, for vain dress and useless adornment are a reproach to you before men and a sin before God. It is better to dress your immortal soul in good ways than to deck with fine clothes the body that soon rots in dust. Clothe and feed Christ in the poor, that so doing you may reign with Christ. Redemption is a man's true riches. If we loved gold we should send it to heaven to be kept there for us. We have what we love: let us love the eternal which will not perish. Let us love the true, not the transitory, riches. Let us win praise with God, not man. Let us do as the! saints whom we praise. Let us follow in their footsteps on earth, to be worthy to share their glory in heaven. May divine goodness keep you from all adversity and bring you, dear brothers, to the glory of the heavenly kingdom with your fathers. When our lord King Charles returns from defeating his enemies, by God's mercy, I plan to go to him, and if I can then do anything for you about the boys who have been carried off by the pagans as prisoners or about any other of your needs, I shall make every effort to see that it is done.
Fare well, beloved in Christ, and be ever strengthened in well-doing.

Comparing Ealhwine of York to a mob boss never gets old! the relevance here is that Alcuin's residual interest in his see of origins is usually refracted through the York Cathedral School, and the "pagans" who attacked Lindisfarne abducted boys, whom Alcuin gently offers to retrieve --a pretty clear message about his influence over the raiders. Is this supply management being done here? If the pagans had come for Cooley School of Law in 2004, many American law students would have cause to praise Alcuin's influence over them.

If the outlines of the educational complex state have only become visible in the rear-view mirror, then it makes some sense to start at the end, approximately. In 1981, Martin Wiener published English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit: 1850–1980, whicpresented the scarcely novel thesis that Britain's old Nineteenth century industrial leadership self-made men had committed class suicide by sending their children to institutions such as St. Peter's School to learn Greek and Latin tags so that they could pass the Civil Service Exam and/or put on a good show in the Commons. The Wikipedia article already linked cites Eric Hobsbawm, taking some kind of Marxist-puritan "cult of the engineer" position, I suppose, and  Correlli Barnett to show that the cult is a broad church Turning to Barnett, I find Audit of War pointing back to Roy Fedden but also from Hugh Clausen via Stephen Roskill through Jon Sumida back to Arthur Pollen, the Fisher Reforms, and the  water-tube boiler controversy. I reach through that last complicated chain before turning to Fedden, self-proclaimed founder of Cranfield University, because I want to get to 1900. One way of looking at this is that I have shrunk the span between the triumph of the British Industrial Revolution and the reaction to the humanistic-learning-reaction to a very, very interval indeed. The Industrial Revolution happened, well, some time back in the 1800s or so; the sons of the founding industrialists all went to Eton; and by the 1890s the technocratic reaction was well in train. The cynic, or David Edgerton, would suggest that the "turn" identified by Marin Wiener never happened at all. The other is to suggest that something is going on in 1900.

Consider the "General Staff" debate, which, was approximately, an argument that the British army was amateurish and not Prussian at all, because it lacked a "Great General Quartermaster's Staff" to work as the "brain of the army." And also navy, another matter entirely. In the predominant narrative, the great reforms of the turn of the century turned an army dominated by amateur cavalrymen into a modern  technocracy: but look at this. 

Branch of Service
Chiefs of the Imperial General Staff
Branch of Service
Jeffrey Amherst, 1793--95
Neville Lyttelton, 1904--08
Rifle Brigade
David Dundas, 1809--11
William Nicholson , 1908-12
Frederick, Duke of York, 1795—1809, 1811--22
John French, 1912--14
Rowland Hill, 1828--42
King’s School, Chester
Charles Douglas, 1914
Educated privately
Duke of Wellington, 1842--52
James Murray, 1914/15
Henry Hardinge, 1852--56
Durham School
Archibald Murray
George, Prince of Cambridge, 1856--91
Privately educated
William Robertson
Local church school
Garnet Wolseley, 1895--1901
Engineer apprenticeship
Henry Wilson, 1918--22
None noted (could not pass Sandhurst/Woolwich entrance exams)
Rifle Brigade
Frederick Roberts, 1901--04
Frederick Lambert, 10th Earl of Cavan, 1922--26

This is a bit of an appetiser. I would suggest that the effect of the foundation of the general staff was to make the British army less technocratic and more cavalry-oriented, but I would be the first to admit that the table is not going to prove my point statistically. It really just illustrates the prejudices of Brigadier-General James Edmonds, the official historian of the British Army in the First World War, who thought that the effects of the General Staff reforms was to dumb down the army. He's not wrong, though. The new (if it is new) predominance of infantry and cavalry officers in the highest ranks of the army reflects the fact that a quota system limited the number of engineers and artillerists in the Staff College. The British army then trained officers at either  a three-year engineering school (Woolwich) or a one-year leadership-and-fitness academy (Sandhurst), and, given that, it would be surprising if very many Sandhurst graduates were able to beat Woolwich graduates in the staff college exams without quotas. At the same time, in the senior service, the Selborne/Fisher reforms were throwing technical education into a very different but unrelated turmoil, which The Engineer, but not Engineering, thought was a reaction against technocracy. At the turn of the Twentieth Century, it looks like people perceive a serious problem in the way that the Service schools are being run. Given the number of future senior officers who could not make their way into either Woolwich or even Sandhurst, it is hard to see that perception as inaccurate. The reputations of Wilson, Trenchard and Haig have tended to fall over the years, but it is hard to believe that they were less qualified to be at Sandhurst then some of the men who got in! 

1900 is not 1946, of course. I just wanted to move from Wiener's temporally deanchored velleities to the specific problem of the service schools before moving on to 1946 and the founding of Cranfield University. Albert Hubert Roy Fedden (1885--1973) was the son of a prominent and wealthy Bristol family who became the head of the engine design team at Bristol Aeroplane Company after a series of corporate mergers and acquisitions. His tenure ended there 1942 under questionable circumstances ( Bill Gunston's authorised biography for the bizarre details.) As was not uncommon for men of means forced out of professional employment in Britain, Fedden headed off to America to study, as the Wikipedia article puts it, "production line techniques." The Wikipedia article suggests that this just happened. Fedden claims that he was on a mission from the Minister of Aircraft Production. Either way, it was a very short visit that led to a very confusing and little studied burst of literary activity. Gunston (and Barnett) describe a long and extensive "Fedden Report" that was a bombshell to British industry, and which led to another report on the German industry after the war, culminating in a final report advocating for the founding of Cranfield University. The first two at least exist in print. Fedden's mission to America came out as a book, published by MAP in December of 1943, says Worldcat. The  "Fedden Mission" report on the German aviation industry is available on Amazon at a fairly prohibitive price point, since you have to buy each of the three volumes separately, and Gunston makes sense of the diverging accounts of the "Fedden Report" pressing for the foundation of Cranfield by suggesting that there were two or more of them. At the end of the day, the key issue is the much larger employment in American aviation industry "engineering departments" than in British aviation firm "drawing offices." The editor of Aircraft Engineering thinks that this shows that the American firms are doing something wrong, but it is much more likely that it reflects the fact that the American firms have more responsibility for subcontractors than their British counterparts. Whatever the source of the error, the actual numbers from articles in Aviation and Aero Digest give us a better sense of these "college-trained engineers." (That is, most of them had received accelerated engineering training at local colleges in the previous two years.) 

Be that as it may, Fedden returned to a Britain in which the American example served as a spur to a new obsession with the state of scientific and technical education. It does not matter how many "college-trained" engineers, accountants, or even managers (for God's sake, Correlli!) America had. What mattered was how many Britain would have. State-directed technological progress wasall the rage, and soon to materialise as the Brabazon and Saro Princess, And while these colossal white elephants seem a little laughable, they had little concrete impact on the progress of British civil aviation into the 1950s, and the era of the Britannia, Viscount and Comet. 

The future beyond 1955 belonged to the graduates of Cranfield University. Since that is when British civil aviation began to go wrong, it seems easy enough to blame the school, and the educational-complex state. Cranfield, founded in 1946 as the Royal College of Aeronautics on the site of RAF Cranfield, and later absorbing the National College of Agricultural Engineering [1959] (I wish I could make this kind of stuff up!)  is the place where it went wrong.   

Why? I suspect that I've done this dump before, but let's look at the army in 1939:

Total Manpower Burden
In the 1939 Estimates (1939 Sessional Papers, vol. 17 [no separate pagination]),
Vote A: 185,700 on the British establishment, including 5,300 Indian and colonial troops; and 56,800 on the Indian and Burman establishments. Reserve: 139,633. Supplementary Reserve: 32,259. Territorial Army: 206,302. OTC: 916

Educational Burden

School or military college/academy
Men +Boys
RMA Woolwich

S Elec. Lighting
RMC Sandhurst

AA Defence S
Imp. Defence C

S Signals
Staff C

Small Arms S
Senior Officer’s S

Army Gas S
S. Equitation

Mot. Mechanics S

S. Artillery

S. Coast Artillery

M. C. of Science
S. Mil Eng.
c. 180
Railway Tr Cen

Instructor’s C
In addition, the army was preparing to open three  additional Army Technical Schools (Boys) with a total enrollment of 2250. Training for service was also only part of it. Parliamentary policy was to offer one year of vocational training (thus not exactly a high level of proficiency, as the SofS admitted) for soldiers not otherwise trained in a skill prior to separation in order to prevent their being a burden on, and embarrassment to, the country. 

II Royal Air Force
Manpower Burden
The 1939 RAF Vote A is 118,000. The Indian establishment and total reserves are obscure, especially because of the establishment of the Civil Air Guard, but the RAF Reserve, RAFVR, and AAF remained fairly small.
Training figures are apparently deliberately obscure: no figures are cited for 1939. I don’t even have RAF Staff College and IDC figures within the Air Estimates (although the latter figure [5] was no secret.
However, in 1938, Cranwell enrolled 143 cadets, and
No. 1 Electrical and Wireless School, Cranwell, and Equipment Training School, Cranwell had a total enrollment of 1127.
Halton School of Technical Training had an enrollment of 3,830 in 1938; and the new STT (Boys) at Osford enrolled 1427 in 1938. For 1939–40, 6 additional STT would be in operation. Oddly, I also have no figures for the STT (Men), Manston. Although those figures are not particularly enlightening anyway.
In total, in 1938, the RAF trained 143 cadets at Cranwell (University Squadrons?) and 6,384 boys. The cadets were enrolled in 2 year, and boys in 3 year programmes, so that's a lot of training going on.

III Royal Navy
Manpower Burden
Vote A: 133,000 But this total reached 146,500 under the 1938 supplementary estimates, and it is not clear that the persons then placed on Vote A were ever discharged
RN Educational Burden
Royal Naval College Greenwich
RN Staff College, Greenwich
RN War College, Greenwich
RNC of Engineering Keyham
RNC Dartmouth
Dockyard Schools
Portland ASW School
Shearness Seamen’s Training Establishment
Shotley Boy’s Training Establishment
Rosyth BTE
Chatham Mechanical Training Establishment
Gunnery School
Portsmouth BTE
Torpedo School
Gunnery School (HMS Excellent)
Naval School
Portsmouth MTE
Portsmouth Signal School
Devonport Gunnery School
Devonport Torpedo School
Devonport MTE
Devonport BTE
For some reason I have only the outlay on RN separation vocational training –£11,190 in 1938, 10,640 in 1939.

Eisenhower, looking to the emerging reality of 1950s-era America, is disturbed by the close connection between the military-industrial complex and scientific-technological elites. These numbers suggest that this is only novel for the United States, and that the only available solutions are to either cut back on the size of the armed forces or to stop training military technicians. An armed forces that recruits a significant proportion of the population is going to be a very significant factor in the national educational infrastructure, and the greater part of that training is going to be technical.

So before the "educational complex state," the armed forces train the men they need. The only way to have a large armed forces but not a "military industrial complex" staffed by a "scientific-technical elite" is to find a different way of training STEM specialists.

How does one do this? It might be supposed that the German tradition of the research university and technical high school is a pre-eminent example of state-sponsored technical training. Well, (potentially obsolete research alert!), not necessarily! Wolfgang König, using obituaries from the Elektrotechnische Zeitschrift, establishes that for engineers educated between 1882 and 1914, 11% in private and 8% in public sector were self-educated, 7% in private sector were at technische Mittelschulen, 66.7% private and 40% public at tHs, and 13% private and 51% public at universities.  But for the pre-1880 cohort, fully 40% were self-educated.  University contribution fell over the same period.  In the same period, practical coursework steadily displaced theoretical, which fell from 35% of the curriculum to 19.2% by 1914 (82-7), and lab work and drafting instruction consumed 2/3s of instructional time.  Even theory-oriented lab work fell, from 8.8% of instructional hours to 7.4%. German universities did increasingly displace industry training, but only by becoming more like the industrial training schools they displaced. Certainly the "college-trained" German engineering sector praised by Barnett does not, in fact, exist.(1)

Recalling the "100,000" men (and women) (5) in the engineering departments of American aviation firms, it is interesting to check some actual enrollment data, in this case, chemical engineering departments. (You may recall that many of the college-trained engineers at Northrop did not have aeronautical engineering training. According to a survey undertaken by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers shows the following enrollments in American Chemical Engineering programmes
B. Ap.  Sci.
M. ASc.
An “extreme shortage” is expected in the next few years, of course.(2)

another way of parsing it is by using Alfred H. White, “Research as a Field For Engineers,” Ibid., 199-201.  (200) There are 14,980 engineers current working in research in the US, “over ten percent of our graduates” (201). Another way of parsing this: Roy Fedden is full of shit.

But what about the company schools that produce so many of the actual "college-trained" engineers at the aviation firms? Boeing School consist of? Principal T. Lee, Jr. fills some pages of Aero Digest, June 1941: 70–3. 202, with his “Principles of Vocational Training.” In the midst of traditional principal blather, he notes that his school finds that he can give his students a complete theoretical understanding of internal combustion engines with 60h of instruction, and that 680 hours of workshop work qualify them in engine overhaul and services.

The engineers who beat the Sputnik crisis? A great many of them were trained as piston-engine mechanics. It sounds as though the age of the practical man was not quite over in 1955.

J. D. Akerman, “Report of the Aeronautical Conference.” Ibid., 257-8.  Aeronautical engineering grads have no trouble finding work.  Does the fact that many prominent engineering schools (i.e. Yale, Princeton) lack aero-engineering programmes a factor?  Probably not, as these institutions lack the associated research facilities, and thus cannot profitably offer such programmes.

Speaking of, how is training going in Britain? Comparatively well.

 A short article gives the number of National Certificates in engineering




 The Imperial College industrial placement programme:

As you can see, the number of actually-working engineers seeking accreditation by sitting the Institution examinations swamps the number of Imperial College, London, "co-op" student engineer placements. The venues in which the exam-sitters have received their training varies, but my impression (yes, I could compile better data from the Proceedings  and Journal obituaries, and, no, I do not have time for that) is that the red-brick universities and their college precursors/contemporaries predominate, mainly because these individuals sought technical training as a doorway to accreditation after finding employment in drawing offices. Which is pretty much how those massive engineering departments in American mid-war aviation firms were staffed, too.

At this point, as much to not further delay posting this as for any other reason, I am going to call it a day and argue that this is "demand-based" technical education.

Move ahead then, again, first forward, then back. Sputnik is our defining crisis, a "devastating blow" to the emergent American scientific-technical elite. But what happened? One answer is educational. Not conceding the unlikely proposition that Russian schools had beaten American, the answer came to turn on "abducted" German scientists, incidentally justifying the moral stain that was the employment of Wernher von Braun and his peers.  This was nothing more than myth. The truth is that the  Truman Administration had been a little slow off the mark before the crucial 1950 appointment of Kaufman Keller, and that“Vanguard” had been too ambitious. Neither answer satisfied major stakeholders in the rhetorical battleground, a Democratic Congress, and the, yes, technocratic advisers to a Republican President. (6) The consensus conclusion: we need more scientists!

It was never the intent (I think, I could stand corrected by, say, an actual biography of Cripps) of Cranfield University to turn a demand-side STEM educational infrastructure into  a demand-side one that would metastatise into a modern slave economy --harsh talk, but still!-- His intent --well, I seem to have buried the lede, and I need to get back to St. Paul's School. Educational signalling, I suggest.

*And they say we live in a "free market economy."
1. Wolfgang König, “Science-Based Industry or Industry-Based Science?  Electrical Engineering in Germany Before WWI,” Technology and Culture 37 (1990): 70-89.
2. Stephen L. Tyler, “The Chemical Engineer in National Defence.” Journal of Engineering Education 32 (Sept.  1941-June, 1942): 154-8.
3. Engineering, Jan 2/42
4. Aircraft Engineering (January, 19435. What was the composition of the “notoriously larger American drawing offices?” 5.“How Many Planes, When?” Fortune, March, 1941, 41, 81–3, 183–90, notes that current US total labour in aviation was 500,000 this is cited as 400,000 in labour, 100,000 in “engineering and overhead.” A high estimate of American engineering labour may then be taken as 20% of total manpower, but American business clearly understands this figure to represent all nonproductive labour in the industry, and not just engineers.
6.Rip Bulkeley, The Sputniks Crisis and Early United States Space Policy: A Critique of the Historiography of Space.  London: Macmillan, 1991.   Bulkeley’s argument as developed in Chapter I (“A Devastating Blow” (3-18) is that early reaction to the launch of Sputnik in America was uninterested in certain likely explanations for the American lag behind Russian space development, i.e. the Truman Administration’s slow start to major rocket development programmes before the crucial 1950 appointment of Kaufman Keller, and second, a commitment to the overly technologyically amibitious “Vanguard” programme.  The former was uninteresting to a Democratic Congress, while the scientists and engineers managing the post-1957 programme were implicated in Vanguard and had no interest in going over this ground with their contemporary critics.  Nominal Republican allies of the President, conversely, were too excited about the “missile gap” to support the Administration.  Thus, alternative explanations were put forward, most notably (for my context) that “Russia acquired almost all of Hitler’s best rocket brains [according to the widely read journalistic account of the period by Cox and Stoiko, 1958], “which few later historians would ever support.”  (14).  Thus, the myth of the Russian grab here serves contemporary political purposes.


  1. Thanks for this post. Lots of interesting data, but it does leave me wondering about the motivations of all those involved in the push for, as you almost put it, "supply-side STEM educational infrastructure". It would be interesting to see the next chapters, as the idea gets extended from STEM to university education in general, and from a few Western countries to large segments of the globe, mediated by a curious nexus of socialism and national liberation movements. Come to think of it, could the first moves in this direction - in a rather different context, admittedly - have come from the USSR rather than from England?

  2. It would be. Now, I'm not very well placed to observe this moving into the Third World. My lived experience is as an Westerner, and first as an pedagogical object inscribed with the "Sputnik crisis; second as a manager dealing with a labour force thoroughly enmeshed in the consequences of this process, which have only become really pressing since the end of student-loan discharge through bankruptcy in Canada. If there's anything so thoroughly vampiric in the Maghreb, I'm not sure I have the heart to hear about it.

    In the Third World (and here I'm sorting through stereotypical images of Nkrumah building steel mills and university students rioting) I have the idea that STEM education drives "development." I think that the implications of my hypothesis is that we've got the causality backwards, that industrial development drives STEM skills acquisition. As a historian, my inclination is to go backwards, to look at the tension between actual elite education and apprenticeship training and understand how there came to be a tension in the first place.

    The experience here is surely generalisable. Our, or at least my point of entry (it will certainly be different for France and Germany) is the competition between the Classics and Natural Philosophy Tripos, but it seems clear enough that there are very close parallels in China, complicated by the emergence of Han identity. The Chinese case seems particularly toxic in that the idea of a "Han Chinese" seems more dangerous than self-actualising right now, and because at the condescending distance of a century it seems less certain that the traditional Chinese education was so deleterious in the first place.

    I feel much less comfortable about talking about tensions between traditional education and technical in the Islamic world. (Or India. God, India.) In fact, just typing that phrase invites dissection of the notion of a unitary or even binary "Islamic world."

    That said, I'm beginning to think that the Sputnik crisis requires a closer examination. I've also thrown out the possibility that "something" was going on in English schools during the Long Depression that might have some relevance here.

    1. A few disorganised thoughts on "elite education and apprenticeship training" in the Algerian context...

      I don't really know for sure where the children of the guys at the very top (the generals) are sent for their educations. To France, I would assume. But below them, it's still possible to discern a few layers of subaltern elites without resorting to major research. There's always a demand for STE in Sonatrach and the other oil companies, and to a lesser extent in the Army; medicine gets you a career in the national health service, which is less lucrative but still fairly respectable. STEM subjects also make emigration more feasible. There are also a few institutions training specifically for the State's demands: military colleges, schools of administration, etc. For other university subjects, you might with some luck get a position as a teacher, or an imam, and thus once again get a State income, meager though it might be; a lawyer or an interpreter might even be hired by an actual company. Most graduates, though, seem to be thrown back upon their own devices, starting some low-capital small business or relying on their parents (or both), and often gaining little more from their education than a few extra years to consider their options. Hey, at least it's free...

      Back in the halcyon days right after the Revolution, education presented enormous opportunities for class mobility - almost as large as those which opened up to the ex-guerrillas who had fought it. The state had a vast demand for cadres, which could not be met from the small minority of literate citizens. That ground to a halt sometime around the 1980s, making the mechanisms of elite reproduction a little more conspicuous. One of the most important, as it turned out, was access to French. The language of state education was gradually shifted to Arabic, in response to strong demand from what was left of the traditional elites reinforced by nationalist ideology - but university-level STEM teaching, and most of the state bureaucracy, was left solidly in French. In theory, French is taught everywhere in the country. In practice, fluency in French is and always has been very unevenly distributed across the country, by class and above all by region, and without it you can't realistically aim much higher up the elite than teaching. The resulting resentment is often cited as an underlying cause of the civil war of the 1990s. Be that as it may, the traditional elite unambiguously gets the short end of the stick compared to the STEM folks, but neither of them are in charge - the veterans and their children are. I suppose their position too can be said to rest on apprenticeship, though of a very different sort...

      Now, Algeria's relative failure to achieve industrial development sounds like it should support your idea that industrial development drives STEM skills acquisition rather than the reverse. But, of course, back in the 1970s Algeria was building big state-owned factories like every other self-respective socialist state - then it spent most of the 1990s closing them. Why didn't that do the trick? Perhaps because - like the universities - they were being run primarily to keep their employees/students busy, rather than to make a profit.

  3. Universities function as a class laundry post-War until about 1985 or so, when someone decides that there's been quite enough of that.

    Before that, we get a war (an obvious, looming, long-term war that brought with it fundamental change in how the economy's conducted) and a desperate need to transfer technical skills into the managerial classes. (they never did make it into the upper classes.)

    After that, we get the Y2K tech boom, the recognition that technical skills can get paid more than managerial ones, and a great deal of effort being expended to fix that.

    Rather like you can look at the Industrial Revolution as a failed revolution -- it didn't transfer power from the landholding classes very well, it forced them to acknowledge another form but didn't dislodge them -- you can look at the computer revolution as a failed revolution, where the novel forms of social organization obviously possible and desirable due to ubiquitous communications are strangled by the tightly scripted IVR back into plain old rent extraction.

    There really isn't much to that century-long hop between rent for land and rent for access to the financial system, without which you can't do anything. The student loan thing is using debt as a means of preventing the class laundry from functioning without ever actually saying that's what's going on.

    (Much like Apple, Google, etc. getting caught wage-fixing doesn't have significant consequences.)

    Sputnik is just the rentier class being terrified someone's going to drop A-bombs on their heads; it goes away right quick as soon as they stop being terrified.

  4. The idea that universities are about class mobility is an old one. Coleridge talked about it as taming mobility. Bright, poor kids were directed through the universities into his "clerisy," a larger community, centred on, but not limited to the clergy of the Established Church and reaching out to include the Prime Minister (notoriously an Oxford graduate). Something something Habermas public sphere twisted through a conservative lens.Pierre Bourdieu built up a massive theoretical apparatus in which the universities "reproduce class." Having lost the anchor of the Established Church, we want to talk instead about everything from manners to aesthetics in the interest of showing how the children of the last generation of elites, combined with a small group of lower-class strivers are turned into elite university graduates with a lock on all the Good Jobs. Bourdieu's provocative and Parisian language has had less play in the English-speaking world than the more scientific-sounding "signalling," in which a university degree "signals" your suitability for a Good Job in such a way that social contexts are as or more important than the actual training. In jumping from the 1820s to the 2010s, as I just facilely did, I highlight by omission the crucial change. This isn't going to work when university graduation rates go up from 3% of the population to 31%! Unless not all universities are alike; which is certainly true for the United States, but much more problematic in Canada, where the "elite" universities tend to have the highest enrollments. Meanwhile, student loans remove one of the most obvious things that "signalling" might signal, the parental income. That said, there might be proxies for parental income that show up on a university transcript. (My nephews are quite vehement that "volunteering" serves. I'll come back to this, and hope that my brother doesn't yell at me.)

    Now, second, there is the content of the degree --the educational training. I've been slightly cynical about this ever since the Lieutenant-Governor's Award for Academic Excellence in the Field of Excellence was won at my graduation by a Tibetan Studies major who had taken all her Majors courses from a single instructor for the fairly obvious reason that....

    Again, let's start way back when. A young Englishman might choose:
    i) the two universities of England, ostensibly founded to provide educated churchmen, ostensibly and in the rosy light of the stained glass windows, curates for the pastoral care of England, and practically, canon lawyers to defend the endowments of the Church.
    ii) The Inns of Court, there to train for the bar, and here with the assumption that the majority of graduates will not go on to practice law, as there is not the demand, but with the ancillary assumption that the landed gentry benefit from knowing property law.
    iii) An apprenticeship suited to their parents' station ranging from a "premium apprenticeship" in banking to carrying buckets of clay for a brickmaker.
    iv) The Army/Navy. Now, here, as I will, I'm going to "ride the land." It may seem as though being a cavalryman has no knowledge component, much less a career-building one, but in fact, being able to do reconnaissance usefully means measuring distances and filling in a map of the campaigning space. You're building on your trivium training in geometry to become at least as good a surveyor as anyone else working in the mid-1700s. Land speculation ahoy! Well-buried here is a criticism of Graydon's claim that the ruling class didn't use to be technocrats. On the contrary! The issue is that the issues relevant to being a technocrat have changed from the agricultural to the industrial.

  5. So if I'm going to summarise these coffee-fueled ramblings, it is terms of that transition from grass to oil, from an economy in which wealth is rooted in land and its productivity to one in which wealth is something of a moving target. Land-as-real-estate remains a key form of wealth but one no longer usually backstopped by its value as farmland. Also, surveying isn't hard any more. Our maps are ubiquitous and perfect. Even our agricultural science is as good as it once thought it was. "He's worth 10,000 a year" can still reasonably be said in terms of a big trust fund, but it's all so evanescent. People lie about that kind of stuff. And a job at Google? How long can that last/ Unless there is some way that a job at Google isn't like a regular job...

    Now I want to come back to our longstanding STEM crisis, to the skilled labour shortage that has supposedly been imminent since the 1941. Brett Holman, over at Airminded, is very interested in "air panics," and I've argued there that fear is a tricky emotion. We may see it as extrinsic (you think you're seeing "mystery aeroplanes," but you're actually reacting to the German spring offensive), or as intrinsic --a projection of what we want to see on the dark skies. But why would we want to see scary things? Well, why do we go to see horror movies? Because fear can be thrilling.

    This is why I hesitate to take something like the Sputnik panic as an extrinsic stimulus for a fear of the future that, in turn, provokes policy responses. It seems at least equally useful to see Sputnik as triggering a more orgiastic fear, a sense that, "I knew this was going to happen, and now we have to do something about it!" The Space Race was something that, in general, America wanted to do. It was just waiting for it to become necessary.

    So, space race, yes. But also the huge burst of STEM educational funding? This is why, although I've probably buried the point past all finding, that I actually find the preceding Fedden Report-driven "small drawing office" crisis of 1943--46 so illuminating. In retrospect, we can see that the demand-side driven expansion of the aerospace engineering sector of World War Ii was incredibly successful. Mock the Boeing School all you like: its graduates got us to the Moon.

    So what is wrong with arguing that if we need to go to the Moon, the solution is to throw enough money at Martin to give it the means to design and build moon rockets, even if one of those costs is going to be training new engineers?

    The answer, it seems to me, is that we've gone all-in for a "supply side" model of technical education. The state and the big universities have combined to produce all the STEM workers that our perfect, dreamed of, post-Singularity techno-utopia could have needed in order to bring it about. That is, as it turns out, a lot of STEM workers! It is hardly surprising that, up to the moment in which the techno-utopia arrives, industry is unsatisfied with its actual supply, and instead keeps on asking for more. It's a free input! That the implication is that we are depressing wages in the STEM sector seems lost on...

    Well, lost on who?

  6. STEM is not always the most useful of acronyms. Within the larger field, I know a life sciences PhD, an electrical engineering BA.Sc., and any number of two-year IT certificate holders still working with my employer for lack of jobs in their subfields.

    So stop here, and hack off the last letter: "M" is for medicine. Doctors probably have the most secure and largest income that you can get outside of finance, where the path to employment is obscure, and probably for good reason. We know why this is the case. Apart from a broad social consensus that doctors should be well-paid, we know that entry into the field is strictly controlled, specifically to maintain incomes.

    How are the ramparts manned? Above all, by gatekeeping undergraduate courses. The powerful one-two punches of calculus and second-year biochemistry keep the unserious, the dumb, and the immature out of medical school. These are good barriers --but they also increase university seats, hence, in the Canadian model, anyway, funding.

    Second, there is "volunteering," an additional requirement on one's medical school application that has held for at least a generation. Again, one may infer social signalling here. Apart from what being able to volunteer says about one's background, how one goes about doing it sends a powerful signal about the kind of advice and support an applicant gets in the family setting, hence the kind of family (medical) the applicant is likely to have.

    But what happens when this breaks down? Suppose additional criteria were being ladled on the applicant: to be "nice," to have "good people skills." These are things that you want in a doctor, of course, though probably not at the expense of brains. The question is the background that produces "niceness." Coleridge's imagined clerisy has room for both the "nice" and the smart. The former he saw, long ago, as polished children of privilege, brought up to be polite, and self-assured enough to carry it off. The latter, of course, would be your lower-class strivers, gentled by their contact with their privileged peers at Oxbridge, and imparting some intellectual drive as their share.

    To cut things short, I'll end with a question. What if the "good jobs" of high modernity are becoming like the landed estates of the past? New kinds of social signalling are required. I'm getting the feeling from talk of rents in the financial sector and "startup culture" that they exist, and if they are uncertain, status anxiety is no new thing. There's a reason that old regime landed society needed all those property right lawyers!

  7. Did people actually declare bankruptcy on student loans in any numbers? A few people did in the UK in the early 2000s in a spirit of woohoo, quick fix but that was literally about five people.

  8. I don't have statistics before me, but I can tell you that it has been a sufficiently serious problem as to provoke three successive tightenings of loan repayment provisions, in 1995, 2000 and 2008, culminating in the current arrangement under which student loans cannot go into bankruptcy until seven years after ceasing to be interest-free, and then falling on highly motivated debt collectors. (The common wisdom is that while the federal government is ultimately responsible for collecting delinquent loans now and before 1995, it was more liberal in the halcyon days of 1964--95 than today.)

    1. If you've got significant student loans and you can't get a job on graduation, of course it's a problem. Given that the youth unemployment rate is about double the main one even at the best of times, and the possibility of guessing wrong -- do not graduate with a CS degree in 2001, for example -- it's increasingly an issue because the degree is supposed to result in a good job and it doesn't.

  9. High modernity jobs aren't parallel to landed estates because you can't profit-maximize an estate; the land won't take it, and you know it and everyone working for you knows it. Productive land forces a certain amount of long-term perspective, because you're trying to maximize the value returned.

    Value's benefit over cost; if you're trying to maximize your profit, you're either trying to reduce your cost or reduce the delivered benefit. You're destroying value, and you want to make sure it's someone else's. A traditional landlord didn't want to bankrupt tenants, generally, but we still get clearances when the profitable model shifts.

    Surveying from horseback notwithstanding, I stand by an assertion that the upper classes never really made their peace with steam, and certainly not with calculus. Anything that involves shifting to a quantified model devalues the upper-class core skills of social connection and mediating outcomes through social signalling, so they're very much against quantified analysis.

  10. No-one's ever made their peace with calculus. As my teachers used to say, calculus isn't hard, but it makes you learn your algebra: no more skating your math homework!

    That said, I think it's incredibly dangerous to valorise mathematics as a bourgeois establishment.

    First, it's historically inaccurate and takes you right back to the "German ideology," where Weltburgertum, Protestantism and modernism are all packed together into a black box marked "capitalism" that produces all the virtue in the world. That's a warning for you Marxists, out there, to keep your head up in the ideological corners where "modern thinking" and "the virtuous mean" are just waiting to check you into the boards.

    Second, it means no serious thinking about the role of the MD in modern North American society. Doctors are rich, and they are passing on their jobs with their estates, all on the pretext of a meritocracy established by their ability to pass freshman calculus and sophomore organic chemistry. (Even if "volunteering" is increasingly the real gatekeeper.)

    Running an estate, either for stable yield or to maximise resale value, is obviously different from the CEO negotiating a golden parachute contract on the promise of "turning around" some self-evidently doomed company; but a legal-dental-medical practice is as much or more of a a long term commitment than a 100 square mile patent in the Ohio country

    1. Doctors are not rich. Doctors are a closed professional guild and prosperous, but even in the American system it's a rare doctor who, in a narrow span of peak earning years, gets their takehome income over half a million a year. Real estate developers do much better than that. (Shorter -- no one becomes a doctor to optimize their income. They might do it to optimize their combination of income, social standing, and risk.)

      I don't think mathematics is bourgeois; the bourgeois aren't big on quantified analysis, either. They're doing exactly what the upper class are doing with a different set of virtues and fewer individual resources. (Possibly sumarizable as "MINE!" vs "Ours".) So far as I can tell, real -- meaning there's a social mechanism attached to an attempt to make the whole thing self-sustaining -- applications of quantified analysis are rare and transitory. Math is very nearly inherently lower class, something which people with no or limited social standing are consigned to, rather like the rest of the necessary technical work. (Why do you think "calculator", when that was a job title, was a female job?)

      I think you're going to look long and hard for a medical practice older than fifty years or extending into the third generation; it happens, but it's surprising. There are Century Farms (one family for a hundred+ years) all over Ontario.

      I suspect that running a practice really is harder than farming, for one, and a very shallow local maximum for the status+income peak associated with the surviving traditional professions. (Teachers and military and the Church aren't, anymore, in the sense that lawyers and doctors might be hanging on to.)

    2. Graydon, knowing my nephew, I am not going to have to look at all hard for a four generation, century+ medical dynasty. It is true that it's not a four-generation medical practice, but in the Canadian situation, medical practices aren't worth the effort. (I'll also note that thanks to my grandfather's skill in arranging to have two daughters, that it will be prosopographically all but untraceable.)

      Dental practices, and especially legal, but also civil engineering, on the other hand....

      And speaking of prosopography, you might want to take down a volume of the Dictionary of Scientific Biography and test your theory of the class alignments of mathematics. That office work is done by those in need of office work is another matter entirely....

  11. Ever seen one of the concrete moulds they formed half a Sea Hornet on?