The Nation's Pulse

Career Planning for Dummies

So much for being able to write, let alone see the handwriting on the wall.

By 5.25.11

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Cursive handwriting will no longer be taught in several elementary schools, according to a recent New York Times story, plus which job marketers now question the need for a college education when it's so hard to find work no matter how many degrees you have.

Doing away with the tiresome need to learn handwriting, and indeed with learning itself, is a long overdue development. By sheer dumb luck, the United States has done extremely well at graduating a nation of knuckle heads despite such impediments as being able to write in longhand and preparing for higher education.

But if U.S. high school students expect to hold on to their traditional place as global know-nothings on history, math, geography and literature, it's time to better organize the dumbing down of American youth. It makes sense to discourage kids from having to learn anything beyond the age of 17 when they might make better use of their time on the unemployment line and welfare rolls.

By abandoning the need to learn handwriting and by sending young people off to obtain pointless four-year educations, it's now possible to create even more high school students who can't find Iraq on the map, think the Civil War was in the 1960s, and never heard of Vice President Joe Biden. By accelerated illiteracy programs, high schoolers might one day not even need to know what a "map" is, nor a "vice president."

One efficient way to achieve this goal is to stop forcing children to write. Instead of teaching handwriting, there clearly needs to be grade school courses in texting, twittering, and the use of initials, smiley faces. and icons in lieu of burdensome words and sentences longer than 144 characters. In lieu of cursive handwriting, the curriculum can start focusing on teaching kids how to communicate through cave drawing and smoke signals.

Likewise (and as I myself noted decades ago while flunking algebra), math is a huge waste of time when calculators are so handy, and when dreary historical data -- indeed, facts of all kinds -- is but a mouse click away on Wikipedia. Why bother with the arduous work of learning geography when Mapquest and GPS are available? As for formal English, nobody really needs to speak much anymore when they can communicate so much better via iPhone. E-mails are already going the way of the handwritten letter.

That old idea of learning for its own sake is so last century. You say you can't get into Harvard or even a community college? Not a big deal. For the career-minded, there is always McDonald's Hamburger University, where you can earn an advanced degree in Egg McMuffin engineering.

A college degree, it now appears, may actually hinder you when you look for a job, as this transcript from a major head-hunting firm reveals:

Human resources interviewer: I see here on your resume, Tom, that you spent four years at Yale studying English literature -- exactly what was the purpose of that? You don't seem to have used your time very constructively when you might have been learning the fine points of dicing onions, emptying ketchup bottles, and dispensing Quarter Pounders, all useful skills in today's complex business world.

Applicant: I realize I messed up, but I consider those four years at Yale youthful indiscretions that shouldn't count against my chance for employment here. I might also point out that I have zero knowledge of current events, and, better still, I can't even write my own name!

HR interviewer: Well, that's a start. But I'm worried that a college education may get in the way of your work here as fry cook intern. I'm not sure we can afford to take a chance on someone who frittered away four years at Yale reading Chaucer, Keats, and Shakespeare.

Applicant: But I need to point out that I was next to last in my class, with a 1.2 grade point average, flunked out twice, and was suspended for cheating on a final exam.

HR interviewer: It is encouraging that at least you made an earnest effort to squander your time at Yale.

Applicant: I did my best. I almost forgot to mention that I can't spell and haven't opened a book since graduation. Certainly that should count for something.

HR interviewer: Hmm, yes, that's pretty impressive, but I just don't know. Let me ask you a few final questions, a sort of oral exam. Who exactly is Barack Obama?

Applicant: I don't follow sports much but I think he plays for the Green Bay Packers. No, wait -- he's with the Mets!

HR interviewer: Very good. A couple of more things: how many states in the Union?

Applicant: I just have no idea. I don't belong to a union.

HR interviewer: Encouraging. OK, one more: if I gave you a $20 bill for an order that comes to $12.75, how much change should I get back?

Applicant: This sounds like a trick question.

HR interviewer: I like your can't-do attitude, so maybe we'll take a chance and give you a shot. Can you start tomorrow on the salad prep line?

Applicant: For sure, but what's the pay?

HR interviewer: Well, there's no salary the first year, but you'll be learning valuable skills you can take with you into the corporate world should you ever get an actual paying job.

Applicant: Sounds good to me. Thanks -- and I really appreciate the break! I don't think your faith in my ignorance will be wasted.

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About the Author

Gerald Nachman is the author of Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s, Raised on Radio and Right Here On Our Stage Tonight!: Ed Sullivan's America. He is currently working on a book about the great Broadway musical show-stoppers.