I want to take issue with a post on this blog. In “Telling the Truth, Part 3” (posted 4-30), I think the writer missed the real point here.
Okay, disclaimer: the writer was me. And it’s not that I exactly disagree with what I said. It’s just that when I wrote the post, I altogether missed a different —and I have to admit, a more important — point.
I wrote about Marilee Jones, M.I.T.’s popular dean of admissions, who was recently “outed” as having faked her academic credentials more than twenty-five years ago when she first applied for her entry-level job at M.I.T. I didn’t come right out and say it, but the point I seemed to be aiming at was an Aesop’s moral perhaps something like this: “It’s better to tell the truth in the first place.”
Maybe so. But there was a deeper point nagging at my brain here, and I didn’t realize what it was until I read Michael Kinsley’s perceptive editorial in this week’s Time magazine. “Instead of dumping her,” writes Kinsley, “M.I.T. might want to consider giving Jones an honorary degree,” and he makes a good case for the virtues of a meritocracy as opposed to a bureaucracy — where genuine, demonstrated value is held as more important than academic degree.
The “telling the truth” issue is a real one, but perhaps more vital here is the issue of the tyranny of the degree. In You Call the Shots, Cameron makes a compelling case for his own decision not to continue his college education, not by denigrating the value of college but by weighing it against the value of the real-world education he was getting pursuing the development and funding of his business (at the time, it was CertificateSwap.com). My own experience seconds that emotion. I’ve been editor in chief of two national business journals and have authored three books issued by major publishers—and have not even an undergraduate degree. I was too busy pursuing a career to go to college.
That’s not all: years earlier, when I was seventeen, some friends and I left our conventional schools and started our own high school—and although we had no accreditation of any kind, we ended up placing graduates from our school into places like Yale, Harvard and various state colleges. It’s not just Kinsley and me who question the tyranny of degrees: it was—in that case, back in the seventies—the schools themselves.
Kinsley’s point is not that we overvalue the experience of a good college education, and neither Cameron nor I make that point either. It is rather that the merits of an academic degree need to be weighed in context. And in the balance, genuine life experience often counts for more. — J.D.M.