Intellectual Dishonesty

Posted: July 13, 2014 in Artistry, Classical Music, Culture, Economics, Education, Music

Something caught my eye this week as I was surfing around, this time from a mostly abandoned classical music criticism blog I used to read (with some frustration). I reproduce in full a post called “Top Ten Music School Rankings” because it’s content-lite (perhaps not original to the blog):

10. The school where you did your undergrad.
9. The school where you got your Master’s, and to which you are indebted for the gigs it helped you get to pay off the student loans for the school where you did your undergrad.
8. The place where you wrote your DMA dissertation on your teacher’s teacher’s teacher’s pedagogical methods (or lack thereof).
7. Juellerd. Julleard? Julliard. Jewelyard? Whatever.
6. Harvard.
5. The place you wanted to go for undergrad, but you fracked one single note in one single excerpt and then you panicked and broke down and called the trumpet professor “Dad” and then Dave got in even though he couldn’t play Petrushka in time and he’s always been kind of a dick about it and now he’s subbing like every weekend in the fucking BSO.
4. Royal Something of Great British Academy I think? I hear they never let Americans in. Or maybe that’s the other one?
3. The school that everybody knows isn’t as good as the school where you did your undergrad, but is “up-and coming.” Featuring a lauded entrepreneurship initiative that trains barista skills at one of the three coffee shops housed in its new state-of-the-art building, named for an alumnus of the university’s business school currently facing indictment for fraud.
2. University of Phoenix.
1. The school that has paid to have this list promoted on Facebook.

It’s funny (I guess) in ways that register mostly on music school grads, whose experiences and concerns over musical minutiae diverge from the mass of college graduates who majored in business, English, or any number of professional studies (premed, prelaw, journalism) that lead more consistently to employment in those professions. (Music school, BTW, is an unacknowledged type of trade school.) But the jokes are also somewhat ghoulish in ways that are becoming increasingly familiar to everyone seeking employment after completion of the formal phase of education. Mentions of Univ. of Phoenix and Facebook ought to be struck from this particular list except that they’re too emblematic of the systemic fraud that now passes for higher education. So it was curious to read, after the hooting and self-recognition in the comments section, a veritable cry in the wilderness:

I graduated from Oberlin, Michigan and Wisconsin and am currently a custodian in an apartment complex. I even won the concerto competition at 2 of the 3 schools and am in debt up to my eyeballs. I wish music schools would emphasize alternatives in the field of music, offer apprenticeships and internships and even require students to double major or double on a secondary “gig” instrument, so they could do well in the field.

Despite robust demand for education in performance fields (e.g., music, dance, acting) and other fine arts, there have never been waiting jobs anywhere close to the number of (presumably skilled) graduates churned out by schools. Obviously, one can invert the supply-demand nomenclature to oversupply of skilled performance labor vs. minimal market demand for those skills. Offering such degrees by every second- and third-tier school is undoubtedly a money-making enterprise but is nonetheless tantamount to intellectual dishonesty of a type distinct from what I blogged about here. Faculty and administrators are certainly hip to the fact that they’re often selling a bill of goods. After all, they’re paid for that expertise. This is why some parents (and some professors, too) do everything in their power to discourage students from pursuing performance studies, but to little avail as enrollments and selectivity continue to rise even if skill levels and accomplishment don’t.

As the “debt up to my eyeballs” comment above exemplifies, the cost of higher education has mounted far faster than inflation, and crushing student debt (unlikely to ever be repaid) now accompanies attendance at most top-tier schools except perhaps to trust-fund students. And even those top-tier schools find it difficult to deliver graduates into waiting jobs. It’s not that no one gets employed, mind you; it’s just that majoring in performance studies of one sort or another is akin to (essentially) majoring in football or basketball with dreams of joining the NFL or NBA after school. The numbers don’t bode well for graduates without extraordinary talent and/or connections, and unlike sports franchises, the arts don’t operate as pure meritocracies. Scoring ability if far more measurable than artistic expression, making it worthwhile to tolerate the misbehavior of thugs and cretins with speed, power, and attitude. I’m still waiting for the meme to establish itself that perhaps the considerable risk of tens of thousands of dollars in debt to attend music school is not worth the reward. This would clearly be a case of “do as I say, not as I do,” as careful readers of this blog must surmise by now that I, too, went to music school, though some while back before tuition hikes put it out of reach for me.

  1. Brian says:

    Funny and sad, and that sounds like a bad movie review; “I laughed, I cried.”

    What I came away with was how that sense of participation in what you describe is in essence a pyramid scheme. It taints every action I take. My day job is in a field where the chance of success is minimal. Anyone not already in the door has little chance of getting a key. Intellectual dishonesty lies in the fable that if you work hard enough you will succeed. Extrapolate that to our current and inescapable dilemmas of climate change and peak resources and we are all able bodied participants in the delusion or scheme that your music degree, Prius, grunt work job, professional job, recycling or turning down the thermostat is going to make a damn bit of difference for yourself or the world.


  2. Brutus says:

    Up until the word extrapolate, you’re speaking my language. But let me assure you that doors do open for some, but erratically and unpredictably. That’s what gives the Horatio Alger myth its power.

    After the word extrapolate, you’re also speaking my language, but I do my best to stop short of tipping over into full-bore nihilism. It’s difficult some days to stay rooted in the world and avoid answering “why not?” questions by jumping or pulling the trigger or whatever. So I blog (and think) about things other than death, destruction, collapse, TEOTWAWKI, and NTE. But everything inevitably filters through that perspective anyway. So, well, um, cheers indeed.

    • Brian says:

      Yep, I understand that myth, being one of the lucky ones through that door. But the odds of subordinates getting through that door are slim. So whether offering encouragement amounts to dishonesty, intellectual or otherwise, I’m not sure. I suspect it might come close. And that is the larger pyramid scheme.

      But, and here I steer clear of the word “extrapolate”, I can’t help but think of the advice I give young people, nephews and nieces about their future. Seldom do I reference my real concerns about where we are headed as a culture, species or planet. Instead I give conventional advice on navigating the work or social world. I might give some vague suggestion regarding farming or gardening as a good skill set to have “in case.” Seldom do I offer any other critique or suggestion. Personally, I suspect that rises to a measurable level of dishonesty.

      But, I’m obviously not too shamed by it. Like Mr. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, “This shame will pass, and no doubt sooner than it ought to.”

      So, cheers,

  3. Clem says:

    We are here right now. We do not know for how long, but we can expect to die at some point. We have our ups and downs, we come up short of our own expectations from time to time. And on some occasions the fortunate among us fall into more than perhaps they’ve ‘earned’ by their own effort. Shit happens – but terrific things occur as well. If you take off on a certain heading with grandiose expectations, the fall to earth can smart a little (ok, a lot). Some fellow traveler on the same heading may be given a key, march through the door, and appear quite successful. But you can’t be jealous – it will eat you. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again. Kinda trite, but it beats pulling the trigger. There is no harm is changing your heading. The harm is in quitting.

    Offering advice to younger folk is a problematic endeavor. The world into which they will travel will no doubt look different than the one we’ve come to know. I’m optimistic enough to think it will be a good enough world, one worth living in. And I have lots of reasons for my optimism. So I don’t consider it the slightest bit dishonest to share that optimism.

    One of the problems I have with negative TEOTWAWKI sentiments is that every morning when we get up we enter a new world. It does resemble the world we left just yesterday in many ways, but it is different. You can’t go back and change something that happened yesterday. You may go back and modify the result, but you can’t change the historical fact that yesterday X happened at a particular point in time and space. So the world as we knew it at that exact time and place is gone – and as much as we think we know the world as we see it right now… we are only approximating. Perhaps “knowing” the world (having a feeling we have it figured out) is crucial for some folk’s notion of security, but it doesn’t bother me a bit that we are merely approximating. In fact I find it stimulating that there are still things we don’t know and if we’re willing to put the effort into it we can learn more about the world and possibly steer toward better outcomes.

    As my body ages I’m no longer capable of doing some of the things I could do years ago. This might be depressing but for the realization that this is normal. I can’t sit and stew over it, so where possible I’ve learned other ways to compensate so as to accomplish similar levels of work. Where I’ve failed to find such compensatory means I grudgingly own that my age is affecting me… but there’s still no excuse there for quitting. In most aspects of life we find ourselves in some competition or other (not always competitions we choose to enter… but still). And at the culmination of a particular event the score is settled – there are winners and losers. In my experience the latter are often the first to quit – such that the former are no more clever or talented… just the ones more inclined to keep at it until the other guy quits.

    Mother Nature doesn’t seem to have any quit in her. Taking her on is a fool’s errand. But she can be a pretty fair partner to work along side. Learning to get along with her seems the sort of advice most everyone could benefit from. Honest.

    • Brutus says:

      There is lots percolating under the surface of what began as a light-hearted joke. I suppose I didn’t deal with it too fully in just three paragraphs. The main point of contention is my righteous indignation that those in a position to know better are essentially selling snake oil to those not yet developed enough to know better. Or to be more blunt, they are lying about the potential for career success and they know they’re lying, but it’s self-serving and everyone’s doing it, so what-the-hey! Kinda like the banks, kinda like politicians, kinda like every marketer and press agent positioning his product or service in the best possible light. The parade of lies gets really tiresome, and so just once, I called bullshit, shining a little light on the cry from the wilderness of one who’s been through it.

      The larger issue of how to deal with lousy prognoses (to say the least) multiplying all around us is a true dilemma. I want to be truthful and forthcoming as much as possible because it is an antidote to the haze of dis- and misinformation spewed continuously by the MSM. However, I don’t want to shove anything in anyone’s face. Everyone comes to the truth in their own time (and some never). The stream of coping and “think positive” advice you provide is lapped up by the general public. It hardly bears repeating it’s so ubiquitous. Some come by their optimism naturally, but it’s also said that pessimists have a truer picture of the world in their heads. You can guess which I am, but I try not to dwell.

  4. Clem says:

    The abstract from:

    Interregional migration of human creative capital: The case of “Bohemian graduates”


    The human capital endowment has long been perceived to be of paramount importance to regional growth and development. In recent years, there also has been a widely held belief that creativity, going hand in hand with innovation and knowledge creation, readily translates into regional competitiveness. Attracting quality human capital and cultivating creative industry/class have been given an unprecedented level of significance in regional policies. As a result of this, understanding the factors determining the migration behaviour of graduates – and especially graduates in creative disciplines – has clear implications for policy makers. In addressing these issues and advancing our understanding of the relationship between creativity and mobility in human capital, this study provides the first empirical analysis of the role played by graduates’ subject background (i.e. creative vs. non-creative subjects) in influencing their migration choice in the UK. Our data employed in this paper primarily draw on the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education Survey (DLHE) 2006/2007, collected by the UK’s Higher Education Statistic Agency. Graduates are classified into five migration categories based on their migration choices from domicile to university and then onto workplace. Our results show that graduates from disciplines such as business/management and more importantly engineering/technology are more migratory and more likely to be repeat migrants and land higher paid jobs, while graduates from creative arts, education or law are less mobile and, on average, earn less.

    So these are UK data, but I wonder whether there is any relevance to other geographies? The whole paper is behind a paywall and I haven’t seen it. So I’m not sure whether the authors expand on the creative arts outcomes. I bring this up only because it suggests there might be differences in world outlook related to disciplines chosen. The data suggest income disparity based on migration…

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