TOO MUCH EDUCATION
To the Editor of the Atlantic: —
Eleven years ago I was eighteen, a graduate of a two-year normal-school course. I had a teaching position, and life was very pleasant. Even before graduation day I had had two teaching positions offered to me, one in my home town and one in the school system in which I had done my student teaching. Within the next four years I signed three separate contracts and had two additional offers. My salary began at $110 and rose to $175 per month, partly because I was rated an excellent teacher and partly because I had obtained a degree, working off the additional credits in extension courses at night and on Saturdays.
Each summer, much as I longed for interesting motor excursions outside my native state, I hied myself off to the grind of summer school and came home at the end of the term broke. In two years’ time I completed four years of work, two years of college work (all A grades), and two years of teaching (with one of the highest ratings in the county).
By that time the higher-education bug had bitten me, and I indicated my intention of devoting my time solely to graduate study. My principal, sure that no sane person would give up an excellent teaching position for the privilege of spending money at a university, promised me a promotion and a salary of $210 per month if I remained. I refused the offer, and now, four years after having obtained an M. A. and a Ph. D., I am seemingly permanently unemployed.
Since my grade-school teaching days I have been made a member of an honorary educational fraternity (Pi Lambda Theta) and an associate member of an honorary science fraternity (Sigma Xi). I have published two pieces of research, one of which has been described as a ‘monumental piece of work.’ I have tested hundreds of children in a certified state clinic (my services free, of course, for the experience). I have become a seasoned speaker before Mothers’ Club groups. (Such civic services are expected to be gratis.) I know elementary education and educational psychology from A to Z; I know children thoroughly from nursery-school age to adolescence. I have taught normal and retarded children; I have bathed and dressed them; I have advised their parents; I have eliminated temper tantrums, problems of anorexia and enuresis, and all the behavior aberrations that go with ‘spoiled’ children. I am not an armchair psychologist. I know children. There are many institutions and school systems to which I could be of service as educator or psychologist, but I am unemployed. No one is anxious to employ a Ph. D.
In 1935, shortly after obtaining my doctorate, I was one of two candidates for a clinical position in a juvenile court; the individual without my extensive academic background received the appointment. A few months later, a person with a less extensive academic background than mine superseded me in receiving an appointment as critic-teacher in a demonstration school, the same type of position I had been offered as an inexperienced normal-school graduate.
‘This can’t go on forever,’ I thought. So, while waiting for something to turn up, I borrowed on my life insurance and opened a nursery school. On the opening day I had one child enrolled. One year later there were twenty-two and a waiting list of eighty. Likewise, at the end of the year, there was a considerable deficit, and the landlord became more than politely impatient.
Working with retarded children of school age seemed to offer a more lucrative field, so I went into special education. At the end of three years I had accumulated more valuable experience, the satisfaction that some homes and some children were happier, and a larger deficit. Even though that golden opportunity in the form of a steady job had not yet turned up, I decided to close the school, since I realized that only better equipment and expensive advertising would permit me to compete with the large, moneyed, Eastern schools.
During these four years there had been a teaching position in a small college which seemed to be a likely opportunity. However, the department head said very emphatically that he did not want a Ph. D. There had been innumerable replies from colleges and universities, all bringing the same message: no vacancies. The superintendent of a state institution had the same reply: nothing here that a Ph.D. would be content to accept for long. The other day a letter from a school superintendent read: ‘Fascinating as the idea of giving you the appointment is to me, hard practicality forces me to veto your nomination. You wouldn’t be satisfied to stay here.’ It was the same sort of position I had turned down eight years before, but the salary was $110 per month less.
I began to feel inferior. What was wrong? Did the fault lie with me? I did a little research. I found that despite the fact that there is a ‘contracting market for academic brains in the United States’ and that ‘deans of graduate colleges cannot be at all sure of placing even their best products,’ graduate study has greatly increased since 1930. The number of graduate students had grown from 42,255 in 1930 to 78,911 in 1936. In 1930 alone 14,495 master-of-arts degrees were conferred, and, in 1936, 18,243 received the same degree. From 1932 to 1936 inclusive, 8483 doctorates were conferred, and since 1935 placement of those receiving the doctorate has been increasingly poor. The difficulty, seemingly, was not with me but with big-business techniques in education which have resulted in overproduction and a glutted teaching market. Those holding the doctorate are perhaps most severely affected. There is not room for them in college teaching, and for the lesser positions they have ‘too much education’ in the eyes of those who would be their employers in those lesser positions.
I could be very useful to society. I do not think that the world owes me a living; I have no grandiose ideas concerning the salary I should command. I should be satisfied and happy to work indefinitely in my chosen field, either as teacher or clinician for $100 or less per month. There are two books I should like to write; there are research problems I should like to do in my spare time. A manuscript, the publication of which I should like to finance, has been in the hands of the publisher of a psychological monograph series for two years. Instead of doing these things, it is necessary for me to devote all my energy to position seeking, to contriving ways and means of securing food and shelter from day to day — a pursuit in which I have not always been successful in the past four years. I have missed a great many meals since those plutocratic days of my grade-school teaching. I have educated myself out of a job.