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学历证书的终结 精选

已有 4461 次阅读 2009-5-10 10:22 |个人分类:Think of Life|系统分类:教学心得

学历证书的终结


天,我读了Paul Graham的文章《学历证书的终结》(After Credentials),写一点感想。

以下内容都是思辨性的,我试试看,能不能说清楚。

Paul的困惑

《纽约时报》有一篇报道韩国的文章,这样写道:

“对于一个有抱负的韩国青年来说,高考不是成就他,就是毁了他。”

家长也表示同意:

“在我们这个社会,人生的70%到80%是由高考决定的。”

这样的说法,令Paul感到既熟悉又陌生。熟悉的是,就在25年前,美国社会中也有类似的看法,一个贫家子弟要跻身上流社会,毕业于名牌大学是必要条件;陌生的是,这种看法已经在西方社会消失许久了,如今很少有美国人认为,个人的命运是由他就读的学校决定的。

Paul不禁提出了一个问题:

为什么在某些人心目中,学历证书如此重要?

是的,如果你仔细想想,从本质上来看,学历证书其实是可有可无的东西。

如果你在学校里读过书,何必要再发一张证书证明呢?只要你学到了知识,有没有证书都无法改变这个事实,对不对?既然无法改变,又何必多此一举呢?

进一步说,为什么学生非要等到拿到证书以后,才离开学校呢?难道不能一学会想学的东西,就离开呢?为什么雇主会想查看学历证书呢?他要找的是帮他赚钱的人,又不是在组建校友会?……

除了拿到它本身以外,学历证书其实没有办法证明其他事情。如果你同意这一点的话,那么确实很奇怪,有人居然把这张纸看得这么重,而且更奇怪的是,真的有人的命运被这张纸改变了。

这是为什么呢?

从古代说起

有一件事情,你一定要知道。那就是古时候没有学历证书,所以这不是天经地义的,没有“读书就非拿证书不可”这回事,它反而是不自然的。你想一想,“诸子百家”读过就读过了,要是你还拿出一张纸给别人看,上面写着“此人读过‘诸子百家’”,这多奇怪啊!

说起来,世界上最早的学历证书是我们中国人发明的。

公元587年,隋文帝通过考试,选出全中国最精通古典文学的人。这就是科举制度的起源。用今天的话说就是,通过市一级的院试,你就有本科证书了,算是混入知识分子队伍了;通过省一级的乡试,你就有了硕士证书;通过全国一级的会试,你就有了博士证书;通过皇帝主持的殿试,你就有了院士证书了。从此以后,凭着这张证书,国家就会向你发放俸禄,你就不愁饿肚子了。

那么,隋文帝为什么要发明学历证书呢?

任何一本关于科举制度的书,都会告诉你,这是为了选拔人才。隋文帝希望通过考试,找出全国最优秀的人才,让他们来管理国家。

于是,问题就变成了,隋文帝为什么认为考试制度能够找到人才呢?

这就要追溯到更古老的年代了。中国古代最早的人才选拔制度是“世袭制”,老子死了,儿子顶替,比如《史记》的作者司马迁,他的爸爸是太史令,他就这样接班当上了太史令。但是很显然,人的才华不是可以遗传的东西。所以,到了公元前134年,汉武帝采纳董仲舒的建议,发明了新的人才选拔制度“举孝廉”,规定地方官员在每20万人中,选出一个孝顺父母、办事廉正的人,推荐到朝廷做官。但是,闭着眼睛也能想到,这个制度一定不会选出真正的人才,最终必然演变成用人唯亲。(“举孝廉”的现代版:2006年,中组部要求各地以“八荣八耻”选拔干部。)

所以,科举制度是中国历史上的一次巨大进步。因为如果不考试,朝廷就无法知道每个人的水平。虽然考试未必能甄选出最能干的人,但是至少比“世袭制”和“推荐制”,效果要好多了。

我们得到的第一个结论就是,学历证书有助于鉴别人才。

从大机构的角度思考

让我们把这个结论一般化。隋文帝面临的问题,也是任何一个管理者面临的问题:如何寻找和鉴定适任的员工。管理者通常对新员工一无所知,根本无从判断他的能力,这个时候学历证书就起到了一个认证作用。

机构越大,学历的认证作用越强。因为一方面,在大机构中,除了与你直接合作的同事,别人很难知道你的表现,另一方面,个人在大机构中的作用一般是不明显的。所以,高层管理者需要其他量化的指标,判断员工的表现。相反的,这些问题在小机构中就不存在,机构越小,就越没人在乎你的学历,因为你能干什么,别人都会看在眼里,并不需要一张纸来证明,何况那种纸并不可靠。

第二个结论就是,学历证书的认证作用与机构大小成正比。

当机构变得越来越大

人类社会迄今的历史,几乎就是一部机构的膨胀史。这种趋势在20世纪达到了登峰造极的地步,我们生活的各个方面都被大政府、大公司、大机构控制。因此,学历的重要性也达到了空前的地步。

单一的科举考试早就不够用了,取而代之的是一整套复杂的学历教育体系,以及各种五花八门的能力认证证书。学历制度人为地制造社会等级,将所有人分为专科、本科、硕士、博士几个层次,这还不够,每个层次当中,还要再分成名牌大学、一般大学、三流大学几个层次。这样才能适应大机构的员工选拔体系。

我们中国人,常常被认为是重视教育的民族。其实,这是错的,我们重视的不是教育,而是学历。我们的民族文化中,充满了对地位和权势的崇尚。因为学历是通往这条道路的敲门砖,所以中国(儒家)文化充分肯定学历,进而以重视教育的形式表现出来,比如什么“朝为田舍郎,暮登天子堂”、“十年窗下无人问,一举名成天下知”。

学历证书是靠不住的

拿到学历,必须通过考试。但是,所有的考试都是有窍门的,针对性的复习和专门的训练,可以帮助你在短期中迅速提高成绩。因此,学历越重要,应试化教育就越普遍,填鸭式的教育方法就越盛行,弄虚作假就越可能出现。

这里就出现了一个可笑的背离。学历体系的发展,反而使得学历的证明力变弱了;教育制度的实际效果,反而在打击教育的真正目的。

第三个结论就是,学历的证明力与学历制度的重要性成反比。

未来会怎样

Paul Graham认为,学历在未来将不重要,原因是大机构将不再重要。

互联网的发展,使得小公司纷纷崛起,几个人架一个网站,就可以向全世界的用户提供服务。这样的商业模式在未来将成为主流,机构臃肿、效率低下、创新迟缓、管理成本高昂的大公司将难以与之竞争,最终将被淘汰。

在本质上,学历只是大机构内部管理的需要。一旦大机构消失,学历也将丧失它的光环,教育将回归到它的本来意义。人们来到学校,只是为了学习知识,不是为了得到一张文凭。

会有这一天吗?

我相信会有,而且在我们有生之年都会看到。

(完)

博主附原文:

pad



After Credentials

December 2008

A few months ago I read a New York Times article on South Korean cram schools that said
Admission to the right university can make or break an ambitious young South Korean.
A parent added:
"In our country, college entrance exams determine 70 to 80 percent of a person's future."
It was striking how old fashioned this sounded. And yet when I was in high school it wouldn't have seemed too far off as a description of the US. Which means things must have been changing here.

The course of people's lives in the US now seems to be determined less by credentials and more by performance than it was 25 years ago. Where you go to college still matters, but not like it used to.

What happened?

_____


Judging people by their academic credentials was in its time an advance. The practice seems to have begun in China, where starting in 587 candidates for the imperial civil service had to take an exam on classical literature. [1] It was also a test of wealth, because the knowledge it tested was so specialized that passing required years of expensive training. But though wealth was a necessary condition for passing, it was not a sufficient one. By the standards of the rest of the world in 587, the Chinese system was very enlightened. Europeans didn't introduce formal civil service exams till the nineteenth century, and even then they seem to have been influenced by the Chinese example.

Before credentials, government positions were obtained mainly by family influence, if not outright bribery. It was a great step forward to judge people by their performance on a test. But by no means a perfect solution. When you judge people that way, you tend to get cram schools—which they did in Ming China and nineteenth century England just as much as in present day South Korea.

What cram schools are, in effect, is leaks in a seal. The use of credentials was an attempt to seal off the direct transmission of power between generations, and cram schools represent that power finding holes in the seal. Cram schools turn wealth in one generation into credentials in the next.

It's hard to beat this phenomenon, because the schools adjust to suit whatever the tests measure. When the tests are narrow and predictable, you get cram schools on the classic model, like those that prepared candidates for Sandhurst (the British West Point) or the classes American students take now to improve their SAT scores. But as the tests get broader, the schools do too. Preparing a candidate for the Chinese imperial civil service exams took years, as prep school does today. But the raison d'etre of all these institutions has been the same: to beat the system. [2]

_____


History suggests that, all other things being equal, a society prospers in proportion to its ability to prevent parents from influencing their children's success directly. It's a fine thing for parents to help their children indirectly—for example, by helping them to become smarter or more disciplined, which then makes them more successful. The problem comes when parents use direct methods: when they are able to use their own wealth or power as a substitute for their children's qualities.

Parents will tend to do this when they can. Parents will die for their kids, so it's not surprising to find they'll also push their scruples to the limits for them. Especially if other parents are doing it.

Sealing off this force has a double advantage. Not only does a society get "the best man for the job," but parents' ambitions are diverted from direct methods to indirect ones—to actually trying to raise their kids well.

But we should expect it to be very hard to contain parents' efforts to obtain an unfair advantage for their kids. We're dealing with one of most powerful forces in human nature. We shouldn't expect naive solutions to work, any more than we'd expect naive solutions for keeping heroin out of a prison to work.

_____


The obvious way to solve the problem is to make credentials better. If the tests a society uses are currently hackable, we can study the way people beat them and try to plug the holes. You can use the cram schools to show you where most of the holes are. They also tell you when you're succeeding in fixing them: when cram schools become less popular.

A more general solution would be to push for increased transparency, especially at critical social bottlenecks like college admissions. In the US this process still shows many outward signs of corruption. For example, legacy admissions. The official story is that legacy status doesn't carry much weight, because all it does is break ties: applicants are bucketed by ability, and legacy status is only used to decide between the applicants in the bucket that straddles the cutoff. But what this means is that a university can make legacy status have as much or as little weight as they want, by adjusting the size of the bucket that straddles the cutoff.

By gradually chipping away at the abuse of credentials, you could probably make them more airtight. But what a long fight it would be. Especially when the institutions administering the tests don't really want them to be airtight.

_____


Fortunately there's a better way to prevent the direct transmission of power between generations. Instead of trying to make credentials harder to hack, we can also make them matter less.

Let's think about what credentials are for. What they are, functionally, is a way of predicting performance. If you could measure actual performance, you wouldn't need them.

So why did they even evolve? Why haven't we just been measuring actual performance? Think about where credentialism first appeared: in selecting candidates for large organizations. Individual performance is hard to measure in large organizations, and the harder performance is to measure, the more important it is to predict it. If an organization could immediately and cheaply measure the performance of recruits, they wouldn't need to examine their credentials. They could take everyone and keep just the good ones.

Large organizations can't do this. But a bunch of small organizations in a market can come close. A market takes every organization and keeps just the good ones. As organizations get smaller, this approaches taking every person and keeping just the good ones. So all other things being equal, a society consisting of more, smaller organizations will care less about credentials.

_____


That's what's been happening in the US. That's why those quotes from Korea sound so old fashioned. They're talking about an economy like America's a few decades ago, dominated by a few big companies. The route for the ambitious in that sort of environment is to join one and climb to the top. Credentials matter a lot then. In the culture of a large organization, an elite pedigree becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This doesn't work in small companies. Even if your colleagues were impressed by your credentials, they'd soon be parted from you if your performance didn't match, because the company would go out of business and the people would be dispersed.

In a world of small companies, performance is all anyone cares about. People hiring for a startup don't care whether you've even graduated from college, let alone which one. All they care about is what you can do. Which is in fact all that should matter, even in a large organization. The reason credentials have such prestige is that for so long the large organizations in a society tended to be the most powerful. But in the US at least they don't have the monopoly on power they once did, precisely because they can't measure (and thus reward) individual performance. Why spend twenty years climbing the corporate ladder when you can get rewarded directly by the market?

I realize I see a more exaggerated version of the change than most other people. As a partner at an early stage venture funding firm, I'm like a jumpmaster shoving people out of the old world of credentials and into the new one of performance. I'm an agent of the change I'm seeing. But I don't think I'm imagining it. It was not so easy 25 years ago for an ambitious person to choose to be judged directly by the market. You had to go through bosses, and they were influenced by where you'd been to college.

_____


What made it possible for small organizations to succeed in America? I'm still not entirely sure. Startups are certainly a large part of it. Small organizations can develop new ideas faster than large ones, and new ideas are increasingly valuable.

But I don't think startups account for all the shift from credentials to measurement. My friend Julian Weber told me that when he went to work for a New York law firm in the 1950s they paid associates far less than firms do today. Law firms then made no pretense of paying people according to the value of the work they'd done. Pay was based on seniority. The younger employees were paying their dues. They'd be rewarded later.

The same principle prevailed at industrial companies. When my father was working at Westinghouse in the 1970s, he had people working for him who made more than he did, because they'd been there longer.

Now companies increasingly have to pay employees market price for the work they do. One reason is that employees no longer trust companies to deliver deferred rewards: why work to accumulate deferred rewards at a company that might go bankrupt, or be taken over and have all its implicit obligations wiped out? The other is that some companies broke ranks and started to pay young employees large amounts. This was particularly true in consulting, law, and finance, where it led to the phenomenon of yuppies. The word is rarely used today because it's no longer surprising to see a 25 year old with money, but in 1985 the sight of a 25 year old professionalable to afford a new BMW was so novel that it called forth a new word.

The classic yuppie worked for a small organization. He didn't work for General Widget, but for the law firm that handled General Widget's acquisitions or the investment bank that floated their bond issues.

Startups and yuppies entered the American conceptual vocabulary roughly simultaneously in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I don't think there was a causal connection. Startups happened because technology started to change so fast that big companies could no longer keep a lid on the smaller ones. I don't think the rise of yuppies was inspired by it; it seems more as if there was a change in the social conventions (and perhaps the laws) governing the way big companies worked. But the two phenomena rapidly fused to produce a principle that now seems obvious: paying energetic young people market rates, and getting correspondingly high performance from them.

At about the same time the US economy rocketed out of the doldrums that had afflicted it for most of the 1970s. Was there a connection? I don't know enough to say, but it felt like it at the time. There was a lot of energy released.

_____


Countries worried about their competitiveness are right to be concerned about the number of startups started within them. But they would do even better to examine the underlying principle. Do they let energetic young people get paid market rate for the work they do? The young are the test, because when people aren't rewarded according to performance, they're invariably rewarded according to seniority instead.

All it takes is a few beachheads in your economy that pay for performance. Measurement spreads like heat. If one part of a society is better at measurement than others, it tends to push the others to do better. If people who are young but smart and driven can make more by starting their own companies than by working for existing ones, the existing companies are forced to pay more to keep them. So market rates gradually permeate every organization, even the government. [3]

The measurement of performance will tend to push even the organizations issuing credentials into line. When we were kids I used to annoy my sister by ordering her to do things I knew she was about to do anyway. As credentials are superseded by performance, a similar role is the best former gatekeepers can hope for. Once credential granting institutions are no longer in the self-fullfilling prophecy business, they'll have to work harder to predict the future.

_____


Credentials are a step beyond bribery and influence. But they're not the final step. There's an even better way to block the transmission of power between generations: to encourage the trend toward an economy made of more, smaller units. Then you can measure what credentials merely predict.

No one likes the transmission of power between generations—not the left or the right. But the market forces favored by the right turn out to be a better way of preventing it than the credentials the left are forced to fall back on.

The era of credentials began to end when the power of large organizations peaked in the late twentieth century. Now we seem to be entering a new era based on measurement. The reason the new model has advanced so rapidly is that it works so much better. It shows no sign of slowing.









Notes

[1] Miyazaki, Ichisada (Conrad Schirokauer trans.), China's Examination Hell: The Civil Service Examinations of Imperial China, Yale University Press, 1981.

Scribes in ancient Egypt took exams, but they were more the type of proficiency test any apprentice might have to pass.

[2] When I say the raison d'etre of prep schools is to get kids into better colleges, I mean this in the narrowest sense. I'm not saying that's all prep schools do, just that if they had zero effect on college admissions there would be far less demand for them.

[3] Progressive tax rates will tend to damp this effect, however, by decreasing the difference between good and bad measurers.

Thanks to Trevor Blackwell, Sarah Harlin, Jessica Livingston, and David Sloo for reading drafts of this.

 Comment on this essay.





 

 



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