Editor’s Note-Anti-Credentials

Editor’s Note-Anti-Credentials

What you know means much more than where you learned it.

A friend who teaches at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School met recently with someone who let on that he was a graduate of Harvard University. “I want to congratulate you,” my friend told his new acquaintance. “You’ve set a new record. Anyone I’ve ever met who has gone to Harvard has managed to let me know during our first conversation, but you are the first to have done so in less than two minutes.”

The techniques for dropping credentials into conversations can vary. Harvard grads often allude to something they did “when I was going to school in Boston,” inviting the question, “Which school?” More elaborately, they might say, “I had this professor at B-school, a guy named Michael Porter . . . .” Or they might belittle a rival Ivy League institution.

Like it or not—sometimes we like it, sometimes not—we all get labeled with our credentials. Sometimes we apply the labels ourselves, sometimes others do it for us. How often do you hear someone described—or introduced—with a job title or a reference to an accomplishment or family relationship?

And then there is Guy Mingo, high-school dropout—quite possibly the second-most-successful high-school dropout (after Ringo Starr) you can think of at this moment. You have seen his photograph on the cover of this issue, and you can read about him in our feature. I hope he will forgive that we have identified him in both places with an anti-credential, but if there is another U.S. resident without a high school diploma running a company as large as Marsden Holding LLC, we aren’t aware of it.

We are aware that the correlation between education and financial success is not absolute. Two issues from now, my associates and I will announce the induction of five Minnesota business leaders into the Minnesota Business Hall of Fame. At least four previous inductees—Minnesota’s most accomplished business leaders of all time—did not attend college. Others attended for only a year or two, or went to schools with reputations that were less than statewide.

There are, of course, many types of intelligence, including long- and short-term memory, the ability to reason verbally, skill in numeric logic, and the ability to discern spatial relationships. Psychologists may argue about whether the ability to grapple with complex, unquantifiable issues—what business executives and managers face in making decisions—constitutes one type of intelligence or many, but no one disputes that even the best schools are imperfect at testing for that ability. 

For every type of intelligence, there are many types of credentials. We read not long ago about a study concluding that the quality of the college one attended is a less reliable predictor of success than the quality of the best college to which one applied. (A possible explanation is that one’s reach at age 18 signifies more than one’s admission scores.)

Arthur Rolnick, the chief economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, recently spoke of the importance of pre-school preparedness as an indicator of academic success; kindergarten students who start behind their classmates, he said, seldom catch up.

In late March, the Miami-Dade County School Board in Florida voted to fire six teachers and accept the resignations of 26 others who claimed credit for continuing-education classes that they never took. A retired Miami-Dade teacher named William McCoggle admitted that he had sold the teachers certificates of completion for taking “courses” that required no homework, tests, or other academic work. Florida law requires public-school teachers to take the equivalent of six education credits every five years to maintain their teaching licenses.

McCoggle has agreed in a plea-bargain to serve two years in jail. Astonishingly, four of the nine school board members voted against firing or accepting the resignations of those teachers who had participated in the scam. Two of the board members were quoted in a news story as saying that it would be “disruptive” for the teachers to depart. The story did not say where the board members had gone to school.

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