If Only We Had a More Credentialed World

If only we had a more credentialed world. Perhaps we could credential our way to a more orderly, safe, clean, and efficient society. I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately. Consider the possibilities.

Orchestra Credentials

I was at a performance the other day and had a chance to speak to someone in the orchestra. I asked him about how he ended up here and I was quite troubled by the fact that he is allowed to play in a respected city orchestra as a grown man, and he has absolutely no formal credentials. He didn’t even earn a college degree in music. If only we limited access to the orchestra by formal credentials. Perhaps we could set up a national (even better, international) entity that would devise formal standards and create a universal set of assessments that people had to pass to get their orchestra license. Only then would they be eligible to apply for a position in a local orchestra. There is little doubt that our music would be better, but even if that were not true, at least we would have more order than we do with this embarrassingly open concept of letting anyone try out. Who knows, they might even have some entirely self-taught people in there.

Professional Basketball Players

Then I went to an NBA game recently. Did you know that some NBA players do not even have their college degree? These guys can be incredibly credential-less people. We have this absurd system right now where any young boy with a dream can start playing in the local park, community league, or wherever. He can develop his skills apart from any true expert, any official or nationally norm-referenced set of agreed upon standards, and work his way into the NBA. Unless we want to fall head first into anarchy, we are wise to put an end to such disorder.

Startup Founders

On top of that, in my line of work, I interact with quite a few founders of startup companies, especially those in the education sector. This is a serious problem. We have people starting businesses who have never taken a business course, let alone earned at least a bachelor’s of business administration. Shouldn’t we at least set up an entity like the place where you go to get a driver’s license, but do it for a startup founder’s license? We can make it illegal to start a business unless you’ve passed the founder test. Then maybe we wouldn’t have so many abysmal failures in the startup space.

Parenting License

Let me finish with the most appalling of them all. Did you know that people do not have to take a single parenting course before they become parents in the United States? They don’t even need to prove that they are up on the most current peer-reviewed literature on parenting. We let literally anyone who is physically able have children! It is about time that we change the world by establishing a mandatory parenting license. If you can’t verify that you have the knowledge and skill, then we can make it illegal to have children. Imagine how we could improve the state of society with such a much-needed credential.

I can’t say it any better than Jack Westman in this article from the 1990s:

Licensing parents would lay the foundation for dramatically reducing the need for costly and ineffective governmental welfare and correctional programs. It would affirm parental responsibility for child-rearing and reduce the need for governmental involvement in families. It would increase the general level of competent parenting and positively affect generations to come.

Everything Else

While I just chose these four examples, credentials could improve most any aspect of life today. Consider the workplace. Before you can apply to work at a fast food restaurant, what if we set up certifications in each of the tasks involved with the job. The higher the score on the tests, the better your job prospects. We could add licenses, certifications and related credentials for lawn care, road work, and much more. Then maybe we could also finally establish some licenses for voting in elections as well. Do we really want uninformed people picking our next community, state, and national leaders? Credentials can fix these problem and many others.

Reality Check

I’m hoping that you’ve continued reading long enough to get here, where I want to make it abundantly clear that I was not serious about any of the items above. In fact, I’m increasingly concerned about the credentialization and over-standardization of the world. Credentials are certainly not the solution to every societal issue and, even if we had the data to support improved benefits of adding more credentials and licenses in an area, there are important (even critical) values and ethical considerations for us. Life is not just about efficiency, outcomes and optimal performance. Those must be kept in check as servants to a greater set of missions, visions, and values. This is true in society as a whole, government, the workplace and our schools. Credentials have a valuable role and place, but if we are not careful, they can draw us away from the things that matter most to us.

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About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, professor of education, Vice Provost of Curriculum and Academic Innovation, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), Adventures in Self-Directed Learning, and Digitized: Spiritual Implications of Technology. He is passionate about futures in education; educational innovation; and social entrepreneurship.