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Scarecrow Syndrome

Scarecrow Syndrome is a culture-induced mental condition that attaches excessive importance to the possession of a college diploma. Sufferers imagine that only college graduates can be expected to speak grammatically or know about “highbrow” stuff like history or literature. They don’t seem to know  that anyone who has achieved a decent high school education–or has simply learned to read at an eighth grade level and use a dictionary–can acquire an advanced education without the expense of going to college.

Upon receiving a diploma, Scarecrow can suddenly recite a mathematical formula

WIZARD: Why, anybody can have a brain. That’s a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven’t got: a diploma. 

SCARECROW: The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side. Oh joy! Rapture! I got a brain! 

Scarecrow Syndrome is intensified by exposure to the American entertainment media, chiefly television sitcoms and crime dramas that ridicule characters who speak grammatically or use words that are not on the Ayres list of basic vocabulary.

Scarecrow Syndrome in adults is especially difficult to treat. The best remedy is prevention, beginning with infancy and early childhood education. Adults can be helped, but only if they don’t equate an ability to speak standard English with an elite ruling class with whom they fear to be identified.

Maeve Maddox believes that the world’s greatest invention is the alphabet and that people who know how to use it don’t need to go to college to enjoy the fruits of learning.

DISCLAIMER: Maeve Maddox is not against going to college. Indeed, she LOVES going to college.  What she is against is the unquestioned assumption that every high school graduate should go directly to college without passing GO.

As U. S. public education presently exists, not every high school graduate is prepared for college.  At least a third of entering freshmen require remediation in one or more high school subjects.  Of those who enter college directly from high school, 45% will fail to complete a degree. Yet every day the public is bombarded with the message that EVERY CHILD MUST GO TO COLLEGE!


A high school education is an achievable and affordable educational goal for all children. Thanks to tax support, high school tuition is free for every child to the age of 18. Instead of dumbing down college entrance requirements to enroll more unprepared/disadvantaged/marginalized students, why not smarten up high school? There’s no good reason our high schools couldn’t graduate young people who are either ready for the university, or already qualified to go to work as bank tellers, medical technicians, or the like. Costly post-secondary education should be reserved for instruction that can’t be offered in high school.

Scarecrow Syndrome leads people to believe that “a college degree” and “an education” are synonymous.  They are not.

A college degree is proof of attendance. Its  value varies according to the quality and prestige of the college that bestowed it, what the student actually learned in acquiring it, and what it’s worth in the job market. 

An education, on the other hand, is the accumulation of knowledge and understanding of the human condition. Its value exceeds practical considerations of earning power. An education exposes a person to the thinking of other times and other cultures, enriching the soul and providing entertainment and solace in moments of loneliness or sadness. Anyone who can read and is willing to explore unfamiliar ideas can acquire an education.