The news which disturbed me the most from the education/work front this summer was this item from the New York Times: “Unpaid work, but they pay for the privilege”.

“..Growing numbers of new graduates — or, more often, their parents — are paying thousands of dollars to services that help them land internships.” One of the market leaders, the University of Dreams, offers “a guaranteed internship placement, eight weeks of summer housing, five meals a week, seminars and tours around New York City for $7,999.”

I can’t help concluding that this basically signals the death knell of the educational system as it exists today. If companies are so little in need of interns and so unmotivated to cultivate promising new talent that they will agree to accept payment allowing graduates to grace their water coolers for eight weeks, then the system is unravelling sooner than I had expected.

Back in Paris at the top of September, shopping for back to school supplies, I can’t escape the feeling that it is all wrong, that the filtering, the elitism, physical funnelling of our children into this trap which is leading nowhere ($8000 for an unpaid internship in 2009? What next? If working for free is now commoditized as a market good, then surely corporate serfdom can’t be far off…) is an enormous bad joke which will backfire in a decade or so when society begins to reorganize itself along post-peak-everything lines and our best and brightest have none of the skills appropropriate to the new set-up.

Blogger Jeff Vail has an interesting take on this – he dubs the coming organizational system “The Diagonal Economy”. “…More and more people will gradually realize that there the “plausible promise” once offered by the American nation-state is no longer plausible. A decent education and the willingness to work 40 hours a week will no longer provide the “Leave it to Beaver” quid pro quo of a comfortable suburban existence and a secure future for one’s children.

” People will, to varying degrees, recognize that they cannot rely on the cradle-to-cradle promise of lifetime employment by their nation state. Instead, they will realize that they are all entrepreneurs in at least three—and possibly many more—separate enterprises: one’s personal brand in interaction with the Legacy System (e.g. your conventional job), one’s localized self-sufficiency business (ranging from a back yard tomato plant to suburban homesteads and garage workshops), and one’s community entrepreneurship and network development. ”

Then I read about the ultra-rich building doomsday fortresses for themselves worldwide, and the idea that the second-tier of rich people will be needing consultants to help them do this: ie a rich business opportunity. This is worse than decadent, it’s end-of-civilization. And further strengthens the case for unschooling.