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April 07, 2009

Reinventing College

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Several times a year I get solicitations to donate to one alma mater or the other. And every time I get one I toss it in the waste basket.

It's easier for the University of Washington's pitch because a certain percentage of the sales tax I have to pay gets pipelined there, so I consider that I'm doing my bit for The Cause whether I want to or not. The matter of Dear Old Penn is more ambiguous because it's a private university (though a lot of state and federal dollars flow into it).

My problem is ideological. I read news items about what goes on at the universities and this is reinforced by the alumni magazines I receive. Most of what I see is left-wing, politically correct activities that I'm supposed to understand as being "academic" and worthy of my support. Since I am no longer a Lefty and never ever bought into political correctness, I figure that any donations I might make would help fuel the goals of my political enemies. So no sale.

All of which brings to mind the question of how present-day youth who don't want to have a significant part of their college classroom time subverted by unwanted political indoctrination can manage to become educated and land jobs that don't intrinsically require a college or university degree. (I'm thinking law, medicine and other fields that are vocationally oriented as opposed to jobs than can be held by general-purpose, liberal-artsy type majors. Engineering is not much at issue because its core is technical rather than political -- though political courses might intrude now and then.)

I recognize that there are private vocation-driven evening or part-time colleges that potentially offer a politics-free environment. I further recognize that many people, myself included, do a good deal of learning on their own following graduation. But jobs in bureaucracy-dominated organizations such as governments and perhaps some larger businesses specify credentials for their various job slots, and self-education and perhaps some evening colleges don't meet the stipulated standards.

Then there is the matter of accreditation. Suppose someone established a Right-leaning college (in practice, just as most colleges today are, in practice, left-leaning). The left-leaning academia probably dominates the accreditation bodies and therein lies the possibility that a de facto Righty college would be denied accreditation and thereby be shunned by potential students having limited time and money resources for getting their educational tickets punched.

Therefore, much as I would like to see a return to the largely a-political college environment I experienced many years ago, I see no easy way to circumvent the present situation. Students will have to run the risk of being brainwashed for the next few decades and I will have to hope that eventually the higher education system will correct itself -- though I'm not sure how.

Thoughts on the perceived (by me, anyway) politics infestation of colleges and universities and possible cures are welcome in Comments.



posted by Donald at April 7, 2009


Ive been trying to spread the idea on the right of "vocational colleges" for a couple of years, but it doesn't gain much traction.

The only way to defeat the left for those of us on the right is to DE-FUND the left of our tax money. As long as radical sociology, psychology, English, philosophy, and history professors are paid on our dime, they will continue indoctrinating kids through academic and social intimidation. They will also continue to demand that poor students are forced to take their classes even though they have nothing to do with their majors as electives so they can berate students who don't even want to be there and to psychologically bully them into "correct" opinons or fear the social reprecussions of not holding them. The collegiate left has been able to "invent" new disciplines like gender and ethnic studies departments as basically jobs programs for more radicals also.

My solution?........start schools that only give you the education in the subject you went there to get. Engineering classes for engineering students, chemistry classes for chemistry students, business classes for business students etc. All classes would be pertaining to the major or supportive of it (i.e. you need certain maths for an architecture or engineering degree, etc).

There would be NO English, NO lit (I mean really, you are supposed to be able to read and write when you graduate high school), no psychology, no sociology, no philosophy, no physical education, no history (learn it yourself, all you have to do is read!) and absolutely NO "studies" programs WHATSOEVER on these campuses. As much as possible would be done over the internet, but labs of course, need to be done in person.

There would be no sports teams, and as little attendant physical buildings as necessary to keep costs as absolutley low as possible so tuition could be cheap................and more importantly the kids could get in-and-out in as few years as possible (think 2 years for a BA, and maybe 3.5 for a masters). There is no need to attempt to provide for social "needs" of the students either. No meeting halls, student rec centers, any of that jazz. The most I'd provide would be some sort of excercise facility with plenty room therein so the kids could stay in shape and a decent cafeteria for the live-ins. Just a dorm room, a modest library, the buildings the classes are in, and thats about it. Kids can go to bars and the internet to meet other kids. Why in the world our universities waste so much money spending on such things as "student life centers" and meeting halls and special dining facilities is beyond just adds to the cost of tuition.

I doubt any conservative multi-millionaires will ever take up my idea its kind of a moot point. But if a few did and we had colleges like this in every state, I'd bet you'd be astounded at how many students would be very interested in getting a degree in about 2 years, the extra savings, the 'NO-PC-indoctrination', and the wonderfully apolitical environment afforded. The graduates could take tests against the graduates of traditional colleges (like the bar exam as an example) and clean their clock as evidence for accredidation purposes.

Some will assuredly find my ideas too spartan, especially not having "student life centers" and all of that jazz, but the idea is to get-em-in-and-get-em out so they can go out there in the real world as soon as possible, and not worry so much about having a "social life" in college. Thats not the point. The reason we submit to that notion is because we are at college too long now. Lots of full-time kids take 6-7 YEARS to get their masters and plenty take 5 full YEARS to get their undergrad degree, graduating with tons of debt and having taken about 4 history classes they didnn't need, 4 english classes they didn't need, a psychology class or 2, a philosophy class, about 4 physical education classes, a "studies" class or 2, a sociology class, and some physical science classes they may not have needed if their major didn't pertain to those...............about two years of wasted time and money for many when they just wanted to be a dentist, an electrical engineer, a banker, or whatever. Believe it or not, this favors two groups...............the rich whose parents can afford it, or the scholarshipped---who oft get scholarships these days based on gender or racial quotas. Who loses? lower and middle class white males with pretty good grades (but not good enough to get academic scholarships), who have to "work their way through" over several years, prolonging really "starting" their lives. I'd also have no sororities or fraternities allowed. No frat-houses, any of that stuff. Get in, and get out, and get started on their lives.

It'll never happen though. I think the things like "The University of Phoenix" are about as close as we will come to this----online stuff. Maybe that is for the better anyway.

Posted by: miles on April 7, 2009 10:45 PM

One problem with Miles's attempt at a solution is that it assumes college is college, and high school is high school. In modern America, college is high school, and high school is pablum. Today's graduates wouldn't meet the entrance requirements for their own schools in 1900, let alone 1800!

What critics like Miles often perceive as "fluff" is not-- it's remedial. Music, art, poetry, literature, history and, most of all, foreign language were once the core of education. But you learned them in your teens, or before-- not in your twenties.

(We're also implying that every student rebelled in the Sixties and early Seventies, but no students rebel in the Eighties, Nineties and Aughts. If this is true, it ought to be looked into before anything else!)

So here's my offering: set up these inexpensive, highly focused, in-and-out vocational programs, but with one important proviso: high entrance standards. (Pardon the doubly colonic sentence.) You get out of history and Latin because you've already mastered them.

You wouldn't even need new schools. There are plenty of moribund little colleges, many with church affiliations, that might be willing to host parallel programs in exchange for new blood and cash.

Posted by: Reg Cæsar on April 8, 2009 1:20 AM

Donald, as a professor, I am curious where this indoctrination idea originated for you. I hear this comment about the indoctrination of leftist politics in higher education all the time, but honestly have yet to witness it.

And "miles" they have the schools you are talking about, like the local vo-tech down the street. Some very wise folks before us determined that art, the humanities, and literature were important subjects for even your local doctor and bio-engineer to have a firm grasp on. Also, never assume that graduating high-school student read or write well. Most don't.

Posted by: Austin Barrow on April 8, 2009 7:12 AM


I'm a member of the PR corps at a large, public university in the South. I help produce media products probably similar to what you see from your alma mater. I've worked here 12 years.

My guess is that like my institution, yours is more politically diverse than you may imagine from the evidence of its press products. Remember that art (even hackwork promotional feature story writing) is done mostly by artists, who are mostly "lowercase l" liberals if not self-declared political lefties.

And if they aren't, their managers and editors and art directors in the university office of public relations probably are.

But there are exceptions, and if you look at the press products released by the business school or the office of research or the economic development/tech-transfer arms of your alma mater, you will likely see a paradigm reflected that is closer to your own view.

So my advice, as a member of the cash-strapped education sector, is that you donate specifically to those arms of the university that most appeal to you or most closely approximate your idea of the right role for the university. Administrators will take notice, I promise you that. And they will appreciate your support.

Posted by: Matt Mullenix on April 8, 2009 8:01 AM

I view the Obama phenomenon as being, in part, the upshot of the PC-focused college education that came into vogue in the late '80s and '90s.

By the way, cool comment, Miles. In my loonier moments, I've often thought the best thing that could happen to this country would be the abolition of the "college experience" as we know it.

Posted by: Ron on April 8, 2009 8:35 AM

I went to one of those for profit schools back when I first got out of college. Hardly a panacea. I really ought to blog about it someday.

Posted by: Spike Gomes on April 8, 2009 9:15 AM

College really does take too long now, bleeding you dry the whole way through.

I guess the incentives must be pretty good to keep students dangling along; you hardly ever get an academic advisor who tells you to quit fucking around and finish your program, right? "Well, education is never wasted!"

Really, though, I've always been told that "Your tuition only pays a fraction of the cost of educating you," so what gives? You'd think they'd be anxious to get your lardly behind out the door with a gown on!

Maybe it's just the federal and other funding they get for having X number of warm bodies on the roll.

Anyway, nah, I wouldn't send them a dime, either. There's so much blubber on these whales it's not even funny.

Posted by: omw on April 8, 2009 9:27 AM

Miles, to a degree, your idea was already put in practice. It was called M.I.T.

Completely focused on Engineering. Now, obviously, it needs to follow all of the basic accreditation rules that every other university must follow, but they originally were completely, 100% focused on "real" subjects and "real" learning.

CalTech too.

Posted by: Usually Lurking on April 8, 2009 9:34 AM

I've never understood the desire of so many to strip out vast chunks of education. If all elementary, middle, and high school is Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and college is just zeroed in on a single subject, you're missing out on a lot. It's one of the weirder aspects of private high schools in the South that parents send their kids there to learn *less* than they might in a public school.

There's also a major flaw in the type of school idealized by Miles above: good luck getting any significant percentage of women to attend. The free market would sort that out pretty quickly, as an 18-year old boy looks at his options. A rigid, mostly male institution with a narrow focus, or throngs of nubile young women suddenly beyond the reach of their parents? Hell, said boy might be willing to sit through a "worthless" art or history class to meet girls. And God forbid, he might actually learn something in the process.

Posted by: Sviluppo on April 8, 2009 10:39 AM

It's one of the weirder aspects of private high schools in the South that parents send their kids there to learn *less* than they might in a public school.

I seriously doubt that they are "learning less".

I went to a large suburban public high school that was probably like any other (and we "ranked" above average relative to the other suburban high schools in our very white county) and I can guarantee you that few of the kids learned much of anything.

They all took 2 or 3 years of Spanish (or French, or whatever) and could barely speak a lick.

Ask them to name some basic historic facts (i.e. In what decade did the Civil War take place? Revolutionary War? Was either Ben Franklin or Alexander Hamilton president? etc.) and they would be completely confused.

I know that I was not a great student, far from it. So I am not calling the kettle black here. But we were not getting a broad education. So few were learning anything at all.

Posted by: Usually Lurking on April 8, 2009 10:57 AM

The cure for the left-leaning (and often outright leftist) infestation of colleges and universities is going to have to be time, and the gradual societal recognition that leftism destroys a nation.

The West is in the process of a gigantic experiment with Leftism that has been gradually evolving for the last century. The core principle of leftism, egalitarianism, has been widely accepted as the highest value. Multiculturalism, the concern with racism and sexism, the homosexual rights movement - these are all varieties of egalitarianism. And the beliefs of the faculty of colleges and universities reflects the prevailing beliefs of the leaders and opinion-shapers of our societies.

This isn't going to change until there is a widespread realization on many levels that egalitarianism destroys a society. This may well not happen until society is actually destroyed. Or, to be more specific, it may not happen until the white Leftists who are the ones that have pushed the change on the West are destroyed by egalitarianism - when new non-white majorities push them to the sidelines and they find out firsthand, like the white liberal intellectuals in South Africa who have fled the country, that to adopt egalitarianism in an intrinsically Darwinian world ultimately means that you and your own people get conquered. The battle for the survival of the fittest does not stop just because a white liberal gets dewy-eyed over egalitarian ideals. Every society that adopts egalitarianism as its prime value destroys itself, from the French Revolution to the Russian Revolution to the U.S. public school system to the South African situation, and on and on.

So the universities won't change their political orientation until the great egalitarian experiment has been rejected by the society, or what is left of it by then. Then a new generation of tough, cynical, hardened people will have no time for egalitarian/leftist ideals that only result in their own destruction. And then the universities will evolve to reflect the new prevailing worldview/values of that time.

I hope those values will be what might be called traditionalist conservative values - small government, individual responsibility, sexual modesty, marriage and families, ethnic and cultural solidarity and homogeneity, a recognition of the differences between the sexes and between different sexual orientations, and a celebration of excellence rather than equality. But I fear they might just be authoritarian values.

Either way, my point is that I don't think we can affect the leftist political infestation of higher education without society changing as a whole, and I think that kind of change evolves on its own beyond the control of individuals.

Posted by: Mark on April 8, 2009 10:59 AM


Ive thought of one other "possibility" that wouldn't require any new small colleges to be built, and it could be "implemented" (isn't that a favorite word of mandarins of academia? :)), politically.

Simply force large state-schools to offer 2-year "associate" degrees in various subjects without uneccessary classes in the cirricula for those degrees on the existing campuses. A young woman can go to the University of Kentucky for instance, and get an accounting degree...............but a shorter course of study with *only* accounting/stat/business classes that she can finish in about two years before starting her career. She takes an accounting test upon completion of her degree just like the four-year grads would be required to take for comparison purposes. The degree she'd get would be "different", and prospective employers would know it. However, how many employers would WELCOME with open arms politically less-radicalized, less self-centered beings who just are anxious to start working and building their own lives through employment with their company instead of what they get churned out from the academy now? I think companies would be happy to hire them. We could use "fairness" and "concern-for-the-poor" as reasons to push for this change, as to put the university establishment on the defensive for not ALLOWING students to bypass all the PC-gunk, and just get 2-year degrees with accreditation, thus saving themselves a LOT of money and deb (and TIME, the stuff life is made of). Professors would then be paid according to how many students they actually taught, which would reduce the pay for a few liberals, which would just break my tiny-little-heart (actually, my heart is so small, that you would need atomic instruments to divide it, but that is another matter).

A 18 year-old boy does not need college to meet girls these days. That notion is laughable, especially to a young man with GAME. A young man with GAME can go to Wal-Mart and leave with a couple of phone numbers. 18 year-olds can get in bars now (although they can't drink). 18-year olds also have the internet, dating sites, myspace and facebook pages, et cetera. We dont need to "hook them up" like dog breeders with campuses anymore. They find each other just swell. Read Roissy sometime, or just ask Michael Blowhard.

Posted by: miles on April 8, 2009 12:06 PM

Professor Barrow,

Since you said you've never witnessed leftist indoctrination, where do you teach? Either we're in for some eye-rolling OR we'd be happy to know there are some colleges out there that don't engage in the process.

Posted by: Bill on April 8, 2009 12:51 PM

Donald- if you want to take action on this, it's quite simple. Save the money you'd've donated over the years and give it in one lump sum as an endowment for the Donald Pittenger Centre of Excellence in Curmudgeon Studies.

You make a good point, but I would like to think that most students figure out the left-right thing on their own through school and through being occupied with the day-to-day of it all. Throughout my undergrad, my school was intensely political - student union elections were decided according to positions on Palestine/Israel more than anything else - but for the most part, people seemed to still go to class, learn the techniques/content on offer, and move forward. See for an interesting take on this.

With that in mind, I'd beware claims of the politicization of universities/academia (from both left and right) as they can be frequently exaggerated in order to heighten the sense of threat, or to inflate the sense of achievement/consolidation of power.



Posted by: Desmond Bliek on April 8, 2009 1:09 PM

There are two reasons to expend time and money on college: 1)to satisfy intellectual curiosity, and 2)to get a professional ticket punched (nursing, accounting, medicine, theology, teaching, law).

Competitive for-profit vocational schools would live or die, based upon the competence of their graduates. Students interested in satisfying their intellectual curiosity could do this on their own dime, based upon their experienced satisfaction. Basically, I'm agreeing that the government and states should stop subsidizing post-high school education, just as I believe that preschools are fairly competitive because the government has thus far, stayed out. Parents shop for reputation and quality because they pay out of their own purse.

Posted by: jz on April 8, 2009 1:19 PM

I agree standards have dropped since the early 20th century, and this is because college, and education in general, was proposed as something everyone should have access to. I believe this is a good thing and has borne out good results in that things like literacy rates skyrocketed throughout the 20th century. But it had the counter-effect of diluting the curriculum.

Another factor in the declining standards of high schools/colleges was the increasing focus on the importance of children's feelings towards their own education, and towards things in general. Let's face it: kids are fucking stupid. It's not their fault, you're supposed to be fucking stupid until about the age of 20. But somewhere along the line, we as a society decided we should pay more attention to what young people have to say, including their thoughts on how they should be educated. The blind leading the blind.

On top of that, you have the increasing distrust in the US of intellectual pursuits, as illustrated by Miles' comment above. Parents who don't respect education raise kids who feel the same way.

As a former high school teacher, I worked with many highly motivated and dedicated teachers who stood in front of passive (at best) and hostile (at worst) students. The bulk of time and energy is spent cajoling kids to pay attention. This is 100% the fault of the parents who raised them, and our society who backs them up. If those kids leave high school having learned little to nothing, that is their fault, not the educators' fault. Here's an analogy: You go to the dentist, he cleans your teeth, gives you a lecture on flossing, tells you to stay away from sweets and sends you on your way. You don't heed his advice and a few months later you have a cavity. Do you blame the dentist?

If I were king, I'd propose a system akin to the English system, with quasi-vocational high schools for kids inclined towards the trades, arts high schools for those kids, etc.

Posted by: JV on April 8, 2009 1:20 PM

"There's also a major flaw in the type of school idealized by Miles above: good luck getting any significant percentage of women to attend."

Yes, as the women of Caltech say, "The odds are good but the goods are odd."

Posted by: CyndiF on April 8, 2009 1:28 PM

The fact that you think of people you disagree with as your "political enemies" is already kind of disturbing. Unless you actually hold political office or significant political power of some kind you probably don't really have political "enemies", you just disagree with lots of folks. Talking about political enemies sounds uncomfortably like Bolshevism. Most of the leftists aren't actuallly trying to hurt you, they're trying to help others. Yes, that help may come at your expense but usually that's a result of leftists not thinking through consequences rather than acting out of malice.

Posted by: vanya on April 8, 2009 2:12 PM

"Most of the leftists aren't actuallly trying to hurt you, they're trying to help others. Yes, that help may come at your expense but usually that's a result of leftists not thinking through consequences rather than acting out of malice."

If something comes at my expense, it hurts me. And malice? Who mentioned malice? Take a look at the 1st photo:

Posted by: Same Old on April 8, 2009 2:40 PM

I was just emailing a friend about high school experiences, and she wrote glowingly about her experiences in a Quebec-only type of school called CEGEP. These schools are for (I think) 17-19 year olds (?), and are scaled somewhat like high schools, but which teach university level courses. CEGEP is like a transition between HS and univ.

My friend was very bright but isolated in HS. Going to CEGEP was a revelation. It was there that she was exposed to high culture, deep thought, great art and short, a Liberal Arts education.

Maybe CEGEPs would be a good idea in other places than Quebec. Students would get a liberal arts education (which I think, for some reason, is better delivered in a small scale institution), only take two years to do it, and then go on to University (or not), where they could specialize in professional and/or research streams. CEGEPs seem better suited in timing, duration and scale to transmitting liberal arts to eager young minds (and the minds are eager...I believe CEGEP attendance is voluntary), and don't seem to have the same budget-busting qualities of the Enormous U's you have down there.

Posted by: PatrickH on April 8, 2009 2:42 PM

vanya: With all due respect, they are my enemies, political and otherwise.

When liberals start expressing admiration for dictators like Castro and Mao, when liberals start saying that us dumb yokels in the flyover states ought to be disenfranchised, they are quite bluntly my enemies.

Posted by: greg on April 8, 2009 7:07 PM

Here is a list of conservative colleges:

Hillsdale College -- Michigan
Grove City College -- Pennsylvania
Calvin College -- Michigan
Liberty University -- Virginia
Brigham Young University -- Utah
US Naval Academy
Texas A&M
Baylor University

Why not research them and if you find one that is particularly attractive to you -- support it?

Conservative simply means that they adhere to traditional hierarchical non-egalitarian values. You know, all that dead white male stuff.

Posted by: ricpic on April 8, 2009 8:02 PM

Patrick, I like your idea about a 2-year liberal arts education, then on to more vocational stuff. I'm a big believer that everyone benefits from some exposure to the "softer" stuff, regardless of eventual career choices.

Greg, who the hell are you talking about? I know plenty of liberals and not one of them thinks highly of Castro or Mao. Maybe some college-aged protesters and the odd hippie holdout, but I don't think you can characterize liberals as whole as liking those two historical characters.

Posted by: JV on April 8, 2009 8:51 PM

I am completely depressed by the number of students in colleges who absolutely do not belong there. If you do not eagerly attend your classes, if you are not thrilled to learn something new, why are you there? The money we are throwing away on so-called "higher" education is a national scandal. People who thirst for knowledge will find it. Those who do not will not.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on April 8, 2009 10:24 PM

I know plenty of liberals and not one of them thinks highly of Castro or Mao. Maybe some college-aged protesters and the odd hippie holdout, but I don't think you can characterize liberals as whole as liking those two historical characters.

Yes, many liberals do not admire Mao and Castro and Che and so on. But many do. Remember the photo taken in an Obama campaign headquarters where there was a flag with Che's picture on it hanging behind the receptionist? Or this news story from today:

Congressional Black Caucus Members Praise Castro:

"Lee and others heaped praise on Castro, calling him warm and receptive during their discussion."

“It was almost like listening to an old friend,” said Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Il.), adding that he found Castro’s home to be modest and Castro’s wife to be particularly hospitable.

“In my household I told Castro he is known as the ultimate survivor,” Rush said.

Richardson said Castro knew her name and district. "He looked right into my eyes and he said, 'How can we help? How can we help President Obama?'"

Posted by: Mark on April 8, 2009 10:58 PM

If you do not eagerly attend your classes, if you are not thrilled to learn something new, why are you there?

Charlton, you know why they are there. For the same reason that they went to High School...because someone told them that they had to.

It is one of the very few non-negative messages that is sent to kids these days. (Non-Negative: Don't Kill, Don't Rape, etc.)

YOU MUST GET AN EDUCATION. YOU MUST HAVE A DEGREE. [from some diploma factory]

Damn, even in my profession of Computer Programming where degrees don't really matter that much (you can either program in Java, SQL, AJAX, XML or you can't), every job posting will call for a degree.

That is why they go to college.

Posted by: Usually Lurking on April 9, 2009 9:33 AM

Charlton, I want to say one more thing about the kind of student you get when that student, basically, has to be there.

As a programmer, I have taken many classes after college related to programming, databases, design, (computer/server) architecture, etc. Those "students" were very different than the ones you get in college.

One, the teacher (with the students urging him on) covers as much material in the time allotted as possible. Because the students are looking to get there moneys-worth. Two, there is no degree or diploma involved. (Sometimes there are certifications involved, though) You are taking these classes because you either want to, or you need to accomplish something at work.

Actually, this also reminds me of this piece I saw about this guy in LA who gives classes on how to "pimp your ride" (i.e. Hydrolics, Stereos, Metal Shaping, etc). The waiting list was a few months and you should have seen the students. Most of them were between 21 and 35, tattoos everywhere, stylishly uncombed or shaved hair, the whole nine yards. And their attention and focus was amazing. Taking notes on everything and constantly asking questions. And, again, the teacher was looking to cover as much material as possible.

So, my point here is this: in this case the student actually NEEDS to learn the material. So, he chooses to give his money (or that of his employer) to the FOR-PROFIT teacher so that he can learn. Very different from attending grades 13-16 (i.e. College).

Posted by: Usually Lurking on April 9, 2009 10:10 AM

Going to college is a learning experience. Learning about: Art, Science, Language, Culture besides learning a vocation. No modern employer is seeking a limited one dimensional employee. They are looking for future employees who can draw from a wide range of subject matter in order to create new ideas in the workplace as the times demmand in order to keep that company/organization viable in today's ever changing world market. i.e. General Motors vs Microsoft.

Posted by: phil on April 9, 2009 10:17 AM

Some very wise folks before us determined that art, the humanities, and literature were important subjects for even your local doctor and bio-engineer to have a firm grasp on.

The false assumptions here are (a) that these subjects need to be taught in school at all, and (b) that these subjects need to be taught in college.

Libraries and the internet make "arts, the humanities, and literature" readily available to anyone who desires to seek them out. The fact is that many people are not going to seek them out, and should not be forced to waste their time in school learning things to which they are utterly indifferent and which do them no practical good.

It would not bother me one bit if my doctor knew nothing about art or literature. In fact, I want the guy to be obsessively interested in the practice of medicine, not distracted by humanities dreck.

If one asserts that some knowledge of arts, humanities, and literature is "important", then the place to convey this knowledge is HIGH SCHOOL. There is no case at all to make these subjects mandatory at the college level. Let those who want to seek them out in college, seek them out, and those who don't want to, go their own way. Needless to say all the humanities profs will resist this tooth and nail, because they know that if students didn't have to be there listening to their nonsense, they wouldn't be.

Another false assumption is that the purpose of education in this country is to impart knowledge. Aside from the fact that the education system does not, in fact, impart knowledge, it is clear that the true purpose of this country's education system is (a) to warehouse students and keep adolescent males off the streets, (b) to teach the attitudes and behaviors the elites wish the masses to have, and (c) to provide employment to a vast cadre of useless parasites.

Posted by: JP on April 9, 2009 10:47 AM

"Aside from the fact that the education system does not, in fact, impart knowledge, it is clear that the true purpose of this country's education system is (a) to warehouse students and keep adolescent males off the streets, (b) to teach the attitudes and behaviors the elites wish the masses to have, and (c) to provide employment to a vast cadre of useless parasites."

You are a god, JP.

Let's not forget that other unseemly reason colleges created the core curriculum that endlessly adds to requirements for graduation: 18 to 22 year olds taking 12 to 15 hours a semester while living on the dole are no competition in the workforce, a variation on a), I know but leads into my second point that a liberal arts education often leaves students unemployable without further study at the graduate level or having to take low wage, low skill jobs they could've gotten out of high school.

A potential compromise, however, that wouldn't interfere with studies while leading to a more civilized crop of graduates would be attendance at colloquia usually reserved for honors students. A once a week lecture or film followed with a brief student essay response would engage them in creative thinking outside a narrow discipline. Let's not forget the arts aren't the only source of fluff curriculum. I know I took BA variations on hard sciences that were a complete waste of time.

An aside, I remember horrifying my intro to art history instructor with the two projects I chose. philistine that I am, I discussed a very dark, shadowy representational oil painting of Hamlet who could've posed for the picture had he existed. That having gone over like a lead balloon with the instructor declaring me essentially left brained, I next chose to elaborate on my feelings about the lighter, more pastel impressionist art: it makes me happy! I got no comments on this effort.


Posted by: lynx on April 9, 2009 11:53 AM

Since I was introduced to the concept of Stuff White People Like my perspective on the general goal of the College/University system in the United States has changed. Almost universally, the idea isn't to indoctrinate students into Liberalism but rather SWPL-ism.

Posted by: JT on April 9, 2009 11:56 AM

Donald, you never quite go into what kinds of leftist activity you so deplore. For example, I highly doubt anyone admires Mao there (especially if they are seeking tenure). Maybe that was true at the college you attended a while ago, probably not now.

If your complaint is that academics tend to have fads and a certain ideological conformity exists among their disciplines, no argument from me on that.

i fear though that if an institution set forth certain requirements ("no feminist faculty" "no African studies professor", "no Marxist sympathizers" "mandatory Bible classes") you might end up with a very boring class body and faculty. I once taught at a university in Eastern Europe where bringing up anything political was forbidden. It definitely had a chilling effect on students (and actually, it had the opposite effect of radicalizing students). My students started a national protest against the government which ended up bringing the central government down, albeit indirectly. I wrote about it in my East European Experiments essay ). As it happens, those political protests were initiated by the business and economic majors, were measured and extremely effective--to the benefit of the country.

Here's a rather amazing anecdote. Even though I graduated in 1988, I discovered that I had the same teacher as Andy Rooney did in 1940!. He wrote about taking a class with this left-wing bona-fide quaker/pacifist , and even though he didn't agree with this teacher at the time(especially because he went to war a year later), he found the contact with him very valuable. Perhaps you are underestimating the benefits of coming in contact with teachers with radical viewpoints. A lot of what passes as radical one decade seems pretty conventional in the next.

Finally, do you know what's going on at 4 year institutions these days? Tuition is extremely expensive, and 2 year colleges are really where the typical student is going anyway.

As a liberal-artsy, I am happy with my background. But if I had to make my educational choices today, I doubt i would choose something so hoity-toity (especially if I have to pay students loans for these classes). I suspect the typical student and family is reluctant to pay for liberal arts classes anymore. That is sad.

Posted by: Robert Nagle on April 9, 2009 8:59 PM

Of course, the original purpose of higher education was to teach Latin, Greek, theology, and the seven liberal arts, some of which were really sciences, I admit (the full list is grammar, rhetoric, logic, geometry, arithmetic, music, and astronomy), but from a theoretical rather practical standpoint. Prefer sciences if you like, but know the history of what you're talking about.

Posted by: James Kabala on April 9, 2009 10:03 PM

If you haven't already seen it, I'd recommend renting "Indoctrinate U," about the intellectual climate on campuses today.

Posted by: Tom Naughton on April 10, 2009 3:07 AM

Just one other thing. The logical implications of your argument is discontinuing universities altogether. I actually am comfortable with that...provided that there is an established network of informal learning networks in that person's city to support his cultivation of skills and interests. Nowadays, this is becoming more and more possible.

The problem with this idea is that institutions won't be able to underwrite research in academic fields like history, literature (which I suppose you would argue is a good thing). Under that scenario, I imagine state and federal governments would need to widen public support for this kind of scholarship.

But practically speaking, the kind of university you are decrying is in its death throes. Community/vocational colleges are booming because that's the only thing middle class families can afford anymore.

Posted by: Robert Nagle on April 10, 2009 9:42 AM

Actually, I mistakenly left out two other fields at the medieval university: law and (more importantly for the purposes of this discission) medicine. So there clearly was some science component from the beginning, but the idea that the liberal arts are the interlopers is completely ahistorical.

On the subject of leftist indoctrination, I think there is a difference between professors who are on the left and allow that to influence their teaching and "indoctrination" in the sense of making lectures structured around a series of politcal talking points. The former is common, the latter much less so.

Posted by: James Kabala on April 10, 2009 10:16 AM

The problem with this idea is that institutions won't be able to underwrite research in academic fields like history, literature (which I suppose you would argue is a good thing).

Yes, it would be a good thing. Most academic history and literary analysis is utter drivel. Good history can be (and is) written by non-academic historians for a wide public audience. 99% of academic historians and English professors should be taken out and shot, and if they were, there wouldn't be the slightest diminution in the American public's understanding of history or literature.

Posted by: Lugo on April 10, 2009 11:01 AM

"Actually, I mistakenly left out two other fields at the medieval university: law and (more importantly for the purposes of this discission) medicine. So there clearly was some science component from the beginning, but the idea that the liberal arts are the interlopers is completely ahistorical."

No, you were right the first time. There was no science component in the medieval universities as we currently understand science today. Astronomy, for example, was devoted to teaching Aristotle and Ptolemy and when later scientists like Copernicus and Galileo began work, their greatest critics were university scholars.

Posted by: CyndiF on April 10, 2009 11:33 AM

i fear though that if an institution set forth certain requirements ("no feminist faculty" "no African studies professor", "no Marxist sympathizers" "mandatory Bible classes") you might end up with a very boring class body and faculty.

College should not be an entertainment center.
Nothing wrong with "boring", it is a good preparation for 90% of jobs graduates are going to get.

Some of the students just may be excited by the subjects themselves. Just ask Caltech boys.

My understanding is that Asian colleges are exactly that, boring faculty, students and faculty. Didn't hurt Japanese and S Koreans much.

German and German-like systems (like xUSSR colleges) are somewhat boring, no big loss for their graduates.

Posted by: Mick on April 10, 2009 12:43 PM

Your biggest problem is that employers don't provide enough rewards for the graduates of top technical programs. Why? Because if they did it would solve the problem easily.

Already, the least fluffy programs are tough, technical schools with heavy core requirements. [Think Caltech, MIT, Olin, Harvey Mudd, and to a lesser extent, U of Chicago]. Focusing on minimal technical competence for all students tends to squeeze the amount of PC babbling down to a much lower level. But what happens when students at those schools gets a B or lower? The job market punishes them!

This is crazy. Why should a C student in Physics at Caltech/MIT be considered less qualified than an A student in Sociological Women's Ethnicity at Ivy X? But that's what the job market rewards.

My solution: A good tech education with tough standards, but with grade inflation. That is, make it just as hard to graduate, but then give all grads A's. Employers will then know that these kids are first rate technically, but the bottom half of the class will not be penalized since "everyone" will be above average.

You could substitute economics and rational choice political science for liberal arts majors if you want rigor for those who want to do less math and go to law school.

But basically a liberal arts school geared to revolve around tech subjects, econ or polisci and just a smattering of basic English or foreign languages would be much, much freer of PC in the real world than most colleges, while not suffering the disdain and frontal attacks that a "right leaning" school would invite.

Posted by: Not Gandhi on April 10, 2009 1:24 PM

Christ, most of you seem to want to strip out the spice of life and subsist on a utilitarian basis. That's fine by me, just don't expect that from everyone. Nothing more boring than hyper-focused specialist. Sure, he may do good work in the lab, but that's not all there is to life.

A well-rounded and rigorous liberal arts education gives students some historical perspective, which I believe is highly valuable no matter what field you intend to enter. I'll agree that the rigor of most curricula has been diluted for any number of reasons, but that is no cause to eliminate the humanities entirely.

And anyway, the decline of American universities is, I think, a falsehood. Where do students worldwide travel to for a top-notch education? The United States, of course. We still have the best educational system on the planet, at the university level, particularly in the sciences.

Posted by: JV on April 10, 2009 1:26 PM

Not Gandhi, I graduated from Harvey Mudd, and I have yet to meet an employer who gives a damn what my gpa was.

JV, your mistake is to think that one needs to PAY ridiculously high college fees per credit hour to become "well rounded" and have "historical perspective". Any motivated student with a reading list and access to a library can obtain the same result FOR FREE.

I'm an engineer, and liberal arts has no value to me at all in daily life. None whatsoever. I read history books in my spare time because I enjoy it, but its market value to me, at work, is zero.

A lot of "elite" US universities are now selling their reputations rather than actual academic excellence. Prestige is fine, if you want to pay for it. You can get the same education (and probably even a better one) a lot cheaper elsewhere.

Posted by: MH on April 10, 2009 9:04 PM

"Any motivated student with a reading list and access to a library can obtain the same result FOR FREE."

I disagree. During my college years, which were done furtively while working full time and helping support a young son and wife, I learned a hell of a lot from some of my profs, and was exposed to sources I may or may not have found eventually on my own. The structure of a classroom, the discussions that occur and the feedback of both profs and classmates, is an invaluable experience that cannot be duplicated via self-learning. Which I'm all for, btw, I haven't stopped learning since graduating. But to think we can get everything we need to know all by ourselves I think is misguided.

I agree you don't have to shell out tons of money to get a good education. State schools are chock full of great teachers. And anyway, if you don't want to take humanities classes, you don't have to for the most part.

Posted by: JV on April 10, 2009 9:26 PM

A well-rounded and rigorous liberal arts education

That's the problem; getting a well rounded liberal arts education. Fix that up and everything will be fine.

Posted by: slumlord on April 11, 2009 4:39 AM

The question is whether that prof's help and the classroom interaction is worth the money. Full time, in residence attendance can be $40,000 to $50,000 a year, and if you take ten classes per year, that's $4000 or $5000 per class. Maybe that makes a humanities class worth it to you, but not to me, that's for sure.

Posted by: MH on April 11, 2009 9:40 AM

What we need:

1) Separate lectures from testing. Be able to get yourself tested and certified on a subject without attending classes.

2) Online lectures for all the major subjects, the objective subjects especially.

These measures would cut costs, greatly increase convenience, and allow one to filter out and avoid ideologues.

Posted by: Randall Parker on April 12, 2009 1:50 PM

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