Friday, December 05, 2008

Going Downhill

A university education isn't the liberal arts expanse it used to be.

Over the last four decades, various philosophical and ideological strands united to contribute to the decline of classical education. A creeping vocationalism, for one, displaced much of the liberal arts curriculum in the crowded credit-hours of indebted students. Forfeiting classical learning in order to teach undergraduates a narrow skill (what the Greeks called a technĂȘ) was predicated on the shaky notion that undergraduate instruction in business or law would produce superior CEOs or lawyers—and would more successfully inculcate the arts of logic, reasoning, fact-based knowledge, and communication so necessary for professional success...

Political correctness, meanwhile, turned upside-down the old standard of inductive reasoning, the linchpin of the liberal arts. Students now were to accept preordained general principles—such as the pernicious legacy of European colonialism and imperialism and the pathologies of capitalism, homophobia, and sexism—and then deductively to demonstrate how such crimes manifested themselves in history, literature, and science. The university viewed itself as nearly alone in its responsibility for formulating progressive remedies for society’s ills. Society at large, government, the family, and religion were hopelessly reactionary.

There's much to be gained from a well-rounded education.


allen (in Michigan) said...

Trouble is, the relentlessly rising cost of higher education, fueled in no small measure by all the government subsidies the universities have assiduously pursued, is squeezing out considerations of a "well-rounded education" in favor of the more immediately and clearly remunerative technical skills.

That's the cause, I believe, of the "creeping vocationalism" the author decries.

Of course the various "studies" departments have contributed to the cost of running a college without contributing to the value of the education obtainable from the college, further inflating the cost of the degree. Fortunately, the political fervor that created the "studies" departments has subsided and they have been, from some things I've read, quietly folded into other departments. That's the politically expedient way to get rid of them but getting rid of them is what's occurring.

Can't happen fast enough to suit me though.

Ellen K said...

I've been concerned for awhile that we are expecting students to specialize in technical fields at much younger ages. What used to be a sophomore college decision is now being made by some students as early as sophomore year in high school. In addition, a university education was by definition supposed to offer the broadbased underpinnings of society by making students take a wide range of classes from literature and arts to sciences and math. Now we have students who have concentrated on science and math with the goal of majoring in some sort of engineering. That's not a bad thing, but if they cannot adequately communicate their ideas, relate them to what has been done historically and problem solve in creative, divergent ways, the end result will be mediocre droids producing middle of the road work. I have kids who are in AP Calc who do not know when the Magna Carta was signed or by whom. They don't recognize a DaVinci or a song by Beethoven. Such narrowminded approaches to life create narrow chains of knowledge.