And then they go on strike
A member of the Limits household likes to say, “Opinions are like [anal orafices]. Everyone’s got one.” And so it seems to be in the United States when it comes to higher education and just what the university’s place in American life is. According to the consumers of the university’s services are concerned, the main product is supposed to be churning out “educated” people all ready and set for a career in…well, it doesn’t matter, just so long as it is useful.
Yeah, about that concept….
Last week, in the wake of the whole Mizzou blowup and all the #BlackLivesMatter claptrap that was really taking advantage of an unrelated situation, when this writer sat down with her source to get the straight skinny on what was happening, the source – by no means a leftist – said something rather interesting, “As far as I am concerned, the main product of the university is the research work done by the faculty.” Well, now, given that these same people are charged with teaching “useful” skills to a bunch of late teenagers and twenty-somethings, that is an interesting statement.
It seems that American culture is expecting one thing, and the reality is something completely different. American culture wants the university – a place with “universal” meaning all sides in its title – to reflect the practicality and pure utility that is at the heart of being an American. Marco Rubio encapsulated this mentality with the line at the last GOP debate that we need more welders and less philosophers. That got a lot of cheers from the conservatives among us, but for those who are multi-talented, we wanted to know why a person couldn’t be both.
For the people out on the fruited plain scratching their heads, the living epitome of this concept was an ancestor of this writer. By trade, this ancestor was an accomplished zinc smelter. This skill was so valued that this ancestor – and several other relatives – were imported labor from the Old Country a little over a hundred years ago. This ancestor was multi-lingual to the point that he could read an article in English and simultaneously translate it into his native tongue for the people sitting around the table. This man worked with his hands, and was wont to say, “How can these people say they are educated? They have not read the classics.” In HIS culture, it was not uncommon for the tradesmen to spend their days at work listening to a lector read to them. In that way, the education was passed on. These men, then, DID study philosophy right along side the proper color and texture for just done zinc. (Plato, Aristotle and a number of other Greeks were on the list of books read.)
In contrast, the other side of the family is loaded with engineers. They can build all sorts of stuff, but couldn’t care less about Hamlet’s problem or that the latest Shakespearean research is that he wrote in symbolic code to Catholics at the time getting word out as to what was going on within England’s government at the time.
Frustration in the United States with what the American university has become was expressed fairly clearly in an essay by Alan Moore published by MRCTV:
When the college system offers inane courses with no real purpose, it does young men and women a major disservice. Courses such as these accomplish nothing: “What if Harry Potter Is Real,” “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame,” “Invented Languages: Klingon and Beyond,” “Arguing with Judge Judy,” and “How To Watch Television.” When we tell students it is OK to waste their class time discussing Lady Gaga, Klingon, and Judge Judy – how can we expect them to be valuable contributors to society?
There is something to be said about having a few fun and easy classes to balance the workload of a difficult degree. But, what about majors? How many doors can you really open with a degree in Liberal Arts, LGBT studies, Puppetry, Sequential Art, Golf Management, Leisure Studies, Latin, or Comedic Arts? Aside from becoming a college professor that teaches one of those disciplines, there are not many recruiters looking for people with such educations.
Before outright saying that the most useful college class this writer ever took was “Latin and Greek Usage In The English Language” and that she aced billiards, there are some legitimate points made with this litany of questionable majors and fields of study, even if they are the result of one of the primary purposes of academia – research production. Outside of study and research, several of them just aren’t realistic in and of themselves. Golf management and puppetry actually have real world applications albeit limited in quantity. Leisure studies better come with a minor in statistics, because that’s all the researcher will be reporting.
The problem as this writer sees it sits between the “university” failing in its duty to deliver a rounded education to students (meaning the requirements of at least entry level calculus, philosophy, classical language and study, and basic writing skills among other 100 level classes that everyone should have for rounding purposes), and a misunderstanding of what “being educated” really is. When one is educated, one expands the mind and learns new things, a process that never ends and is best done beyond schooling with the liberal use of a library card and/or a few hours a week on the internet avoiding social media sites. That doesn’t necessarily mean having the skills to do a job. An educated person should know this.
Having the skills to do a job is a combination of innate ability that cannot be taught, and honing that ability with tools, again something that may not be on a college or trade school curriculum. Where the big problem in American education comes in is herding teenagers who do not know themselves or what their innate abilities are into siloed training programs meant to do nothing other that get them “a job” when they come out of the other end. If the ability isn’t there, it doesn’t matter where a student matriculates or what they study, it isn’t there. For Americans more familiar with the Oracle from The Matrix rather than the Oracle of Apollo or Delphi, “know thyself” no longer applies in seeking work, a job or fulfillment from endeavors for hire. Now, we’re getting degrees just to be able to get “a job.”
And that, more than grants given for studying fictional languages such as Klingon and Elvish, is the biggest problem in the American university. Unrealistic expectations are set up when the people study subjects just to be able to have “a job” that may or may not exist when they graduate with a piece of paper (the universities don’t even use vellum for undergraduate degrees anymore) that says a person spent a lot of money and a lot of time in the classroom. This writer has one of those. She got it while working full time in a completely different arena – library science. Who says educated people have to work in a single field their entire lives?
For an interesting take on why studying philosophy is not such a bad thing, R. E. Houser has an article on today’s American Thinker.
This writer actually began to pursue a degree in Voice Performance once. After engineering. Communications and Journalism ended up being more PRACTICAL, but without that voice degree, forget singing on any of the big stages and getting paid big money. No, there aren’t that many outlets for voice degrees, but there aren’t that many people who can sing Mozart’s Queen of the Night, either.