Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Brandon on the State of Liberal Education

Speaking of college, Brandon has an outstanding post over at Siris entitled "The Unservile Arts":
An interesting article by Andrew Delbanco on the endangerment of liberal arts in the college context. It really does seem that liberal arts at the college level is in very bad straits. In any case, just some random thoughts on the subject:

(1) College is an extraordinarily inefficient way to teach workers what they need in order to work. The best way to teach workers what they need to do is to give them on-the-job training, or to make use of a workshop-and-licensing system. Sending someone to college so that they will be a more productive filer of papers is truly absurd; and right now the only thing that a college degree really signals to most businesses is that you can stick with something for a few years.

Likewise, you don't get a competitive and productive workforce by sending them to school; you get a competitive and productive workforce by making it worth the time and effort it takes to work competitively and productively, and by giving them the resources required to do so. We do, in fact, do this, in part by putting an immense amount of pressure on people to get things that most people can only get by being good workers; and school does, in fact, contribute directly to this by teaching people to sit at desks and do work, and the like, but this direct contribution is minor. Education mostly contributes indirectly, by turning out people who can do things and make things that make other people more competitive and productive.

Everyone should remember the Gilbert & Sullivan song about the modern major-general, which was making precisely this point.

(2) Our current system of higher education has all the features typically associated with an educational system on the verge of breakdown....[Continue Reading]
No, really, go read it. This is one of those posts where quoting the entire thing is nearly irresistible.


Brandon said...

Thanks! They are somewhat random thoughts of very mixed quality, but, allowing for some snark in the way things are stated, I do think they are essentially right. It just struck me after I read the article what it is that has really always bugged me about attempts to hold education to a purely instrumentalist standard, and the rant was on.

The Sojourner said...

To comment mainly on this post but a little on the last:

I have a bachelor's degree in primarily liberal arts (journalism and theology double-major, plus 32 credit hours of Great Books) which I don't plan on using in any kind of career way. My dream job is homeschooling kids and writing novels on the side. I definitely don't think my education is wasted. Possibly for that reason, I think college is presented in the wrong way to a lot of high school kids.

Meanwhile, my husband has the brains to get a few Ph.D.s if he wanted to, but he got bored freshman year at a 4-year university and eventually ended up at a 2-year technical college where he actually learned skills he needed for a job. (In computer science, so still pretty white-collar stuff.) I suppose you could blame his boredom on the system too; since so many people go to college who really need to go back to high school and learn remedial English and such, freshman level classes are almost painfully boring for the kids who are of a more intellectual bent. (That makes me sound like an unbearable snob, probably. I'm sorry.)

I've said before (and my husband has agreed with me) that I've half a mind to send my kids to a 2-year college at 16 so they have skills to get a job (even a blue-collar job; there's no shame in being a plumber and it'll never get outsourced) and THEN encourage them to go to college at 18 and major in philosophy or something else entirely impractical for the sole purpose of stretching their minds and growing as people. Of course, real live teenagers might not go for such a plan. I should probably have babies first and go from there.