Sunday, May 8, 2011

Universities in Decline

Clearly, something is wrong with the American university system. Those who have found a professional home there are concerned.

Recently, William Deresiewicz wrote what appears to be a magnum opus on the subject, reviewing all the recent literature on the subject. Link here.

Given that his article appears in The Nation, I expected to find the usual leftist boilerplate about how the current state of academia reflects the degradations of American capitalism and free enterprise.

I was not disappointed: “What we have in academia, in other words, is a microcosm of the American economy as a whole: a self-enriching aristocracy, a swelling and increasingly immiserated proletariat, and a shrinking middle class. The same devil’s bargain stabilizes the system: the middle, or at least the upper middle, the tenured professoriate, is allowed to retain its prerogatives—its comfortable compensation packages, its workplace autonomy and its job security—in return for acquiescing to the exploitation of the bottom by the top, and indirectly, the betrayal of the future of the entire enterprise.”

Deresiewicz declaims against everyone but those who are actually teaching the Humanities. Which tells you where the real fault lies.

He fails to notice the universities have functioned as liberal fiefdoms, places where no outsider has been allowed to influence the way courses are taught or institutions administered.

If the states are considered to be the laboratories for democracy, why not consider American universities to be laboratories for liberal policies?

Deresiewicz is especially concerned with the decline of the Humanities. More and more students are taking courses in practical subjects, like engineering and finance. Fewer and fewer students are signing up for literature courses.

He insists that we need the Humanities to become better citizens. And yet, how many of those courses teach students to trash the nation, its traditions, and its heroes. And how many Humanities professors have made it their life mission to indoctrinate their students in the most fashionable politically correct thinking.

In his words: “Yet the liberal arts, as we know, are dying. All the political and parental pressure is pushing in the other direction, toward the ‘practical,’ narrowly conceived: the instrumental, the utilitarian, the immediately negotiable. Colleges and universities are moving away from the liberal arts toward professional, technical and vocational training.

“A liberal arts education creates citizens: people who can think broadly and critically about themselves and the world.”

I note that Deresiewicz seems to suggest that education will make students into better citizens of the world. He does not make a connection between citizenship and national identity.

And he does not seem to understand that citizenship involves taking pride in your country’s achievements, feeling loyal to its traditions. Critical thinking, the kind that politically correct professors teach, finds fault with America and often encourages disloyalty.

Deresiewicz seems to be perturbed by the possibility that parents, students, and taxpayers have a say in the process. He is perturbed by free people making free choices in a free market.He does not say who he wants to empower, but clearly, he is recommending that people like him should be making the decisions about who studies what.

It doesn’t matter whether the students want to study this or that subject. Universities should force students to take the courses that the universities consider to be in the best interest of the universities. Taxpayers should be forced to fund them and parents should be forced to pay for them.

Doesn’t this feel a bit like what happens when a labor union sets down work rules? It doesn’t matter whether the rules promote efficiency or enterprise. It doesn’t matter whether the workers are adding enough value to the company to justify their salaries and time off.

Deresiewicz sees humanists engaged in the pursuit of  knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Either he has chosen to blind himself to what is going on in Humanities departments or he is employing a cheap rhetorical trick.

Take an example of what is being taught in California middle schools, imposed by the California regents.

According to Caitlyn Flanagan, her thirteen year old sons are being not really being taught American history. They are being trained to become political activists. Link here.

In her words: “Such a fine generation of young Americans—it's too bad that they are being systematically robbed of the great national story that is their birthright. Here in California, history classes are now required by law to include the contributions to the state and nation that have been made by Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, European Americans and persons with disabilities. Soon to be added to this list—provided that Senate Bill 48, which just passed in Sacramento, becomes state law—are the contributions of ‘gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Americans.’"

Ostensibly, history is being rewritten because administrators have decided that certain children are bullied in school because the curriculum has overemphasized the influence of straight white males, and ignored the contributions of everyone else.

This is naïve beyond reason. It functions as a convenient rationalization for a larger agenda, which is, to indoctrinate young people in politically correct thinking.

Middle school students are a captive audience. They can be force fed any ideology the school board or the Regents decides it wants them to have. Given the power that teachers can exercise, pupils have every interest in thinking the way their teachers want them to think.

Some teachers are selfless disseminators of pure knowledge, but no small number of them have long since forgotten that ideal.

And that means, Humanities departments are hard at work teaching students to be the kinds of people you do not want to hire. Perhaps it is a way of undermining capitalism and free enterprise, but young people who are trained to be activists look to companies like incipient troublemakers.

While the education establishment has the power to do what it pleases within school walls, the outside world, in the person of hiring officers, also has a say. And recently it has been saying that it does not want to hire young people who have been indoctrinated by so-called Humanists.

The older children become, the less power teachers have. Once children reach college age, and once their parents are forced to pony up tuition, they start asking themselves why they should be paying good money to have their children taught leftist ideology.

Learning to think critically, a hallmark of every leftist defense of the humanities, makes young people incapable of organizing projects, of working as part of a team, and of actually constructing something.

Being able to identify flaws does not tell you anything about how to make things run well.

If you are in college and want to have a career once you have graduated, you would do better to study engineering than classics. Not because classics are not useful, but because you run the risk of having your classics professors use their power to indoctrinate you in their ideology, Homer and Aristotle be damned.

It isn’t surprising that companies prefer hiring engineering students over literature majors. If academics want to know how this situation came to pass, the reason lies in the way they themselves have been teaching their subjects.

In my view, college students are voting against the Humanities because they prefer to major in subjects  that involve numbers. They know that they have a better chance to learn about reality if there are quantifiable entities in play. And they know that reality testing will give them a better chance of being judged according to the quality of their work rather than the correctness of their thought.

Deresiewicz does offer a standard plaint about how the California university system is horribly underfunded, but he should have looked at how the kinds of policies he and his friends at the Nation have supported, the ones that have dominated California governance, have bankrupted the state, to the point where it can no longer support its wondrous university system.

(Victor Davis Hanson has an excellent article on how liberal politics has produced an economic depression in California today.) Link here.

If Deresiewicz is capable of self-criticism that would be a good place to start

It would be nice to see academics and former academics take some responsibility for the system that they created.


Dennis said...

When one spends most of their time criticizing others then there is little time left to improve one's self or the problems that are extant. After all that criticism the problems still exist.
If one considers that going to a college or university is supposed to provide one with the tools to solve problems them the Humanities, as current taught, are not accomplishing that mandate. Critical thinking sans constructive solutions is worthless.
There does come a time when one can only debase the culture and country of origin for most students before even students will rebel because there is too much information that demonstrates the opposite. When they look at themselves, their friends, parents and others they have dealt with do they see the evil that they are supposed to be responsible?
Education is a tool and tools can either be used to tear down or to build. It does appear that the Humanities have turned into the makers of tools to tear down that which exist for something that has no substance vice building upon the solid foundation provided by those who came before us.
Anyone who has taken Humanities courses since the time of the Left's takeover of academe knows that one walks out feeling a sense of dismay at the drivel that is foisted upon students. It engenders a profound disrespect for supposed educated people who have such little regard for the culture and systems that made their lives possible.

David Foster said...

"Deresiewicz sees humanists engaged in the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge"

This is no more true for the humanities than for theoretical mathematics or theoretical physics--arguably, often less-true, as so many humanities departments/disciplines have turned themselves into "social studies", in the 8th-grade sense of the term.

viji said...
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