The Truth about College (as I See It)

Further to the Z Man’s post generally, and Sauron’s Lazy Eye’s comments starting here specifically, some thoughts about modern American “college” “””education.”””

First — sigh — some disclaimers (I hate this modern “as a ___” confessional style of writing, but it’s necessary here).  I don’t have tenure.  I’m not even on the tenure track.  In fact, academia isn’t my main gig — I have all the paper qualifications a “real” professor has, but I’m strictly a part-timer on my off hours from my real job.  So I’m hardly deep in the belly of the beast, unlike Sauron’s Lazy Eye, who is in the Majors for real (and who seems like a really nice guy, based on e-interactions).  But I’ve taught at, or been taught in, every level of the American university system, from the Ivy League to Football U. to Private Liberal Arts College ™ to Community College.  Anecdotes aren’t data, of course, but I’ve got lots of anecdotes.

It’s true, as Sauron says (though not quite as hyperbolically), that college has always been more “a holding tank for rich twits’ rambunctious kids” than “a place of serious study.”  By the 1600s, certainly, the old Scholastic curriculum was widely ridiculed as useless, angels-on-pinheads stuff (that’s where the phrase comes from, I believe) — read Hobbes if you want some really top-shelf invective against “Schoolmen” and their musty old pointless hidebound junk.

BUT — and this is the important part — colleges back then were intended to, and did, produce the next generation of the Elite.  Only three types of people went to college back when:

  • The sons of the aristocracy, who needed a literal “safe space” to sow their wild oats before becoming the actual aristocracy;
  • The sons of the nouveaux riches, who needed to hobnob with aristocrats’ kids to learn how to be just plain riche; and
  • Very intelligent, very ambitious commoners’ sons on the make.

The first two groups were already the elite; they just needed to learn to act like it, either by blowing off steam for a few years, or by making contacts and learning the social rules of the game (or both). The third group was being actively co-opted into the Elite.  That’s how Hobbes got his university education, for instance — if you’re the Elite, you want a guy like Hobbes on your side.  Imagine the damage he could’ve done, had he thrown in his lot with the Roundheads!

As recently as the 1950s, college worked like this in America, too.  Originally founded to train ministers back when ministers were the Elite, places like Harvard and Yale had rigorous enough academics, but their real function was the transmission of Elite standards of behavior and outlook.  That’s why they cooked up the SAT back in the days — a modern economy needs math to run*; guys like Slade Jackington van Pelt VI can’t count past ten without pulling off a sock; therefore the guys who can do math must be co-opted wholesale.  A Harvard diploma, then, meant less “this is a well-educated individual” (though it often also meant that), and more “this guy is a Friend of Ours,” Mafia-style.** He may not know just why it’s so important to be able to read Kant in the original Greek, but he knows Kant’s a part of Western Civilization, and he knows — and, crucially, likes — Western Civilization.

Modern college, needless to say, does NOT work like that.

john-belushi-animal-house-painted-coolers

I have yet to meet a professor, grad student, or administrator who could actually tell me what the point of a college education is.  Yeah yeah, we’re all required to memorize the canned answer (“it creates the informed citizenry that is vital to the maintenance of a democracy”), but the only information the citizenry get from their time on campus is that democracy is nothing but a system of oppression designed by the Pale Penis People.  Or the other canned answer (“to give students a broad overview of Western Civilization”), but ditto.  The Elite, in other words, spend all their time telling the Aspiring Elite that Elitism is the source of all the world’s ills.

This is, in real world terms, like ExxonMobil making Lenin their CEO.

The truth is, college today is a giant racket.  They’ll happily take your money, as it provides sinecures for the Diversity they love to interact with act cocktail parties (and absolutely nowhere else).  But as for actually teaching the Liberal Arts as they’re traditionally understood?  Fuhgettaboudit.  Short of wearing a MAGA hat in the faculty lounge, the fastest way to get fired from a modern university is suggesting that someone like Kant might be worth reading.

Can it be fixed?  I really truly madly deeply doubt it.  Even if you fired every egghead from Berkeley to Boston and replaced them with the Z Man’s readership, you’d still have to deal with a studentry educated in American grade schools, raised by American parents and/or (usually or) the American internet.  As I said over at Z Man’s, kooky California classes on pop culture fluff aren’t just political.  In my experience, vast swathes of college students — I’m increasingly coming to believe it’s the actual numerical majority of college students — can’t write a coherent sentence, can’t tell you the century in which the Civil War was fought, can’t find Great Britain on a map, can’t read a text more complex than a tweet.  Moreover, they don’t know that they don’t know this stuff, and not only don’t they care they don’t know it, they actually get offended at the notion that they should care.  If they don’t already know it, it is by definition not worth knowing….

And that’s why you get classes like “The Epistemology of Game of Thrones.”  At least they’ll do the fucking homework… maybe… if it’s not dollar beer night down at the student union and there’s nothing better on tv.  Dumb it down far enough, and you can in good conscience (in the loosest sense of that term) give them the As which are their birthright, that their parents have paid for, and that they — and their parents!! — will gripe all the way up to the Dean’s very doorstep if they don’t get.  The customer is always right, after all.

 

 

 

*N.b. Hobbes always considered himself first and foremost a mathematician.

**Which also explains why the Ivies were so wishy-washy about Jews.  Jews tend to ace the SAT, but can Abe Goldstein ever truly be a “Harvard man” the way Slade Jackington van Pelt VI is?

 

15 thoughts on “The Truth about College (as I See It)

  1. I read Zman’s post as well. So much about the college experience is patently absurd and has not yet reached maximum absurdity. Although it is getting close. What I find different today about college from 90 years ago is that Liberal Arts degrees weren’t toilet paper then. You could actually get a degree in History, if it was your primary interest, and you could actually get a JOB! Why, you could go to work for IBM. Without a STEM degree! This was because the assumption was that by going to college you were future oriented, could establish goals, prioritize your time, and develop a discipline that is necessary for adult society. Now, this only applied to middle class and poor students. College has always been a sabbatical in degeneracy for the upper classes, and college was all about making the “right” connections. Today, a Bachelors degree in History is worth a single use as toilet paper, while a Phd in History might get you a teaching job in an inner city high school. But, in the “old days”, women were not that much of a factor in the work force, we weren’t importing transgender muslims to compete for the same jobs only White Americans used to get, and society is no longer concerned with establishing an homogenous society with the same identity and desires. Why, its almost as if someone was deliberately sexually intercoursing things up.

    • There it is. I actually had a History degree back when, with a double-major in Literature. Today that would get you laughed out of the unemployment line as a hopeless dork, but back then it got me a job just fine. At a Fortune 500. Right off the street. And with next to no student loan debt, too!

      Then as now, this company had a rigorous internal training program; lots of people got fired before they got within 5000 feet of an actual paying customer. But since college was different then, they assumed my doofy Liberal Arts degree meant I could be taught and would survive my training class, and pass all the other pass-it-or-get-fired certification exams one had to take after graduating training. Which I did, even though not a one of them involved the Hundred Years’ War or the Metaphysical Poets.

      Different times.

      • I’ll see your ridiculous History + Lit degree and raise you a silly Sociology major + Philosophy minor BA. However, this was pre-Summer of Love so we had to have calc, stats, econ. and research methods for a Soc. major. Turns out that all of those were very useful indeed in B-to-B marketing. Same methods of getting an answer, just different questions.

        And Philosophy required symbolic logic at the time. Pretty easy to learn Fortran coding after that so I could run my own stats.

        Sauron is right that I’d never have taken those courses had they not been required for the major, nor studied them on my own.

        • Sauron’s right about the value of a college education… too bad college education stopped in about 1965 in most places (ironically, the third-tier state school where I went to undergrad still gets high marks from conservative ranking sites because it makes all freshmen take stuff like Western Civ).

          Obviously I love the idea of a university (otherwise, I wasted a lot of time in grad school!). It’s just that college, especially, runs on GIGO — garbage in, garbage out. Professors, who are The Elite by any reasonable definition of “Elite,” have dedicated themselves to destroying the very notion of elitism (while hypocritically practicing it to the hilt, of course). They’re convinced against all evidence that “equality” is both possible and desirable (as Marxists, they’re well trained in avoiding evidence). A college education of the kind Sauron and I both love is only possible when we admit that yes, the Elites ye shall always have with you, and it’s a matter of training them to behave properly.

  2. “angels-on-pinheads stuff (that’s where the phrase comes from, I believe)”

    Actually it was the Founder of Cornell, that prissy Victorian, Andrew Dickson White.

  3. Sev;

    As you may guess from my too-long Z Blog comments I am in pretty complete agreement with your dire assessment. The US higher ed system is in a politico-economic strategic box of its own making and I don’t see how they get out of it intact.

    They ruined their value proposition by pandering to Cultural Marxists and their anti-Western claims as well as their greedy ‘degrees for all = tuition from all = money for all SJWs’ business model. To me, the critical mistake was discarding standards and, more importantly, their enforcement. Now their leaders apparently lack the authority or ability to reject any SJW demands, no matter how ridiculous. So the exorbitant tuition isn’t enough any more. But they are having increasing trouble selling their ‘product’.

    If it were a normal industry, we’d be looking at a drastic consolidation whenever the debt bubble collapses.

    • This is probably an interesting case where capitalism backfires.

      As Sev points out, one things colleges sell IS elitism.

      But businesses always want to be expanding and getting new customers.

      But if you expand and bring in too many new customers, then you’re no longer really elite and have nothing to sell.

      That’s a fascinating idea. I wonder which economist has written about this…

      • That’s the thing — what “product” could they possibly be selling?

        I have a PhD, but I have no Latin, no Greek, no math higher than what I barely passed in high school. I have bits and pieces of a few foreign languages, but no fluency. No statistics, no economics, exactly three semester hours of a lab science (and that the “for non-majors” version). In other words, I couldn’t even have gotten admitted as an undergrad in 1965 to the institutions that granted me advanced degrees a generation later.

        Which is to say, I know better than most people what a (non-STEM) college education is worth these days, in terms of real learning. The answer is: “zero, if you’re lucky; in most cases you come out dumber than you went in.” That’s like paying someone to punch you in the face. The faster parents figure that out, the better.

  4. Sev;

    Has anybody examined the role of teachers’ unions, particularly Big Blue City ones in this unfolding debacle_? It’s been pretty widely observed in the underground that Big U was all of a sudden under acute political pressure to socially promote minorities, starting in the early ’70s despite their general unreadiness for college level work. They were generally unready because of the mediocre high schools they attended, among other things. But the hood culture had not really taken off yet because the so-called Great Society was just getting into gear, so at least some of them had the innate potential for college level work, given better prep.

    So it might have been possible in an alternate universe for the Big Blue City schools to up their game with all the added money that Gt.Soc. suddenly sent their way starting in the late ’60s. Ah, but the Big Blue City teachers collectively decided to join unions and so put that money in their own pockets instead. And the Big Blue City D Machine pols were fine with that just so long as union dues got recycled their way as campaign contributions: Worker solidarity and all that (not to mention the actual prejudice that existed at that time – Archie Bunker was not an anomalous figure).

    And unions in general are all about anti-productivity, particularly the enduring white-collar ones. So the possibility of actually improving Big Blue City schools died aborning. That being so, Big U could either set up effectively segregated, humiliating remedial classes while holding the line on quality or they could dilute their curricula for the (actually) disadvantaged. Dilution was, of course, far less work and political hassle. And then there’s the soft Marxist virtue glow of following the easier route for the (then actually) underprivileged, all the while working less.

    Once the curricula is diluted for some, Gresham’s Law will be in effect and it will end up being diluted for all because ‘fairness’ and Big U’s Cultural Marxist generated lack of the will or ability to uphold standards. On the other side, there’s the appeal to the inner slacker that most kids of college age harbor. I know I had it, I just dared not indulge it too much.

    • I’m sure unions had something to do with it, and their collective power makes them unassailable, but for my money it’s way more CultMarx than anything.

      Teachers could’ve held the line on standards, and their union could’ve backed them. So what if you fail 90% of the class? Here’s the test, here are their answers, the students clearly didn’t learn the lessons. Maybe that’s the teacher’s fault, maybe not.
      Everyone who has ever been to school knows that some kids are just incorrigible knuckleheads. Probably everyone has found himself, to his horror, stuck in a class where the majority of his fellow students were knuckleheads. Not even Dead Poets’ Society is going to do well in front of that crew.

      Alas, some other trends emerge when one examines the data. Turns out lots of the incorrigible knuckleheads have names like “Dontarrious,” and as St. Marx of the Frankfort School has decreed, One Does Not Fail the Blacks. And since it would be unfair to fail the Whites for the same work as the Blacks — unfairness being the only sin the Church of Modern Liberalism recognizes — one must not fail the Whites, either. And since one must not fail either the Blacks or the Whites in high school, once they get to college….

      The sad truth is, maybe 10% of the kids currently in college deserve to be there, truly want to be there, and can handle the work. Maybe 10% of that 10% is Black. The precise explanation for that is above my pay grade, but there you have it. And I assure you that everyone involved in the college scam knows it, consciously or not. That’s why they get so hysterical at the very notion of “standards”….

      …. well, one of two reasons, anyway. The other is, we all know this shit has been going on since the 1960s. Which means if you’re a university employee under the age of 60, you are woefully, gruesomely, criminally under-educated compared to the older generation, and we all know that, too (consciously or not). If I’m passing these dumb, lazy, entitled little shits for sub-junior high work — and indeed I am — it’s more than likely I too was a dumb, lazy, entitled little shit back in my own undergrad days. Just how dumb, lazy, and entitled was I? Ahhhh, that’s the question! Better kill off the very idea of standards, so I’ll never have to find out.

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  6. In 1972 I was an asst instructor (graduate student slave) at a big Midwestern State U. I was teaching two sections of the intro course in American History that all liberal arts students were required to take. After passing back the first corrected exams of the semester to my students, one young lady came up to me and wondered why the spelling and grammar on her test had been corrected. In her mind (and she actually told me this) correct English grammar and spelling were not necessary in a history class; after all, this wasn’t an English class! Needless to say, I left graduate school after two years of this; 45 years ago I saw the beginning of the end and left for greener pastures.

  7. Ye cats, it’s that bad? I thought that was a late-90s phenomenon.

    It has gotten so bad that I once tried taking points off for obvious mistakes. I’m not talking misuse of the subjunctive; I mean things like “obvious typos, such that the Word document you sent me looks like it’s bleeding.” After which I had the following conversation, close to verbatim, with a student:

    Student: “Why did I fail this assignment?”
    Me: “Look at the instructions. I took X points off for each squiggle in your Word file.”
    Student: “But this isn’t an English class!”
    Me: “Doesn’t matter. One of the goals of this class is to improve your written communication skills; it says so right there on the syllabus.”
    Student: [Heaving huge sigh; rolling eyes] “So if I fix all this grammar stuff it’s an A?”
    Me: “No, as far as I can figure out what you’re trying to say, it’s probably a D. I just stopped counting points off after I hit 50.”
    Student: [drops class; writes screeds about how I’m nothing but a ‘grammer [sic] nazi [sic]’ on every online rate-a-prof site.

    So now I just tell them they lose a letter grade if they have more than 5 basic errors; more than 10, I send it back ungraded. In both cases, they have to figure it out for themselves. You’re right, Snowflake, it’s NOT an English class, and I don’t have the time to teach you how to conjugate verbs, punctuate properly, and spell.

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