Education’s Rudderless Ship

A confluence, in the sense that the soggy stuff that clogs the drain in the shower is a confluence, of a damp passel of education writings have been washed into the low spot that is this blog:

An essay on the thesis: Religious schools shouldn’t be accredited from the deep-revolving Mr. Briggs;

An article from the New Republic on how Ivy League schools are overrated and even damaging (H/T to CMR);

(Plus, the mandatory rejoinder: Na-ah!)

The Chosen One at School
Here’s the picture illustrating the rejoinder. Well, that settles that, then.

And then, via a comment on Mr. Brigg’s essay, the coming education disruption from the Futurist.

Quick rundown: Seems a professor Conn at Penn  (hey – maybe we could do Kirk’s KAAAAHN! yell, except use COOOOOONN! No?) has noticed that the faculties and graduates at religious colleges and university have a perplexing, nay, dangerous tendency to disagree with him and his pod-mates at the secular colleges. Ipso facto, this means they are close-minded and bigoted. There is no greater intellectual crime than rejecting the gooey grey homogeneity of thought espoused unwaveringly by the members of  the herd of open-minded free thinkers like Conn.

I’d like to see anyone in Conn’s crowd stand up and say something departing from the party line, even something as superficially trivial as: 99.9% of modern art is narcissistic, hiney-kissing crap. Say our intrepid open-minded daredevil holds to all other progressive ideals, and burns incense at the secret shrine and otherwise toes the line, but just one day, around the faculty water cooler, opines that, you know, letting a maggot-infested cow’s head rot in a box is an  adolescent stunt no adult should deign to notice, not art – and see what happens.

I think the best he could hope for is being considered an iconoclastic eccentric, just throwing stuff out there to get a rise, tolerated with a wink like a crazy uncle. Because if he ever made his peers believe he was serious, he’d be challenging the very relevantist foundations of all they hold dear – and would need to be destroyed like an invading  virus.

Conn should be concerned. Schools like Thomas Aquinas College (more seems to popping up all the time) have by now released several thousand graduates into the wild. These are people who have been exposed to beauty, truth and goodness, most especially in the form of logic and reason. They have been exposed to the idea that to conform just so you can sit at the cool kids’ table is cowardly and unworthy. Worst of all, they have had a chance to read old writers, and compare their thinking to what passes as thought by new writers.

They are harder to snow.

Can’t have that.

Next, the radical proposition that Ivy League schools are overrated. I’ll admit to a strong bias here: as a Johnny, I was endlessly exasperated by the hushed reverence with which Harvard or Brown or whatever were treated. At the time, St. John’s Santa Fe was a dusty set of none-too-impressive buildings in a severely beautiful setting – but we were scholars, dammit! We wrestled with Plato and Euclid and that crowd daily! In Greek, even!  Bring it on, Ivy League!

This was only made worse by getting to know a contemporary Harvard grad fairly well shortly after graduation. Not impressed. Not sure she’d have lasted a month at St. John’s. But, boy, was she sure she was part of the Chosen – except when her insecurity was palpable. Weird.

So, I have to wrench my mind back from the conclusion I’ve nimbly leapt to when I read about really, truly outstanding Ivy grads. My only comment here is that the filtering process by which students are admitted ensures a certain level of genius, apart from anything that goes on at the school – one most certainly CAN get an education at the Ivies, it is just not necessary or even a primary expectation. You’ve already won just by getting in – it takes fortitude to then pursue an education in addition to merely collecting the merit badge. But with the number of really smart kids and the world class facilities, it’s not surprising many kids do.

Then comes the rebuttal. The writer makes some good, if sad, points: your typical 20 year old is a clueless, anxious child wandering about lost. That some wander around Harvard Square is not surprising, and is not a reflection on Harvard. Well, maybe. At the end of the rebuttal, I don’t think I was any more favorably inclined toward the Ivies, but I was perhaps better aware of some of the problems with the original critique.

Finally, the essay at the Futurist boldly asserts that high-end colleges are in for a big shakeout sooner rather than later, as more and more people recognize that there’s more bang for the buck in MOOCs and the Khan Academy and so on.

While I’d shed not a tear to see colleges get hammered, I have my doubts: as one wag put it somewhere, we’ve had good free libraries all over the country for a century or more, where anybody who wanted to could learn about anything that interested them – and the number of people who availed themselves is minuscule. Just putting it on the web does wonders for ease of tracking things down, but does nothing for making anybody want to learn anything.

Another brief foray into a bottomless topic. Barely skimmed the content of the above articles.


Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

2 thoughts on “Education’s Rudderless Ship”

  1. In “Aquinas and Horses,” First Things, 5/11/11, George Weigel wrote:

    In 1970, Washington’s largesse led the University of Kansas to create a pilot project in classic liberal arts education called the Pearson Integrated Humanities Program, or IHP. The program was led by John Senior, Dennis Quinn, and Frank Nelick, three brilliant teachers who believed passionately that higher education meant immersion in the classic texts of western civilization and civilized conversation about them. Many IHP students soon discovered that wrestling with the literary and philosophical classics of western civilization meant encountering, and thinking seriously about, the Catholic Church.

    Conversions, intellectual and religious, followed. Those conversions later produced numerous vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, and two bishops. Authoritarian liberals on the KU faculty killed the IHP in 1979.

    1. Someone should do a sort of family tree, tracing the long-term effects of the IHP. People from there were instrumental in getting Thomas Aquinas College off the ground, and from there, Wyoming Catholic, Thomas Moore College of Liberal Arts and ? That’s just on the education side – on the Church side, you have those two bishops, the priests and nuns. It would be great to show how their influence spread.

      The real killer effect: TAC and those other Catholic schools are now providing staff for the renewed Catholic high schools and grade schools that reform-minded bishops have taken on.

      We’re still in the thousands of graduates range – not numerically significant in the big picture 350 million Americans. But leaven.

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