…takes a blow:
Let’s see. Where is a teenager more likely to learn the basic and transferable virtue of showing up every day and on time, not to mention how to get along with a boss and fit into an organization — as a communications and binge-drinking double major at Missoula State University, or as a mechanic fixing broken rig equipment? Too many high-school graduates are reflexively going to college as it is, without a clue what they are doing there or how to take advantage of higher education. Mandatory stints in the private economy before college enrollment could do wonders for study skills. If, by deferring or maybe even skipping college entirely, students were foregoing their one hope for immersion in Western civilization, there would indeed be grounds for regret. But colleges’ own curricular decisions have long since destroyed their right to present themselves as a gateway for precious knowledge of the past.
A lot of people are in college who don’t belong there, and don’t really know why they’re there, wasting their or their parents’ money, or accumulating debt undischargeable in a bankruptcy, except society has told them that it is expected of them. Many of them would be a lot better off getting jobs after high school, and then, after they’ve figured out what they want to do, going to school if their goals require it. In general, older students with life experience (and particularly veterans) are more motivated, and will get much more out of college than someone who just graduated high school (and was perhaps unprepared for college by the terrible public school system).
After I (barely) graduated high school, I was in no mood for college (I didn’t even bother to take the SAT), and went to work for a year or so repairing Volkswagens. That was enough experience to tell me that I didn’t want to do it all my life, and I went to community college for a couple years, picking up enough pre-engineering courses with As to get into Michigan engineering school, something that I wouldn’t have been able to do right out of high school with my grades. And if you want to learn, and save money, you’ll actually get a better education at a community college than a major university for your freshman and sophomore years, because classes will be smaller, with more individual attention from the instructors. It’s only the advanced courses that require a university.
[Update a while later]
A campus full of contradictions:
…perhaps a fourth of the liberal arts courses — many would judge more like 50% — would never have been allowed in the curriculum just 40 years ago. They tend to foster the two most regrettable traits in a young mind — ignorance of the uninformed combined with the arrogance of the zealot. All too often students in these courses become revved up over a particular writ — solar power, gay marriage, the war on women, multiculturalism — without the skills to present their views logically and persuasively in response to criticism. Heat, not light, is the objective of these classes.
Why are these courses, then, taught?
For a variety of practical reasons: 1) often the professors are rehashing their doctoral theses or narrow journal articles and are not capable of mastering a wider subject (e.g., teaching a class in “The Other in Advertising” is a lot easier than a systematic history of California); 2) the quality of today’s students is so questionable that the social sciences have stepped up to service the under-qualified, in the sense of providing courses, grades, and graduation possibilities; 3) the university does not see itself as a disinterested nexus of ideas, where for a brief four years students are trained how to think, given a corpus of fact-based knowledge about their nation and world, and expected to develop an aesthetic sense of art, music, and literature. Instead college is intended as a sort of boot camp for the progressive army, where recruits are trained and do not question their commissars.
So the new curriculum in the social sciences and humanities fills a need of sorts, and the result is that today’s graduating English major probably cannot name six Shakespearean plays; the history major cannot distinguish Verdun from Shiloh; the philosophy major has not read Aristotle’s Poetics or Plato’s Laws; and the political science major knows very little of Machiavelli or Tocqueville — but all of the above do know that the planet is heating up due to capitalist greed, the history of the United States is largely a story of oppression, the UN and the EU offer a superior paradigm to the U.S. Constitution, and there are some scary gun-owning, carbon-fuel burning, heterosexual-marrying nuts outside the campus.
If we ask why vocational and tech schools sprout up around the traditional university campus, it is because they are upfront about their nuts-and-bolts, get-a-job education: no need to worry about “liberal arts” or “the humanities” — especially given that the universities’ General Education core is not very general and not very educational any more. Yes, I am worried that the University of Phoenix graduate has not read Dante, but more worried that the CSU Fresno graduate has not either, and the former is far more intellectually honest about that lapse than the latter.
What a disaster.