Quote of the Day: The Closing of the American Mind

 

“In looking at [a teen-ager leaving home for the first time] we are forced to reflect on what he should learn if he is to be called educated; we must speculate on what the human potential to be fulfilled is. In the specialties we can avoid such speculation, and the avoidance of them is one of specialization’s charms. But here it is a simple duty. What are we to teach this person? The answer may not be evident, but to attempt to answer the question is already to philosophize and to begin to educate….

“The University has to stand for something. The practical effects of unwillingness to think positively about the contents of a liberal education are, on the one hand, to ensure that all the vulgarities of the world outside the university will flourish within it, and, on the other, to impose a much harsher and more illiberal necessity on the student– the one given by the imperial and imperious demands of the specialized disciplines unfiltered by unifying thought….

“The Cornell plan for dealing with the problem of liberal education was to suppress the students’ longing for liberal education by encouraging their professionalism and their avarice, providing money and all the prestige that the university had available to make careerism the centerpiece of the university….

“It is becoming all too evident that liberal education–which is what the small band of prestigious institutions are supposed to provide, in contrast to the big state schools, which are thought simply to prepare specialists to meet the practical demands of a complex society–has no content, that a certain kind of fraud is being perpetrated.”

— Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students (1987)

I have planned for weeks to quote some passage from Bloom’s phenomenal book, without having decided on which part of the book to focus. Now that universities across the US are shutting down for the foreseeable future or the entire spring semester, I think it’s worth asking what students will lose by taking their courses online. Just the other day Elon Musk was quoted for noting that “you don’t need college to learn stuff.” The online availability of knowledge is free in many cases or can be accessed for relatively little expense compared to a college degree. So what is the purpose of college and what does it mean to be educated? Can universities deliver the kind of education that happens on campus and in classrooms through online learning at a distance? It seems that there must be an undeniable benefit from living among other students and interacting personally with professors because families and students are still spending exorbitant prices for spots at top colleges and universities.

More importantly, are universities actually delivering a worthy education, whatever the method? When I attended a liberal arts university, only a few years after The Closing of the American Mind was published, I was required to take certain courses in the “core” curriculum, as well as two classes in each of the major academic disciplines (Humanities, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences). I was not required to take a history course, and I had already fulfilled my language and math requirements with high school AP classes. I recall the experience of reading through the course catalog, thinking that everything sounded interesting. And yet, I did not know what was necessary. As an English major, I took many classes in esoteric areas of literature such as “Literature of Medieval Women,” “Blasphemy” and of course, “Critical Theory.” This was not my mother’s English major, and it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that I followed up my undergraduate degree with a Master’s and later a J.D. I wouldn’t call the pursuit of professional knowledge useless, but it certainly was expensive and time-consuming.

In comparison to my mother’s education, at a big state school, I think mine falls short. With the assistance of Bloom’s insights, I understand that a major shift occurred in the late 1960s. That my parents never quite understand my criticism of my experience stems from the fact that they were fully formed, married adults by 1969. They attended college before the new theories took hold. As those theories have continued to seep into the academy, the purpose of a university education seems increasingly to be navel-gazing rather than pursuit of truth or knowledge. Many students surely take refuge in professional tracks and scientific majors, but what about those students left unmoored in the subjects of the humanities? These appear to be dividing rapidly instead of unifying around our commonalities.

Also, will coronavirus school closures have the unintended result of reducing the negative effects of university attendance, such as alcoholism, depression, micro-aggression-motivated protests, hate crime hoaxes, and the supposed campus rape epidemic? I’ll be interested to see the data when everyone goes back to campus.

For more reflections on Bloom’s book, see Paul A. Rahe’s post on its 30th anniversary, and the symposium at The Public Discourse.

Published in Group Writing
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

There are 26 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Lilly B: It seems that there must be an undeniable benefit from living among other students and interacting personally with professors because families and students are still spending exorbitant prices for spots at top colleges and universities. 

    I would say there is an undeniable result.

    • #1
  2. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos
    @Kephalithos

    Lilly B: So what is the purpose of college and what does it mean to be educated? Can universities deliver the kind of education that happens on campus and in classrooms though online learning at a distance? It seems that there must be an undeniable benefit from living among other students and interacting personally with professors because families and students are still spending exorbitant prices for spots at top colleges and universities.

    If conveying information were the only purpose of the university, online courses would’ve killed it a long time ago. But, as you suggest, online courses haven’t killed it, and that’s because the university is more than a purely transactional place where time and money are exchanged for knowledge.

    In our fragmented society, college is one of the few remaining social institutions to which people can meaningfully belong. It’s one of few places where an 18-year-old can meet other 18-year-olds who share her interests and values. In short, it’s a community — and it should be a community ordered to the pursuit of truth. Should be.

    As it exists, though, it’s culturally toxic, vastly overpriced, and intellectually underwhelming. The average state university could easily be replaced by online classes, and students (minus the scientists, doctors, designers, and other people whose training involves doing) wouldn’t lose much in the way of education. But they’d lose access to the university’s social world, and that does matter.

    Ask a person to forgo college, and you’re asking him to forgo friendships, dates, and professional connections. You’re asking him to forgo the easiest way of acquiring social capital in a world where social capital is rapidly disappearing. You’re setting him adrift in the infinite sea of loneliness which is modern America.

    (If you detect a hint of bitterness in what I’ve written, you’re right. My advice to undergraduates who’ve chosen a good college (like I did): Enjoy it while it lasts. My advice to undergraduates who’ve chosen a bad college: Cheer up. It won’t get any worse.)

    • #2
  3. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    I knew a couple who had both been to college in the 1970s when the old hippies were now teachers and professors. The wife had a degree in English from the U of Michigan, but had never read a Shakespeare play and didn’t have the best grammar and spelling I’d ever seen, either. The husband had an MBA from Michigan State. He told me they had pretty much jettisoned the humanities requirements, but that he did have to take an English course of some kind. On the first day, the prof proudly told them she’d never make them memorize grammar rules because that gets in the way of “creativity” or something, I forget. So now a person who has never read a poem or heard of Socrates can get a master’s degree.

    And some of these schools, and I mean famous and esteemed universities, offer degrees in subjects so stupid that it seems like a skit from SNL. Stanford offers a degree in “Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.” One of the requirements for this useless degree is: One FEMGEN course or related course in Intersection Structures of Oppression (Race, Ethnicity, and/or Class) I mean why not just call it “How to stay irate and upset for the rest of your life.”

    • #3
  4. Ralphie Member
    Ralphie
    @Ralphie

    Lilly B: So what is the purpose of college and what does it mean to be educated?

    I always think of the John Ruskin quote in the beginning of my mother’s “The Child’s World, Mother’s Guide”:

    “Education does not mean teaching people what they do not know. It means teaching them to behave as they do not behave….” What is odd is that so many young adults seem to go into college behaving and learn to misbehave shortly thereafter. It is also expensive job training.

    E.D.Hirsch said the unspoken is critical to the spoken . If you make a reference to a person or idea that I have never heard of, I won’t really understand your point. Many times, I find myself reading something and going to google the parts I am unfamiliar with. I do that here a lot, I think this venue has a lot of well read people.

    I appreciate the quote, I read his book a long time ago, and keep it on my shelf. He was frustrated then, I can’t imagine what he would write today.

    • #4
  5. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    Kephalithos (View Comment):

    Lilly B: So what is the purpose of college and what does it mean to be educated? Can universities deliver the kind of education that happens on campus and in classrooms though online learning at a distance? It seems that there must be an undeniable benefit from living among other students and interacting personally with professors because families and students are still spending exorbitant prices for spots at top colleges and universities.

    If conveying information were the only purpose of the university, online courses would’ve killed it a long time ago. But, as you suggest, online courses haven’t killed it, and that’s because the university is more than a purely transactional place where time and money are exchanged for knowledge.

    In our fragmented society, college is one of the few remaining social institutions to which people can meaningfully belong. It’s one of few places where an 18-year-old can meet other 18-year-olds who share her interests and values. In short, it’s a community — and it should be a community ordered to the pursuit of truth. Should be.

    As it exists, though, it’s culturally toxic, vastly overpriced, and intellectually underwhelming. The average state university could easily be replaced by online classes, and students (minus the scientists, doctors, designers, and other people whose training involves doing) wouldn’t lose much in the way of education. But they’d lose access to the university’s social world, and that does matter.

    Ask a person to forgo college, and you’re asking him to forgo friendships, dates, and professional connections. You’re asking him to forgo the easiest way of acquiring social capital in a world where social capital is rapidly disappearing. You’re setting him adrift in the infinite sea of loneliness which is modern America.

    (If you detect a hint of bitterness in what I’ve written, you’re right. My advice to undergraduates who’ve chosen a good college (like I did): Enjoy it while it lasts. My advice to undergraduates who’ve chosen a bad college: Cheer up. It won’t get any worse.)

    I agree that this is a huge part of what people are paying for. It’s a sorting mechanism for personal relationships. There was just an article in the WSJ about how business schools are providing dating opportunities for students. I also think people are buying the logo for professional advancement, but I’d agree with Elon Musk that it doesn’t necessarily mean someone has skills and abilities. However, I disagree with him that acquiring those skills and abilities should be the goal of a liberal arts education.

    • #5
  6. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio…
    @ArizonaPatriot

    I think that the chief importance of college, for some time, has been its use as a proxy for high IQ. It has the added advantage that a number of professional jobs, which can be plausible argued to “require” a college degree, are not subject to the overtime laws.

    So, by hiring a college grad, you can get someone likely to have a reasonably high IQ, and you don’t have to pay him time-and-a-half if you want him to work over 40 hours a week.

    The STEM fields seem to provide moderately useful education, as does law school.

    The rest of collegiate education was once useful for the transmission of cultural values, but it has been taken over by intellectual barbarians who seek to burn down our culture, so for this purpose, college seems counterproductive.

    I suspect that the ideological shift in the colleges occurred well before the 1960s. I think that the common culture, and especially secondary education, was overwhelmed by the new barbarians in the mid-1970s. This is consistent with Bloom’s observation that, in the few years before he wrote his book (published in 1987), his students had changed — they had become moral relativists and multi-culturalist, rejecting all moral discrimination because they had been taught that “discrimination” is bad. If I recall correctly, Bloom noted that his students arrived at college with these views, so the change must have occurred previously. I don’t think that he precisely stated the year in which he started observing this change, but my impression is that he was referring to students arriving in college in the early 1980s.

    His observations are consistent with my classmates, generally speaking, who started college in 1985. I would guess that perhaps 10-20% of us did not accept the post-modern world view — though few of us could have labeled it — and even a dissenter like me was, at the time, more of a libertarian than a conservative.

    • #6
  7. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    Are we going the way of the Japanese? In Japan college prep is to identify who the brightest hardest working kids are. In the University of Tokyo, they just bond with other future leaders rather than learning educational subjects. The the top rung who also mostly come from the right families, are known from the beginning and upon graduation move to the ministry of Finance, Ministry of Trade and Industry etc.. The brightest in each group become leaders in their ministries or industries. The top dog, known from the beginning, eventually becomes Vice Minister,(the minister is a political type without real power) and his class mates retire and move into the industries their ministries regulate. It’s a tight operation. But has run its course. Our kids aren’t really learning much useful, and are bonding with others who they’ll join in law school or business school etc. then go to some big company, law firm or government department. The scientific/ engineering fields were different in Japan and are here as well, but they don’t really exercise bureaucratic power. Our primary schools are part of our problem and our universities have to make up for their failures, so advanced degrees are more important in the US than in Japan. Those who like the closed system are going to try to get the rest of the country to pay for this clique forming process. We can’t let that happen. This corona virus is causing some changes that open opportunities to start fixing this system that is decaying into a bureaucratic incompetent ruling class.

    • #7
  8. Vectorman Member
    Vectorman
    @Vectorman

    I Walton (View Comment):
    In Japan college prep is to identify who the brightest hardest working kids are. In the University of Tokyo, they just bond with other future leaders rather than learning educational subjects.

    I heard that the Japanese worked so hard in secondary school to get into college, that once accepted, college was breeze. This was somewhat true in France and the UK. In the 1960’s, the total knowledge at the end of of college was roughly equivalent between the US, Europe, and Japan. The benefit of the US approach allows late bloomers to succeed. Additionally, the US approach used to reward (good) creative thinking rather than rote memorization, leading to more innovation and inventions.


    Join other Ricochet members by submitting a Quote of the Day post, the easiest way to start a fun conversation. There are many open days on the March Signup Sheet. We even include tips for finding great quotes, so choose your favorite quote and sign up today!

    • #8
  9. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher
    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo…
    @GumbyMark

    When my children started going to college in the early 2000s, I looked at the history course offering (I was a history major) and was baffled. They all seemed to be esoteric, small scale slices, with many focused on gender, race, and ethnicity. It was completely different from the courses I remembered (graduated in 1973) with almost a complete lack of courses on the development of western civilization to provide some larger context for the other courses. I felt fortunate my kids were science majors.

    • #9
  10. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    I Walton (View Comment):
    In Japan college prep is to identify who the brightest hardest working kids are. In the University of Tokyo, they just bond with other future leaders rather than learning educational subjects.

    I heard that the Japanese worked so hard in secondary school to get into college, that once accepted, college was breeze. This was somewhat true in France and the UK. In the 1960’s, the total knowledge at the end of of college was roughly equivalent between the US, Europe, and Japan. The benefit of the US approach allows late bloomers to succeed. Additionally, the US approach used to reward (good) creative thinking rather than rote memorization, leading to more innovation and inventions.

     

    Well, equivalent depending on who you compare, it’s a breeze because they are not asked to learn much. The top Japanese students do the equivalent of a 1600 sat like test that is much more demanding; actually insanely so. They are already as educated as the Japanese want them until they learn their jobs after they graduate from college. If a kid doesn’t get a perfect test score, which is out of high school, he’s out of the competitive top. I hope late bloomers still succeed here, I think there are real and valuable reasons for that. Some of my grand kids in NY entered the race to the top out of kinder. I don’t think that’s good. Others, who were home schooled in Indiana didn’t get into the grade competition until they entered regular (although top notch private school) in the middle of high school. They’re just way ahead intellectually. In home schooling nothing was about grades, all was about learning. I don’t know if our schools can do that, but a system of unionized centrally controlled schools can’t.

    • #10
  11. Buckpasser Member
    Buckpasser
    @Buckpasser

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    I think that the chief importance of college, for some time, has been its use as a proxy for high IQ.

    I do think that was the case in the past. Just having a degree in anything seemed to make you qualified for a number of positions. Of course, we had fewer classes like gender/race studies when I was in college (’74-’78). I was a Political Science/History major with no specific career in mind. Didn’t have interest in teaching, but thought a bit about law and thought the better of it. (Nothing personal Jerry). I wound up in the warehousing/distribution business because my first employer figured a college grad was smart enough to learn the things needed in that business regardless of your major.

    • #11
  12. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Buckpasser (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    I think that the chief importance of college, for some time, has been its use as a proxy for high IQ.

    I do think that was the case in the past. Just having a degree in anything seemed to make you qualified for a number of positions. Of course, we had fewer classes like gender/race studies when I was in college (’74-’78). I was a Political Science/History major with no specific career in mind. Didn’t have interest in teaching, but thought a bit about law and thought the better of it. (Nothing personal Jerry). I wound up in the warehousing/distribution business because my first employer figured a college grad was smart enough to learn the things needed in that business regardless of your major.

    I used to figure that obtaining a college degree meant the holder was capable of putting up with all sorts of irrational, outrageous crap to get a job done, and wouldn’t walk away from the nonsense like a normal person would do. A lot of jobs require that ability. 

    • #12
  13. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Buckpasser (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    I think that the chief importance of college, for some time, has been its use as a proxy for high IQ.

    I do think that was the case in the past. Just having a degree in anything seemed to make you qualified for a number of positions. Of course, we had fewer classes like gender/race studies when I was in college (’74-’78). I was a Political Science/History major with no specific career in mind. Didn’t have interest in teaching, but thought a bit about law and thought the better of it. (Nothing personal Jerry). I wound up in the warehousing/distribution business because my first employer figured a college grad was smart enough to learn the things needed in that business regardless of your major.

    I used to figure that obtaining a college degree meant the holder was capable of putting up with all sorts of irrational, outrageous crap to get a job done, and wouldn’t walk away from the nonsense like a normal person would do. A lot of jobs require that ability.

    For a long time, the college degree was indeed a signal that the person had some staying power. I remember when I first entered Georgia Tech in the fifties, the school was famous for flunking out a large percentage of freshmen. This was a product of state requirements for entry (there were certainly freshmen who had no business there) plus an expected difficult workload.

    • #13
  14. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio…
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Buckpasser (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    I think that the chief importance of college, for some time, has been its use as a proxy for high IQ.

    I do think that was the case in the past. Just having a degree in anything seemed to make you qualified for a number of positions. Of course, we had fewer classes like gender/race studies when I was in college (’74-’78). I was a Political Science/History major with no specific career in mind. Didn’t have interest in teaching, but thought a bit about law and thought the better of it. (Nothing personal Jerry). I wound up in the warehousing/distribution business because my first employer figured a college grad was smart enough to learn the things needed in that business regardless of your major.

    I used to figure that obtaining a college degree meant the holder was capable of putting up with all sorts of irrational, outrageous crap to get a job done, and wouldn’t walk away from the nonsense like a normal person would do. A lot of jobs require that ability.

    For a long time, the college degree was indeed a signal that the person had some staying power. I remember when I first entered Georgia Tech in the fifties, the school was famous for flunking out a large percentage of freshmen. This was a product of state requirements for entry (there were certainly freshmen who had no business there) plus an expected difficult workload.

    I agree with the point about “staying power,” though this doesn’t have to be demonstrated by “putting up with all sorts of irrational, outrageous crap.” It can be demonstrated by completing a challenging course of study, even if that study has little relation to the student’s eventual career path. The psychometric term is “conscientiousness,” the second best predictor of success (after IQ).

    I suspect that the value of the college degree as a sorting device increased the value of such a degree, which caused a large expansion in college education, which diluted the IQ filter. Then, instead of flunking underperforming students, the colleges started offering easier (often nonsense) disciplines, which further diluted the value of a college degree as an indicator.

    Another problem is that employers are generally prohibited from using IQ tests, as they are considered discriminatory under a “disparate impact” analysis. There is a significant black-white IQ gap, and I don’t think that it has narrowed significantly despite 50 years of effort, which is quite disappointing. Racist and sexist admission policies (pro-minority and pro-female) created a new set of problems, and probably contributed to a further decline in the quality of the curriculum.

    My personal view is that it would have been better to stick to MLK’s rule about “the content of their character,” and judge people as individuals. The popularity of this view seems to be in decline.

    • #14
  15. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    For a long time, the college degree was indeed a signal that the person had some staying power. I remember when I first entered Georgia Tech in the fifties, the school was famous for flunking out a large percentage of freshmen. This was a product of state requirements for entry (there were certainly freshmen who had no business there) plus an expected difficult workload.

    I agree with the point about “staying power,” though this doesn’t have to be demonstrated by “putting up with all sorts of irrational, outrageous crap.” It can be demonstrated by completing a challenging course of study, even if that study has little relation to the student’s eventual career path. The psychometric term is “conscientiousness,” the second best predictor of success (after IQ).

    I suspect that the value of the college degree as a sorting device increased the value of such a degree, which caused a large expansion in college education, which diluted the IQ filter. Then, instead of flunking underperforming students, the colleges started offering easier (often nonsense) disciplines, which further diluted the value of a college degree as an indicator.

    Another problem is that employers are generally prohibited from using IQ tests, as they are considered discriminatory under a “disparate impact” analysis. There is a significant black-white IQ gap, and I don’t think that it has narrowed significantly despite 50 years of effort, which is quite disappointing. Racist and sexist admission policies (pro-minority and pro-female) created a new set of problems, and probably contributed to a further decline in the quality of the curriculum.

    My personal view is that it would have been better to stick to MLK’s rule about “the content of their character,” and judge people as individuals. The popularity of this view seems to be in decline.

    Jerry, that’s a good summary. We do so many things wrong today.

    • #15
  16. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio…
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    For a long time, the college degree was indeed a signal that the person had some staying power. I remember when I first entered Georgia Tech in the fifties, the school was famous for flunking out a large percentage of freshmen. This was a product of state requirements for entry (there were certainly freshmen who had no business there) plus an expected difficult workload.

    I agree with the point about “staying power,” though this doesn’t have to be demonstrated by “putting up with all sorts of irrational, outrageous crap.” It can be demonstrated by completing a challenging course of study, even if that study has little relation to the student’s eventual career path. The psychometric term is “conscientiousness,” the second best predictor of success (after IQ).

    I suspect that the value of the college degree as a sorting device increased the value of such a degree, which caused a large expansion in college education, which diluted the IQ filter. Then, instead of flunking underperforming students, the colleges started offering easier (often nonsense) disciplines, which further diluted the value of a college degree as an indicator.

    Another problem is that employers are generally prohibited from using IQ tests, as they are considered discriminatory under a “disparate impact” analysis. There is a significant black-white IQ gap, and I don’t think that it has narrowed significantly despite 50 years of effort, which is quite disappointing. Racist and sexist admission policies (pro-minority and pro-female) created a new set of problems, and probably contributed to a further decline in the quality of the curriculum.

    My personal view is that it would have been better to stick to MLK’s rule about “the content of their character,” and judge people as individuals. The popularity of this view seems to be in decline.

    Jerry, that’s a good summary. We do so many things wrong today.

    Yeah, and if you point it out, you get the Charles Murray treatment, though generally not here at Ricochet.

    Things are complicated. From what I’ve seen, the black-white IQ gap is stubbornly persistent, and seems to have a significant genetic basis. The picture may not be as bleak as it appears, because honest study in the area has been suppressed. Family breakdown may have a significant effect on IQ, and this problem is more pronounced among American blacks, so there may be some hope of eventual equalization if the family problem can be solved. But it’s getting worse, not better, and not just among blacks.

    I do want to read Murray’s latest book. It’s available on Audible, but I suspect that it has too many charts and graphs to be amenable to audio-only presentation.

    • #16
  17. MichaelKennedy Inactive
    MichaelKennedy
    @MichaelKennedy

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    I think that the chief importance of college, for some time, has been its use as a proxy for high IQ. It has the added advantage that a number of professional jobs, which can be plausible argued to “require” a college degree, are not subject to the overtime laws.

    Duke Power case. IQ testing not allowed so college became the substitute.

    On my first day in freshman Physics, the professor told us to look at the person on either side and front and back of us. “By the end of the semester only one of you will still be here.”

    I’m reading Tom Perkins’ biography, “Valley Boy.” His history and mine are similar enough that I enjoy reading it. Both of us came from modest means and had fathers who were not supportive of going to college. He had a high school teacher who was determined that he go to college. He helped him get a scholarship to MIT. I got a scholarship but not to CalTech where I wanted to go and was accepted. He got his BSEE from MIT and then an MBA from Harvard. I wound up going to medical school after losing my engineering scholarship to a “C” in Calculus. We both found fraternities cheaper than dormitories although SC did not have male dormitory unless you were on a football or band scholarship.

    I spent a year as an English major as I did my pre-med classes. It was 1960 and I have always been happy that I took those classes. Student loans were not available to pre-med majors. I was told it was not considered a worthwhile major. Times have changed.

    • #17
  18. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    Kephalithos (View Comment):

    Lilly B: So what is the purpose of college and what does it mean to be educated? Can universities deliver the kind of education that happens on campus and in classrooms though online learning at a distance? It seems that there must be an undeniable benefit from living among other students and interacting personally with professors because families and students are still spending exorbitant prices for spots at top colleges and universities.

    If conveying information were the only purpose of the university, online courses would’ve killed it a long time ago. But, as you suggest, online courses haven’t killed it, and that’s because the university is more than a purely transactional place where time and money are exchanged for knowledge.

    In our fragmented society, college is one of the few remaining social institutions to which people can meaningfully belong. It’s one of few places where an 18-year-old can meet other 18-year-olds who share her interests and values. In short, it’s a community — and it should be a community ordered to the pursuit of truth. Should be.

    As it exists, though, it’s culturally toxic, vastly overpriced, and intellectually underwhelming. The average state university could easily be replaced by online classes, and students (minus the scientists, doctors, designers, and other people whose training involves doing) wouldn’t lose much in the way of education. But they’d lose access to the university’s social world, and that does matter.

     

    This so perfectly sums up everything I’ve been thinking about college for the past few days (after seeing how many people are sure that the Corona Virus will spell the end of physical campuses). College was the first time I’ve spent a long time far from home, the first time I’ve been given free reign over my academic choices, and met more than two or three people that are passionate about the same things I am, or wildly different ones. Without college I wouldn’t have traveled all over Europe, met some of my best friends, had my first romantic relationship, started Thai boxing, or started learning three new languages. There are a lot of problems with the American, and British, university system, but for all its flaws I feel that I’ve had the opportunity to engage in learning that will serve me both as a human being and as a professional, and had a vast range of experiences and connections laid before me that nothing else would have presented. (And I would add that one of the indicators of the problems laid out above is how hard students work to get into elite schools; it isn’t just about Wall Street connections and saying you went to such a prestigious institution; it’s because those schools are famous for being places people want to be, places with a community).

    • #18
  19. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    I do remember that leaving college right after graduation was a very sad day because I was leaving my community and my friends. I can see that sadness reflected in my high-schooler’s eyes today as she left school for a one-month break due to Coronavirus “social distancing”. Take care everyone!

     

    • #19
  20. joeaustin Coolidge
    joeaustin
    @joeaustin

    Great post. I used this long quote from Cardinal Newman when teaching college composition. Most students seemed to appreciate Newman’s wisdom. Since this quote exceeds the word limit, I’ll post the remainder in my next comment.

    • Today I have confined myself to saying that the training of the intellect, which is best for the individual himself, best enables him to discharge his duties to society. The Philosopher, indeed, and the man of the world differ in their very notion, but the methods, by which they are respectively formed, are pretty much the same. The Philosopher has the same command of matters of thought, which the true citizen and gentleman has of matters of business and conduct. If then a practical end must be assigned to a University course, I say it is that of training goodmembers of society. Its art is the art of social life, and its end is fitness for the world. It neither confines its views to particular professions on the one hand, nor creates heroes or inspires genius on the other. Works indeed of genius fall under no art; heroic minds come under no rule; a University is not a birthplace of poets or of immortal authors, of founders of schools, leaders of colonies, or conquerors of nations. It does not promise a generation of Aristotles or Newtons, ofNapoleons or Washingtons, of Raphaels or Shakespeares, though such miracles of nature it has before now contained within its precincts. Nor is it content on the other hand with forming the critic or the experimentalist, the economist or the engineer, though such too it includes within its scope.
    • #20
  21. joeaustin Coolidge
    joeaustin
    @joeaustin

    Here’s the rest of the Newman quote:

    • But a University training is the great ordinary means to a great but ordinary end; it aims at raising the intellectual tone of society, at cultivating the public mind, at purifying the national taste, at supplying true principles to popular enthusiasm and fixed aims to popular aspiration, at giving enlargement and sobriety to the ideas of the age, at facilitating the exercise of political power, and refining the intercourse of private life. It is the education which gives a man a clear conscious view of his own opinions and judgments, a truth in developing them, an eloquence in expressing them, and a force in urging them. It teaches him to see things as they are, to go right to the point, to disentangle a skein of thought, to detect what is sophistical, and to discard what is irrelevant. It prepares him to fill any post with credit, and to master any subject with facility. It shows him how to accommodate himself to others, how to throw himself into their state of mind,how to bring before them his own, how to influence them, how to come to an understanding with them, how to bear with them. He is at home in any society, he has common ground with every class; he knows when to speak and when to be silent; he is able to converse, he is able to listen; he can ask a question pertinently, and gain a lesson seasonably, when he has nothing to impart himself; he is ever ready, yet never in the way; he is a pleasant companion, and a comrade you can depend upon; he knows when to be serious and when to trifle, and he has a sure tact which enables him to trifle with gracefulness and to be serious with effect. He has the repose of a mind which lives in itself, while it lives in the world, and which has resources for its happiness at home when it cannot go abroad. He has a gift which serves him in public, and supports him in retirement, without which good fortune is but vulgar, and with which failure and disappointment have a charm. The art which tends to make a man all this, is in the object which it pursues asuseful as the art of wealth or the art of health, though it is less susceptible of method, and less tangible, less certain, less complete in its result.

     

     

    • #21
  22. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    Last term, I assigned Bloom’s book in a graduate class focused on the ancient Greek city and on Plato’s Laws, and I asked the students to write a paper on it. The point was to get them to think of our predicament, as Bloom did, in light of what they had learned from Plato. Most of them really rose to the occasion. I re-read the book one more time as they wrote their papers. It is awfully good — and, of course, it reminded me of what I lived through at Cornell fifty years ago while taking Bloom’s year-long course on Plato’s Republic. I nonetheless thought the analysis of music and its impact on the young dated. My own generation — I was born in 1948 — was obsessed with music, and I saw everyone from the Jefferson Airplane and the Four Tops to Peter, Paul, and Mary and Simon & Garfunkel in concert during my years at Cornell. But, though students today like music, it is not for them such an obsession. The deadening effect that Bloom perceived has gone further than it had gone when he wrote.

    • #22
  23. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    joeaustin (View Comment):

    Here’s the rest of the Newman quote:

    That’s fantastic. Thank you for sharing. Criticism is useful, but a positive vision is better.

    • #23
  24. MichaelKennedy Inactive
    MichaelKennedy
    @MichaelKennedy

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    Kephalithos (View Comment):

    Lilly B: So what is the purpose of college and what does it mean to be educated? Can universities deliver the kind of education that happens on campus and in classrooms though online learning at a distance? It seems that there must be an undeniable benefit from living among other students and interacting personally with professors because families and students are still spending exorbitant prices for spots at top colleges and universities.

    If conveying information were the only purpose of the university, online courses would’ve killed it a long time ago. But, as you suggest, online courses haven’t killed it, and that’s because the university is more than a purely transactional place where time and money are exchanged for knowledge.

    In our fragmented society, college is one of the few remaining social institutions to which people can meaningfully belong. It’s one of few places where an 18-year-old can meet other 18-year-olds who share her interests and values. In short, it’s a community — and it should be a community ordered to the pursuit of truth. Should be.

    As it exists, though, it’s culturally toxic, vastly overpriced, and intellectually underwhelming. The average state university could easily be replaced by online classes, and students (minus the scientists, doctors, designers, and other people whose training involves doing) wouldn’t lose much in the way of education. But they’d lose access to the university’s social world, and that does matter.

     

     College was the first time I’ve spent a long time far from home, the first time I’ve been given free reign over my academic choices, and met more than two or three people that are passionate about the same things I am, or wildly different ones. Without college I wouldn’t have traveled all over Europe, met some of my best friends, had my first romantic relationship, started Thai boxing, or started learning three new languages. There are a lot of problems with the American, and British, university system, but for all its flaws I feel that I’ve had the opportunity to engage in learning that will serve me both as a human being and as a professional, and had a vast range of experiences and connections laid before me that nothing else would have presented. (And I would add that one of the indicators of the problems laid out above is how hard students work to get into elite schools; it isn’t just about Wall Street connections and saying you went to such a prestigious institution; it’s because those schools are famous for being places people want to be, places with a community).

    If you can afford them. I was a scholarship student in Los Angeles with no car,

    • #24
  25. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    Paul A. Rahe (View Comment):

    Last term, I assigned Bloom’s book in a graduate class focused on the ancient Greek city and on Plato’s Laws, and I asked the students to write a paper on it. The point was to get them to think of our predicament, as Bloom did, in light of what they had learned from Plato. Most of them really rose to the occasion. I re-read the book one more time as they wrote their papers. It is awfully good — and, of course, it reminded me of what I lived through at Cornell fifty years ago while taking Bloom’s year-long course on Plato’s Republic. I nonetheless thought the analysis of music and its impact on the young dated. My own generation — I was born in 1948 — was obsessed with music, and I saw everyone from the Jefferson Airplane and the Four Tops to Peter, Paul, and Mary and Simon & Garfunkel in concert during my years at Cornell. But, though students today like music, it is not for them such an obsession. The deadening effect that Bloom perceived has gone further than it had gone when he wrote.

    I wonder how representative your students are, and whether my impression of current university students is too skewed by the negative stories I read in conservative news/opinion outlets. My sense is that there is loud minority of radical students that get the most attention, but it seems like many other students are afraid to speak up and challenge them.

    As for music, I remember thinking that the popular music on that radio during my college years was often bland, repetitive and unsatisfying. The more interesting music wasn’t on the radio. I loved the music of the 50s & 60s in high school, but was never very familiar with classical music. As a parent, I am becoming more familiar with Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy, and other wonderful composers due to my daughter’s passion for piano. Another daughter is developing a love of Broadway tunes, but she has yet to convince me that I should share it. What would Bloom have thought of the musical “Hamilton”? My girls have loved it, but have moved on to singing and playing other favorite songs.

    • #25
  26. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Lilly B (View Comment):
    My sense is that there is loud minority of radical students that get the most attention, but it seems like many other students are afraid to speak up and challenge them. 

    That’s my sense, too. The current Democrat Party and supporters within the bubbles that exist within their strongholds which include universities and large metropolitan urban areas are on board with these radical elements. There is a conflict between those who net produce wealth and those who net consume existing wealth. Perhaps the most useful activity of social interaction and the existence of a civil society as we have is economic. Net consumption of existing wealth does not help. 

    • #26