We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
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Tuesday, December 9. 2008
We haven't encountered a worthy "Candidate for Best Essay of the Year" lately. Here, VDH makes a plea for a classical education in his essay in City Journal, Humanities Move Off-Campus. One quote:
My temptation is to quote the whole thing.
By coincidence, we read today via Insty that Harvard is scrapping The Canon. I'm like hip to that. Groovy, dude. How advanced! How Progressive! Let's do Maya Angelou and Sting and cool shit like that! Can you dig it?
Photo: Harvard College
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The first thing that a newly appointed "expert" in any field does is to take that which is well-organized and smoothly running [in this case, the English curriculum at Harvard] and addle the eggs. Changing the terminology of the various segments of the curriculum is the first step. So "survey courses" which are designed to give the beginning student a map of what's out there before he or she chooses the area in which he wants to specialize, are now designated as "Arrivals." Isn't that cute? It's also a little confusing. Which it is meant to be. You have to wrong-foot the newcomers first so that you can slip things over on them. I read through this article this morning and my bullshit meter went off the charts.
Whoever the guy is who is now in charge is definitely planning to make things more and more unintelligible so that he can do some serious empire-building, and the students will be the losers.
Not all empire builders are politicians like Blagojevich. There are a very large number of them in Academia. And until they finally die off, this kind of pernicious rubbish will continue to happen.
I pity the students.
Is there any university in America that can deliver what one would consider a blanced and classics based education?
thud ... Back when I was a freshman at Radcliffe in 1946, the best, most balanced curriculum was, surprisingly enough, the one at M.I.T., which was striving to turn out graduates who not only had great skills in engineering, but were competent, at least, in what was called then the "liberal arts". Don't know what they call it now. And I don't know what they have at Harvard now, but it certainly sounds more than a bit "twee" to me. As you already know, that's a Brit word meaning too quaint for words -- or something. But after a working life spent observing the various grabs for power in various disciplines, I can recognize trouble when it's coming head-on down the pike.
I just now finished editing a 28 page thesis for my daughter who will graduate this Saturday from a large university in Virginia. During her first two years, she was constantly beset by having to pick courses that would add to her major, Criminal Justice and Psychology. In every instant she'd email and ask for help, and in every instant, I'd say,Go for the English literature, or the Western Civilization, or the religion courses.... anything to get her something of the liberal arts her speciality education cancelled out by necessity. She simply could not fit many liberal arts classes in much to my chagrin.
I read last year that employers are frustrated that graduates come to them fully prepared for the job but totally lacking in any appreciation for .... well, our world and the fantastic arts that make up life. These kids are not educated: They are specialized automatons who are worked to death in singular majors to fit a job description. It's not their fault, nor do I blame colleges and universities who truly have to provide so much information that the simple liberal arts education is a thing of the past. (I am not including foo foo courses.) Also, plenty of kids have to go six to seven years just to get what they need for a particular major. Our huge information world!
It might be better for your daughter to get her liberal arts education somewhere besides the typical university these days. Liberal Arts, especially at elite universities, is more infected with warped thinking than other parts of current academia. Though "Post-Normal Science" is taking a toll even in the hard sciences. Google the old Belmont Club for interesting discussions.
There are lots of wonderful ways to learn wisdom without a university. Taking many liberal arts classes at universities seriously today may impede your ability to absorb wisdom in the future.
Dennis Prager has some questions to ask about any university before sending a child there:
Oh, Meta, I sympathize with you and your daughter. It appears that the academicians in college today are continuing what the kids were taught in primary and secondary schools. Don't go for the general, well-rounded education, which would give the graduate good language skills to aid in clear thought, a basic understanding of world history and American history, at least a smattering of economics and some science [we had a science requirement, even though I was an English major]. Instead, they're "teaching the test" rather than educating the individual. I bet your daughter has had to fight them all the way to acquire what used to be called a "well-rounded education." She's lucky to have you, with your clear, inquiring mind to help fill in the gaps in what is supposed to be a college education, and sadly, often is not.
I have to disagree with the usefulness of a classical education. It doesn't prepare you to be well rounded individual. I would say that Heinlein's definition is better:
change a diaper
plan an invasion
butcher a hog
conn a ship
design a building
write a sonnet
build a wall
set a bone
comfort the dying
analyze a new problem
program a computer
cook a tasty meal
The money quote:
However, that same Harvard Crimson article includes a two-page document outlining the proposed changes. Under the plan, the four core seminars would be centered on the themes of Arrivals (“There is no such thing as writing that is indigenous or ‘native’ to England...”), Poets, Diffusions (“Between the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries, English spread around the globe...”) and Shakespeares. Under the current plan, the set of four seminars would replace the historical survey courses and a sophomore seminar on methodology, and students would have more space for electives.
“We are diminishing the role of chronology as the absolute, as the only organizing rubric ... to combine it with genres and with geography as equally viable ways of thinking about literature and studying literature,” said Donoghue.
The English studies has gone multi culti. Harvard has sacked American and English literature.
Interesting post. Thanks.
If you have an interest in the environmental situation now please stop by and read my Dec 9 post.
National Review used to put out a guide to colleges that identified fifty or so that still had a required core curriculum. After reading it in 1997, I handed it to my son and said "you can go anywhere in this book." He went to Asbury, followed by his brother, and we were quite pleased.
One of Harvard's goals in reworking the canon was to make it less chronological and more thematic. I agree with that part. I was taught literature from a chronological perspective throughout my school years, and I think it obscures more than it reveals.