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.
Curiosity, "Higher" Education, Leading a Horse to Water, and Job Security
My elitist opinion is that true higher education is, or was, designed for the few natural scholars amongst us for whom curiosity and "thinking about stuff" is a driving force. When a college degree becomes a job credential, that meaning and that purpose is lost. The idea of universal college education must, of necessity, degrade it's meaning, and it begins to be a few more years of insanely expensive high school except in the most competitive institutions, or for the wonderful but unusual nerdy student-scholars who Want To Learn Things. Having just heard a series of informal, highly enthusiastic lectures from a Georgetown kid in the Uffizi about Cimabue, Duccio and Giotto, I am not ready to despair yet: some "get it," and many do not.
From a piece by Zane:
"I guess I've always known that many students are just taking my course to get a requirement out of the way," Naumoff said. "But it was disheartening to see that some couldn't even go to the trouble of finding out the name of the person teaching the course."
The floodgates were opened and the other UNC professors at the dinner began sharing their own dispiriting stories about the troubling state of curiosity on campus. Their experiences echoed the complaints voiced by many of my book reviewers who teach at some of the nation's best schools.
All of them have noted that such ignorance isn't new -- students have always possessed far less knowledge than they should, or think they have. But in the past, ignorance tended to be a source of shame and motivation. Students were far more likely to be troubled by not-knowing, far more eager to fill such gaps by learning. As one of my reviewers, Stanley Trachtenberg, once said, "It's not that they don't know, it's that they don't care about what they don't know."
I know from experience you can't tell kids that age anything, they know it all. As did I at that age. As you get older you begin to learn all the things you don't know. I was amazed at how much smarter my Dad got as I got older.
I agree that most of the people going to college at 18 these days lack the intellectual curiousity to take full advantage of it. At 18. But, wonder of wonders, after that first year of beer and parties and the opposite sex, lots of them find their intellectual fires kindled by the better teaching than Swampscott High's. Some of our finer thinkers and writers wasted lots of those college years pursuing love or other amusements, but they eventually got on track.
As far as maturity goes, I've wondered sometimes if we shouldn't adopt the Israeli model and force everyone to serve in the armed forces for three years before college. Those unfit for the stress of the military could clear brush in national parks, or do urban cleanup, or otherwise serve their country. I'll bet that three years later many would have the maturity to benefit from college. The rest would have skills and discipline that would make them more employable.
The other thing about maturity is that any kind of real world work, the more menial the better, helps people approach college more responsibly. Even the limousine set gap year in the UK can work: spend a year working in a public health clinic in Africa and your college studies will focus wonderfully.
Finally, Americans have to admit that not everybody can hack it in college. They should just call the trade schools what they are.