Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Modern Academy

In the latest issue of City Journal, classics professor Victor Davis Hanson writes about the erosion of the study of the humanities and traditional university education in American campuses:

Over the last four decades, various philosophical and ideological strands united to contribute to the decline of classical education. A creeping vocationalism, for one, displaced much of the liberal arts curriculum in the crowded credit-hours of indebted students. Forfeiting classical learning in order to teach undergraduates a narrow skill (what the Greeks called a technĂȘ) was predicated on the shaky notion that undergraduate instruction in business or law would produce superior CEOs or lawyers—and would more successfully inculcate the arts of logic, reasoning, fact-based knowledge, and communication so necessary for professional success.

And good riddance to it.

If I were eighteen again and graduating from high school, I would not have majored in history in college. In fact, I would not have even acquired a 4-year degree at all.

Instead, I would have gone to a community college and acquired an associate's degree in computer technology in a track that would qualify me a network administrator upon graduation. It would not only have saved me tens of thousands of dollars, but earned me more money than my frivolous explorations of medieval Europe, the Latin language, and Biblical studies ever did or could.

Studying the liberal arts expanded my mind and made me ask important questions. And when you get to be an old man of thirty-three years like me and reflect upon one's choices, transcendent truths shine consistently through the dark years.

When I look at all that I have seen and experienced, I think that only one grand thing really matters in life: money.

I've long been drawn to causes, professions, and issues that make the world a better place; that contribute to a greater humanity. But this has all been foolishness and a waste of my youth and opportunities. These were all delusions that led me astray. All that matters is the security of me and mine, and that comes from money, and the power and freedom it purchases.

It's like John Lennon sang "Money is all you need." Or something like that.

11 comments:

John Wilks said...

If your tongue is planted in your cheek, then you have crafted some wonderful satire.

If you really mean this, I hurt for you.

Marcel said...

Network administration is too easily outsourced. Choose plumbing instead, then you can make the world a better place and make a good living too.

John said...

Only very sightly in cheek. As the proverb says, nothing focuses the mind quite like the prospect of being hanged in the morning.

I am forced to confront the fact that various ideological calls (e.g. citizenship, public good, Christianity) have led me into great hardship, and prevented me from doing any significant good, and cost me so much. So my mind is now focused on what matters: money.

One of my professors (meaning very well) said "Remember that God called you and only God can uncall you." Well and good, but a sense of calling or anything else ephemeral won't pay the bills.

As for plumbing, I doubt that I have the mechanical aptitute for it. I would prefer indoor work without heavy lifting.

Anonymous said...

Marcel is right; choose something that can't be done over the Net. Once you do something that can be done by telecommuters, you're competing with the entire Third World.

(cf. Norbert Wiener's famous line about "he who competes with slave labor must accept the economic conditions of slave labor," or something like that.)

Jody Leavell said...

Get it out, John, get it out. Thanks for being honest.

DannyG said...

My first attempt to post brought up a "Blogger temp. down" message, hopefully this will not result in a double post...

One of the reasons I choose Pharmacy as an undergrad degree as opposed to something in chemistry or biology is that "...it is a degree I can feed a family with." And that is what I told several college interviewers, somewhat to their chagrin. I had to consider that I had 4 1/2 years of funding lined up, and after that I would have to be generating an income. I even had a dept. chairman call me in and ask me to switch majors (to chemistry) but practically I couldn't do it. A BS or BA in chemistry would qualify me to be a low level lab tech at best. A grad. degree and research would be the only way to earn a significant income. Now, I still planned to go the gradschool route, either pharmacology or medicinal chemistry, but along the way I found that I didn't care for the bench but rather enjoyed clinical practice, and that is what I ended up doing, but had I gone the Ph.D route I could have worked a few nights and weekends and paid my way with the Pharm. undergrad degree. Also, going back to the BS/BA, I would have had to take coursework not directly applicable to my areas of interest (i.e. the humanities).

Now, in the 28 years since my undergrad. degree, I've spent a good deal of time reading, going to museums, concerts, plays, etc. covering the same ground. At my own speed and on my own time I've covered the liberal arts that I didn't take in college, with much less cost and no stress, since that was not my major area of interest.

I think that much of what passes for the humanities can be done in non-traditional formats (online, cd/dvd, non-credit classes) better and cheaper for those who are not going there as a full-time study.

John said...

DannyG nails it:

Now, in the 28 years since my undergrad. degree, I've spent a good deal of time reading, going to museums, concerts, plays, etc. covering the same ground. At my own speed and on my own time I've covered the liberal arts that I didn't take in college, with much less cost and no stress, since that was not my major area of interest.

I think that much of what passes for the humanities can be done in non-traditional formats (online, cd/dvd, non-credit classes) better and cheaper for those who are not going there as a full-time study.


Yup. I remember learning back in college that the word 'scholar' was from the Greek for 'a man of leisure'. You gotta be rich to enjoy the humanities -- or at least not live paycheck to paycheck.

Jed Low said...

If you hadn't gleefully misquoted Lennon I wouldn't be here. Rock and roll is important stuff, tiger. You ought not mess with it.
As for the rest it makes for a sad read. I hope you make a fortune.

John said...

I do, too.

My point is this: learn a trade, not a discipline.

the reverend mommy said...

I was one pressed into a vocation rather than a calling - the mantra was "can you make a living at it?" I was not allowed to do anything as a child if it did not pertain to job-training. This included all of the arts, ballet lessons, any 'frivolous' music lessons -- my mother registered me as an accounting major my first year of college. It was a Depression mentality and I am partially grateful for it -- I know that there are many things I can do and I am "employable". However, I regret I was not given cello lessons, guitar lessons, art lessons and the like while I was young and able to "get it" in that deep sense a child is able to "get it."

I try to give the kids a balanced view -- the aesthetic things; the practical.

There are three things I believe necessary for happiness: creative, productive work, deep meaningful and loving relationships and creative, productive play (or leisure.) Without one of these three, I do not believe that a human being can be fulfilled.

Idealism must be balanced by practicality; likewise practicality must be leavened with idealism.

John said...

Emotionally fulfilled, yes. But there's something to be said for one's belly being filled. And that comes from being marketable.