Untimely Observations



Let me begin by registering my agreement with Professor Charlton. It does not surprise me to learn that this gentleman teaches medicine, not social work, English composition or “women’s studies.” I expect serious thinking from someone who trains physicians -- as opposed to embattled feminists or Black Power advocates. In my years in the academic wilderness, I have discovered in abundance those deficiencies Professor Charlton points out. Most of those students I encounter give no evidence of any aptitude for or interest in higher education.

In colleges across the U.S., instructors seem perfectly suited to teaching the intellectually incompetent. Their pedagogic skills consist of working overhead projectors, organizing “group discussion sessions,” and talking about the victims of Western civilization. Although these bogus professors are certainly not God’s gift to humanity, I couldn’t imagine what else they could do in their jobs, given the discrepancy between what students should be learning and what they are capable of mastering.

It might be objected that, contrary to those who stress the cognitive preconditions for education, dull students can achieve more. This is the widely distributed argument of Peter Wood and other representatives of the National Association of Scholars.

Exponents of nurture as opposed to nature are partly right, when they suggest that we could do more to educate students in certain skills. But can the leap in the proportion of high school graduates going on to universities from about 5 percent, when I graduated high school in 1959, to over 50 percent at the present time be educationally justified? The fact that “higher education” has collapsed into make-work in most colleges is attributable to student-inflation.

Although one finds some real students in the sciences and occasionally even in the humanities, much of what goes on in college courses, and especially in education, social work and communications, rarely rises above the ridiculous. College learning has become devoid of ideational substance or real study requirements.

But who should be authorized, I hear from college administrators, to say whether a student has acquired enough learning to receive a college degree? Apparently it should depend on what the provider and customers think the product means. It’s like intelligence, which we are told exists in multiple forms, all deserving equal respect? And unless a graduate hopes to go on to medical school, a prestigious law school, or some other professional school requiring in-depth learning, no one will care what that former student has learned, providing he/she comes with a degree. There are accreditation boards, but from my experience, it would seem that those doing the visitations have exceedingly limited understanding of a proper learning environment. PC indoctrination and minority recruitment are the major concerns of the Middle Atlantic Board that pays visits to my college.

It might be countered that colleges are providing a service for which lots of people pay and therefore it would be niggling to complain about a commodity others value. Unfortunately this argument doesn’t work. We are talking not about the sale of Snicker bars or baseball cards but about something more significant. We are describing the degeneration of what used to be higher learning into an ominous development with long-range implications. The more higher learning becomes associated with what is infantile as well as dishonest, the more deeply it affects our understanding of higher education, the sciences and the process of becoming an educated person.

College education is being turned into a prolonged yap session for college enrollees -- together with an expensive “college experience” that usually entails minimal study time. We have predigested material that the professor is supposed to provide, along with fun and games. Such inventiveness is necessary to make sure the coordinator of the “learning group” gets rave evaluations. Without such evaluations instructors upset their employers, who are looking for tuition-bearing bodies. A common complaint on the right is that education is becoming an exercise in memorizing cultural Marxist views. But I would add that students pick up this gibberish as a form of ersatz learning. It is easier to learn which groups White Christian males oppressed the worst than to study calculus or Latin. Most of the students I encounter can do A without much effort, but plainly not B.

Although PC is taught at elite universities, its function there is entirely different from what it is elsewhere. In the Ivies, for example, PC constitutes the ideological basis of the present managerial order. It is the sacral and legitimating teaching of the ruling class that has to be passed on to a new generation of priests, in order to maintain the system. PC and diversity as transmitted at the top are not at all what they are at the bottom. At less than distinguished colleges, they are the candy of the intellectually challenged or hopelessly mediocre, which is pushed for among other reasons to keep government agencies and leftist accreditation boards off the backs of college administrators.

There are three obstacles I see to changing this travesty. Any attempt to scale it down it would have economic repercussions. The amount of money Americans are spending on fake education is providing employment. If college tuition money dried up, people’s job situations would be gravely affected. Moreover, until we can change the absurd demand for college diplomas even in jobs that should not require graduation from a grammar school, the glut of devalued degrees is likely to go on. Potential employers have to be convinced that college degrees should not be the entry-level requirement for non-professional areas of work. When salespeople and restaurant managers are forced to go to college in order to obtain employment, then you know you’ve stepped into the Twilight Zone.

The last obstacle to removing the eyesore is the widespread belief that going to college and receiving a degree is a “human right.” Human rights are things people want -- or think they want -- and which journalists push politicians into giving them. A college experience is one of these confected “rights,” which governments now guarantee. The only way this educational scam will stop is if three things happen: employers stop demanding intellectually worthless but costly certification for ordinary jobs that can be learned on the spot; parents run out of disposable income to pay for college experiences; and public administrators stop treating university education as a “human right.” I would be ecstatic if any of these disasters occurred and I would be even happier if they all took place simultaneously. But I doubt I’ll get my wish. And so I am forced to assume that a denatured higher learning will continue to be with us, like mosquitoes and influenza.