Trouble in River City
Perhaps my favorite philosopher, Giambattista Vico, explained it best:
"Noble students, you are to bend your best efforts toward your studies,
- not surely with such an end in view as the gaining of riches, in which the low money-grubbing crowd would easily beat you out;
- nor for high office and influence, in which you would be far outdone by the military and by courtiers;
- and still less for that which leads philosophers on, namely the love of learning itself, enthralled by which almost all of them pass their whole lives withdrawn from the public light in order to get the full enjoyment from the tranquil working of their minds and nothing else.
Something far more exalted than this is expected of you.... it is expected of you that you exert yourselves in your studies in order to manifest the heroic mind you possess and to lay foundations of learning and wisdom for the blessedness of the human race; by this course of action, not only will riches and wealth, even while you disdain them, accrue to you, but also honor and power will come looking for you, though you care for none of these things..." *
Vico recognized in the early 1700s that education was shifting. He vainly tried to promote the classic education of dialectic, rhetoric & aesthetics during the Enlightenment period when science promised a solution to all problems. Well science hasn't solved everything yet, and the students aren't getting it. We really are in trouble.
People in the general population...
- cannot do math
- cannot express their ideas articulately
- do not understand the reasoning under their deepest beliefs
- do not know the history of their own nation
- don't understand politics or economics
- do not understand compounding interest rates
- don't understand the stock markets
- never heard of a derivative
- and don’t know their musicals!
It’s this last one, (thanks Maryann) that ironically may be most important.
Somehow I got lucky, or I might have turned out like the “money grubbing crowd” with no sense of a wider world. My father is an artist and jazz musician. We were not rich, but our home was filled with art and music. My sister (also an artist) still quips that it was tough growing up there—bringing friends over to hang out where there are naked pictures of your mom on the wall.
Dad valued education and sent me to a small private college at age 18 where I studied science, lifted weights and goofed off. By the end of the year I had applied and was accepted into an electrical apprenticeship. I joined the blue-collar world instead of staying in that other place I had been living.
The gap between being a construction worker and an artist’s kid in college was expansive. Cognitive dissonance soon led me to embrace the ethic of my peers and desire the things they valued. So, I got into debt. Soon thereafter, I began to despise getting up each morning, sweating my life away on construction sites in the Arizona desert. All of it got me wondering if I should have stayed in school. But I was a debt slave, working for Bechtel, and could not go back to college easily.
Yet all things are possible with God.
Eight years later I was handed a PhD diploma and I went to work in the academic system with the intent of teaching classes that taught practical job skills along with a broader perspective. There I found much resistance to true education built right into the system.
Practical skills! Most of us already know that our high schools do not prepare us for much more that the ability to fill out forms for bureaucrats and bankers. We were betrayed and now our children continue to be sold out. But we think that college will remedy the failures of the public K-12 system. I am not convinced.
The problems in education began with the rise of Empiricism (scientific method) to the top of the educational system. In today’s world, if you cannot prove it with empirical research studies and statistics, then it is just hearsay, myth, anecdotal evidence, and Empiricists reject it. Our degree programs emphasize the ability to do research—because that is all that most professors know how to do. We read research studies, learn about research philosophy, teach empirical methods, and teach statistical analysis. The problem here is that most of our graduates do not take jobs as researchers—these require a Master’s degree. It is commonly said that people really learn their expertise on the job. And frankly, I still have not seen more than a handful of BA or BS graduates who can run a simple t-test to compare the means of two groups of subjects.
But we claim we have taught our students “critical thinking.”
What we have cut out of the curriculum are the humanities—philosophy, art, rhetoric, argumentation, history, language, literature, culture, the classics, etc.—the broad based education that many employers want to see. THIS is where I argue the seat of critical thinking resides. But the Humanities have been replaced with empiricism.
What is typically required for a college degree is this:
10 classes in the basics: science, math, writing, history, ethics, public speaking, and of course gender studies and diversity. We are just scratching the surface in all these disciplines.
10 classes in your major: a mere 10 courses in the heart of your discipline? Some degrees require as many as 20—but these tend to be very specialized like nursing, elementary education, and business and they specify electives to meet their own needs
20 classes in whatever you want! You pick! These are some selected electives.
- LGBQT in society
- Zombies in Popular Media
- Alien Sex
- Cyberporn and Society
- The Adultery Novel In and Out of Russia
- Those Sexy Victorians
- The Phallus
- Sex and romance in the media
- And of course, Sex, sex, sex, sex, baked beans and sex.
Even in college, our advisers push students to select a major, then run them through a template of popular and required classes to produce graduates who…
…cannot do math—we teach Excursions in Math 100 or some equivalent class where students learn about the various kinds of calculating, what we use calculus, trig, geometry, algebra for, but really don’t solve equations. The exception are science majors.
…cannot express their ideas articulately—We teach English 101-102 & Public speaking. Our writing labs nearly write papers for students, or they can just buy one online. Plagiarism is common. And then there is powerpoint.
…do not understand the reasoning under their deepest beliefs. We teach Philosophy 101 or Ethics 101. But two problems plague these fine classes. First, they overwhelm the kids with 2500 years of deep thought in one semester. Second, religion has been tossed out of the teaching of ethics. Not even Socrates managed to do that.**
…do not know the history of their own nation—we teach History 101-102 from sanitized history books that are silent on the real struggles that prior generations have lived through— (insert your favorite conspiracy theory here—it is probably true and the history books will not touch it. (I will admit that I am impressed with students who major in History, as well as the professors who teach upper level classes.)
…don't understand politics or economics—we teach Political Science 101. But the problem is that we divorce it from economics and do not recognize that big money is underneath politicians and political systems. We offer Economics 101 subdivided in macro & micro, but iis not required. Students roll their eyes like Bernanke looking at a silver coin in Ron Paul’s hand.
…do not understand interest rates, the stock markets & derivatives—We do teach this, in upper level Finance programs. But you and I don’t have the pre-reqs to take these classes unless you major in Finance. This is secret knowledge and commoners like us need not apply. (I am curious, some of you here have a Finance degree. Did you get the education you needed?)
…and who don’t know their musicals! Sadly, we do teach this! We teach it well, for those who want it. Here we find the elements of what it means to be human. Poetry, music, dance, the spectacle of location and set design, the central ideas of humanity, set down in an abbreviated, memorable, beautiful form that you can take with you, whistle while you work, and teach your children. Here we find embedded arguments for what is right, true, ethical, dealing with life, death, love, family, war, politics, economy, and even an appreciation for diversity! Musical theater celebrates the pinnacle of human thought and action and combines all the Arts & Humanities in a single form
All is not lost. If a person wants a good education, you can find it in college. Save philosophy for your senior year and take more than one class. Take math seriously! Take upper level sociology courses. You want to lean how to think critically? Study rhetoric—especially argumentation! Take classic literature courses. Take Abnormal Psych so you learn that everyone is screwed up—deal with it! Take all the history you can. Study anthropology & culture. Learn a foreign language, take a trip overseas and speak that language. We don’t need no stinkin’ diversity classes when students learn about another culture. Study fine art, music, take an acting class.
The education is there for your kids, but they need better guidance than the “professional” advisers in the office can provide. These good folks are undereducated and overworked.
And if you are out of college, or it is not possible to attend, keep reading sites like this, read the books our fine members recommend, watch the documentaries. Study basic Latin vocabulary so you can understand educated English. Learn new vocabulary. Read the classics. Read mythology. Read about world religions. Pick the best one and live it! Read the “Great books” series.
And watch a musical this weekend.
* Giambattista Vico 1668-1744.
** In The Gorgias, Socrates (Plato, rather) relies on “punishment by gods in the afterlife” to counter Callicles argument that “might makes right.”