Really Excellent Sheep

When elite universities boast that they teach their students how to think, they mean that they teach them the analytic and rhetorical skills necessary for success in law or medicine or science or business. But a humanistic education is supposed to mean something more than that, as universities still dimly feel. So when students get to college, they hear a couple of speeches telling them to ask the big questions, and when they graduate, they hear a couple more speeches telling them to ask the big questions. And in between, they spend four years taking courses that train them to ask the little questions—specialized courses, taught by specialized professors, aimed at specialized students. Although the notion of breadth is implicit in the very idea of a liberal arts education, the admissions process increasingly selects for kids who have already begun to think of themselves in specialized terms—the junior journalist, the budding astronomer, the language prodigy. We are slouching, even at elite schools, toward a glorified form of vocational training.

The American Scholar – The Disadvantages of an Elite Education By William Deresiewicz.

This might be one of those articles in which a very privileged person suddenly wakes up to their privileges and starts feeling all bad and stuff. It might be a serious attack on class privileges too. The real problems is that academics tend to see writing and teaching in almost magical terms.

Deresiewicz, in other words, is not going to go so far as to argue in favor of those other forms of power– union organizing, say– that have historically been used by those people he has so much trouble talking to, that is, working people.

Teaching and writing are fine things, of course, but it’s hard to imagine how a shift in curriculum, or even hundreds of articles and dozens of new courses, are going to wrest power away from those Yale Alumni and their ilk. They may be sheep, but they are well-organized sheep.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Post Navigation