Chesterton: Education, the soul of society

Chesterton – Education, the soul of society

One of the great failings – indeed, bitter tragedies – of our present age is that today’s education is not passing on the soul of society from one generation to another, but rather bludgeoning it to death, or at least, into unrecognizability.

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Einschulung: the first day of school in Germany!

 

“The first day of school in Germany, known as Einschulung, begins with a Saturday celebration that includes bags of candy, presents, and more!”

Just another example of the fact that many of the rest of us could profitably take a page from the traditional German book! In any case, this is an awesome tradition, one which I hope is preserved. And one which, as I say, more of us might find it helpful to adopt, in one form or another (the cones are a German tradition; non-Germans among us might find another container, out of respect).

Note that specific details of this tradition may vary, according to where you are in Germany. For more details, see this accountor this one, which includes some German vocabulary!

Mike Rowe: Lending money to kids who can’t pay it back to educate them for jobs that don’t exist anymore is a bad idea.

I think Mike Rowe is quite on-target with this. As a friend of mine put it, when she posted this on Facebook earlier today,

“I don’t regret college, I believe it was the right choice for me, but I do regret not being more thoughtful about the degree I chose. I love history but if I had it to do over again, I would double major in something a little more employable.

“Let’s stop telling kids if they get a college degree they won’t have a problem getting a job. We have too many college graduates with the equivalent of a mortgage at the age of 22 who are under- and unemployed for that to be true. Seek all options and find what works for you.”

Indeed. I have said for years that we as a society make a mistake when we try to sell “college for all.” For any reason, but particularly as a ticket out of poverty!

First and foremost, not everyone has the intellectual gifts and temperament for college. Actually getting them through it – which we must, if we are claiming that anyone can go to college, and everyone should – means that a) academic standards are being “dumbed down,” and b) colleges themselves are refashioning themselves into glorified vocational institutes, which is unfair both to them, and to genuine vocational institutes, which have for a long time gotten a great deal less credit and support than they deserve.

On a related note, it fosters the greed and expansionism (both part of fallen human nature) to which colleges and universities – no less than any other large human institutions – are prey, leading them to seek to recruit more and more students (whether they are what was once called “college material” or not), thus exacerbating the problems.

Speaking of problems, when more and more students are (by hook or by crook) graduating, diploma in hand, we have a growing issue of degree inflation: in which an Associate’s, or even a Bachelor’s, degree is needed to perform jobs which once could be filled by a qualified high school graduate, a Masters to fill what were formerly Baccalaureate positions, and a Doctorate to fill what used to be Masters-level positions.

Which of course means that now more and more people are trying to go to college or “uni,” because what used to be a helpful bonus is now a necessity! And once again the problem grows…

From the standpoint of economic success, the reason a college or university degree used to be a pathway out of poverty is precisely because it was RARE. It was indicative of a person with an unusually high degree of intellect, drive / determination, or simple sticktoitiveness, either singly or in combination. That is obviously not the case when a degree is simply another ticket to be punched, on one’s way (hopefully, but less certainly all the time) up the ladder.

It was also viewed by those tasked with hiring as a major plus because a college or university graduate could reasonably be considered to be a person who had both a certain broadness of perspective, and who had received training in broadening and fostering his or her critical thinking skills.

With colleges and universities morphing into vocational training schools, the classic liberal arts breadth of perspective is increasingly becoming a thing of the past; while even a brief survey of the level of political – or if there even was such a thing any more, philosophical – discourse in this county by folks who theoretically are the beneficiaries of higher education leads to the inescapable conclusion that critical thinking can no longer be counted upon as one of the fruits of such education.

But the root problem is this: if everyone has a thing, it is no longer special. Would anybody care about having a Porsche, if everybody had a Porsche? Businesses aren’t going to pay someone more for a college degree if everyone has a college degree! So the more people who seek one as a means of getting hired, or paid more, the less likelihood there is that any particular degree-holder is going to be hired, or given a raise.

The most they will do is refuse to consider anyone who does not hold a degree, transforming what – as I mentioned above – used to be a selling point, into a necessity. It is difficult for me to see how this is an improvement in the situation!

On a personal level, I agree with you, Olivia: I am the holder of a B.A. in medieval studies, and a Masters in theology. While I do not (usually) regret either degree, I also have to be honest enough to admit that cool as they are, neither has proven particularly salable! They have not brought me the level of financial stability – forget about “success,” whatever that means – that the salesmen for universal college education would like people to believe.

If I could do it over again, I, too, would have chosen my major(s) with more care, taken a second and more salable major, or at the very least gotten my teaching certificate when I was in college the first time. Or perhaps better yet, learned a trade, to fall back on. Degree inflation was already a “thing” when I graduated in 1991, and the intervening almost 30 years have increased the problem exponentially!

That doesn’t mean that those degrees weren’t worthwhile in other respects: they were, and are. I am very glad, from a personal and philosophical standpoint, that I got the education I did. But as money-makers? Not so much. Thank God I didn’t go on for Ph.D. study, and come out with that level of debt, and not much more chance of finding employment!

If I had dictatorial powers, I would make colleges and universities smaller, not larger; shrink, rather than increase, their enrollment; and return them to what they used to be: places for those who wished to grapple with the larger and deeper existential questions of life – for the pursuit of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. At the same time, I would strengthen opportunities for vocational / technical learning, which is badly needed, and which can be done more efficiently and economically in other contexts than a college or university environment.

Higher education and vocational training are not the same thing, and it’s time we stopped pretending that they are.

‘The Great Shame of Our Profession’ | The Chronicle of Higher Education

How the humanities survive on exploitation.

Source: ‘The Great Shame of Our Profession’ – The Chronicle of Higher Education

I am not, generally, a big fan of The Chronicle of Higher Education, and I have soured significantly on “the academy” – as it is now constructed and run, not as it once was and has the potential to be again – in recent years and decades. The linked article is a good explication of why. Here is just one brief excerpt:

“The abysmal conditions of adjuncts are not the inevitable byproducts of an economy with limited space for literature. They are intentional. Universities rely upon a revolving door of new Ph.D.s who work temporarily for unsustainable wages before giving up and being replaced by next year’s surplus doctorates. Adjuncts now do most university teaching and grading at a fraction of the price, so that the ladder faculty have the time and resources to write. We take the love that young people have for literature and use it to support the research of a tiny elite.”

As much as I love writing, and as much as I respect those who write well and on worthwhile subjects, when I was dreaming of becoming a professor, I did not want to write, primarily and as a major end of my professorship: I wanted to teach. I wanted to share such knowledge as I had, by God’s grace, managed to acquire with young (mostly) people who were hungry for it, in some cases whether they knew it or not. The old saw, “publish or perish,” stuck in my craw, as I knew that would take time and energy away from actually teaching – actually professing, the theoretical job of a professor (a.k.a. “teacher of the love of wisdom,” philosophiae doctor, the meaning of Ph.D.).

Clearly, the situation has not improved in the decades since the mid-1990s, when I pretty much laid that dream to rest. “Adjuncts now do most university teaching and grading at a fraction of the price, so that the ladder faculty have the time and resources to write.” That pretty much says it all. Don’t get me wrong, I (of all people) am not knocking writing, per se! But when it takes so much time away from actual teaching that the only way to maintain the educational function of an institution of higher learning is to hire underpaid, easily-fired adjuncts to do the “dirty work” of actually teaching – because the “ladder faculty” are so busy writing they don’t have time to actually interact with students – something is badly wrong.

The problem is not limited to higher education, of course; non-profits, and even county- and state-funded agencies, rely on low-paid or non-paid interns, volunteers, or seasonals to do the majority of their work. I have written before of the bitter irony that volunteers are considered to be “worth” $24.14/hour (as of 2016), based on their value to the organization, according to Independent Sector – while those same organizations pay their part-times and seasonals (which describes just about everyone except the director) $9 or $11 an hour. The situation clearly is not much improved if you’ve spent years of your life and many thousands of dollars getting a doctorate. That is appalling.

The writer of this article is a literary critic, but the same is true throughout the humanities. He goes on to add, “This is the great shame of our profession. We tell our students to study literature because it will make them better human beings, that in our classrooms they will learn empathy and wisdom, thoughtfulness and understanding. And yet the institutions supporting literary criticism are callous and morally incoherent.”

That is indeed – or should be – a source of great shame. Surely we can do better. Surely we must!

Education, the arts, metaphysics, and robber-barons – inspired by “I’ll Take My Stand”

https://i1.wp.com/solidarityhall.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/takemystand1.jpg?resize=202%2C300Here’s another excerpt from Donald Davidson’s essay, “A Mirror for Artists,” in I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition (1930), with my thoughts inspired thereby, following:

“Education can do comparatively little to aid the cause of the arts as long as it must turn out graduates into an industrialized society which demands specialists in vocational, technical, and scientific subjects. The humanities, which could reasonably be expected to foster the arts, have fought a losing battle since the issue between vocational and liberal education was raised in the nineteenth century…’

“The more they indoctrinate the student with their values, the more unhappy they will make him. For he will be spoiled for the industrial tasks [and the same could be said of technology, or the “service economy”] by being rendered inefficient. He will not fit in. The more refined and intelligent he becomes, the more surely he will see in the material world the lack of the image of nobility and beauty that the humanities inculcate in him.”

Maybe this is the true reason that so many colleges and universities seem to be trying to re-envision themselves as glorified vocational schools! The proximate cause may be the (arguably laudable, on the face of it) desire by institutions of higher learning to make themselves more “relevant” and help their students get jobs with their diplomas.

But it may be that the ultimate cause is the desire of the puppeteers that pull the strings in so many aspects of society – the globalist, corporatist plutocrats, the vulture capitalists and profiteers, the robber-barons of the 21st century – to suppress aspirations toward the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, in favor of their (un)holy trinity of Production, Consumption, and Profit.

It certainly would suit those whose goal in life is to make money by selling “stuff” (whether goods or services) to promote the creation of a society of mindless drones who are numbed by the technological equivalent of “bread and circuses” into a passive existence where getting said “stuff” and being entertained (mostly electronically, which doesn’t even require a person to leave the house) becomes the goal of an otherwise largely futile and nihilistic existence.

They certainly wouldn’t want people to be seriously wrestling with questions like “what is the Good?” or “how do we reach it?” or “what is the proper end of a human being?” Or struggling with attempting to discern the meaning of Truth, or which volitional (self-willed) acts of a human being are ethically virtuous, and which are ethically vicious. Or even grappling with the characteristics of genuine Beauty, and the relationship between and among Beauty, Truth, and Goodness, the classical Three Transcendentals.

Best not to even admit that there might be such a thing as transcendence. Certainly under no circumstances should they be led down trails which might lead them to the consideration that there may be some sort of actual, objective Divine Reality, outside the constraints of our physical-sensory universe (although in significant ways immanent within it) – and especially not one which is personal, concerned with humanity, and which has both plans for, and expectations of, us humans!

Human beings concerned about such matters would be lousy consumers of “stuff,” since they might begin to suspect that there may after all be higher aspirations which are, in the long run, more important…

History isn’t a ‘useless’ major. It teaches critical thinking, something America needs plenty more of | LA Times

History isn't a 'useless' major. It teaches critical thinking, something America needs plenty more of

Why are college students turning away from studying history as preparation for a future as citizens and workers?

Source: History isn’t a ‘useless’ major. It teaches critical thinking, something America needs plenty more of | LA Times

The humanities strike back!

Of course, the author feels that he has to defend history (and the humanities generally) as being excellent preparation for “real-world” careers such as business and technology – which they are, without question – rather than pointing out, except obliquely, their necessity for constructive thought and good citizenship in the polis, the public square, especially in a representative democratic-republican society which absolutely requires an informed citizenry. Nonetheless, this is an encouraging article.

While currently an almost minuscule proportion of degrees awarded – as this article points out – I am seeing the beginnings of a stir of push-back, as more and more people begin to realize, or promote, the idea that the humanities do, in fact, have value, both in themselves and for the way in which they teach people to think critically and constructively. I will never forget one of my favorite college professors noting that “the most important thing a college education can give you is a good crap detector.” He was and is correct!

With respect to history in particular, however: it does indeed teach critical thinking, and is valuable for that reason; but it also teaches vital content. As the inscription literally graven in stone above the entrance to the National Archives puts it, “What is past, is prologue.” Learning our history provides us with the tools to make sense of the present, and to shape a coherent and constructive course into the future. That we seem all-too-often incapable of doing either is an indictment of our willingness to abandon historical knowledge!

And of course, failure to learn our history cuts us off from our roots. As I have commented previously, a society is very like a great tree, in that if it is separated from its roots, it is far more likely to wither than to blossom and bring forth fruits and new growth. Indeed, one can say that that withering is absolutely inevitable – the question being not “if,” but only how quickly!

There is evidence that the pendulum is beginning to swing back in a more conservative / traditional direction, with respect to socio-political matters. Let us hope and pray that it swings back in the academy, as well.

Medieval Schools – Wrath Of Gnon on Twitter

“Far from what we imagine today, schools were available to many children in medieval England, as long as the family could spare their labour. Apart from monastic schools, there were free standing private grammar schools in many parishes. Here is the medievalist Nicholas Orme…”

“So much for the ‘Dark Ages’… Modern education in England (and indeed the world) has the early medieval schools to thank for almost every aspect of what we today take for granted…”

As an academically-trained, as well as avocational, medievalist (my B.A. is in medieval studies, and my Master of Theological Studies was focused primarily on early and medieval Christianity), “so much for the Dark Ages” is a pretty good condensation of my own conclusions! The “Dark Ages” were not nearly as “dark” as most people think; there was a good deal of scholarship, and quite a lot of creative thought, going on in them, and while some elements of the knowledge of late Hellenistic antiquity were lost to the West until the Renaissance, thanks to both monasteries and cathedral schools, much survived.

What I had not fully realized was the extent to which that knowledge was available outside of the cloister and the University. I should have! I was aware of private tutors, as well as the vast number of “clerks in minor orders” who were not, properly speaking, clergy, but who were the recipients of academic training in the aforementioned monastic and cathedral schools, and later the Universities, and passed that knowledge on – for a fee! – outside the walls.

What I hadn’t realized, but should have, was that then as now, education began young: for how could older youth be beneficiaries of knowledge without the seeds of learning being sown in their younger years? Latin is not learned overnight, nor is philosophy, nor yet the trivium and quadrivium. The existence of parish grammar schools is not something I had thought much about, one way or the other, but it is certainly not surprising.

Most interesting, though. Most interesting indeed!