I had a conversation with an HVAC technician about our university system last week. This guy — we’ll call him Steve — was happy to criticize and insult the state of the modern intelligenstia all day long. Literally, in his case. Steve and the dry-waller (Fred) insulted things to pass the time. It was one of the many arts perfected over time in the construction industry.
But when we were talking alone, his tone changed from contempt to a kind of quiet, regretful veneration. He still disagreed with the overall political tone of colleges and universities, but like many Baby-Boomers and older Gen-Xers, he still saw higher education as the path up and out of poverty and hard labor, and into the middle class.
Distinct from this, there is also a general attitude that if you are intelligent and inclined toward intellectual pursuits, you have a kind of moral obligation to yourself to go to a university. So far as I can tell, this notion seems to have emerged ex nihilo from “Good Will Hunting,” which may be worth vivisecting at some other time (in the “you owe it to me” scene, Will’s obligations to himself are cleverly repackaged as obligations to others, but this is just a disguise).
In short, Steve and many others like him seem dimly aware that not all is well in America’s schools, but their understanding of what schools are like and about comes from their age-cohort friends who attended college somewhere between the 1960’s and the 1990’s. They assume that whatever new shortcomings today’s schools may have, they will be more or less the same as they were three or four decades ago, in terms of their cost, their benefits, and their underlying nature. They still believe that if you are smart and capable, you really should go to school.
I like to imagine that my own experience is worth something in these matters, since during my time at college (2 years), my primary focus was on education itself, and the relationship between law, pedagogy, and culture. Specifically, I was almost obsessively focused on first-amendment protections for students, since freedom of speech and freedom of inquiry were, in my opinion, prerequisites for a true liberal education.
(Here, a “liberal education” does not refer to an education which creates political liberals — schools have no trouble with that — but to an education designed to create free, capable, and virtuous citizens in a Republic capable of governing itself).
With all that focus — at an institution of higher learning, no less — I concluded that America’s education system opposed to this essential foundation. It is not just slightly meandering off course, but is ideologically, financially, and culturally opposed to the protection of the freedom of speech for teachers and students.
My own research and experience puts the Gen-X/Boomer defender of higher education in a somewhat awkward position: either I am correct, and colleges and universities should be abandoned and condemned, or I am incorrect, and the education I received in these very institutions of higher learning was of no use in leading me towards a correct understanding of things. They will usually either appeal to the vast array of other students and their opinion to the contrary (given my specific area of focus, this is like appealing to a graduate biology class’s collective opinion on matters of law, or a physics class on matters of chemistry), or they will simply express incredulity at the scale of the problem.
They can’t be THAT bad…
Let me tell an illustrative story.
In my sociology class, as a part of the curriculum, we were made to watch music videos and interpret broader social patterns from these music videos. Now, in principle, I am not at all opposed to analyzing music and learning from it. But when these music videos assert that the government administered AIDS, or that the moon landing was faked, and then the students are asked to draw grand conclusions about how others see and think about America based on these two videos (always coaxed along with strong hints from the teacher at negative feelings towards the homeland), it goes beyond the limits of what can safely be deduced from music. I had a B- in that class, up until the “Final,” and I throw that in quotation marks because I literally drew a rough sketch of Gandhi, MLK, and some Mexican politician who I saw give a half-decent TED talk. This sketch was done in sharpie on a ripped-up piece of cardboard.
That “Final” got me an A, and — if memory serves — an A- in the class.
Now it would be one thing if this was just the sociology department doing weird and nutty (and false) sociology department things. But these kinds of sociology people are, in fact, the ones that run the place. In the aftermath of the former Dean of Students at my school getting fired for stalking and raping a student, it was the ideologically possessed Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women that paid the school $300,000 dollars “to provide training around harassment, sexual assault and discrimination.”
You can’t make this shit up.
And of course, the primary speaker for the school on the whole matter is a woman named Sayumi Irey. Her title is “Executive Director of the Social Justice Leadership Institute and Interim Vice-President for Diversity.” Back when I was there in 2012, the Interim Vice-President for Diversity (then called “Equity and Pluralism”) was not part of an official Social Justice Leadership Institute, although it would not surprise me if that inclusion and the more general official embrace of their proper ideological title was the work of the rapist himself.
These are among the most powerful people on campus, and I can prove that by citing the rather absolute “Affirmation of Tolerance” which serves as a standard that all students and staff are held to:
Each of these explicitly declares the College’s commitment to inclusion, and its institutional abhorrence of any policy or practice among faculty, staff, or students that denigrates an individual, a people, or a culture.
“What, exactly” — you may ask — “constitutes a violation of this vague standard?” An excellent question. As it turns out, the people who define what does and does not conform to this standard hold chairs in the sociology department (or teach English while wishing they taught sociology; there are many of these), or they serve on some board with an innocuous name like “Social Justice Leadership Institute.” Such institutions may, if it is convenient, define speech like “I’m an American, I walk on the right side of the road” as discriminatory. Or they may define a math question as racist, if the foreign teacher — unaware of American racial associations — accidentally combines a well-known black person and a falling watermelon in an Algebra problem. And this is just at one school. Who knows what’s next.
America’s colleges and universities really are that bad. They are ideologically opposed to everything that a liberal education is supposed to provide (freedom, virtue, and civic responsibility). They are financially invested in trends which are opposed to these things for more practical reasons too, which probably makes the trajectory irreversible. This is because their bottom line increases with higher enrollment, and the broader the enrollment, the more aligned everyone must be in order to avoid conflicts. Where education is concerned, diversity is not a strength, but an impediment to learning. And of course, they have established a moral ethos in which character is judged primarily by speech, rather than by action, and the result is a culture where honesty is punished if one deigns to think an original thought, and predators who are half-clever can prey on students for years. Send your kids to college, and your daughters may well get raped, and your sons may get falsely accused of rape, and there will be little recourse in either case.
When you factor in the absurd cost of a college degree as well as the declining value of the degree itself, there is virtually no good reason I can think of to go to a University. The environment is intellectually vapid, politically totalitarian, morally corrosive, and financially destructive. Whatever they once were, today’s colleges and universities are no more. The good teachers left survive by keeping their heads down, or by leaving and finding a way to educate through other means.
This skit done back in 2015 was satire at the time, but it has become less satirical and more “normalized” in the institutions of Modern Educayshun with every passing year:
With a terrifyingly mild amount of exaggeration, I am here to tell you optimistic Boomers and Gen-Xers that yes, they really are that bad.