"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Beware brightly colored serpent's eggs

Anyone who thinks all high school graduates should be "college ready" is nuts.
We put our young people through 13 years of more or less mandatory public education. It's a long slog and it should make you pretty civilized.
At its end, the young adults should pause and take a deep breath. They have been through 13 years of being infused with knowledge in varying ways. The idea of starting up a new ladder beginning as a college freshman, should give them pause.
There was a time in this country when college was an elite proposition. There was a refrain about "how difficult it was to get into college."
Our leaders in business and government were expected to have a college pedigree. That's what it was: a pedigree.
The societal tremors of the 1960s included a rejection of that. It was a time of breaking down boundaries and promoting access to life's goodies.
In principle this was fine. It was fine to be revulsed by the idea of the privileged elite having an escape hatch from mandatory military service during war. Dick Cheney got multiple deferments.
We wanted the "land of opportunity" phrase to become quite literal. Because of the obvious privilege symbolized by college - how it seemed like a ticket from life's unpleasantness - there was a push to spread it around.
But any time a scarce commodity becomes less scarce, its value diminishes. This probably first sunk in when I read a book by Harvey Mackay. Mackay wasn't writing about education, he was writing about marketing. A businessman can be a pretty good all-purpose guru.
Many young people ought to ask themselves if four more years of "education" really serves a purpose. Are they really looking at it as a "rite of passage?" Are they just buying into the egalitarian or utopian notion that no one should "drop out of the race."
Is the notion just a reaction to a system where a privileged elite seems to step into leadership positions? You know, from the likes of Ivy League insitutions? Is it really necessary to dislodge such a system by its roots? Isn't it futile?
Maybe in the '60s we embraced drastic thinking - dreaming - but naivete abounded.
America with its defects was fundamentally good. Ronald Reagan helped guide us back to that way of thinking.
So, college for all? I would say no. But we still hear the refrain sometimes.
Indeed, there are those who judge the quality of high school education by whether it prepares all the kids for college. That's nutzoid. Anyone should realize the "long slog" I cited is a very long time to be fed, well, something.
I have written on this site about a college art teacher I had, who epitomized the fad of deconstruction in the 1970s. I didn't include the name of this now-deceased individual. He was part of a broad group of teachers I recall from that time.
I wrote about him because he was the worst, not that there weren't some other serious offenders.
I was lucky enough to come across a book once that shared about this phenomenon. It was a godsend because I could see that this learned author could "call a spade a spade."
I had an ally.
He's George H. Douglas, author of "Education Without Impact." It was copyrighted in 1992. He's identified as professor of English at the University of Illinois (Urbana).
I read "Education Without Impact" with fascination. The sub-title is "How our universities fail the young."
I have given away the vast majority of books in my personal collection for our public library's annual sale (mid-July). But I held on to this tome by Mr. (or Dr.) Douglas.
I hope he's still alive and contributing his constructive criticism. The chapter in which he writes most directly about my grievance is called "The New Druids and the Poisoning of the Humanities."
My goodness, what came over the humanities in the 1970s? The seeds were planted in the 1960s.
The humanities should be a place of joy. It should uplift and illuminate.
But Douglas argued it is the humanists "who have most eagerly and carelessly fallen for all the cheap-tinsel intellectual fads that have come down the road, have glutted themselves on the latest manifestations of junkthink, have written the most bloated and bombastic prose."
He described many intellectuals in the arts as "the most clannish, introspective and obscurantist in the academic zoological garden."
OK, how? (And BTW, this is the first time in my life I've ever typed "obscurantist.")
How did this come about? Let's cite the animal instinct of survival for one thing. The huge ascendancy of the sciences put the humanities on its heels, when it really needn't have happened.
We will always value the humanities. But academia is a jungle where jealousies, back-stabbing and the like flourish in as raw a form as you can find.
Douglas cites "a sense of loss" felt by the humanists.
"The scientists are in the saddle," he wrote.
The humanists were uncomfortable in their subordinate role. It wasn't enough to enjoy the novels of Charles Dickens or like fare. Professors might frown on such "desultory and enjoyable reading," to use Douglas' words. They wanted to be like the sciences where complex mysteries were solved and an esoteric tongue used.
Moreover they came to embrace deconstruction. Douglas likens them to "the Druids" with their "serpent's eggs, brightly colored, giving off smoke and hissing sounds, used to scare away the timid and the uninitiated."
Because Morris MN is a college town, a liberal arts college town no less, some of this seeped into our high school curriculum here. It was a chore poring through a lot of this.
When a classmate of mine tried citing an item in "American Heritage" magazine, she was scolded. We were to totally dismiss such reading fare, this teacher who prided himself on being college-like, told the student.
Why?
"It's superficial," the teacher sniffed.
One thing is for sure: You can't win an argument with these people. This was a truly oddball teacher who was self-absorbed and he surely should have been fired.
There was little accountability back then. There is more now, fortunately, and less tolerance I'm sure for the oddball tastes of which I write.
In my post about the art teacher, a man who went on to die in abject poverty, long out of his teaching profession, I wrote that college students in the 1970s were encouraged to dismiss everything they thought they knew.
Here are Douglas' words: "You had to cast aside everything that had once been cherished or provided the underpinning of culture."
He gives an extensive background how this pattern set in, which I won't review because of the brevity (relative) I'm seeking here.
Many boomers probably "played this game" and moved on, having no hesitation henceforth reading the likes of American Heritage.
Or "America's Civil War," a magazine a stack of which I have in the basement as a treasured resource. It's just like American Heritage. Which is to say it approaches its subjects directly, thoroughly and honestly, not with any hoity-toity airs of ponderous condescension.
Douglas called all that stuff a "blight."
I feel sorry for many impressionable students for whom the dreck may have stuck. Maybe I didn't attend church for 35 years of my adult life because of influence from academia.
Would the likes of PZ Myers, UMM instructor, look upon me with a sniff and scorn if he saw me walking up those steps at First Lutheran Church? Would he view me as some sort of curious specimen?
Of course church is nothing but a regressive opiate of the masses, right?
The professors who espouse this and who have been receptive to Marxist political thinking have a right to their opinions. If they want to stop by the Eagles Club on Friday night and air their opinions at a table where ears are available, fine. They'd fit right in with all the other foolishness.
What these people do not have a right to, is a state-supported tenured teaching position where they can build an inflated sense of their importance and influence young minds. It's the state that is ultimately responsible.
I sense the problem isn't nearly as bad as in the 1970s, but it's still out there.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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