A surefire applause line in any presidential speech is to promise more grants to send more people to college. But is college all it’s cracked up to be?
Camille Paglia, a college professor with a way of stirring things up, thinks that a liberal education ain’t what it used to be. Paglia says that the “humanities have been gutted by four decades of pretentious postmodernist theory and insular identity politics.”
She sees college as job preparation (something we liberal arts devotees have always eschewed in favor of joining the “fellowship of educated men and women” first and assuming that this will give you the skills to work)and that alone:
Jobs, and the preparation of students for them, should be front and center in the thinking of educators. The idea that college is a contemplative realm of humanistic inquiry, removed from vulgar material needs, is nonsense. The humanities have been gutted by four decades of pretentious postmodernist theory and insular identity politics. They bear little relationship to the liberal arts of broad perspective and profound erudition that I was lucky enough to experience in college in the 1960s.
Having taught in art schools for most of my four decades in the classroom, I am used to having students who work with their hands-ceramicists, weavers, woodworkers, metal smiths, jazz drummers. There is a calm, centered, Zen-like engagement with the physical world in their lives. In contrast, I see glib, cynical, neurotic elite-school graduates roiling everywhere in journalism and the media. They have been ill-served by their trendy, word-centered educations.
Most interestingly, Paglia calls for more emphasis on the kinds of jobs middle-class kids have been taught to spurn:
Jobs, jobs, jobs: We need a sweeping revalorization of the trades. The pressuring of middle-class young people into officebound, paper-pushing jobs is cruelly shortsighted. Concrete manual skills, once gained through the master-apprentice alliance in guilds, build a secure identity. Our present educational system defers credentialing and maturity for too long. When middle-class graduates in their mid-20s are just stepping on the bottom rung of the professional career ladder, many of their working-class peers are already self-supporting and married with young children.
Along these lines, I highly recommend Matthew Crawford’s excellent book, Shop Class as Soulcraft.