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Replacing colleges with hope

By Bruce Walker
web posted February 16, 2004

No part of modern society is more profoundly corrupt as academia. Institutions of higher learning turn out angry, bigoted ignoramuses. What is worse, these angry, bigoted ignoramuses are given grades which flatter them into considering themselves thoughtful, perceptive scholars. Academia is utterly intolerant and utterly absurd.

Middle class families mortgage their futures so that their sons and daughters can become janissaries in the jihad against common sense and common decency which is institutionalized Leftism.

These sons and daughters spend (wasted) years providing politically correct answers to the drill sergeants of totalitarianism, and so they too acquire a profound stake in pretending that their diploma means something serious.

Goateed professors are routinely wheeled out on news programs to provide "official" truth on public policy and social issues of the day - allowing taxpayers to be excoriated and defamed by the very people whose salaries they pay.

What can be done? As every "college" has been inflated into a "university," every grade inflated from a "C" into an "A," so the whole gaseous fantasy of higher education has been inflated into the cure for every social problem.

Universities evolved out of medieval cathedral schools. Once, before the rise of childhood education, before the creation of a popular publishing industry, before the pace of information began to explode exponentially, and before people had much free time to learn, universities served some purpose.

It is doubtful that even a century ago universities were really meaningful organizations. Most of the geniuses of America - men like Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie - never went to college and had few years of primary education. Others more modern geniuses like Buckminster Fuller left prestigious colleges to do real thinking or like Ray Bradbury never really considered going to college.

College does work well in some areas. Engineers, physicians, mathematicians and other students of exact and rigorous sciences are helped by college, just like school children are helped by teachers who make sure that they learn to read, write, calculate and memorize.

This process, however, does not require the loose, low expectation environment of modern academia. What it requires more is the disciplined, time consuming approach which used to characterize American primary and secondary education. Days in the classroom, lots of homework, and very objective and standardized testing make that work.

This sort of education is relatively cheap. It costs much less to send a child to school than to send a young adult to college, and the student in school learns much more than the student in college. Why not simply add four more years of secondary education, instead of providing public support for university education? Students could be given more electives and fewer required courses, but some basics - English, hard sciences, foreign languages, math - could be required.

Eighteen year olds could be allowed to either go directly into 13th Grade or defer for a few years the continuation of their education. Very High School (or whatever we should choose to call it) would be no more fun than working, indeed, it should not be more fun than working. This should simply be what education was always intended to be in America: an opportunity for the willing to learn in a structured environment.

This reform should be implemented along with a general reform of public education - vouchers for parents, standardized tests, real threats of failing marks, classroom discipline, and non-ideological instruction - but school systems are easier to fix than universities.

While a public school teacher is probably likely to be a liberal Democrat than the average American, that school teacher is much less likely to be a doctrinaire Stalinist than a university professor. And local school boards still carry much more influence over public education than the essentially unaccountable system of university education.

Many young adults stay at home with their parents these days. Providing these young adults and their parents with options other than astronomically high college education costs or entering the workforce immediately upon graduation would be a real benefit, particularly those young adults who will be left behind as jobs become global and mental, rather than local and physical.

What of the universities? Let them continue, of course, but without a nickel of direct or indirect tax support. If the rich wish to send their children there as a sort of social club, fine. If a genuinely great professor can win the minds of college students, well and good. But let colleges, like other businesses, earn their income.

Offering free public education for four additional years would also finesse the racial quota fascism of the Left. Rather than pick and choose who will go to an expensive university, allow everyone willing to do hard school work for another four years to do so. Flunk those who really fail; pass those who earn a passing grade; honor the few overachievers.

Education has always been and will always be the private decision of an individual. Those who wish to become educated in America today will acquire an education, whether it is through visits to the public library, serious conversations with serious people, or the more structure process of formal education.

Our risible and macabre absurdity - higher education - needs to stand on its own two feet and fast. The inmates of these prisons of the mind should be released, and the actual business of learning, thinking and creating should begin.

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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