Friday, May 24, 2013

How to Fix College (with a Dress Code?)

Harvey Mansfield, professor of government at Harvard, usually has something interesting to say. This article isn't his finest hour, but it does contain a noteworthy paragraph:

Bowdoin’s curriculum lacks the academic standards of excellence that conservatives mostly and mainly defend in academia with little or no help these days from liberals. It is conservatives who deplore and resist the brazen politicization of the classroom, the loss of the great books, indeed the disregard of greatness in general, the corruption of grade inflation, the cheap satisfactions of trendiness, the mess of sexual license, the distractions of ideology, the aggrandizement and servility of administrators, the pretense and dissembling of affirmative action, the unmanly advice of psychologists, the partisan nonsense of professional associations, and the unseemly subservience everywhere to student opinion.

As you can tell from this blog, there is at least one psychologist standing who believes passionately in the great books. Naturally, because it is my ox being gored, I would like to know just what "unmanly advice" he supposes that psychologists are providing. I don't think that he is referring to the fact that most American psychologists are women, nor do I believe that he is asserting that psychologists are necessarily wimps. He is faulting some specific, psychologically-informed policies, and I just wish I knew what they were. If he is referring to the ill-starred self-esteem and "social promotion" movements, then I agree with him.

Former classics professor and historian Victor Davis Hanson also indicts psychology in the destruction of American education:

The K-12 public education system is essentially wrecked. No longer can any professor expect an incoming college freshman to know what Okinawa, John Quincy Adams, Shiloh, the Parthenon, the Reformation, John Locke, the Second Amendment, or the Pythagorean Theorem is. An entire American culture, the West itself, its ideas and experiences, have simply vanished on the altar of therapy.

The point is, I gather, that rather than expect students to learn that which is worth knowing, we are overly concerned with making sure that they feel good about themselves (and that involves giving them ludicrously inflated grades). Hanson has a remedy for the state of American education, one that is well worth contemplating:

Four years of high-school Latin would dramatically arrest the decline in American education. In particular, such instruction would do more for minority youths than all the ‘role model’ diversity sermons on Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, Montezuma, and Caesar Chavez put together. Nothing so enriches the vocabulary, so instructs about English grammar and syntax, so creates a discipline of the mind, an elegance of expression, and serves as a gateway to the thinking and values of Western civilization as mastery of a page of Virgil or Livy (except perhaps Sophocles’s Antigone in Greek or Thucydides’ dialogue at Melos). After some 20 years of teaching mostly minority youth Greek, Latin, and ancient history and literature in translation (1984-2004), I came to the unfortunate conclusion that ethnic studies, women studies—indeed, anything “studies”— were perhaps the fruits of some evil plot dreamed up by illiberal white separatists to ensure that poor minority students in the public schools and universities were offered only a third-rate education.

If you complete four years of high school Latin, there is no doubt that you have learned the most important academic skill of all -- How to Study.

Here's a link to a great report on "How to Fix College," with some of the highlights here:
Will Fitzhugh, Founder, The Concord Review“It would be great and interesting for all concerned if every college student had to present a one-hour talk on some topic on which he had recently done research…”

Joseph Epstein, Author, most recently of Essays in Biography
“The condition of undergraduate education strikes me as so sad, so wildly screwed up, and so heavily screened off from reality that no single sweeping reform is likely to help. A number of small reforms, though, might make for a beginning. Two I suggest are a dress code and a rigid protocol of address. I suggest these not for students, but for faculty…”

George Dent, Professor of Law, Case Western Reserve University School of Law
“Big-time sports are corrupting higher education. They should be abolished…”

Andrew Gillen, Research Director, Education Sector
“As college costs continually rise, students are increasingly concerned with the impact attending college will have on future jobs and earnings. Yet virtually no data exist to help inform this important decision…”

Charles Mitchell,
Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Commonwealth Foundation
“Five words: mandatory physical labor, every student…”

Charles Murray
, W.H. Brady Scholar, American Enterprise Institute
“Pass a federal law that no teacher in a college or university that receives federal funds shall be allowed to award an A to more than 7 percent of the students in any course…”

Bradley C. S. Watson
, Philip M. McKenna Professor of Politics; Co-Director, Center for Political and Economic Thought, Saint Vincent College
“Rely on primary sources exclusively. This can be done readily in most social sciences and humanities disciplines. Even most natural science disciplines could assign more primary source readings to good effect…”
Tom Wolfe
, Ph.D., American Studies, Yale, 1957; Author, Back to Blood
“1. Cut undergraduate education from four years to two…
2. Limit the curriculum, over the two years, to remedial education and core subjects…
3. Male students will have a dress code requiring long-sleeved cotton shirts (ties optional) and conventionally cut jackets—e.g., no jacket collars wider than the lapels—whenever they are on campus. Female students will abide by a dress code that, without saying so, makes it impossible to dress in the currently highly fashionable (among young women) slut style.
If the students complain that these codes make them look different from most other people their age, the reply is, ‘Now you’re catching on.’”

See the full article at the National Association of Scholars website.

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