Keeping the Ignorant Ignorant: The Destruction of Core Curricula in American Colleges and Universities

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English: The School of Athens (detail). Fresco...

English: The School of Athens (detail). Fresco, Stanza della Segnatura, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Americans are known world-wide for their ignorance of basic history, geography, and natural science. More than half of Americans totally deny biological evolution (other than perhaps microevolution). A significant number do not believe that the earth revolves around the sun. In one classroom experiment, only about 10% of students could identify the state in which they were living while in college or university on a map. Students are abysmally ignorant of the Bible, one of the major influences on Western civilization. Many cannot tell the difference between Plato and Play Dough. Despite such ignorance, there is a major push to either eliminate or to curtail core requirements in colleges and universities. Sometimes administrators lead the push, and the majority of faculty go along with radical decreases in core requirements, including requirements in the humanities, the natural sciences, and foreign languages. Why would faculty at American universities be so ignorant as to approve the destruction of a basic liberal arts education for college and university students? There are several reasons–none of them are good.

“Follow the money.” As majors in technical fields proliferate and as the hours required to fulfill such majors increase, students often spend more than four years in college. Since many students realize they cannot afford to stay more than four years, they avoid the so-called four-year degrees and go either to community college or technical school or try to get a job when they graduate from high school. In an increasingly competitive academic environment, colleges and universities seek students like mosquitoes seek blood. Students are much of the financial food for American colleges and universities, especially those without state support or without large endowments. Any policy that discourages students from attending college or staying there the full-time alloted for a degree is questioned, no matter how sensible that policy might be. Some students complain that they do not like liberal arts courses–they are difficult for students because they demand study and reading in areas in which the students are either not interested or do not believe will give them “job skills.” The fact that good communication skills and critical thinking as well as basic knowledge of the world around them is essential for jobs is lost on them. College administrators and sympathetic teachers, especially in such departments as Business and Education, support eliminating liberal arts courses to allow more hours for their major field courses without overburdening the “customers” that furnish a ready source of income for the college.

A second factor in gutting core curricula is accreditation agencies and their allies in the social sciences. accrediting agency staff, often holding weak Ed.D. degrees or degrees in the social sciences, prefer a strictly quantitative and utilitarian approach to core curricula. They push the idea of a “common core” across all degrees, which sounds good on the surface but in practice encourages a sparse core. The emphasis on outcomes-based education combined with a purely quantitative approach to evaluation is not friendly to the wisdom one can gain from a good liberal arts education, a wisdom that goes beyond the mere quantitative. Plato and Aristotle both recognized that qualitative knowledge is essential. Accrediting agencies do not deny this, of course, but they insist on quantitative measurability for qualitative criteria, a narrow approach fitting sciences such as psychology which remain stuck in a Newtonian mechanistic framework long surpassed by the natural sciences.

A third factor is the increasing role of corporate models in American institutions. Corporate models have already taken over hospitals, even non-profit hospitals, to the detriment of the fundamental ends of medicine to help sick persons in need. Business tends toward a utilitarian approach to reality in which the bottom line and “customer satisfaction” are what is most important. Considering college and university students to be “customers” is a major category mistake. If we are wanting “customer satisfaction,” why not eliminate the liberal arts all together and offer students only the courses they want to take. Those few students interested in a traditional liberal arts education can have their “consumer needs” satisfied at a college that focuses on the liberal arts. For the other customers there is a token core so college administrators and sympathetic professors can deceive themselves and pretend that their college offers a liberal arts education when it is doing no such thing.

Citizens who are woefully ignorant of history are not the kind of citizens needed in the limited democracy in the United States. Such citizens cannot place decisions of national import in historical context. They do not know enough basic economics to say anything coherent about the budget crisis. They are like the ancient barbarians who destroyed the Western Roman Empire–ignorant and uncouth, as monks struggled to keep the dregs of civilization from burning out. The saddest thing in American colleges and universities is that the barbarians–in the form of college administrators, accrediting agency staff, and many college professors–are within higher education. With the roots so rotten, the tree will inevitably die.

“Diversity” and “Multiculturalism” Divide People from One Another

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Multiculturalism-blurred-people

Multiculturalism-blurred-people (Photo credit: openDemocracy)

Recently I heard of an incident at an American university. A student walked into a library conference room. A group of black women were in the room, and they began to stare at this student. Then the student noticed the sign that said, “Do not enter. African-American Women’s Group.” The student apologized, stating that she was sorry she interrupted their meeting. Silence. Stares. The student could not say anything else given the situation, so the student walked out of the conference room and found another room in which to study.

Besides being another lesson in today’s rudeness, is it really coincidental that the group meeting in the room was sponsored by the university’s diversity office? The office is committed to “identity” as the main factor influencing one’s behavior. “Identity” is a code word for “culture,” and usually it is a code word that means “black.” Such offices, influenced by Neo-Marxist thought and identity politics, may begin by sponsoring meetings with students from outside the United States. Later, however, they tend to degenerate into offices that divide black students from white students, and if there are sufficient numbers of Hispanic students, Hispanic students from the rest of students. Western culture is the enemy. “Eurocentrism” is the enemy. Grievances are magnified with people of European descent being labeled as cruel oppressors. No wonder the students were silent in the conference room and did not respond to a sincere apology. They were facing their mortal enemy.

Diversity training” and multiculturalism are not about uniting people. They divide groups from one another. Instead of recognizing the universal human propensity for evil, they focus only on the sins of Europeans and people of European descent. The special groups who are, by definition, oppressed, can do no wrong since anything they do that seems to be wrong is only due to the oppression of others. Special groups do not have to take responsibility for their actions. They do not have to repent of their sins. They have no sin.

Only in academia could such a worldview survive. Students trained under this model will alienate potential friends and potential employers. If they do not make friends of another race or culture, they will not blame themselves—it is the oppressing “other” that is at fault. If they are not hired or are fired because of a negative and hostile attitude toward their boss and co-workers, the failure to hire or firing is due to the oppressing class acting wrongly against them. Nothing is ever the responsibility of the Holy Ones; it is all the evil Eurocentric Devil that is at fault.

Given the cesspool of contemporary “diversity training,” the federal government should stop forcing schools to focus on so-called “diversity.” Schools should have the courage to fight setting up a multicultural office or a diversity office. The only things that will result from such an office will be increased racial tension, increased isolation of groups, setting up “special studies programs” with low academic standards for the Holy Ones to take, and a breakdown of civic discourse. Multiculturalism, based on flawed Marxist ideology, cannot support true diversity—it can only push its own elitism on those who do not fit into its special groups. Liberal university administrations are not doing their students a favor when they set up a diversity or multicultural program, however well-meaning they will be. It will only end in disaster and pain.

More Insanity from the Obama Administration: Racial Balance in School Discipline

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Official photographic portrait of US President...

Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Obama justice department is pushing for racial balance in school discipline. On July 26 he gave an executive order to set up a panel funded by the federal government. This panel is empowered to find ways to lower the “disparity” of discipline between black and white students. In effect, school administrators will suspend more white students to have an allegedly more racially balanced discipline environment.

The fallacy is to move from (A) there is a disparity between the number of black students suspended vs. the number of white students to (B) such disparity reflects racial bias rather than the actual discipline situation. (B) does not follow from (A). If a higher percentage of black students commit suspendible offenses than white students, a “disparity” will take place, but that is not due to racism. If a predominately black school suspends more black students than white students, that would reflect the demographics of that school. School administrators, fearful of federal action, may set up a quota system in which every time a black student is suspended, a white (or perhaps an Asian) student will also be suspended.

This is the insanity of federal control at its finest, especially when the Obama Administration is filled with radical left wing race baiters. Putting in a quota system would inevitably result in a white student or Asian student being suspended for a relatively minor offense in order to keep “racial balance.” The same situation would take place with other forms of school discipline such as expulsion or (in the South) paddling.

It is well known that in many urban areas in the United States the black family has been in crisis for years, and the lack of two-parent families and high illegitimacy rates along with limited parental discipline lead to a hotbed of crime. Children sometimes can escape such a background, but it is difficult. Thus, many black children are coming to school as behavioral challenges. Note that the same process is starting with white families, with the white illegitimacy rate around 26% and rising. If this rises more, the suspension rates most likely will balance out. To ignore individual discipline situations and place a quota system (or even to bring “racial balance” into the discipline equation) is madness. Such a system will automatically be unfair.

Like forced busing, “racial balance” in school discipline is another federal social engineering scheme that is doomed to failure. It will lead to more whites and Asians fleeing public schools. If a private school accepts federal aid, that school will be vulnerable to be placed under Mr. Obama’s executive order. Will higher education be next? After all, colleges and universities who accept students with federal grants and loans are vulnerable to federal regulation.

This executive order is another reason to vote for Mr. Romney. Mr. Obama is bringing the country back to the age of race-based quotas in education and jobs. In the meantime, if the government panel makes recommendations that are adopted by federal regulators, schools will be forced to be unjust to white and Asian students in the administration of discipline. How far is this administration willing to go in pushing its vision of racial balance onto the world? Very far, I think, and that is frightening.

The Plight of the Ph.D.

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English: A display of the academic regalia of ...

English: A display of the academic regalia of Harvard University. Top left: Harvard Law School professional doctorate; bottom left: Harvard Divinity School masters degree; right: Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Ph.D. degree (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At http://dollarcollapse.com/welcome-to-the-third-world/welcome-to-the-third-world-part-8-a-phd-is-now-a-path-to-poverty/ is a fine article by John Rubino on the Ph.D. as a “path to poverty.” In this article, he notes that 67% of American professors are adjuncts, part-time professors who receive a set stipend per course and no benefits. American colleges and universities continue to pour out Ph.D.s. They find graduate students valuable because they teach courses themselves and do not cost the university much money. For all its alleged ideals, the contemporary college or university enjoys its pool of cheap labor, whether from graduate students or adjunct professors. In any other profession, such a situation would be criminal.

Adjunct professors have been around for many years, but in the past they were primarily used to teach evening college courses that full-time faculty did not want to teach. In those days, adjuncts were usually either retired professors or people with graduate degrees working outside a university setting who wanted to teach. The motives were either to make a little extra money or a strong desire to teach. People in those categories still work as adjuncts, especially in the evening college (and sometimes in summer school). I am proud to say that at my university, adjuncts are used primarily in the evening sessions and are used in day classes only when there is a temporary need due to, for example, a faculty member going on sabbatical. The university has also made efforts to make sure that more courses, including some outside the fall and spring semester day classes, are taught by full-time faculty.

Other colleges and universities do not necessarily have that level of integrity concerning adjuncts. State universities, increasingly strapped for cash when states are going broke, are hiring more adjuncts to teach day classes. Private schools whose endowments have dropped due to the current economic downturn have, in some cases, hired more adjuncts to save money. However, there are also schools who are doing fine financially who hire adjuncts as the most efficient economic way to teach courses. Economic efficiency and saving money rises above finding the best qualified candidate for a full time job. Now many adjuncts are as good as some full-time faculty. I was at a meeting at the American Philosophical Association in which I heard stories of candidates for full time positions who had four or five academic books published as well as multiple articles in peer-reviewed journals. Often these candidates did not find full time work and either had to remain as adjuncts or leave teaching all together. When a school can afford full-time faculty and hires adjuncts in the name of economic efficiency, this is when economic exploitation takes place. The adjuncts are treated as means to an end and not as ends in themselves, as tools to a businesslike, economically lean, “mean” college or university. This is a grossly unethical way to treat workers–and this in a world that gives lip service to helping people in need. As Rubino points out, much of contemporary academia is run like a medieval feudal system in which adjunct faculty serve as serfs and overpaid administrators function as nobles.

What can be done? First, colleges and universities who can afford to hire full-time faculty should not hire adjuncts in order to be “efficient.” Second, accreditation agencies could demand that a condition for accreditation or re-accreditation is a 90+% rate of full-time faculty during the day school. Third, schools who are financially strapped need to stop “biting off more than they can chew” economically. Fourth, adjuncts need to organize and call for an end to exploitative wages. They should demand higher stipends per course and at least the opportunity to consider health insurance plans through the university. Graduate schools should limit the number of students accepted to reflect the actual need for people with graduate degrees in a particular discipline. More full-time faculty should teach introductory courses on their own to lessen the need for more graduate teaching assistants. Schools should avoid building facilities that will significantly increase the school’s expenses.

Most people in the humanities, the area I know best, go into university teaching because of a fascination with their chosen field. They are driven to get a Ph.D. for the learning experience. I know of few Ph.D.s who would take back that experience of learning, even if they are unemployed. With the new emphasis on efficiency, potential graduate students may focus on a field that helps them to get an academic job rather than focusing on the field they love the most. That is a sad and unjust situation. A Ph.D. costs a great deal of money and time. It is a shame that some Ph.D.s in the United States are below the poverty level and receive food stamps and other welfare assistance. This unjust system must be reformed.

Sadness Regarding Academia

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English: Old Well at the University of North C...

English: Old Well at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been out of town in Tennessee, my home state, and am back in North Carolina–only to discover that my library books checked out from UNC Libraries could not be renewed because of fines. I drove to Chapel Hill, paid the fines, returned some books, and renewed and checked out more. As I walked the sparsely populated summer school campus, I felt a twinge of sadness at the current state of the academy. Academia is my job and my vocation. I enjoy working in an academic setting, teaching, reading, writing, wandering through libraries, walking around lovely campuses. At its best, the academy teaches the great traditions of Western Civilization as well as introducing students to other civilizations after they better understand out own. Great philosophy, literature, and art are introduced to students. They can also learn science, mathematics, and various technical skills. Ideally, a college or university campus should be a Mecca of learning, free-spirited discussion, and developing the wisdom to use learned knowledge in a prudent way.

Ideals are never actuality, especially in a fallen world. I remember the summer after my senior year in high school, naively thinking that college would be an intellectual community with students like those who used to appear on the GE College Bowl. Alas, that was not the case for the most part. There were serious students, but most were wanting a degree and that was it. They were not interested in learning about the high points of civilized life. It is no surprise to me, looking back to those days in the early 1980s, that the children of those students now have similar attitudes–or worse. Yet there are students who, in spite of themselves, learn something, and that is a joy to any teacher.

The saddest aspect of the current academy is its radicalization by left wing, Neo-Marxist ideas. Along with such comes speech codes, an anti-Christian bias, and a refusal to entertain alternative points of view.. What used to be a venue for knowledge has become, in most places, a soapbox for left wing propaganda. The days when the Agrarians could survive in the academy are long gone. Robert Penn Warren and John Crowe Ransom would probably pass muster–perhaps even Allen Tate. I doubt that Andrew Lytle or Donald Davidson would be hired. I do not think any of them would be hired today at Vanderbilt University where they once wielded such influence. I could name other academic conservatives from the past who would have difficulty in today’s academy, but that would be superfluous–and it is a pathetic fact that such would be superfluous. For once I would like to see a college or university that believes in teaching the classic works of Western Civilization. St. Thomas Aquinas College in California does, but it is by far a rare exception to the rule.

I hope in the future that there will be good alternatives to the academy–private tutorials in Greek and/or Latin classics or in great works in philosophy, for example. That is most likely a pipe dream. I hope that one day academics wake up that their current course often does more harm that good, creating clones instead of wise thinkers.

Students Cheating and American Subjectivism

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Ethics class

Ethics class (Photo credit: aditza121)

Students cheating in school is not a new thing, but it has become an epidemic in recent years. The Internet has made cheating easier, with thousands of term papers students buy and pass off as their own work. Cell phones are now used by students to get answers from their classmates or to look them up on a website. What is most surprising is how many students see no moral problem with cheating. Sometimes irate parents will visit a high school principle or college dean and complain that their child did not cheat, even when the evidence is overwhelmingly against the student. Is it any surprise that there are so many scandals in business and in government? Children are emulating the values of their parents, who reflect the terrible trend in American culture to want something for nothing.

The rampant relativism to which students are exposed on television, by celebrities, by the media, in the K-12 school system, and in colleges and universities makes it easy for students to become subjectivists on ethics. “Whatever floats your boat” or “Whatever I think is right is right for me and whatever you think is right for you” becomes the mantra of many students today. The most dogmatic relativists are as closed-minded as any religious fundamentalist. The fact that they become angry and try to cut a professor off when he argues against subjectivism reveals that they only want their views to be heard. Apparently the position held by the professor and by other students that everyone, including the professor, has the right to speak his mind has not sunk into these students.

I am at a loss to determine how to get beyond the impasse of relativistic propaganda in society. When the United States accepted a traditional Judeo-Christian ethic, as it did from the Second Great Awakening in the late eighteenth century through around 1963, one could argue from a common morality held by the vast majority of Americans. With the decline of Christianity and the proliferation of different religions and cultures, one could try to find common values between them–and between deeply devout people of all major religions much commonality in moral beliefs is present. Radical secularism, agnosticism, and atheism can try to develop a non-relativistic deontological or utilitarian system, but other secularists who desire to do what they want without restraint could say, “Okay, there’s a common morality needed for the good of society, but I don’t care about the good of society. There’s no God to stop me from being a self-centered ass. So that’s what I’ll be.” Without transcendent meaning, how strong is the force of the “ought” in ethics (I am borrowing this point from George Mavrodes). Students may intellectually believe in some kind of deity, but the secular relativism they have been taught from kindergarten onward has already sunk into their psyche. This fact, along with the inherent immaturity and selfishness of youth, make for a combination that will inevitably result in rampant cheating. I have had students of all grades brag to me about how they successfully cheated in school. It is a matter of pride to them. It is a matter of shame to American society that its cultural rot since 1964 has destroyed any notion of transcendent meaning (beyond trying to find it through pleasure), has promoted self-centeredness, has promoted “success” by any means necessary, and has lied to people by telling them they should be proud of their accomplishments even if they did not earn them. With churches catering to the relativist, postmodern young person without trying to correct their relativism, all that results is high recidivism and young people who leave church with the same twisted values they previously had accepted. Without a large-scale religious revival, which I do not see coming in the United States, growing irreligiosity will cause societal destruction in the U.S.–Europe had enough residual tradition to withstand falling into chaos when Europeans gave up on Christianity, but how long will that last? I expect more cheating in the future by students. Some will get caught, most will not care unless they are caught (and even then for selfish reasons), and the shred of integrity left in the American educational system will be threatened.

Accreditation and the Tyranny of the Social Sciences

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Detail of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sa...

College and university accreditation and re-accreditation has become a nightmare. Accreditation agencies demand “continuous quality improvement” to be documented by quantifiable data. Following a model that has wreaked havoc with teachers in the public school system, specific departments at a university and the university as a whole must not only form a mission statement, but formulate a series of goals and objectives to meet those goals. The objectives must be measurable in a quantitative way. Some departments require not only a list of goals and objectives for the course, but also for each week of the course. Standardized group final exams are becoming more common in certain fields, such as the physical and social sciences. The comprehensive portion of the final exam may have some of the same questions year to year so that a department can track “improvement” in students’ ability to answer certain questions covering key goals of the course.

Such a social science oriented quantitative approach to education works neither in the physical sciences nor in the humanities, and I doubt it works in some social sciences either. Science involves critical thinking, something that is more than a quantifiable measure and often involves “abduction,” an inference to the best explanation that is as much an art as it is a science. The “social science approach,” a fortiori, does not work in the humanities. Students must do some memorization of facts in the humanities as in any other field,  and they can be “objectively” tested over such facts. The humanities, however, are about critical thinking, forming a world view, interacting with the great events and texts of history, reading Plato, Aristotle, and other great philosophers who sought wisdom. Wisdom uses knowledge, but refers to the practical wisdom (prudence, or what Aristotle called phronesis) to make the best decision about how to live the good life in a specific situation. A conception of the good life implies a world view, a vision of how all things fit together into a whole. World views are by nature qualitative, not quantitative. They demand weighing different and sometimes contradictory perspectives. That is why it is important in philosophy to allow faculty to use the textbooks and the approach they choose, rather than having a “cloned” approach to teaching a course. The trend toward conformity in academia has been accelerated by pressure from aggressive accrediting agencies.

There is a line of thought in the social sciences, which is also present among some scientists who work in the natural science, that nothing is real unless it is quantifiable, including knowledge (I doubt that this line of thought has room for “wisdom”). Many psychologists, especially, take a totally quantitative approach to what they are studying. As the most conservative of sciences, psychology tends to fit better into nineteenth century though rather than into twentieth and twenty-first century thought. The situation seems like the revenge of Jeremy Bentham‘s often criticized “hedonic calculus” that tried to quantify an exact measure of pleasures and pains. The basic idea of quantifying everything has been broadened to the idea that one can operationally define any learning task and test to determine whether students have actually learned. Can Plato’s view of the Forms be operationally defined? What about the significance of World War I in the development of interwar continental philosophy? Can wisdom be operationally defined? What about truth, beauty, and goodness? The accrediting agencies are attempting to destroy what is most valuable about education–becoming wiser, with a better ability to think critically and to make judgments, exposure to different world views, the privilege of discussing differing positions with a professor. To say that qualitative measures are allowed is disingenuous since even those “must be measurable”–how? There must be a quantitative rating scale. Hopefully college and university faculty will encourage accreditation agencies to re-examine this current trend toward a bad social science model of evaluating educational quality.

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