Thursday, October 14, 2010

FLG Is Becoming Increasingly Convinced That Tocqueville Was Right

...about education. There's been a lot of tut-tutting about how the budget ax is falling largely upon the humanities, with the supposedly more practical pursuits rendered more or less sacrosanct. As a former engineering student who thinks the entire idea of promoting science and math education to compete in the global economy is stupid, FLG is sympathetic to this argument from a Stanford French professor:
The irony, of course, is that a B.A. in French or classics provides students with many of the qualities that employers most commonly request, such as critical thinking, cultural proficiency, and good writing and communication skills. A solid liberal education is just as beneficial for the vast majority of professions; in addition, it prepares for a life well-lived, and not just for a career. But if universities continue to charge as much as they do, they will progressively steer students away from the very subjects that, until recently, constituted the very core of the university.

But the sad reality might be this:
It is evident that in democratic communities the interest of individuals as well as the security of the commonwealth demands that the education of the greater number should be scientific, commercial, and industrial rather than literary. Greek and Latin should not be taught in all the schools; but it is important that those who, by their natural disposition or their fortune, are destined to cultivate letters or prepared to relish them should find schools where a complete knowledge of ancient literature may be acquired and where the true scholar may be formed. A few excellent universities would do more towards the attainment of this object than a multitude of bad grammar-schools, where superfluous matters, badly learned, stand in the way of sound instruction in necessary studies.

1 comment:

The Ancient said...

From today's NYT:

Mr. Browne’s report also proposes withdrawing government support completely from subjects in the arts and humanities and concentrating it in areas he believes contribute more to the economy, like science and engineering.

“As far as I’m concerned, this is philistinism on a large scale,” said Paul Cottrell, the head of policy at the University and College Union, which represents teachers in higher education. Some universities may have to abolish subjects in the humanities, Mr. Cottrell said. “The alternative is to cut costs,” he said, “but as soon as you do that you get a reputation for poor quality, and you lose your overseas students pretty quickly.”

While institutions like Oxford or Cambridge can easily find students willing to pay, higher tuition would probably create problems for smaller, less respected or less research-intensive universities, or for those with poorer students, Mr. Cottrell said.

“The question is whether all institutions would be able to attract students at that level of tuition,” he said. “We think a lot of students will be put off, so demand will fall. And it’s possible that some of our institutions will fail, if their only source of income is teaching funding and they get very little research funding.”

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