Saturday, June 18, 2011

FLG's Second Favorite Tocqueville Passage Again

Matthew Cameron:
Instead of trying to reengineer the purpose of college toward providing kids with job skills, it might be time to consider more efficient ways to provide those job skills. As Tierney points out, large lecture classes offer little beyond what students can obtain in community colleges or online courses. Therefore, individuals who want to forgo the non-skills oriented liberal arts component of higher education should be encouraged to opt for those more affordable alternatives. This will both free up resources at traditional universities and will reduce the financial pressures put on students seeking to improve their credentials. In the latter case, it could enable those students to become more engaged with their studies since they no longer will have to work 30-hour-per-week jobs just to pay their way through school.

One relatively small point FLG would like to make is that he knew far, far more students working "30-hour-per-week jobs just to pay their way through school" at the community college he attended than the flagship state school or Georgetown. Sure, there were a handful at those two schools doing it, but they were in no way representative. Now, FLG's experience isn't data, but he finds it hard to believe that there is a huge potential to free up resources at traditional universities by shifting people with full-time jobs out. Perhaps the proposal is to offer skills-oriented BAs at community colleges so that students never have to transfer to a traditional university, which may be a viable possibility.

More broadly, however, FLG would like to take the opportunity, as he does frequently, to highlight that people are simply reiterating what Tocqueville wrote:
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.

Having just posted the above, FLG realized he never posts the paragraph that precedes the above, which is actually sorta funny because he thinks that the preceding paragraph is more interesting. One question, if you've read the above paragraph in isolation, is: why exactly is it in the interest of individuals and security of the commonwealth that people study business, economics, computer science, engineering, etc? Here, Tocqueville's answer is fascinating:
It is important that this point should be clearly understood. A particular study may be useful to the literature of a people without being appropriate to its social and political wants. If men were to persist in teaching nothing but the literature of the dead languages in a community where everyone is habitually led to make vehement exertions to augment or to maintain his fortune, the result would be a very polished, but a very dangerous set of citizens. For as their social and political condition would give them every day a sense of wants, which their education would never teach them to supply, they would perturb the state, in the name of the Greeks and Romans, instead of enriching it by their productive industry.

Simply replace "in the name of the Greeks and Romans" with "Economic and Social Justice," and FLG believes Tocqueville's argument has been appropriately updated.

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