I said to a gathering of brainy undergraduates and graduate students: You will be attending a drinks party in London in your role as a freshly minted investment banking trainee. You will open your mouth in conversation and verify that you are not really up to par in a world dominated by graduates of Oxford and Cambridge. You will be mortified and likely ostracized from the smart set.
But you thought you were educated after four years at a well known liberal arts university. More than likely, you were not.
Rather, you breezed by the front gate of college with your impervious self-esteem and faux 4.5 grade average and gamboled through “Sexuality of Polish Women Artists,” “Gender as Power,” “Transsexual Influences in the Renaissance,” and other such rot that you, in your confident belief in yourself, chose to take because you have been told you are so smart, and have been all your young life. Not for you the drudgery of required courses chosen by older and wiser professors as critical subjects that previously served to assure professors you are not in need of class-time-wasting remedial instruction. No, you were the anointed one the college accepted, figuring you could puzzle out yourself the essence of higher education. Turns out you couldn’t.
Within academia, the big questions pondered are the cost of higher education, which school is best for a student, or calculations to assure a return in future salary against tuition investment. Or the impact of Internet courses, administrative bloat, low income and minority recruitment, and the compromises required in coursework and grading methods to ensure competitive sports programs (a real plus in attracting applications). The scandal in the curriculum at top-rated colleges and universities is certainly on the agenda but few have the gumption to face off with the empowered and impacted professoriate who run the university asylum–the successors to the radical scholars who destroyed the traditional core curriculum for its racism, chauvinism, and imperialism.
Yet, the question gnaws. How can society function as more and more college graduates, as Randy Newman put it in his classic song Rednecks, “go into LSU dumb and they come out of LSU dumb too”? The answer is by re-instituting what was often called the General College, two years of required courses for freshmen and sophomores. Whether or not the curriculum matched a student’s major or his career, it assured parents, the public, and the students that they were literate, numerate, and possessed a sense of the sweep of history and knowledge of the calculus of politics and government. That they could hold their own in a London drinks party.