Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Re: College Freshmen


I’m with Robert, partly because (as I said here) I dislike the whole idea of making everyone read the same book, and partly because (as I said here, in a prior existence; responses are here, starting at the bottom) I think the Gettysburg Address is way overblown, and crushing it beneath the type of microscopic analysis that Wills employs (a) is ludicrous and (b) ruins it as a work of prose. Why do college administrators persist with schemes like this? They usually say they’re meant to give students “something in common.” So administrators spend half their time dividing students into groups by race, sex, religion, and so forth, and emphasizing their differences; then they spend the other half devising programs, workshops, and silly ideas like this to help everyone overcome them. Nothing surprising there; running a university, like many jobs, is largely a matter of making work for oneself.

This controversy shows how the libertarian/social conservative divide plays out in the field of education. I say that if a book or a course is so wonderful, let the kids read it or take it on their own. I am also skeptical of the notion that morals can or should be taught in college, except to those who choose to study them (also excepting religious colleges whose main purpose is to teach morals). The social-conservative view, by contrast, is that an acquaintance with the great ideas of history is vital for an understanding of today’s world. I’m not sure I totally buy that, but to the extent that I do, I see it as an argument against mandatory-for-all readings and classes. The surest way to make somebody hate something is to force them to do it when they don’t want to, and the belief that these works are so magnificent and timeless that everyone will automatically be fascinated seems rather naïve to me.


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