Does the Academic Left Understand Human Nature?

I started my morning by clicking my bookmark for Minding the Campus (you should all bookmark Minding the Campus) and reading Peter Wood’s excellent dissection of the California Faculty Association’s “Guiding Principles” in its “Campaign for the Future of Higher Education.”  These principles, apparently developed in concert with representatives from the AAUP, American Federation of Teachers, and National Educational Association, articulate an establishment academic-Left vision for our colleges and universities. While I can’t improve on Peter’s essay, I did want to highlight one of the CFA’s Guiding Principles:

Higher education in the twenty-first century must be inclusive; it should be available to and affordable for all who can benefit from and want a college education.  

Why highlight this principle? Because I think it’s particularly illustrative of the excessive idealism that underlies the Left’s view of human nature — and why conservatives and liberals so often talk past each other in political/philosophical debates. One of my liberal friends would look at that sentence and be genuinely puzzled how anyone could find that objectionable. Don’t we want kids to go to college? Don’t we want affordable college educations? Who could be against that? They look at college and think, “The more, the merrier.”  

Conservatives see people a bit differently, realizing that many millions of individuals simply do not have the tools to succeed in higher education. So I look at that sentence and think: If we throw open the campus gates to “all who can benefit from and want a college education,” the college education itself will have to be dumbed down to near-irrelevance. Human beings — while generally aspiring to a better life — also have vastly different different levels of intelligence, self-discipline, and personal morality. Simply put, millions of students are not prepared (whether because of failing schools or lack of personal desire) to buckle down, study hard, and reap the benefits of a quality college education. If a college requires anything substantial from them, they’ll fail.  

If you have college for all but don’t dumb down the standards, the dropout rate will stagger the imagination. If you have college for all and lower standards so that most can earn a degree, then you devalue college by transforming it into something more like a longer and (much) more expensive high school. So then the high-achievers will feel an even greater imperative to go to the next level. High school becomes middle school, college becomes high school, graduate school becomes college, and our prolonged adolescence continues and worsens.


David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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