National Review / Digital
Dim College Years


Rumor said the prof flipped out: pulled a pistol in front of the class, declared he was the son of Otto von Bismarck, and started yelling in German. No doubt some still took notes. This could be on the test. The incident supposedly happened a few years before I took his class, and seemed specious. Granted, lecturing seemed to be a strain; by the end of the class he looked like a hot, wet beet. But he was certainly one of the finest teachers I ever had. I wish I remembered 5 percent of what he taught us.

The class was 19th-century diplomatic history, and while I recall the pillars and timbers, the details are gone, and the characters are standing around looking bored and uncomfortable, waiting for someone to feed them their lines. The entire senior year is like an eye chart seen through pebbled glass. The Russian-lit class? A memory of aristocrats sitting around on an estate in late summer looking fretful and enervated. Renaissance art history: I seem to recall a painting of pastel-colored saints, floating up like balloons escaped from a children’s party. You despair when you recall how much you’ve forgotten.

Not just college: You think back to a History Channel documentary a few years back, which gave you a sudden command of the history of the Hittite incursions on Egypt. That’s gone, too. But at least you know where the Hittites were, and when. At least you can tell Baroque from Renaissance, Turgenev from Gogol. They’re not useful skills, but they add depth and pleasure to life. Conclusion: For some people in some instances, college is good.

Pack that seed in the nightsoil of progressive fertilization, and you have: College is good for everyone and no one should have to pay for it. Rick Santorum rolled a stink bomb into the faculty lounge the other day when he suggested college is overrated. It destroys faith, he said, and the president’s call for everyone to go to college, preferably twice, was “elitist.” He’s certainly right on the latter point. The president is a product of academia — which may explain his enthusiasm for wind energy — and hence he believes in the magic power of Credentials. If you’ve a Master’s, then a Master you must be.

As for upending the Etch A Sketch of a freshman’s belief system, parents are right to worry. Oh, the school looks like a place of gravity and tradition, what with the ivy and colonnades and Latin engraved over the doors, but parents fear that after they leave, it’s a Mazola midnight orgy on the commons with a huge picture of Che projected Bat-signal-style in the sky. To which the educators will scoff and say that’s troglodyte paranoia, and besides, Mazola might use genetically modified corn to make its oil, and that’s not sustainable.

March 19, 2012    |     Volume LXIV, No. 5

  • Competition and innovation will lower the cost of higher education.
  • Gambling is a racket, not a tool of economic development.
  • Nigel Farage wants Brussels out of Britian.
Books, Arts & Manners
The Long View  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Athwart  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Happy Warrior  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .