Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The new learning that failed

A lament for the state of university education today at the New Criterion. Long, but worth it. A few quotes
The triumph of the therapeutic and the eclipse of the tragic ensured that students' expectations soared even as their intellectual and mental abilities to handle inevitable setbacks eroded. The result was a weird marriage in both today's student and professor of arrogance and ignorance—assurance that bad things either won't happen or can be easily addressed by identifying the right -ism or -ology, but utter confusion when that never seems quite to be the case.
Since radical egalitarianism, not truth, is the primary mission of the university, details, of whether Ward Churchill ever had a Ph.D. or was a Native American, or whether the Duke lacrosse players were innocent, or whether the integrity of a campus chapel was worthy of respect, mean little. Proper intent—conveniently amorphous and changeable—always trumped cruel fact: the Duke sex entertainer was, after all, a poor African-American performing for a white privileged audience; a Ward Churchill really was sympathetic to Native Americans, and not to the corporate power structure; a cross really does privilege Christianity over Islam.
In conclusion, we can assess the value of classical learning in the life of the university by illustrating how non-Hellenic are the contemporary university agendas of popular culture, therapy, political correctness, and vocationalism. The Greeks remind us that there are rules to acquiring knowledge not found on the street, that the world is not always a happy place, and that we must prepare for a Hobbesian life that is sometimes solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short, that our allegiance must be to truth, not to the prevailing politics and fads of the days, and that if we can read, write, and think well, we can do anything—and if not, nothing really at all.

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