But why would any student spend tens of thousands of dollars and, rather than see the world in all its aspects, instead spend his time being indoctrinated and immersed in the prejudices of the current culture and the opinions of his tendentious professors? The job of teachers is to liberate minds, not capture them.
Reform at the university level will require brave work by deans and presidents. A hundred-course set of “distribution requirements” with minimally guided choice fosters intellectual randomness. Instead, the best faculty should put together a coherent program of core studies to introduce students to the finest books, to alternative answers to the most compelling questions, to great literature and art and pivotal historical events. Contemporary political issues of race, class and gender do not define what’s truly important. That’s the greatest fallacy of higher education today.
John Agresto, The Suicide of the Liberal Arts – WSJ.
How times have changed. Nowadays “speak truth to power” has to be placed in inverted commas, to distance us from its earnestness. Among the educated professional classes, no one would be caught dead confusing intellectual inquiry with a quest for ultimate meaning, or with the effort to create an independent self. Indeed the very notion of authentic selfhood—a self determined to heed its own ethical and aesthetic imperatives, resistant to the claims of fashion, money, and popularity—has come to seem archaic. In an atmosphere dominated by postmodern irony, pop-neuroscience, and the technocratic ethos of neoliberalism, the self is little more than a series of manipulable appearances, fashioned and re-fashioned to meet the marketing needs of the moment. We have bid adieu to existential inwardness. The reduction of the mind to software and the brain to a computer, which originated among cognitive scientists and philosophers of mind, has been popularized by journalists into the stuff of dinner-party conversations. The computer analogy, if taken as seriously as its proponents wish, undermines the concept of subjectivity—the core of older versions of the self. So it should come as no surprise that, in many enlightened circles, the very notion of an inner life has come to seem passé.
One consequence of this seismic cultural shift is the train wreck of contemporary higher education. Nothing better exemplifies the catastrophe than President Barack Obama’s plan to publish the average incomes earned by graduates from various colleges, so parents and students can know which diplomas are worth the most in the marketplace, and choose accordingly. In higher education as in health care, market utility has become the sole criterion of worth. The monetary standard of value has reinforced the American distrust of intellect unharnessed to practical purposes: the result is an atmosphere toxic to the humanities. We need a defense of the humanities that takes these cultural developments into account; that claims more for the liberal arts than the promotion of “critical thinking” and “people skills”; that insists, without slipping into platitude, on the importance of the humanities for their own sake.
Jackson Lears, The Liberal Arts vs. Neoliberalism | Commonweal Magazine.