Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Some Thoughts about Education...

The more I read about program cuts in our public colleges and universities, the more I am convinced that our leaders have lost any idea of what a college curriculum should contain or, for that matter, what an “educated” person is.  We’ve all heard that pitiful tune that our students should be able to compete with other students from around the world--whatever that means.  I guess when our presidents and politicos say it they imagine folks sitting behind computers or standing in labs with test tubes in their hands.  
At least our leaders are no longer saying that we need to “catch up with the Russians.”  Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, that day is over, thank heaven, but now we’ve got to compete with the Chinese and clever students from all over the planet.  But the question still lingers in the air: what is an “educated” person?
The problem is that many folks confuse the ability to have a high paying job with being educated.  They are not the same--just take a look at the millionaires who fund the GOP.  They may be slick and have great tailors but would you call them educated?
Obviously, there is an intersection between having specific knowledge and earning a living.  Yet, a liberal arts education is designed to enrich a person’s life and soul--forever.  Period.  And isn’t that enough?  Studying and learning for a job is technical education, pure and simple, whether it is how to clean teeth to be a dental hygienist or how the stock market works to be a Wall Street broker.  Both are purely technical educations whether learned at a local community college or Harvard grad school.  
Too often what is learned on a career and technical path is of momentary relevance.  On the other hand, a liberal arts education is learning for life.  These two paths should never, ever, be confused, but they always seem to be, particularly by our political leadership, as they ax funding for whole departments and graduate programs.  
The NYTimes recently carried a story [Here] about how the State University of New York at Albany would no longer allow new students to declare majors in French, Italian, and Russian languages and the Classics.  Gulp.  No more Sophocles in the original Greek or Virgil in Latin or Dante in Italian or Proust in French and so on.  The power of the great literature from those countries will be unavailable to those students while they “study” up in Albany. 
The backbone of any liberal arts college curriculum is a well-crafted distribution requirement--a required course mix of disciplines.  In fact, a balance of disciplines should be offered to all students at every level of our educational system.  Unfortunately, more and more attention today is being paid to math and science at the expense of languages, including English, the arts and the social sciences, probably because math and science achievement is easier to measure on a standardized test.  And politicians do love numbers, don’t they?   
And while we are discussing our educationally-challenged political leadership, our mind turns immediately to Sarah Palin and her family.  Did you read the Facebook response of daughter Bristol (the ex-dancer, teenage unwed mother and well-paid abstinence-only advocate) to Keith Olbermann’s recent TV blast?  Bristol’s statement is long, but the first two sentences will give you a flavor of the statement.  You needn’t read any further:  [Here
Accusing me of hypocrisy is by now, an old canard. What Mr. Olbermann lacks in originality he makes up for with insincere incredulity.
“Canard” and “incredulity.” Now aren’t you impressed?  Bristol obviously has the best writers and staff that her mother’s money can buy.  Let’s hope that both mother and daughter will keep working on learning the language...

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