Quantum Meruit

As much information as you deserve

Month: January, 2013

What’s the Point of Undergraduate Education?

On the nature of the undergraduate major. I agree with the author that there’s a problem in undergraduate education. The author’s suggestion, however, seems to be to gear the undergraduate institution toward B-school by making everything “practical,” which is a not-so-thinly-veiled way of saying, “Here’s how you’re going to get a job with this.”

Question one in undergraduate education is: what the heck are we doing here? Is the undergraduate major supposed to hearken back to the days of the Academy, when students at Oxford would learn for learning’s sake? Given the high price of a undergraduate liberal arts degree, that romantic notion seems anachronistic. With the Internet being what it is, you could get a liberal arts education (not a degree) for free.

Which then brings we liberal arts students to a disheartening conclusion: the undergraduate major is B-school on training wheels. Should it be nothing more than a glorified vocational school? And if so, why does it exist in its present form?

Separate from the question of what the curriculum should do is the question of the culture of the modern undergraduate institution. For most students, I think, it’s the first time that they’ve lived on their own for extensive lengths of time. But they still come home every summer, so it’s a lot like boarding school. Is “College!” also supposed to be a four-year-long Quickening?

Cost is really at the heart of these questions. There was a time when students could afford to learn for learning’s sake. But with in-state tuition approaching $20,000 a year, students either (1) shouldn’t have to take out a mortgage to philosophize, or (2) shouldn’t be taking out a mortgage merely to philosophize. And all because the bachelor’s degree is, as one of my friends put it, a license to go look for a job.

The Other, More Socialist MLK

When I went to public school in the United States, we learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. In elementary school, we learned that he had a dream. In high school, we learned that he time in a Birmingham Jail, where he wrote a letter. And then we learned that he was assassinated.

King was killed in 1968, but my education about him stopped around 1965. What did he do for three more years?

A whole lot more than protest Southern racism. Starting in 1965, he publicly opposed the Vietnam War. His remarks went way beyond racism and implicated the U.S. in imperialism. He said that the U.S. was occupying Vietnam as a colonial power. He said that the U.S. was needlessly spending money on the military that it should have been spending on domestic social programs.

Didn’t hear about that in school.

And then, in 1968, he and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference organized the Poor People’s Campaign, traveling the country arguing for economic aid for the poorest Americans. In fact, he was in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968 to support a local public works employee strike. Didn’t hear about that, either.

It’s far too Tin Foil Hat to suggest that American schools intentionally minimize King’s involvement in economic equality and Vietnam War protests in order to uphold a predominantly pro-capitalist¬†curriculum. Still, the omission is peculiar: schoolbooks focus on the racial equality movement and omit his significant contribution to the economic equality movement. It could be that racism is roundly accepted as unacceptable, and therefore not polemical, while classism is not. A sojourn over to Fox News tells us that, while no one wants to be a racist, a substantial segment of the country has no problem with using the word “socialist” as though it were an insult. We even had a presidential candidate who honestly and seriously believed that welfare benefits and other entitlements for the lazy, soiled masses were rewards for votes in President Obama’s favor.

A latent classism prevents children from learning that, not only was Martin Luther King, Jr. a crusader for racial equality, but for economic equality, as well. And why not? Both are impediments to success. Even in 2013, though, racism is bad, but despising people because they don’t have access to the same economic opportunities? That’s totally fine. Sometimes it makes for a good political platform. I’m reminded of Malcolm X: “I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight.”