Saturday, May 19, 2007

"why should universities exist at all?"

In my increasingly frequent tirades about the pointlessness of college, I am always careful to exclude the sciences from my wrath. I may be wrong to do so. (h/t: Instapundit)

According to the author, "It is becoming increasingly clear that this corruption of education is probably universal across all disciplines. If so, then all advanced education will have to be obtained outside of the university."

There is nothing taught in history or literature at Harvard that one can't learn just as well (if not, in fact, a great deal better) at the nearest public library. The sciences may be heading down a similar path, if this author is to be believed. Indeed, come to think of it, a med school bound friend of mine aced the MCATs only by teaching himself the subjects over summer break.

This being admissions season, the papers are full of stories about the growing "cachet" of universities. Yet, if anything, universities are only growing more and more useless every day.

I can be talked into believing that, back in the day, universities were the gatekeepers of knowledge. The books, the archives, the thinkers, all were kept cooped up in the ivory tower, and there were relatively few ways to gain access to them outside of being right in there with them.

Today, that is no longer the case. We are in an information age, and knowledge is everywhere. The problem is no longer in finding it, but in filtering it - learning which sources to trust, which to discard. Universities thus act not as gatekeepers, but as guides. They can no longer keep us out, only point us in the best direction. Yet the modern academy is doing everything in its power to convince us that it is no longer worthy of even such diminished responsibility. The unbearable idiocies of postmodernism have stripped professors of values, judgment, and respect for truth. They no longer have the intellectual confidence to point us in any direction, and on the rare occasion when they might feel impassioned enough to lead the way, believe me that it is best to run screaming down the opposite path.

Why do people still go to college, then? Well, many simply don't know better - I was thrilled to be coming here, and it was not until the end of my sophomore year that the empty reality of the situation had really sunk in. Even those who do realize the truth (and many a classmate has told me that they consider their degree worthless, as I do mine) love college for social reasons: the main draw of higher education, I honestly believe, is that it gives adults who should know better a free pass to engage in all the immature loutishness they desire for four crazy years. You might not learn anything worth learning, but you're living it up, dude, you're partying, you're being so college. The third and final main reason, and perhaps the best excuse, is the need to get a job. As I discussed yesterday, employers must rely on college degrees as a proxy for ability and intelligence, because the law forbids independent testing for those qualities.

So, as long as parents remain naive about what their kids are in for, as long as the kids themselves enjoy the social license that matriculation grants them, and as long as employers can't figure out alternate ways to judge an applicant's ability, college will, despite its growing uselessness, stick around. I don't know what I can do about it, either, except to keep on repeating, over and over again, that the emperor (like some of my fellow students these days) has no clothes.

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