Yes, this is the ivory
Has it gotten
dumber in here, or is it just me?
Because of the responsibility the state assumes as regards educational
matters, and because individual states are increasingly encumbered
by their role in the borderless democracy of exchange, publicly-funded
universities are feeling pressure to respond to privately-directed
Postsecondary education, at one time appreciated on its own merits,
is now regarded as an exclusivity, a withdrawn knowledge of an
antisocial order. Learning has to be useful, a tool
for bringing social skills to market. And everyone knows the
importance of being sociable. The entire service industry is
fundamentally about being liked. The feeling, I think, is that
we are all so enlightened by our ultra-invasive, superficial
pop-culture, our 21st century pre-packaged life, that there is
no awe left for the work behind the product. Everything is so
interesting that even cutting edge theories have a coffee-talk
appeal which would be laughable if it were not so disgraceful:
as if the only thing that keeps the rest of us out of rocketry
school is interest or circumstance.
What will it take to provoke a genuine respect for learning?
The university is not ultimately meant to help secure a lifestyle.
No wonder graduate disillusionment is so prevalent. The university
is not a co-op program, nor is it a technical college.
The university is the name that represents a community committed
to the investigation of knowledge and the transmission of a tradition.
That tradition is not knowledge of a particular discipline, but
rather discipline itself. Scholarly achievement is not reducible
to notions of relevance or opportunity. It is a difficult and
artful process that many take for granted. The craft of knowledge,
because it deals with open-ended issues, theoretical debate,
abstract controversies, does not appeal to the public agenda
exactly because it is not easily packaged and sold.
The idea of a liberal education is not meant to flatten ones
appreciation of critical culture, yet for many who pass through,
the university is reduced to a spectacle, and the heart of the
university, those that devote their lives to learning, are often
portrayed as performing freaks. Education today is seen blandly
as a basic requirement, necessary only to engage in real
world affairs, i.e. business, politics and entertainment.
And so the public become wary of wasting their tax dollars on
nutty professors with outlandish ideas.
Well, I hate to break it to you, but the university is the ivory
tower. It is the monument of human achievement. What separates
us from the animals is just that we sustain and share an abstract
body of knowledge. This is our creation. To work for a future,
not a car or a career but an ideal, (being economically, politically
or environmentally friendly does not count as an ideal), this
is the greatest human capacity; this is the effort that changes
the world, not drinking soda or getting an MBA.
But so much is invested by society at large in the baccalaureate
certificate of approval because deep in the recess of the public
mind there is a vague awareness of its importance, what it stands
for, what it signifies for the bearer. In the modern age however,
the call is not to attend university because it is an opportunity
to join in on the highest human dialogue but because of a social
imperative and the stigma attached to being uneducated.
In a world where all are deemed equal we have an obligation to
make sure that everyone gets their share.
But education is not a democracy and should not be forced to
reinvent itself to reflect popular ideas. There is a discipline
required of theoretical study that is missing from the contemporary
Fiscal pressures have cost the university its self-determination.
If the university is to rebuild itself and flourish, as a centre
of learning, it must not play handmaid to politics or economics.
If business or government can say forget about all that,
study this, then there is no hope. This is
often nothing more than short-sighted self interest. Education
is not about acquiring things. It is not about learning more
than the next guy so that you can outsmart the competition. But
there is a distinct feeling that success is all about taking
the right courses to get the right degree. To use our brains
in the most efficient way. Maximize the product get he greatest
Heres the way I see it: The university cannot survive without
selling its students on the open market. Meanwhile an aging population
means that Canadian universities expect openings in 25,000 to
30,000 positions in the next decade. But what kind of educators
are these pop-students going to make? If students of today are
the future custodians of the university, were going to
have one heck of a janitorial staff.
Is it really the job of the university the teach us how to make
money? How much is it going to cost us if they do?