Friday, November 25, 2005

How Much Would You Spend to Save Your Soul?

This morning I was reading an editorial over at entitledThe Modern University Has Become Obsolete, by Froma Harrop. In it, she argues that "the modern university is a relic that will disappear in a few decades," something that was predicted by the recently departed business management genius Peter Drucker, and something I've been saying for years to uncomprehending friends.

Of course, there was a time when the university was a physical necessity. When asked why he robbed banks, Willie Sutton famously replied, "because that's where the money is." Likewise, people attended university because that was where the knowledge was.

But frankly, ever since the development of the printing press, this has gradually become an increasingly dubious proposition. Even before the liberating miracle of the internet, I used to say that a disciplined and self-motivated individual with a clear educational program in mind could profit more by spending four years systematically loitering at a Borders book store than at a typical elite university.

(Perhaps I should emphasize that I am talking about the humanities, not about things like medical school, where you actually do obtain useful knowledge that must be transmitted by an expert. Most knowledge is clearly not of this variety: history, english literature, political science, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, etc., not to mention entirely fraudulent fields such as gender studies, African American studies, queer theory, et al.)

Harrop notes that there is a company that sells "a virtual major in American history -- 84 lectures on 42 audiotapes -- at the bargain price of $109.95. It covers everything from 'before Columbus' to Bill Clinton, and the lecturers are top-drawer. Some of them teach at Columbia University, where a single history course runs you $3,207." She quotes Herman Melville, who said that "a whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard": "Melville didn't need college to write 'Moby Dick.' He needed to read and spend time in the world. Before sailing out on a whaler in 1841, he had already worked on his uncle's farm and as a cabin boy on a ship to England. Drucker urged high-school graduates to do likewise: Work for at least five years. If they went on to college, it would be as grown-ups."

The title of the book escapes me at the moment, but I remember a historian who argued that all societal instruments are eventually reduced to institutions. That is, cultures develop various instruments to cope with the needs of society--religion, a legal system, an educational system, military, etc. While they always start off doing their job, they eventually become mere institutions whose primary task is self-preservation.

In short, institutions no longer perform their instrumental tasks, or else perform them poorly. In the case of our contemporary universities, not only do our children fail to obtain a true education, but they are often taught pernicious nonsense by the likes of Juan Cole or Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn. At most elite universities, over ninety percent of the liberal arts faculties are composed of such academic frauds and intellectual sociopaths. Imagine actually paying money to have your child exposed to the malignant thoughts of Ward Churchill?

First we must ask ourselves, what is the purpose of a liberal education? Clearly, it is to liberate the mind from its default parochial outlook and to provide a kind of universal knowledge that completes the self and makes us more thoroughly human. It is to become acquainted with the best that mankind has thought and written, in order to come through the other end with a "well furnished mind," a storehouse of ideas and concepts that allow us to think clearly, to exercise philosophical discrimination, to deepen the self, and to make choices that enhance the quality of life. But how many people actually attend college for these reasons, and how many colleges would be able to provide these things even if one were inclined to seek them?

Ironically, we have turned our universities into giant, thoroughly corrupt secular temples that have simply supplanted the religious authorities they were designed to replace. Some university presidents -- who are in competition for the most spineless and craven members of our society -- make over $1 million per year, not because of their ability to ensure educational excellence, but for their ability to fundraise and to appease various tribal interests within the faculty.

Imagine if the situation were reversed, and one could walk over to a local university on Sunday morning and hear Noam Chomsky speak for free, but have to spend $100,000 in order to obtain a truly comprehensive and fruitful religious education. Chomsky would be seen for what he is, which is not even worthless, which is to say harmful.

Many studies have demonstrated that human beings overvalue what is expensive and undervalue what is free. In my own case, I have a Ph.D. in psychology, but despite the expensive education, if I were limited only to what I had learned in my eleven or twelve years of college, I'd have a pretty impoverished intellect.

On the other hand, in the course of writing my book One Cosmos Under God, I feel that I obtained a kind of spiritual education that was truly priceless, and which I could never have obtained in the philosophy or theology department of any major university. Not only that, but in my ongoing self-education since completing my formal education in 1988, I have had to unlearn much of the nonsense I learned in college.

It is disheartening that my generation (the "baby boomers"), the most educated generation in history, should be the most willing to perpetuate the bogus mystique of an elite university education. Having had the experience, they should be the first ones to see through the scam.

Not so for my father, who had only eight years of formal education in England before immigrating to the US at the age of 21. He sent four sons to college, because to him college represented some kind of mysterious, olympian ideal. I'm sure he must have felt self-conscious about his lack of formal schooling, and yet, he had infinitely more wisdom than the average university professor or New York Times editorialist.

As for myself, I have a seven month old son and yes, my in-laws have started an educational fund that will probably assure that he will be able to attend any university he chooses, if he so desires. But I will not be emphasizing that with him. I personally do not care if he attends Harvard or a local community college, or no college at all, so long as he develops a love of truth and a love of learning, neither of which have any necessary relationship to college.

And along the way, I hope I will be able to provide him with a true education that will correct and compensate for the nonsense he picks up in his formal education. In particular, I hope I am able to help him ground knowledge in a much wider and deeper spiritual framework, so that his spirit isn't damaged by the corrupting influence of secular fundamentalism. But only if he's willing to sign over that educational trust fund to my name.


LiquidLifeHacker said...

"But only if he's willing to sign over that educational trust fund to my name."

LOL Bob! Only if huh? You crack me up! I always giggle at your words. See you can tease about that stuff now since your little boy is so preciously young. But you just wait till he is testing every moral water while you sit home waiting for him to make curfew or you catch him in his first real lie, which by the way, I was told was the absolute shattering of my parent's world, because although parents are realist and expect such at some time, it crushes them and disappoints them with excruciating pain at the moment of discovery. I truly think that your most spiritual "free at cost" experience for deeeeeep education is still yet to come...and that is being and feeling of the growing father inside you. Because as a father, year after year, it gives you a glimpse of how God must feel. A real cosmic connection there Bob...all ahead of you. God, our father, is sharing with you what it feels like to have a child...a wonderful gift....think about the pain that He experiences, because most of his children won't even look up and aknowledge him, let alone think of sharing a trust fund. But yes, for you Bob, the joys and pains of fatherhood will be a wonderful spiritual ride for you with so much wonderful education ahead of you. Wow, you just stepped into being a lifetime student of "parenthood"

PS: Hey Bob... if you think you are coveting his trust fund now...wait till he brings home those cute big busted 18 year old girlfriends! LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL Petey's eyes will pop OUT I tell ya!

Gagdad Bob said...

I wonder if that's the reason some fathers don't seem to mind if their son is gay? That way they don't have to deal with the intolerable envy regarding the 18 year old GF. Of course, one of the benefits of having children later in life is that it increases the chance that you will croak before your child rips off the mask and is revealed as the Spawn of Satan.

LiquidLifeHacker said...

Ha Ha Bob...well actually I was told *wink wink* that the term "dirty old man" was coined after a certain father's eyes went up and down and back up to lock onto the boobs of his son's dinner guest on a friday night prior to a ballgame...the once upon a time story goes....LOOOOOOOOOOL...I even think turtlenecks were invented after that incident to avoid cleavage eye strain.

Oh...BTW...did you read the interview with Kenneth Levin on the psychopathology of Israel and the Oslo syndrome? I don't know if you have read his book but you might be interested.

ShrinkWrapped said...

The eminent philosopher Frank Zappa once said that if you really wanted to get an education, you should drop out of school and go to the library. The internet is the biggest, easiest to use library ever invented and just wait until we have developed full immersion virtual reality...

Anonymous said...

I pre-date the boomer generation by a few years. One of the things that amazed me when I got my PhD in chemistry and went out into the world, was that my fellow PhD chemists had no more education than the average person with the exception of their degree. All that a university had been for them was a trade school.

So much for the ersatz idealism presented about an education. I figure that the day Sputnik went up was the day that American Education became corrupted. It resulted in a massive outpouring of federal dollars into any kind of engineering or science, with the resultant creation of inflated equipment prices, publish or perish tenure policies, and bloated journals. While doing research for seminars and my dissertation, I saw that prior to 1957, the literature was filled with long, thorough papers that described years of coherent work to show a major finding and support it. After that time, I found multiples of essentially the same information from the same laboratories and authors, altered slightly or spun in some way to make the claim of a "different" paper, and the amount of new information was miniscule.

Anonymous said...

Please make sure that his education is well rounded (which I am sure that you will).

I still remember the shock I recieved at work one day. I was listening to the radio, while doing something both painstaking and tedious. The station started to play a recording of Bach played by Albert Schwieitzer. I was in rhapsody. My co-worker was completely unfamilar with Dr. Schwietzer, even when I mentioned his humanitary work.

And she was college educated