There is no core curriculum for Harvard’s undergraduate program beyond Expository Writing. One can go through the whole experience without straying one iota from intellectual self-satisfaction. Students exit with wildly different preconceptions about themselves, and what they experienced. There is no ‘Harvard education’ beyond geographic coincidence. The original impetus for the creation of a university, the cultivation and trimming of student expectations, is all but gone. It brings up an interesting consideration. When a student walks into Harvard, what is happening: is a brand being purchased, or is an education being sought? It is my contention that most of the students who end up in Harvard are looking for the brand, and whether they actually acquire the education they need is an ancillary consideration. The process has become an elaborate accreditation process. Show up for four years, get your piece of paper from this elaborate structure, play the game.
It does bring up some considerations over whether there needs to be a financial response to this situation. The President hopes to incorporate over 150 billion in block aid to colleges. For those who don’t know, block aid is synonymous with “here’s a bunch of money, do with it as you will.” Yet in spite of a proliferation of degree holders, there is still a considerable room of doubt. Whether students today are better than those of earlier generations is far from clear. “Trained almost from the cradle to smash the SATs and any other examination that stands in their way, the privileged among them may take examinations better, but it is doubtful if their learning and intellectual understanding are any greater.” One can’t help, looking at recent graduates, whether we have finally reached Hegel’s wimpy end of history. No fights for anything but a cushy middle-manager spot.
“We are the hollow men / We are the stuffed men / Leaning together / Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!”
If there is any doubt that we have become Eliot’s Hollow Men take, for instance, the proliferation of obscure and pointless business classes across the nation. ‘Strategic Marketing,’ ‘International Aims and Means,’ and a whole host of equally pointless classes that purportedly teach groups of near-alcoholics how to become CEOs. Ah, okay! All the classes are going to become CEOs? There’s not going to be one middle-manager of dubious import and intellectual weight? Thank you, Academy, for allowing us the ability to introduce three products into a foreign market with a competing product of higher price, higher quality. Certainly I am not going to end up working for Esurance.
As has been mentioned at length in other posts, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for the humanities either.
What, if anything, can be done? Kevin Carey has a few strong ideas.
To summarize, Matthew Yglesias:
People learn things all kinds of ways. I learn a lot from reading blogs and magazines. Hopefully people learn from reading me. I look things up on Wikipedia. I read books. I listen to lectures on iTunes. But federal funding is tied to a particular kind of learning in a particular set of institutions—college courses in accredited colleges. And who decides what an accredited college is? Why trade groups composed of accredited colleges do!
If the Academy is unwilling, or unable, to provide a good enough reason for its ever rising tuition rates then what else should we expect? A five-year bender for middle-managers sounds fun… But one has to wonder if the debt is really worth it.