June 25, 2010

Knowing the World

Justin Katz

In a brief review of Alasdair MacIntyre's God, Philosophy, Universities: A Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition (try here without a subscription), Ryan Anderson makes a point that echoes in a Portsmouth Institute speech by Patrick Reilly that I'll be posting tomorrow:

Scholars once sought unified knowledge of all being, in pursuit of which philosophy and theology played central roles, tying together findings from the various disciplines. But the modern university has largely eliminated theology, relegated philosophy to one technical discipline among many, and abandoned the quest for integrated wisdom about the cosmos.

I look back on my academic days bemused that I was both agnostic on matters of religion and impressed by the way underlying concepts seemed to stretch across all subjects that I studied, from physics, to music, to literature, to sociology, and so on. Students can't possibly form a comprehensive understanding of reality — and the major questions that they must answer for themselves — without studying and understanding the thought about God and philosophy that has drawn Western Civilization toward its current position.

To be sure, one can learn all sorts of useful facts and processes simply studying discrete subjects without delving into the meaning of any of them, but then, college is merely a training facility, and frankly, it leaves most students only generally prepared for the work that they'll be doing. If we've decided that young adults oughtn't enter the workforce, into career-type gigs, until they're in their mid-twenties, we'd do better, I think, to graduate them with a stronger concept of the world in which they'll be acting.

Of course, that brings us back to the question of whether college is really necessary or helpful to all of those who incur debt to attend, and from a broad view of reality, I believe that it is not.

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College should be based on ability. One test. You pass,you get in,if not you don't.

Most jobs don't require college. Companies would be better off checking to find out if their applicants are literate,can do the necessary math and can be easily trained. As it is now,anybody who didn't graduate, like me,for example, is considered only fit for drudge,poorly paid labor. No consideration of any other factors there. Well,typing,but I couldn't learn that because my parents were too poor to buy a typewriter.

Yet,had I graduated with a degree in English Lit. or Theater,or Basketweaving for that matter,I would have a foot in the door for so many opportunities. I qualify for Mensa,doesn't matter,I didn't graduate from college. My circumstances were such that I had to work for minimum wage and couldn't swing it financially. I had no guidance. I had to quit school when I sixteen years old. A mind is not so much a terrible thing to waste I found out. However,it made me start questioning the whole educational system.

Posted by: helen at June 26, 2010 6:20 AM

To clarify my above statements,when I say I had to quit school,it was because in the frigid dead cold of our January,there was no heat or hot water in our third floor tenement. My mother was very ill in a nursing home,my father did not have lot of education and couldn't make much money. I had to work full time to help pay the bills and have heat,hot water,underwear,socks,hygiene products and so on. But...I quit school so I was a dumbass...illiterate and all ya know...

Posted by: helen at June 26, 2010 9:08 AM

Helen, unfortunately life isn't about what you know, it's about what you can prove. A degree from a good school proves something not just about somebody's base level of intelligence, but about how stable their overall situation is. It sounds cold-hearted, but they don't want somebody who is going to miss work because their mother is sick, or because their heat went off, or because they have their third kid out of wedlock, or because their old car broke down. They don't want to have to deal with those kinds of personal and financial problems in an employee, and the 1/10 (or whatever it is) chance that it's short-term and circumstantial is not worth their investment in you. If you have enough money and stability and work ethic to finish an expensive 4-year undertaking like college, then you probably won't pose that kind of a problem for them. A degree also says that somebody is aware of societal norms and expectations and is willing to do what it takes to meet them and succeed. Employers don't want people who march to the beat of their own drummer and say "screw the system," because the employer expects their own system and expectations to be respected. The college degree requirement is actually very rational for employers. They don't care if there is some over-inclusiveness, the system they have in place works well - that's why virtually everybody subscribes to it.

Posted by: Dan at June 26, 2010 12:23 PM

Wow! Justin and I are in basic agreement here, a fact that I'm sure gives both of us pause. Most people get a college degree as a ticket to ride the employment elevator to an upper floor.

This may explain why we have college grads who can't really read or write their own language. English grammar eludes them; English orthography confuses them. It's pathetic that most college grads don't know the proper use of objective or subjective case, or obliviously mix cases in such phrases as "between you and I".

In my college days, the Jesuits would clock you for spelling or grammatical errors in any test, be it Math or Physics or English or a foreign language.

A college degree today does not necessarily show that you are educated. It shows that you had the fiscal means or the luck or the good fortune to stay at it until you gathered enough credits to graduate.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at June 28, 2010 2:40 PM
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