Among the more alarming trends in America is the maligning of the four-year college degree – more specifically, the broad, liberal education. For some crude reason, it’s considered useless on the job track, more or less a snob deal, an indulgence for the elitist crowd, and for the others a waste.
It’s also wrong.
The Salina Journal carried a story recently about the surging enrollments at technical colleges and a concurrent decline in the universities’ student count. The story included this missive from a student at Salina AreaTechnical College:
“I’ve been to the four-year universities and it’s just not the same experience (as technical school). “Yes, technical schools are more affordable, but at a four-year school you’re taking a lot of courses that have nothing to do with your major, and that’s where they get you. You’re paying for things you’ll never use again. Everything I learn here
I will use in my field. It’s more hands-on and you’re gaining valuable experience as you’re learning.”
Put another way, don’t teach me anything that would make me think. It’s a dangerous outlook. Mistaken as well. What this nation needs is not more trade schools, but a return to institutions that provide students the education they need to cope. It takes more than skill with a drill press or a keyboard to grow in today’s world.
TOO MANY educators have caved to pressure from the most vocal critics – including legislators, an especially uneducated lot these days – who demand that we teach our youngsters how to earn a living at the expense of teaching them how to live.
That Salina Tech student quoted by The Journal is majoring in “business administration technology,” the advanced use of computers and software in the office. Valuable as it may be for a young adult to know how to enter data for the boss’s spreadsheet, that knowledge is no equivalent for learning this nation’s role in world affairs and how we got that way.
Consider one standard course: history. Educators are alarmed at the decline of history in the college curriculum.
Its teaching is threatened because of pressures that change the emphasis of what education is, a movement that has turned many schools into technical centers.
We need not downgrade technical training to see the hazard, the threat, even, to the individual. Much of the next generation may go through life not knowing Thomas Jefferson’s dedication to liberty, but it won’t be as good a life. The greater threat, however, is to society. If the mass of our young graduates have only skills, without the basic disciplines of language, history, geography, economics, sociology, they will be easy prey for the demagogs. (It’s a safe bet that most of the presidential candidates cannot tell us much, if anything at all, about Jefferson, but the influence of his kind of intellect is essentially why our nation survives today, if barely.)
For further example, let’s borrow a quote from the late Edwin O. Reischauer, a leading scholar of the history and culture of Japan and East Asia, a Harvard professor and former U.S. Ambassador to Japan:
“What worries me about our students nowadays is that so many of them are emerging from school with little or no knowledge of the history of their own country or of any other country.
“Having little understanding of non-Western lands especially, they are no better prepared to face today’s world than was an earlier generation of students who in their time of leadership marched us into the quagmire of Vietnam.”
Or a later generation, who marched us into the quagmire of Iran and Afghanistan.
Closer to home, we have the quagmire of Congress itself, the world’s central hive of incompetence, ignorance, ignominy. Closer still, a slog into Kansas’ fetid swamp of deficit budgeting, voodoo economics, educational indifference and social malfeasance. Kansas offers vivid evidence that when education is not only lacking but ignored, entire voting constituencies grow numb with stupidity. (Witness our delegation in Congress.)
You can see without too much study that we are faced with a trend in hard-pressed colleges and universities that will short-change our youngsters. They may learn to understand cyber technology, but not the minds that imagined and created it.
The critics, though, will say this is educational status seeking, impractical, an elitist pursuit. But it is quite the opposite. A basic understanding of man, his history, his language, his judgments, is the most practical education of all. What Plato said of music can be said of the broad liberal education: It is moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination; it brings charm and gaiety to life, to everything.
The broadest education offers the essence, the difference in being able to accomplish great missions, and the ability to understand them.
We can learn all the technicalities outside the classroom, or in summer school.