Recently in Higher Learning Category

I nominate John Zmirak for the Laetare medal


Notre Dame's craven hunger for secular esteem is hardly unique in American Catholic history. Think how giddy with joy we were when the skirt-chasing son of a bootlegging Nazi appeaser won the election in 1960 on the votes of dead Chicagoans. From the grubby, roughnecked immigrant families of eight or nine Vinnies and Patricks who'd filled the ethnic parishes and pickle factories, we'd finally made our way into the "mainstream," to join the lapsing members of the old American elite -- whose Protestant faith and natural virtues were even then dribbling down their pants leg like John Cheever's spilled seventh martini. We've arrived. There goes the neighborhood.

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Cruel and Insane


Charles Murray, in today's WSJ

Imagine that America had no system of post-secondary education, and you were a member of a task force assigned to create one from scratch. One of your colleagues submits this proposal:

First, we will set up a single goal to represent educational success, which will take four years to achieve no matter what is being taught. We will attach an economic reward to it that seldom has anything to do with what has been learned. We will urge large numbers of people who do not possess adequate ability to try to achieve the goal, wait until they have spent a lot of time and money, and then deny it to them. We will stigmatize everyone who doesn't meet the goal. We will call the goal a "BA."

You would conclude that your colleague was cruel, not to say insane. But that's the system we have in place.

He goes on to advocate CPA-style certification tests for most professions. As a firm-believer that college-for-everybody is insane and counter-productive, this is music to my er, eyes.

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Movies as History


An interesting article (.pdf), not so much for the main narrative, but more for the underlying portrait on the state of higher education and the thinking of college administrators today.

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Sufficient Distance


David of CLS reports on two speakers the University of Illinois hosted last week: Fr. Charles Curran and Daniel Dennett. A gruesomer twosome I can scarcely imagine. Was Peter Singer all booked up? That would have been quite a trifecta!

Speaking of Dennett, Orthodox writer David B. Hart had some fun with Dennett's latest book in the January First Things.

A taste:

The catalogue of complaints that might be brought against Breaking the Spell is large, though no doubt many of them are trivial. The most irksome of the book’s defects are Dennett’s gratingly precious rhetorical tactics, such as his inept and transparent attempt, on the book’s first page, to make his American readers feel like credulous provincials for not having adopted the European’s lofty disdain for religion. Or his use of the term brights to designate atheists and secularists of his stripe (which reminds one of nothing so much as the sort of names packs of popular teenage girls dream up for themselves in high school, but which also-in its favor-is so resplendently asinine a habit of speech that it has the enchanting effect of suggesting precisely the opposite of what Dennett intends).

There are also the embarrassing moments of self-delusion, as when Dennett, the merry "Darwinian fundamentalist," claims that atheists-unlike persons of faith-welcome the ceaseless objective examination of their convictions, or that philosophers are as a rule open to all ideas (which accords with no sane person’s experience of either class of individuals). And then there is his silly tendency to feign mental decrepitude when it serves his purposes, as when he pretends that the concept of God possesses too many variations for him to keep track of, or as when he acts scandalized by the revelation that academic theology sometimes lapses into a technical jargon full of obscure Greek terms like apophatic and ontic. And there are the historical errors, such as his ludicrous assertion that the early Christians regarded apostasy as a capital offense.

The prose is rebarbative, moreover, and the book is unpleasantly shapeless: It labors to begin and then tediously meanders to an inconclusive conclusion. There is, as well, the utter tone-deafness evident in Dennett’s attempts to describe how persons of faith speak or think, or what they have been taught, or how they react to challenges to their convictions. He even invents an antagonist for himself whom he christens Professor Faith, a sort of ventriloquist’s doll that he compels to utter the sort of insipid bromides he imagines typical of the believer’s native idiom.

And that's before he gets to the Dennett's actual arguments.

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Charles Murray, author of the controversial "The Bell Curve" is at it again with a three-part series on education in Opinion Journal.

All three are interesting reads with bold arguments, but I want to focus on the second. Actually, I don't want to focus on it, I want to use it as an occasion to remind myself that I forgot to blog this outstanding essay by Matthew Crawford from the New Atlantis - an excellent quarterly that deals with issues of technology and society. Crawford's piece is interesting and makes a compelling argument for a career in a trade. I demand - demand! - that you read the whole thing, but for those who adamantly refuse to obey, I will be a softie and give you the conclusion, because it's that important:

So what advice should one give to a young person? By all means, go to college. In fact, approach college in the spirit of craftsmanship, going deep into liberal arts and sciences. In the summers, learn a manual trade. You’re likely to be less damaged, and quite possibly better paid, as an independent tradesman than as a cubicle-dwelling tender of information systems. To heed such advice would require a certain contrarian streak, as it entails rejecting a life course mapped out by others as obligatory and inevitable.

This in a sense contradicts Murray's comments in the second column linked above, and in fact Murray has the better argument that if you can follow your career path without attending college, then by all means do it. But given the way high school graduates are herded into college, Crawford's advice is more realistic.

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