Colleges themselves—which, I remind us, are to be separated from research institutes—should be broken in two: traditional college and technical or trade school (this break need only be administrative and not physical). As Russell Kirk tells us, college exists to impart wisdom, not knowledge, and certainly not information or even, as is by now commonplace, trivia. Trade schools should take students interested solely or mainly in obtaining a skill or a “degree”, a talisman which they must emboss on their resume to get a job at one of the many non-contemplative and undiscerning companies which require them.
Incidentally, this purblind requirement of a “degree”—and not of knowledge or ability—is why there are too many kids going to college.
Trade school will encompass majors like “business”, “marketing”, “sports management”, “diversity studies” of any kind, “communications”, “journalism”, “computer science”, “health”, “nursing”, “art” of any stripe, “engineering”, “security” (yes, it exists), “criminal science1“, “hotel management”, and so forth, which give students a taste—an amuse bouche, but no more—of the fields in which they will toil. Cosmetology and refrigeration schools have the right idea (I do not jest nor denigrate; these are useful, honest places).
Teaching as a major is not in the list, but should be. Many which are now universities, used to be colleges, which themselves used to be “normal schools” (note the grade inflation undergone by the second word). The functions formally provided by these schools should be restored.
Let the number of “majors” in trade schools increase without number. Whatever sells can be taught. It is here that the idea of student as customer comes closest to reality: businesses and students will provide the demand, trade schools will provide the supply. If a trade school promises to teach “communications” but few of its graduates find jobs in that field, then the school is selling an inferior product, with the necessary result that the school must charge less for it, must eliminate the program, or must invest real money to make improvements.
Colleges charge like movie houses: whatever is showing has the same price. Customers pay the same whether they screen Casablanca or Biodome (Pauly, God help us, Shore). Students pay the same for courses in logic as they do for lectures in women’s studies. It is far past the time for variable tuition rates—I do not mean across institutions, but within them. But this would work only if all acknowledged the trade-school nature of the education received.
Trade schools would house the semi-professional sports teams which are now at colleges. The athletes who, as employees of the trade schools, and are responsible for a significant source of income, should be paid accordingly (packages which include “degrees” in “sports management”). Football fans would thrill that playoffs could be a reality: but make ’em pay for it. College (not trade) students would only be allowed intramural sports.
College is not a place to learn a trade or skill of any kind. It is not job training. It is a place to think; rather, a place to learn how to think, to develop the habit of discernment. As Cardinal Newman said, college is a place to “open the mind, to correct it, to refine it, to enable it to know, and to digest, master, rule, and use its knowledge, to give it power over its own faculties, application, flexibility, method, critical exactness, sagacity, resource, address, [and] eloquent expression.” College is the first step for those who would be future leaders.
Majors at colleges should be few in number and must only encompass the classics: the humanities first and foremost, with math and fundamental science nearly tying for first place. Allowed electives should be limited. As Kenneth Minogue writes, “A population of students who can only be persuaded to take an interest in anything if they can be convinced that it will be useful to them is at the mercy of its own limitations.” If we “base education of what the children themselves actually want to learn; the effect is to atrophy their capacity for self-movement.”
Only the best students—proved by on-site entrance exams—would be allowed enrollment. Colleges are not, must not be, and cannot be egalitarian institutions. The work required of students should be arduous, and this difficulty should be touted (and enforced): boasting will eliminate the hard feelings some of the less able students would otherwise feel.
As Albert Jay Nock said:
Our system is based upon the assumption, popularly regarded as implicit in the doctrine of equality, that everybody is educable. This has been taken without question from the beginning; it is taken without question now. The whole structure of our system, the entire arrangement of its mechanics, testifies to this. Even our truant laws testify to it, for they are constructed with exclusive reference to school-age, not to school-ability.
When we attempt to run this assumption back to the philosophical doctrine of equality, we cannot do it; it is not there, nothing like it is there. The philosophical doctrine of equality gives no more ground for the assumption that all men are educable than it does for the assumption that all men are six feet tall. We see at once, then, that it is not the philosophical doctrine of equality, but an utterly untenable popular perversion of it, that we find at the basis of our educational system.2
The weeping and gnashing of teeth that will accompany these changes will be titanic. The wailing from wounded pride would reach Heaven itself (it is no secret that egos of professors rival those of Hollywood actors). “What do you mean I am now just a teacher at a, gasp, trade school!” Title outranks reality. So call trade schools “universities”, let colleges be, say, “academies” (each prefixed with the name of the school).
Leadership at many schools is weak and simple; most administrators (largely a parasitic race) would fail in the ensuing storm. This being so, the only group capable of forcing change are those who pay the bills: students and parents. Let’s mothers march on the President’s office and demand an education for their darlings that actually has value. Parents are the one group that is (potentially) more frightening than faculty; however, their efforts must be concerted.
Read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV. I omitted many details (college or trade should only be three years maximum), but this is all we’re going to do (for now). The subject is worthy of a book; and if there is anybody who is willing to pay for me to write one, I’ll do so.
1The old joke is that anything that calls itself a science isn’t.
2Thanks to Bruce Foutch for providing this reference.
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