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A Modest Proposal To Abolish Universities - Open Knowledge — LiveJournal

Jul. 24th, 2006

01:39 am - A Modest Proposal To Abolish Universities

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http://fredoneverything.net/PadreKinoUniversity.shtml

A Modest Proposal To Abolish Universities

About Time


July 21, 2006


I think it is time to close the universities, and perhaps prosecute the professoriat under the RICO act as a corrupt and racketeering-influenced organization. Universities these days have the moral character of electronic churches, and as little educational value. They are an embarrassment to civilization.

I know this. I am sitting in my office in Jocotepec, consorting with a bottle of Padre Kino red—channeling the good Padre if you will. It is insight cheap at the price. A few bucks a liter.

To begin with, sending a child to a university is irresponsible. These days it costs something like a quarter of a million dollars, depending on your choice of frauds. The more notorious of these intellectual brothels, as for example Yale, can cost more. This money, left in the stock market for forty hears, or thirty, would yield enough to keep the possessor in comfort, with sufficient left over for his vices. If the market took a downturn, he could settle for just the vices. In the intervening years, he (or, most assuredly, she) could work in a dive shop.



See? By sending our young to college, we are impoverishing them, and ourselves, and sentencing them to a life of slavery in some grim cubicle painted federal-wall green. Personally, I’d rather be chained in a trireme.

Besides, the effect of a university education can be gotten more easily by other means. If it is thought desirable to expose the young to low propaganda, any second-hand bookstore can provide copies of Trotsky, Marcuse, Gloria Steinem, and the Washington Post. These and a supply of Dramamine, in the space of a week, would provide eighty percent of the content of a college education. A beer truck would finish the job. The student would save four years which could more profitably be spent in selling drugs, or in frantic cohabitation or—wild thought—in reading, traveling, and otherwise cultivating himself.

This has been known to happen, though documentation is hard to find.

To the extent that universities actually try to teach anything, which is to say to a very limited extent, they do little more than inhibit intelligent students of inquiring mind. And they are unnecessary: The professor’s role is purely disciplinary: By threats of issuing failing grades, he ensures that the student comes to class and reads certain things. But a student who has to be forced to learn should not be in school in the first place. By making a chore of what would otherwise be a pleasure, the professor instills a lifelong loathing of study.

The truth is that universities positively discourage learning. Think about it. Suppose you wanted to learn Twain. A fruitful approach might be to read Twain. The man wrote to be read, not analyzed tediously and inaccurately by begowned twits. It might help to read a life of Twain. All of this the student could do, happily, even joyously, sitting under a tree of an afternoon. This, I promise, is what Twain had in mind.

But no. The student must go to a class in American Literatue, and be asked by some pompous drone, “Now, what is Twain trying to tell us in paragraph four?” This presumes that Twain knew less well than the professor what he was trying to say, and that he couldn’t say it by himself. Not being much of a writer, the poor man needs the help of a semiliterate drab who couldn’t sell a pancake recipe to Boy’s Life. As bad, the approach suggests that the student is too dim to see the obvious or think for himself. He can’t read a book without a middleman. He probably ends by hating Twain.

When I am dictator, anyone convicted of literary criticism will be drawn and quartered, dragged through the streets as a salutary lesson to the wise, and dropped in the public drains.

Why is the ceiling spinning? Maybe I’m caught in a gravitational anomaly.

The truth is that anyone who wants to learn anything can do it better on his own. If you want to learn to write, for example, lock yourself in a room with copies of Strunk and White, and Fowler, and a supply of Padre Kino, and a loaded shotgun. The books will provide technique, the good Padre the inspiration, and you can use the shotgun on any tenured intrusion who offers advice. They tend to be spindly. A twenty-gauge should be sufficient.

Worse, these alleged academies, these dark nights of the soul encourage moral depravity. This is not just my opinion. It can be shown statistically. Virtually all practitioners of I-banking, advertising, and law began by going to some university. Go to Manhattan and visit any prestigious nest of foul attorneys engaged in circumventing the law. Most will have attended schools in the Ivy League. The better the school, the worse the outcome. Any trace of principle, of contemplative wonder, will have been squeezed out of them as if they were grapes.

Perhaps once universities had something to do with the mind, the arts, with reflection, with grasping or grasping at man’s place in a curious universe. No longer. Now they are a complex scam of interlocking directorates. They employ professors, usually mediocre, to sell diplomas, usually meaningless, needed to get jobs nobody should want, for the benefit of corporations who want the equivalent of docile assembly-line workers.

See, first you learn that you have to finish twelve years of grade school and high school. The point is not to teach you anything; if it were, they would give you a diploma when you passed a comprehensive test, which you might do in the fifth grade. The point is to accustom you to doing things you detest. Then they tell you that you need four more years in college or you won’t be quite human and anyway starve from not getting a job. For those of this downtrodden bunch who are utterly lacking in independence, there is graduate school.

The result is twenty years wasted when you should have been out in the world, having a life worth talking about in bars—riding motorcycles, sacking cities, lolling on Pacific beaches or hiking in the Northwest. You learn that structure trumps performance, that existence is supposed to be dull. It prepares you to spend years on lawsuits over somebody else’s trademarks or simply going buzzbuzzbuzz in a wretched federal office. Only two weeks a year do you get to do what you want to do. This we pay for?

What if you sent your beloved daughter to a university and they sent you back an advertising executive?

I think we’re having an earthquake. When the floor stops heaving, I’m going to send out for more Padre Kino.

Comments:

From:smandal
Date:July 24th, 2006 06:32 am (UTC)
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*yawn*
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From:perspectivism
Date:July 24th, 2006 06:37 am (UTC)
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Hear hear!
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From:mauitian
Date:July 24th, 2006 07:04 am (UTC)
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I don't know about you guys, but I went for the chicks. :)
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From:cluebyfour
Date:July 24th, 2006 07:09 am (UTC)
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This column nearly killed me. Fred Reed is a genius, even when he's drunk, which I suspect he was when writing this.
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From:perich
Date:July 24th, 2006 01:20 pm (UTC)
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I can't argue with it.
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From:selfishgene
Date:July 24th, 2006 04:48 pm (UTC)
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Universities are part of the state-education complex. Formerly the church-education complex.
It would be excessive to abolish them. Reducing the number of students to about 20% of current levels would be sufficient. This is simple to accomplish. Cut all federal, state and local subsidies to zero. The market will determine the correct level of graduates required.
Oh, also allow companies to select directly, via IQ tests. This eliminates the need for school grades, as a surrogate method of determining IQ.
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From:crasch
Date:July 26th, 2006 01:59 pm (UTC)
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Agreed. Though I have no percentage in mind. Whatever the market will bear without educational subsidies.
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From:fishsupreme
Date:July 24th, 2006 04:51 pm (UTC)
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(Note: Yes, I know the article is at least partly satirical, hence the title.)

I think he's got some good points, but most of them aren't inherent in the university system -- and some fail to take into account the differences between individuals. Also, I think every point he makes applies even more to compulsory public schooling of children -- while I'm more favorable towards universities, I think his close-them-and-prosecute-the-administrators plan has some merit when it comes to K-12.

Much of what you learn in university can, in fact, be learned via books. For instance, I'm currently teaching myself a course in general chemistry, and intend to go on to organic and physical chemistry when I'm done with it. The thing that most strikes me is how much more I'm learning going through a book -- as I recall most of the classes I took skipping around, skimming over "less important" topics. Yet as they were skipping around, they were dwelling much too long on what they did cover -- essentially, having to make the material simple enough for everyone in the class meant anyone above that level of ability was wasting time. Learning on your own means learning at your own pace, whatever that is.

This said, anyone who's worked in a "grim cubicle painted federal-wall green" knows different people learn differently. There are people you can talk to about something all day, but unless they've read it on paper, they won't remember it for five minutes. And there are other people who can read something in email and memos a dozen times and not understand it until it's given to them in presentation format. Learning from a book may be a great thing for me, but I'm not convinced it's great for everyone. And there are some skills that you can only learn by doing, and as much as the author of the article despises the professor-as-disciplinarian, it's pretty hard to learn something that both can only be learned by doing and doesn't need to be done by an individual -- I find learning, for instance, programming or IT applications from a book nearly impossible. It's very difficult to will myself to interminably practice something that is, to me, useless. (Oddly, I don't find this to be true of the hard sciences despite the fact that knowing precisely how aqua regia dissolves gold is not, strictly speaking, likely to ever be useful in my life.) Personal trainers in physical fitness serve largely the same role -- it's not that they have any deep well of knowledge (though they have some) so much as that they provide external motivation to do something fundamentally repetitive and uninteresting.

They employ professors, usually mediocre, to sell diplomas, usually meaningless, needed to get jobs nobody should want, for the benefit of corporations who want the equivalent of docile assembly-line workers.

I think that statement perfectly describes public schools. I would not usually apply it to university study, but it may well be moving more in that direction -- primarily because, like public school, we're starting to expect everybody to go to college. College shouldn't be for everybody -- it should be for those who want to do things that require that much academic education. Frankly, there is almost nothing I learned in college that I use in my current job (one of the reasons I wish I had majored in the physical sciences in college -- if I wasn't going to use what I learned, I should have studied things I enjoyed more), but I would not have been able to get this job without a college degree (indeed, I'm reaching the level wherein a graduate degree is becoming expected.)

People have become so unable to learn on their own that managers have come to assume that unless you have a piece of paper saying you've learned something, you haven't. It's not the university, but the expectation that it should be required of everyone, that's the problem. And as for why people are unable to learn on their own -- for that, I point back to compulsory public elementary and high schools.

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From:fishsupreme
Date:July 24th, 2006 04:52 pm (UTC)
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You learn that structure trumps performance, that existence is supposed to be dull. It prepares you to spend years on lawsuits over somebody else’s trademarks or simply going buzzbuzzbuzz in a wretched federal office. Only two weeks a year do you get to do what you want to do. This we pay for?

And that, I think, is a fundemental problem with our entire culture. 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year is an absolutely absurd amount of time to spend doing futile crap.
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From:crasch
Date:July 26th, 2006 02:01 pm (UTC)
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Agreed. I would've learned a lot more had I simply hired a tutor to teach me the things I wanted to learn. I would also like to see some widely acknowledged, respected means of demonstrating your knowledge regardless of how you got it.
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From:perspectivism
Date:July 25th, 2006 02:31 am (UTC)
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Those get you way up to 25%? ;)

I'm thinking ~7%!
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From:perspectivism
Date:July 25th, 2006 02:32 am (UTC)
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mostly for a reason you put: although ridiculously inefficient to do it this way
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From:crasch
Date:July 26th, 2006 02:03 pm (UTC)
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Agreed. Although I think that tests (a la the bar exam) plus a portfolio of your accomplishments, are a much better way of signaling skill level.
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From:resipisco
Date:July 24th, 2006 08:34 pm (UTC)
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-1, Troll
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