The utterly unfounded assault on the Academy and the liberal arts continues -- this time from Camille Paglia (here).
As in the case of Mark C. Taylor and others, Paglia introduces her discussion under the pretense of analyzing the effect of the Great Recession on higher education. Paglia then uses that pretense as an excuse for a further attack on the liberal arts that is utterly devoid of any foundation in evidence.
Paglia begins her piece with a string of flat assertions unsupported by even the hint of data:
- "Meaningful employment is no longer guaranteed to dutiful, studious members of the middle class in the Western world."
- "College education, which was hugely expanded after World War II and sold as a basic right, is doing a poor job of preparing young people for life outside of a narrow band of the professional class."
Fact check: unlike earlier decades in which a college education was seen as preparation for life as a "man in a gray flannel suit," college grads can be both motorcycle mechanics and Fellows at the University of Virginia's Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.
Particularly if one is concerned with preparation for life -- and not merely preparation for a career -- there is no evidence at all to suggest that the lives of college graduates are more impoverished or less fulfilled than those of non-graduates.
- "There is little flexibility in American higher education to allow for alternative career tracks."
Fact check: see previous.
So all of Paglia's unwarranted assertions are dubious at best. What about her suggested remedies?
Paglia's big-picture remedy is the gutting of the liberal arts. She suggests:
Jobs, and the preparation of students for them, should be front and center in the thinking of educators. The idea that college is a contemplative realm of humanistic inquiry, removed from vulgar material needs, is nonsense.
Of course, if this were taken seriously, many educators would have to abandon their chosen professions. Philosophy? Clearly not germane in an education system in which "the idea that college is a contemplative realm ... removed from vulgar material needs ... is nonsense."
Okay, perhaps that's not so terrible -- who cares about the philosophers, anyway? However, there would also be no need for theoretical mathematicians (other than to teach prerequisites for engineering, econ, etc.), physicists (ditto), astronomers (at all), biologists (other than for pre-med requirements), cognitive psychologists, historians, ... the list goes on.
What about how Paglia herself boils down her big-picture lesson into a more immediate solution for higher education? Here's her solution, in her own words:
Jobs, jobs, jobs: We need a sweeping revalorization of the trades. The pressuring of middle-class young people into officebound, paper-pushing jobs is cruelly shortsighted. Concrete manual skills, once gained through the master-apprentice alliance in guilds, build a secure identity. Our present educational system defers credentialing and maturity for too long. When middle-class graduates in their mid-20s are just stepping on the bottom rung of the professional career ladder, many of their working-class peers are already self-supporting and married with young children.
The Great Recession has seen the utter collapse of the housing industry, and with it the attendant loss of thousands of jobs in construction and handwork trades, and Paglia's brilliant solution is ... to train more people for those jobs that no longer exist.
Remember those statistics cited above -- working class peers with young children are finding it increasingly harder to support themselves and their families in an increasingly tight job market. Add to this the increasingly small share of wealth belonging to those working class families, and Paglia's prescription becomes even more baffling.
One might have thought that a better diagnosis would lead to a recommendation that we do a better job both of training college students for the complex, ever-changing, information-intensive, highly quantitative, cosmopolitan jobs that will become increasingly more important in the 21st century global economy, and of training them for the many hours of the week when they are not working -- training them to appreciate fine art, literature, the marvels of science, the joys of community service ... wherever it is that their passions take them when they are not at their paying jobs.
Paglia's solution, in contrast, is to prepare students for the jobs of the 18th century, where perhaps -- in her romantic vision -- under a spreading chestnut tree a village smithy stands. (Longfellow's pre-industrial idyll was already becoming an outdated romanticization when he wrote it!)
That the Chronicle would publish such absolute drivel is completely baffling ... not to mention depressing.