Monday, January 24, 2011

Academic Lobotomies On Parade . . . . .

Outside of science and engineering, US universities and colleges too often provide an inferior product. Liberal Arts curricula have fallen prey to political correctness and post-modern multicultural dogma to the point that large numbers of the best US liberal arts graduates are incapable of basic rational thought.
For most of the past 20 years I have served on selection committees for the Rhodes Scholarship. In general, the experience is an annual reminder of the tremendous promise of America's next generation. We interview the best graduates of U.S. universities for one of the most prestigious honors that can be bestowed on young scholars.

I have, however, become increasingly concerned in recent years - not about the talent of the applicants but about the education American universities are providing. Even from America's great liberal arts colleges, transcripts reflect an undergraduate specialization that would have been unthinkably narrow just a generation ago.

As a result, high-achieving students seem less able to grapple with issues that require them to think across disciplines or reflect on difficult questions about what matters and why.

Unlike many graduate fellowships, the Rhodes seeks leaders who will "fight the world's fight." They must be more than mere bookworms. We are looking for students who wonder, students who are reading widely, students of passion who are driven to make a difference in the lives of those around them and in the broader world through enlightened and effective leadership. The undergraduate education they are receiving seems less and less suited to that purpose.

An outstanding biochemistry major wants to be a doctor and supports the president's health-care bill but doesn't really know why. A student who started a chapter of Global Zero at his university hasn't really thought about whether a world in which great powers have divested themselves of nuclear weapons would be more stable or less so, or whether nuclear deterrence can ever be moral. A young service academy cadet who is likely to be serving in a war zone within the year believes there are things worth dying for but doesn't seem to have thought much about what is worth killing for. A student who wants to study comparative government doesn't seem to know much about the important features and limitations of America's Constitution.

When asked what are the important things for a leader to be able to do, one young applicant described some techniques and personal characteristics to manage a group and get a job done. Nowhere in her answer did she give any hint of understanding that leaders decide what job should be done. Leaders set agendas.

I wish I could say that this is a single, anomalous group of students, but the trend is unmistakable. Our great universities seem to have redefined what it means to be an exceptional student. They are producing top students who have given very little thought to matters beyond their impressive grasp of an intense area of study.

This narrowing has resulted in a curiously unprepared and superficial pre-professionalism _WaPo
Is this deficit of thinking skills due to lowered expectations among schools and college professors? Or are the professors themselves incapable of basic multi-POV thought?

Certainly the post-1960s university professoriate is more prone to the teaching of a sort of blurry quasi-leftist mono-POV drivel. Professors are less tolerant of students expressing contrary opinions these days. Rather than teaching students to think for themselves, professors too often try to mould the thinking of students into a press of their own making. A very sad trend, which leads to nothing good.

This massive loss of human capital due to academic lobotomisation is combined with a loss of human capital due to dysgenic differential birth rates. Well educated career women, who tend to be more intelligent, are more likely to have no children -- or one child at most, typically.

A society in the midst of massive human capital loss, is not a society on the rise. US universities are in the middle of a higher education bubble -- with vastly top-heavy and ruinously expensive staffing in the administrative area. Time for massive re-structuring and re-thinking of the university enterprise.

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