Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It's Time to Refound Our Universities

They've Strayed Too Far from the Noble Purposes of their Founders

Jefferson's Rotunda, the center of his 'Academic Village.' Photo by Holsinger.

Did you know that Hamas enjoys more positive praise on some of our college campuses than it does on the West Bank? Just ask Khaled Abu Toameh, an Arab Muslim with Israeli citizenship who used to be with the Palestinian media but chose to move to the Israeli press where he was free to speak what was on his heart.

Toameh has observed a 'Pro Palestinian Junta' taking place on U.S. campuses as Middle-Eastern studies professors promote a pretty one-sided picture of a complex situation.

There is a problem here. Most of the kids attending 'Code Pink' antiwar presentations have never been to Israel and are swayed by the speech of people who conveniently ignore the nature of jihad and the refusal of Palestinian spokesmen to recognize Israel's right to exist. Playing on sympathy for the victims of this situation, they ignore the reality that many Hamas policies have continued the harm. They forget that the pullout from Gaza left the people there with beautiful greenhouses and the possibility of taking part in the 'miracle' agriculture that the region had enjoyed under Jewish control. The Palestinians trashed the facilities, shot rockets at Sderot and chose instead to live supplied through tunnels from Egypt.

Years ago, my sister-in-law was a young idealist who chose to go live with the Sandinistas for a bit, obviously inspired by some academic. Problem was when you actually got there you saw that the Sandinistas were not such idealists at all.

May I make the controversial statement that $20,000 a year is a bit much to be paying for such indoctrination.

Guardians of the Gate

Why do they get away with it? There is only one reason. They are the 'guardians of the gate' to a number of important and well paying careers. The computer revolution has begun to chip away at that as many young people have been able to bypass the four or five year path that was traditionally perscribed for success. That is not a bad thing, howls about lacking "well roundedness" aside.

In the Seventeenth Century colleges were founded in this land to train well read leaders and reach the Native population with the Gospel. That's why Dartmouth and William and Mary have Indians as mascots. A gentleman such as Thomas Jefferson was schooled in practical arts, such as Architecture, along with his Classical education.

Fast forward to the Twenty-first Century. Western Civilization has been effectively eliminated from the curriculum. Beauty and truth have been reduced to relative terms. They still exist, but not at the academy.

A Modest Proposal

Every year large coprporations hire the graduates of such prestigious institutions and then lament that they are then required to actually train them for the work! To add insult to injury, they are cooerced through alumni associations and endowments to pony up to maintain the status quo.

Here is the modest proposal. Industry and medicine need to reinstate the apprenticeship system of old and take the money they are throwing into a failed sytem to found their own institutes of Art, Architecture, Engineering, Medicine [yes, Medicine]! Hospitals need to own and operate the training of physicians.

Building upon the existing Community College system, they can provide the well-rounded education that Seventeenth Century students received. Prolonged adolescence would be replaced by a productive young adulthood and knowledge would be acquired over a lifetime instead of in a four year attempt to "force feed" young people who are frankly more interested in other things.

Citizens would pursue continuing education in their field and also in arts and letters. My own Father is my perfect man as a model of the Citizen-Scholar. He barely made it through high school and his advisor wrote a letter saying that he could not recommend that my Father pursue Engineering as a career. Dad went to a junior college for a year before applying to Notre Dame where he did indeed pursue his Engineering degree. Upon graduation he went to Wright doing structural analysis on aircraft. Eventually he ended up at the Martin Company in Baltimore doing structural analysis on the seaplanes used in the Pacific Theatre during WWII.

He married his chief number cruncher and eventually left Martin to start his own lab. He had one of those shop/garage units that plumbing contractors rent and he built shock and vibration test equipment in there. Eventually he was hired to write the test procedures for NASA. He became a department head there, having created a lot of the quality assurance methodology for spacecraft.

But I've digressed. In Dad's day they really did train Engineers who couldn't read and Liberal Arts Scholars who couldn't count. Dad slowly aquired a magnificent library and schooled himself in letters. He read all the noble works of Western literature and probably could have taught the courses! He was equally at home reading Plato or dissecting a roto-tiller. My complete man!

When I was twelve, he said "build me a greenhouse" and offered more moral support than knowledge as I did my own research and drew plans for the thing. He gave me a budget and helped me place the rafters. When I secured a good price for a set of old storm windows I think he was pleased. The redwood structure didn't succumb to termites until Reagan was president.

Thomas Jefferson designed this addition to Farmington as well as Monticello and the University of Virginia.

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