by Greg Mayer
There’s a lot wrong with higher education in the United States (and perhaps the world), but I know of few, if any, public figures who are pointing out the problems and discussing potential solutions. The problem is that all “sides” to the “debate”, whether right or left, agree on the central premises: they all embrace the neoliberal consensus that the goal of the educational system is maximization of lifetime earnings, and that educational attainment and quality can be measured most simply and clearly by dollars earned. The “debate”, such as it is, is about the split of those earnings between workers and business owners– some want more for the workers (the “left”), some want more for the owners (“the right”). (Even casting the debate in terms of class, as I have done here would be anathema to both sides.)
I was moved to begin what I hope to make an occasional series on this subject by yesterday’s front page in the local paper, the Kenosha News.
In the article, the leaders of all three local colleges– a technical college, a 4-year public, and a 4-year private– announce their fealty to the neoliberal dream: efficient production of workers for industry. Among the strategies that they believe will lead to “educational value” are “reducing credits” and “compressing classes”– I don’t even know what they intend these to mean.
The object of the educational system, taken as a whole, is not to produce hands for industry or to teach the young how to make a living. It is to produce responsible citizens.
And, institutions of higher education must be institutions, as James Smithson put it, “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge“. I would regard these principles as axiomatic, but it is all too clear that many, especially in educational leadership, do not.
Lord knows we need responsible citizenship, both among the general populace, and as much, if not more so, among our leaders. A cowering obeisance to mammon is not what we need.