In the latest Los Angeles Review of Books, writer and philosophy professor Ron Srigley critiques the modern university in ways that also apply to K-12 schooling. He targets today’s upside-down structure of education that preferences bureaucracy and PR over students and genuine learning.
“If students cannot think, read, or write any longer, it’s because administrators don’t care if they can or can’t,” he says. “One reason for the negligence is simple corruption. Rigor is difficult and unpopular; pandering is easy and pleasant. And since the whole world panders to students in order to extract from them a portion of their considerable resources, why resist the flow?”
Srigley discusses the exploitative nature of much of what passes for education today. In it, students (and faculty) are treated and taught to fit themselves into a world of material consumption, rather than elevated into something higher and more humane: “Humanities education is vanishing from the academy because what we want from students is no longer their insight or character, but merely an electronic footprint of their most immediate and unconsidered desires from which to craft a custom consumer world for them to inhabit.”
His section on students is particularly poignant:
What the all-administrative university offers [students] is not an education but a credential with a market value and ample statistical evidence to demonstrate the necessity of having one if they wish to prosper economically. All the celebrations of ever-increasing achievement, all the new programming about culture and communication and learning, all the technological systems and improvements to student facilities and services are merely cover for this brutal calculation. We don’t mind if you become illiterate. We don’t mind if you can’t read or write. And we don’t even mind if important parts of your humanity wither completely. Let’s just call it the price of progress and our overwhelming economic and military dominance. You like that too, right? You like the perks — the world travel, the cell phones, the cheap sweatshop clothes, Netflix and the other opiates, the general comfort? All right then, we have an understanding. What we will do for you is ensure our credential affords you an adequate seat at the economic table that will get you your fair share of the plunder. After all, that is in both our interests…
All the terrifying, heartbreaking, and wonderful human rumblings they feel within themselves starve to death in our classrooms. We’ll give them a certain technical education (more about that in a moment). But we’ll make sure they don’t think about it too much, and we’ll keep them busy and teach them, along with the whole culture, to fear silence, delight, boredom, and unhappiness and the rest of what Dennis Lee calls the ‘ache of the real.’ Instead we’ll stuff our classes full of cell phones and laptops and bells and game-show-style quizzes so they wouldn’t be able to recognize a real experience if they had one (and they do … all the time). It is in those darker interstices of experience that people become human beings worthy of the name and begin their long conversation with the world, from which no one knows what beautiful new insight might emerge. Perhaps it is still so. But the all-administrative university hates silence and reflection and wants students fast and pliable and efficient.