Theory and Practice: Ill-Conceived

It’s ludicrous how we push people unsuited for university education into universities. And then they come and tell me that the meaning and essence of “university” has changed. I don’t know whether to laugh or to sit in sackcloth and ashes.

In a piece written for The Boston Globe a couple of years ago, college professor Michael Kryzanek decried both the quality of education many of today’s college students receive and the lack of interest they have in actual learning. He cites a study by the National Center for Education Statistics that found that only 31 percent of college graduates could read a “complex book and extrapolate from it.” The same study also found that many students graduate from college lacking “the skills needed to comprehend routine data, such as reading a table about the relationship between blood pressure and physical activity.”

Kryzanek, who has taught at the college level for more than thirty years, is not surprised by the study’s findings. Based on his own experience and frequent discussions with colleagues, he concludes that

students today have little interest in what past generations of college students accepted as an essential education. Reading the literature of “dead white guys,” studying the relevancy of a 400-year-old historical event, and thinking about the meaning of life’s mysteries are not of great interest to a growing number of college students. Now it’s all about focusing on a career path, studying narrowly about the skills required of that career path, and then crossing the stage on graduation day.

It’s true that people who enter universities these days want to learn something. The thing is, does it really have any effect on the classes they choose to take? Not always. Then what? After the drop deadlines for the last semester, the only recourse – no, all that is left, for it is no recourse – is regretting not doing something or numbing the self to the goals of the good.

What’s the problem?

Society has changed, they say. Alas, not for change, but for the confusion of one thing for another. Of course universities are of no use if their academic programmes are for the undertaker’s status rather than for his mental eyes; of course they will drift ever farther from what students consider to be “real life” – as if the two, learning and life, can ever be separated.

For this dichotomy we also get the often-drawn distinction between “book learning” and “the real world”. There is no reason to widen the gulf just because of the unfortunate fact that a gulf has been created. The reason it exists is impatience on the part of those emphasizing what they term “the real world” and bizarre ideas – remember, opinion is sacrosanct in a postmodern society unless it incurs the wrath of the academic establishment – coming from the ivory tower. Both are wrong.


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