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So Anyway

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I’m back again, sort of.  I’m finished blogging over at Moments in Crime, at any rate, but today I’ve been too messed up to actually get anything sensible written, or even thought about.

So, a couple of things.

First, the fortieth reunion of my high school class in coming up, organized largely by a woman whom I remember as being nice and kind of quiet, but who seems to have become, in the intervening years, something of a dynamo.  She’s got venues.  She’s got registration forms.  She’s got committees.  I’m intimidated, although I’d sort of like to go.

Second, Robert wrote me an e-mail asking me if I got the same impression he did, which is that colleges all seem to be looking for the same student these days.  And my answer to that is:  yes.  I do get that impression.  Exactly.

In fact, the high schools–the selective private high schools–seem to be looking for that same student, too.  And, for the life of me, I can’t figure out how.

There’s an article up on Arts and Letters Daily today that suggests that meritocracies create the need for large dependent classes for elites to champion and manage–without such dependent classes, elites have nothing to do, and no way to be elites.

So maybe that’s what this is about, and maybe that explains the confusing irrelevancy of academic work, on both the high school and college level.

Let me be clear–I don’t think that the study of Socrates, Plato, Leonardo and Bach is irrelevant.  But students don’t study those things.   It’s hard to know what they study.

If it was up to me, high school would consist of learning some basic things:  how the government works; how a mortgage works; how to figure out what your credit card is charging you; plus an overview of American culture and history and some smaller overview of the Great Tradition itself, just so that students know it’s there.

And college, as I’ve said, would be limited to learning the Great Tradition itself, with technical institutes meant to train people for specific practical careers.

But I don’t know what anybody is learning any more, any more than I know why they’re reading what they’re reading.  My sons, like my students, seem to spend most of their time “learning” scattershot information that connects to nothing else in the curriculum, and nothing much in the real world, either.

And students who do know the basic things you want them to know are not necessarily the ones who do well.  Every once in a while I get a kid who knows who’s on the Supreme Court and how the electoral college works, and he’ll be getting a C in history while the A is going to the girl who does a perfect Chicago citation list for her term paper on water policy in the Polk administration.

And I’ve said enough, by now, about how I feel about “English” courses.

If there’s a single reason why I have hope that Ameria is going to be all right, it’s that we seem to be able to make end runs around official policies better than other people do.  If you want to be a successful film maker in France, you get great grades in high school, you get into a good Polytechnic, and then you sign on for subsidies with the government.

If you want to be a successful filmmaker in the US, you get a camera and go make things until you find a way to get people to want to see them, at which point bankers will throw a lot of money at you in the hopes that you know what you’re doing.

I’ve known that all along, of course, but lately I’ve been truly astounded by how many really successful people in the US do not have standard enducations.  And not just actors and musicians, either.

I don’t mean they’re uneducated–Woody Allen, who flunked out of college in his Frenshman year, knows more about the Great Tradition han most graduates of Harvard–but that they lack the degrees, the formal institutional blessings, that we’re all supposed to have if we want to get anywhere.

And that makes me think about that article about the meritocracy, because I tend to think there’s a lot wrong with the meritocracy as well, if not the things the writer of that essay found to argue.

But I’m about to be thrown off this computer, so I’ll leave it until tomorrow.

Written by janeh

May 11th, 2009 at 3:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response to 'So Anyway'

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  1. I wish it were something about being American. Then it would be harder to lose. It’s more about focusing on results. That French film-maker gets a check from Sarkozy & Cie, and Sarko will NOT be fired because not enough people watched French movies this year. The head of Columbia or Time-Warner may very well be, so they care much less about class standing and much more about box office history. You see the same difference between a minister with a state salary and the sort who has to put 100 people in the pews every week or find a new career.

    But it’s a results thing, and not a capitalism thing as such. Peacetime militaries can go along for a generation or more–if one is lucky–promoting on a mix of academics, nepotism, favoritism and neat reports. Then a war breaks out and suddenly there are results to be concerned with. Sam Grant gets taken away from clerking in his father’s store and given a second chance. Custer–the wrong party and the wrong faction in the Army–makes Brigadier General at 25, three years out of the Academy.
    But when they were equally against the wall, the Euros did the same. Hitler kept on and promoted at least two half-Jewish generals. The British shot an Admiral on the quarterdeck of his flagship–not for losing, but for not winning. The French once had killed in action, guillotined or drove into exile 350 generals in two years–but the survivors were Napoleon and his marshals.

    Now, can anyone tell me what a high school or university is supposed to achieve by way of results, and the consequences when those results are not achieved? Exactly. What things ARE checked for results, and who IS fired when results are not achieved? By that standard, the primary concerns of American universities are (1) fundraising and (2) the men’s football and basketball teams. When an American university starts sacking staff and changing curriculum because it is not satisfied with the educational results it’s getting, education will have been taken seriously. I see no sign that this will happen soon. When it does, there will be quite a bit more variety in admissions crieria and teaching systems than is seen at present–but right now we’re applying the methods of the French film industry to education.


    11 May 09 at 6:17 pm

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