Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog


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I’m having my annual allergy-season eye infection, so I can’t really see.

But this


showed up on ALDaily this morning.

And it’s interesting.  And Menand writes well.

The only thing I’d say is this–I think there are really THREE theories of college education, not two, because the two parts of his secondary theory are inherently contradictory.

But, you know, YMMV.

Written by janeh

June 1st, 2011 at 6:21 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response to 'June'

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  1. Like I didn’t see this coming at 4:45 this morning!

    The rant first: Pomona College ought to suspend Dr. Menand’s degree for wanton and cruel abuse of statistics. Rejecting a lot of applications does not prove a school is at all meritocratic. It may demonstrate that a school is exclusive, but the statistics given don’t even demonstrate that Harvard has become more exclusive. How students are accepted and why they are released short of graduation shows concern with merit, but this is little discussed. I note also the big missing statistic: What are a Groton applicant’s chances of acceptance today? I note that more Groton graduates attend Harvard than any other college or university, but neither institution discussed the matter further. End of rant.

    Actually, I count five theories of education in the article: 1) Finishing school; 2) Sorting for Intelligence; 3) Teaching to Think–almost Jane’s “Great Conversation”; 4) Vocational training, and 5) Indoctrination.

    I’m sorry. I’m supposed to call that last one ‘cultivating “socially desirable attitudes”‘ aren’t I? Anyway, it’s the second half of his “democratic” theory, in which, having encouraged independence of thought, he wants to make sure no one actually deviates from the University Line. As Jane says, inherently contradictory.

    Frankly, I don’t know that, as a nation, we need a theory of education. We do need some national agreement about who is responsible for vocational training and suitable credentials. The present system is hideously expensive and wasteful–and so financially rewarding to the Powers the Be in academia, that I see no prospect of a change in my lifetime.

    As for the rest, individual schools or school systems ought to decide which theory they are pursuing, and tailor their courses to match. Because the appropriate readings for a finishing school are not those needed for teaching people to think, and may be different again from indoctrination texts. They ought to, but they won’t. There’s not a major university in the country with the clarity of thought and the ruthlessness to carry such an idea to a conclusion. The most anyone is going to do is convince the graduate students and wait for the tenured faculty and administrators to retire.

    Me? We need them all, I think. At least finishing schools are inevitable, and a society which doesn’t pass on some attitudes to the next generation is committing suicide. Vocational training is a critical part of amy modern society. As for sorting (meritocratic) and training (democratic), we’ll get schools and teachers who believe in both regardless, but by and large I hold with training. If the training is rigorous, it will provide the sorting, and we won’t have missed any potential talent. But if we only try to sort, and we ought to have trained…


    1 Jun 11 at 6:26 pm

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