A university is a place that teaches mostly Spanish 101, Calculus 2, Introduction to the Study of Geography, Composition, and Beginners Something-Something. The first two years we do remediation because students come to us utterly bereft of the knowledge of history, geography, English grammar, foreign languages, geography, etc. The second two years we try to teach some marketable skills. The reason why I don’t teach big ideas isn’t the woke police. I’m simply too busy teaching where the continents are located and that a complete sentence needs a conjugated verb. The most important question at a university isn’t who is going to teach the big ideas course but who’s teaching the 26 sections of beginners composition and 18 sections of Calc 1.
I looked at the proposed course offerings for the new free speech university in Texas. The university is a great idea, and I wish the fine folks organizing it every success. But they are a university like I’m a Chinese guy with a beard. They are a debate club for retired scholars or bright children of Silicon Valley software developers. The only students that can have an interest in what they are saying, the capacity to comprehend it, and most importantly, the leisure to pursue it are the tiniest of elites.
The left-wing indoctrination in colleges that is absolutely real and absolutely overwhelming doesn’t happen at the level of big-ideas courses about Plato. It happens when you take 101, and then 102, and then 201 and so on, and the professor is the person who is always there, always helping, always seeing you in their office where you go to cry and share that your very first girlfriend broke up with you or your mom has been diagnosed with cancer or your 3-year-old has been spiking a fever for 3 days. And since you are human, you get emotionally attached to that professor. And you want to be like them. That’s when it happens.
There are many people who want to teach big ideas. But the real impact rests with the grunts who teach the intro courses and explain where Mexico is on a map and what the Cold War was on the most basic level and hold office hours in the same room for 15 years and spend most of their time correcting “would had did” on the final papers. So don’t tell me who will teach about the perception of Plato’s thought in the late Middle Ages. Tell me who’ll be teaching German 101, how you will pay them, and how you’ll make sure they are with you and only you for a couple of decades. In higher ed, this is the number one issue.
It’s always the grunts who win. Always. The people who do the boring, repetitive daily work. But an extracurricular free speech activity club is a cute idea that I support. It will have zero impact on the general state of higher ed and will soon become as ideological and un-free as the phenomenon it wants to oppose but that’s the way of all humans.
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I think there are different tiers of need here. The majority of students may still need what amounts to basic literacy. It’s probably partly to do with the degradation of secondary education since WW II, but also due to the fact that since WW II the expectation has increasingly been that everyone – or at least 2/3’s of us – should go to university. The university originally was designed to train the elite ten or twenty percent, and prepare people for white collar professions and management, now it is expected to train everyone.. Now everyone is meant to aspire to the professions and management.
When I went to university I was ready for Plato. My school, Providence College, started us in a two year multi-disciplinary five day a week hour a day program of Western Civ that started with Gilgamesh, Sargon and the “hydraulic societies” of Mesopotamia and Egypt and worked our way forward through the history, literature, philosophy and theology of the ensuing six thousand years ending with a final class on Wittgenstein. It was mind blowing, and it transformed my life.
If you are ready for that, if you want that, you should have that. But only ten or twenty percent of people even want it, are even ready for the type of abstract thinking necessary to not be bored silly by all that sort of “useless irrelevant crap.” They never pierce the veil of philosophical occultism, never understand the significance of Al-Kindi’s and Leo Strauss’s perennial doctrine that philosophy is encoded for the elite, while theology is derivative pablum for controlling the masses.
I later went back to get my teaching certificate at the University of Maine. I decided to pick up a second bachelors degree while doing it, and focus on economics and history. I made friends with a bunch of freshman and sophomores five or six years younger than me, and a bunch of them came to me for help writing papers. I never wrote for them, but I would tell them what to write, and who to cite. It amused me to see how I would give them ideas and provide them citations that earned me A’s in my own work, but the same material would get D’s and C’s cast in less fluent language.
One lesson in that to me is that sophistication in rhetoric is nearly everything. It’s a class marker, and the university is really just a class sorting mechanism, and club that hypocritically claims that anyone can join, but in actuality is the gateway to a gnostic hierarchy cryptically sorting people, invisibly marking and providing them with status signifiers that only other elect manifest and perceive.
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