Last time, I had mentioned a fear about what’s coming because of the lack of depth in the national discourse. I’d like to explore the reckoning that is facing one of the main culprits in that shallowness a bit more, before leaving with a distant hope.
The primarily culprit of this shallowness is a public school system that once taught about Western Civilization, Greek and Latin, and now proudly offers algebra, an overview at history shallow enough to learn nothing from it and an exhaustive overview of the life cycle of a tree. Indeed, it seems the generation was almost set up for failure. We spent 60-70% of our formative years in a system that taught everything that didn’t matter, and were not encouraged to go pursue other opinions and ideas because they were old, boring, irrelevant or inferior. Every child comes out of 14 years of school knowing that they are all special, nobody’s perfect, Pythagoras had way too much time on his hands and the mitochondria is the power station of a cell. How will we do taxes, raise a family, consider the impact of voting for the leaders of the largest, richest, most powerful nation in the history of the planet based on policy and not charisma? Don’t worry about that because everything is going to be just fine in the end and people are basically good.
I was thinking about this before stumbling onto Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students. It is a book from 1987 which, even having just read the first quarter of, makes clear what ails the academic world is not a new, myopic phenomenon, but the exact same brand of utter uselessness that now exists in a world where college tuition is now exorbitant enough to drive people to ask if the investment is worth it. Bloom rails, as most contemporary libertarians and right-wingers do, against the academic world’s obsession with multiculturalism and relativism, purported to be Mind-opening as instead militantly enforced and thus an open-mind (which would be open to opposing ideas) is the last thing one would want in such a milieu.
My first thought of course, is that this is by design. Perhaps I need to be angry (angrier) at the government for setting up a curriculum that seems designed in every aspect to create generations of dumb, slow, generic, militant relativists who still “speak their truth” as though it were objectively the truth and you’re a terrible person for questioning it. It is the public school system that decided to eliminate the classics, Western Civilization, practical economics, personal responsibility and independent thought, only to malign the first as an irredeemable, white supremacist patriarchy, the second as evil capitalism, and the third as useless in the face of an uncaring overbearing system of oppression and the fourth as something that can only lead to hatred when it does not make one arrogant or arbitrarily rocking the boat for attention.
In creating unthinking drones, often depicted with the classic NPC meme, the public school system has left students susceptible to a lifetime of drip-fed anger in the form of sensationalist media. The public school system encourages submission, conformity and the lively exchange of a single idea. In the same way, the media is homework for these budding automatons. It serves its purpose by reminding them that they know everything they need to (which is objectively very little, but leaving that aside for now), that those people who have a different opinion are a threat to everything you know and you need to fight them by any means necessary. There is probably no greater indictment of the public school system, or relativism than the fact it can be reduced to the slogan “All truth is relative, but your truth must be fought for” which is taught to all people with the “right” politics. And thus, having been taught very little about the issue and being told that what little they have is fragile and invaluable, the automaton will fight savagely to protect it.
The result of this has been discussed already in Climate Change. For this essay, I want to point to something else. Knowing that the philosophical depth in 2020 will be inversely related to the considerable amount of epithets and rash actions already in the chamber for millions of hair-triggers and knowing that the situation will not resolve itself before the season begins in a few months, how is one to hope for a better world in the process?
I believe this begins when we look at the backlash the academic world is facing. We are at a point where tuition is so high, and graduate employment so low, that many are beginning to ask if the investment is remotely worth it. Public education may preach the falsehood that “if you do well in high school, you’ll get into a good college and if you do well in college you’ll get a good job”, but that platitude is being tested by the almighty dollar and a sniveling, pesky dollop of reason, which the academic world despises. This by the way, is to say nothing of the absurd emphasis on how much control you don’t have over what college you go to and whether you get a job in your field along with learning disabilities, politically motivated teachers who knock your grade because they disagree and being expelled for hate speech. But of course platitudes are meant to be accepted, not examined. I have hope that our children, those who will be ready for college in 2036, will have grown up in this culture of “it’s just not worth it”, and the academic world must consider whether to adapt to a smarter talent pool that may not need them. The democratization of education through groups like Lynda, Skillshare and the rest don’t help in this regard. Certainly there are so fields where one-on-one, in person training is mandatory. However, considering how many fields don’t require such training, and how it what one goes to college for ultimately makes up about 15% of the academic experience, this is largely a win for the individual, especially those who don’t have means to afford what passes for a college education.
Unfortunately, this may take 5-10 more years to become normalized and that’s assuming the quality of the product is tangible. I have no issues however being optimistic about this. The academic world is, in my opinion, the single biggest killer of innovation and the individual spirit in the country behind perhaps prison and the government. That in mind, anything that offers an alternative to the looming threat of tomorrow’s kids being fed to that monolith is one I am willing to entertain. There is a faith that the invitation of competition into the marketplace of ideas (or at least marketplace, since plurality of ideas is not on the university agenda).
So for now I have faith in the coming storm. The idea that this generation which graduated with degrees they were told was the only path to success, is laden with debt they don’t expect to pay off before they die, and a job that isn’t what they went to college for won’t allow their kids to go through the same thing.