There is no more fateful failure of modern political thought than its failure to distinguish between elitism and social exclusivity. From this failure stems an enormous, costly, and increasingly intolerant attempt to rectify what is not wrong in the first place. One fights chimeras the better to avoid confrontation with real enemies.
Marco Rubio demonstrated keen political instincts during one of the primary debates when he used his opening remarks to argue for an end to the stigmatization of vocational training, handily linking the stigmatization to the minimum wage and America’s flagging economy.
Aristotle, unfortunately, won’t be on the ballot.
Marco Rubio’s form of dissing liberal education is probably more ridiculous than the more insistent and policy-driven efforts of Scott Walker, although Rubio, just as obviously, is much smarter than Walker. It’s reasonable to believe that Rubio and his supporters can be educated concerning how his ill-considered rhetoric aids and abets the more deeply misguided attack on liberal education.
This site features an excellent Liberty Forum discussion this month on the future of legal education. If Ken Randall is right about a “blue ocean for law schools” (and he probably is), it looks like a lot of them will be traveling online, providing a needed service for those who only want a ticket to take the bar. As the profession gets more entrepreneurial, the argument for taking this route gets stronger.
This November, political scientists will have an invaluable opportunity to undertake a case study in the effect of liberal education and liberal arts colleges on the rationality, integrity, and tone of our political discourse. I have in mind, of course, the Virginia 7th District contest between David Brat, Professor of Economics at Randolph-Macon College (link no longer available), and his colleague, Jack Trammell, who teaches sociology and directs the Honors Program at the same institution (link no longer available). If liberal education indeed has a salutary civic impact, shouldn’t it be on display over the next few months in Eric Cantor’s (soon to be) old district?
Published over a decade ago, Josiah Bunting III’s An Education for Our Time presents the plan of dying, septuagenarian billionaire John Adams, a descendant of those Adamses, for a new institution of higher learning to be built in eastern Wyoming. The broad goal is to provide a unique liberal education. In addition to studying classics, serving abroad, and mastering the outdoors, and classical and modern foreign language requirements, the College will also edify the character of its students through emulation by reading great biographies and engaging in deep historical learning that will form 1/3 of the curriculum.
There is no tuition. The school will operate as best it can free of any regulations from federal or state governments. SAT scores will not be considered for admissions. Grades will matter, but of greatest significance is character, or rather, the committees in each state that evaluate applicants will look for those young men and women who have demonstrated independence by taking risks under difficult circumstances. By this, Adams wants students who have been willing to pursue the good in the face of mockery.
“There was a palpable silence in the class,” a professor writes, “as I talked about the 620,000 people who died, the 4 million slaves who were liberated, the President (in my opinion, our best President) who gave his life for this cause” (134). He continues:
They were really feeling it now, as was I. My voice nearly cracked. M, L, L, and A were moved almost to tears; M actually had to excuse herself from the room to take a breath in the lobby. As she was leaving, P said, “This makes me so sad that they had to go through this.” Then B added, “But thank God they did.” Silent nodding throughout the room. … After something of a moment of silence, we launched into a discussion of Chesnut’s diary. I was stunned by their reaction: they loved it! … I think Chesnut’s diary satisfied some of the curiosity they had about the ‘other’ perspective on slavery, but still, they were struck by the sympathy she had for the slaves she witnessed at auction … . I was struck, over and over, about how active and imaginative their readings were: seizing on suggestive moments in the text—was she unhappy, depressed, longing for liaisons with other men, antislavery, fully on board with secession?—to offer informed (and sometimes quite provocative) readings of Chestnut’s “inner life.” I was also struck by how much sympathy the women in the class—especially the black women—had for Chesnut” (134–135).
“‘Jack,’ E asked. ‘Are we the best class you ever had?’” The professor’s written response: “They are shaping up to be” (132). His comments are all the more moving because, by this point in Earl Shorris’s The Art of Freedom, you know that the professor is working with a ragtag collection of bright and ambitious, but downtrodden, inner city adults—not clever undergraduates at an elite institution.