California has no business subsidizing intellectual curiosity.
January 27, 2015 3:46 PM   Subscribe

In 1967, Ronald Reagan began a revolution in education by altering the scope and purpose of California's public universities: A higher education should prepare students for jobs. Full stop.
posted by absalom (47 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
jobs - jobs - that sounds familiar - what are they?
posted by pyramid termite at 3:47 PM on January 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


Just the mention of Reagan makes me see red, but compared to today's crop of GOPers, he's kinda moderate?

BRB, just off to throw myself into a volcano.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 3:48 PM on January 27, 2015 [27 favorites]


And just a few short years after he released this enlightened recording, too.
posted by item at 3:54 PM on January 27, 2015


Whatchoo readin' for?
posted by adamrice at 3:55 PM on January 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I live this daily. I teach philosophy at a public university in CA. The recession has made the trend toward college as job training even worse. And Jerry Brown! has made things worse in this regard.

When I was growing up, California was the promised land. It had this amazing university system that was free. Then Prop 13 gutted property taxes and made it near-impossible to raise taxes. So now we pass the cost of UC onto the student, and CSU partially onto the student.
posted by persona au gratin at 4:06 PM on January 27, 2015 [10 favorites]


I can only hope I live long enough to see the day when going back in time to prevent Reagan from becoming President becomes an overused trope in popular entertainment.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:10 PM on January 27, 2015 [40 favorites]


Just the mention of Reagan makes me see red, but compared to today's crop of GOPers, he's kinda moderate?

Is moderate french for "just like them". Because people may have forgotten that this a-hole fired 11,345 in one day and BANNED THEM FROM FEDERAL CIVIL SERVICE because they had the audacity to strike for 2 days.

On a better note, Clinton lifted that ban the same year he came into office in '93. This is why I love democrats.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:14 PM on January 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


"Training" for...what specific jobs?

A&M (Agriculture and Mechanics) schools? Passe'.

Seems it used to be that the State schools used to be the "training" schools. Nowadays, almost all of them are a university (granting Ph.D.s). Do they still "train" for jobs? What jobs?

And I'd love to see a comparison of how many students were in the California schools in 1967 versus today....

And btw, the standard joke when I was at university and you came across an Art History or Gender Studies or Anthropology or Sociology major was, "Oh...do you want fries with that?"
posted by CrowGoat at 4:17 PM on January 27, 2015


On hacker news the other day, there was some discussion of David Foster Wallace's "This is water" address, and one commentator was moved enough by the address to suggest that maybe there should be one entire course ("perhaps called `Life Engineering`") on this kind of thinking as a standard part of a complete education.

I wasn't sure if this was a specific instance of California tech culture boldly reinventing already invented things (but gussied up in new fashionable clothes)... or an instance of a larger culture that has so absorbed the idea of education as an industrial input and passport for upward economic mobility that Wallace's words seem a new revolutionary vision rather than a reminder of an old one.
posted by weston at 4:18 PM on January 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


CrowGoat: And btw, the standard joke when I was at university and you came across an Art History or Gender Studies or Anthropology or Sociology major was, "Oh...do you want fries with that?"

That's still a pretty standard joke, especially on reddit.
posted by gucci mane at 4:27 PM on January 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


I really wish that political discussion operated on the principle that we should not aim for economic contribution, but for understanding ourselves and our relation to society.

Please, more educational funding and poverty support.
posted by halifix at 4:31 PM on January 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


an Art History or Gender Studies or Anthropology or Sociology major

Isn't that what the formula “underwater basketweaving” was coined to stand in for as well?
posted by acb at 4:35 PM on January 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


the standard joke when I was at university and you came across an Art History or Gender Studies or Anthropology or Sociology major was

I didn't major in any of those, but I was fortunate enough to take classes in several of them. I know I'm a much better, and more rounded individual for having done so.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:43 PM on January 27, 2015 [22 favorites]


One issue is that the concept that higher education should prepare students for jobs, and the concept that all possible people should go to college, are fundamentally incompatible. There are simply not an unlimited number of jobs in our society that benefit meaningfully from a college education. So at some point you either need to start capping the number of college educations available or you need to admit that some people will need to be educated for their general betterment and not for any career.
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:44 PM on January 27, 2015 [14 favorites]


The purpose of education should be to prepare people to run the country. Everybody gets a vote, and I want all of us to be educated to understand what we're voting about. All those elected officials? We're their bosses. We hire them and give them feedback on how to do their jobs. I wish we were better at it.
posted by amtho at 4:44 PM on January 27, 2015 [17 favorites]




Nothing constructive to say; just have to blurt out that I hate that fucker and all his ilk with a fiery, burning passion.
posted by Ickster at 5:01 PM on January 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


"California has no business subsidizing intellectual curiosity"

Then stop growing all that weed.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:12 PM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


CrowGoat: And btw, the standard joke when I was at university and you came across an Art History or Gender Studies or Anthropology or Sociology major was, "Oh...do you want fries with that?"

That's still a pretty standard joke, especially on reddit.


My favorite variation on this came from the 1993 movie, "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story":

Linda Emery: "A philosophy major? Now, what can you do with a philosophy major?"
Bruce Lee: "You can think deep thoughts about being unemployed."
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 5:36 PM on January 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


And btw, the standard joke when I was at university and you came across an Art History or Gender Studies or Anthropology or Sociology major was, "Oh...do you want fries with that?"

Anti-intellectualism runs deep, even in academia. Reagan succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:45 PM on January 27, 2015 [24 favorites]


And btw, the standard joke when I was at university and you came across an Art History or Gender Studies or Anthropology or Sociology major was, "Oh...do you want fries with that?"

Anti-intellectualism runs deep, even in academia. Reagan succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.


I've seen it less as they're not quality academics and more that there's just a legion of them with five jobs total that don't involve waiting for an emeritus professor to kick it.
posted by Slackermagee at 5:51 PM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Why does it not surprise me that I can trace one more thing I detest to Reagan?

I remember reading the Harlan Ellison Glass Teat tv review books when I was a teenager during the Reagan presidency, and he was constantly on about the political figures he hated: Nixon, Agnew, and Reagan. Nixon and Agnew had been pulled off their pedestals for their sins, but Saint Ronnie never did.
posted by immlass at 5:55 PM on January 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


There was a song kicking around for a while in the mid-80's called "Reggae for Reagan" which featured the line "All we've got to do is to get Reagan stoned/give the man some ganja and he'll leave us alone." Singing that to myself got me through a whole lot of his term.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:04 PM on January 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


In his Inside Higher Ed blog, Matt Reed has some discussion of this article. His thesis - which matches my own understanding of U.S. history and U.S. higher ed history - is that Berrett's article is historically inaccurate.
posted by ElKevbo at 6:04 PM on January 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


Which is all the more hilarious — or tragic, take your pick — because with a few exceptions there's nothing more useless than someone who thinks college was actual job training, e.g. “Oh, you have an MBA? In that case I'll have to show you how to do it.”
posted by ob1quixote at 6:18 PM on January 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


That's a great link, ElKevbo. I don't exactly think the two points of view are irreconcilable.
posted by absalom at 6:22 PM on January 27, 2015


Not that I like Ronald Raegan or GOP higher ed policy, but let me be the advogatus diaboli here:

College is a 4 year opportunity where you don;'t have to work full time, where you're kept in living conditions that are not luxurious but are comfortable, and in which you have the attention of people with PHDs at your disposal.

There is no way to make that kind of thing cheap. And the people paying for it have a legitimate stake in how it gets used.

Subsidizing intellectual curiosity is a good thing, meanwhile, but there are other ways to do that that do more than give a subset of the population one bite at the cherry at it: libraries, atheneums, et cetera.

College, in the mean time, is hugely expensive, and the expense has to be justified to more than the students taking your classes. If you can't justify your class's existence to an educated layman, something's wrong.
posted by ocschwar at 6:38 PM on January 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm fine with the idea of college as job training as long as this is accompanied by the idea that it's not direct training in the literal sense and that it's accepted that not all jobs need college.
posted by bleep at 7:29 PM on January 27, 2015


I wonder how many people have had an experience similar to this? There you are, sitting in a class on American history, and the professor is offering a discourse on the Declaration of Independence. Those three pesky inalienable rights come up: "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." And you are thinking, "Hmm. Inalienable? That means non-transferable, right? And if this right is inalienable, that means that there is some innate quality at the essence of these particular rights which might possibly be a reference to some concept of natural law rather than merely being a simple iteration of positive law. Cool!"

And then the prof blurts, "Yeah, it's hard to explain why Jefferson (and the committee refining the draft) chose to write "the pursuit of Happiness" instead of using John Locke's notion about property. As we all know, Locke was a seminal influence on early American thinkers, so maybe what we should be discussing is 'Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of private property.'"

And so begins the derail.

In my case, later I was thankfully exposed to a long, fairly exhaustive (for an upper-level undergraduate class anyhow) compare and contrast of Locke's " An Essay on Human Understanding" and Leibniz's blow-by-blow counterpart, "New Essays on Human Understanding." This, and material similarly challenging to this, wherein I was forced to fight my ways through opposing ideas, sorting both stark difference and subtle nuance, has enriched my life in manifold ways over the past four decades.

And because of this approach, I was able to develop a slight capacity for detailed thinking and problem-solving. It has also indirectly contributed to putting some significant consumption tickets in my pocket over the course of my life. Enough to allow me the freedom of dumping the corporate rat race in my early 40s in exchange for more of the ultimate currency--time. Now, all I have to do is sell a much smaller time-allocation of my labor, doing grunt work in a place full of people who never got a fair shake on the "pursuit of Happiness" deal. As 80's philosopher Bill Nelson wrote, it's a "Fair Exchange."
posted by CincyBlues at 7:35 PM on January 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


CrowGoat: "Seems it used to be that the State schools used to be the "training" schools. Nowadays, almost all of them are a university (granting Ph.D.s). Do they still "train" for jobs? What jobs? "

Um, what? We train engineers, managers, lawyers, doctors, actuaries, forest rangers, farmers, economists, teachers, sociologists and software developers. Undergraduate education in State schools is a Pretty Big Deal.
posted by pwnguin at 8:00 PM on January 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


"College is a 4 year opportunity where you don;'t have to work full time..."

Hold on, lets stop there... If college is unaffordable to many/most, and they have to work a part-time job in order to be able to afford even a cheap college education (ie: state school or community college), then how much intellectual energy will they be able to give towards their education?

But wait, they can get college loans you say... But here, instead of subsidizing the students we are subsidizing loan companies (massive corporate gifts). How is giving money to college students so they can afford to dedicate their energies towards working unethical, but giving money to large corporations a reasonable thing?

" If you can't justify your class's existence to an educated layman, something's wrong."

Justify teaching the arts? Teaching literature? Teaching classics? Teaching music?

As it stands the rich can send their children to school, and the lucky poor (that can struggle to be able to afford college) can be saddled with an unmanageable debt that will never be forgiven.

Hmmmm...
posted by el io at 8:06 PM on January 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


And btw, the standard joke when I was at university and you came across an Art History or Gender Studies or Anthropology or Sociology major was, "Oh...do you want fries with that?"

Anti-intellectualism runs deep, even in academia. Reagan succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

I've seen it less as they're not quality academics and more that there's just a legion of them with five jobs total that don't involve waiting for an emeritus professor to kick it.


I put off school for a long time. Now I'm in a program in California to get one of those degrees that could be compared to "underwater basket weaving" (hint: the teponaztli was a kind of Aztec log drum). I get that I'm probably resigning myself to a sad future, but at least I'm learning to think about the world in a way I couldn't before. The idea of just preparing for a job - I mean, I worked for ten years before I went back to school, and I'd rather take a risk than just resign myself to something I don't care about. It's so totally full of it to say "if you want personal growth, you can learn this stuff on your own!" because no, you can't, not to the same degree - otherwise why would I have gone back to school for it?

At the same time, I can't help but feel like I missed the boat on this whole "great California educational system" thing. Jobs in the humanities are insanely hard to find, in spite of what my professors keep telling me. I'll probably be miserably in debt for the rest of my life, using my degrees to get the same jobs I had before I went to school. Shucks.

Well, feel free to ask me about Aztec music.
posted by teponaztli at 8:18 PM on January 27, 2015 [9 favorites]


If Reagan was so against education for educations sake, why did he sign my useless diploma from UC Santa Barbara where I got a BA in Religious Studies?

By the way I got jobs after graduating, good jobs in high tech, but I don't think Religious Studies helped as much as just a BA from UC. But those were the good ol' days when some people understood what being just educated meant unlike now when if you don't have the right buzzwords in your resume the machine won't spit it out for a human to read.
posted by njohnson23 at 8:18 PM on January 27, 2015


That article made me angry at pretty much everyone that was mentioned. The clip of Reagan really is an awful... repulsive even. Yet, I am not convinced by the article that the realignment of colleges toward career outcomes was a terrible thing. Its not like the University of California is an intellectual desert.

I went to UCSD for free as a lot of people do. I also went to community college in San Diego, mostly for free, as one still can. Middle class families do pay more for tuition, and there are significant issues with the power and spending habits of a too powerful non-academic administration.

Still, I feel like a lot of this hand wringing reeks of classism. I really felt this in the differentiation between "training" and "learning" in the article. Colleges have been subsidizing intellectual pursuits by preparing people to be doctors and lawyers and business executives for a long time; it was just a different sort of people and the market copy used bigger words.
posted by ethansr at 8:25 PM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


they're not quality academics

As I said, anti-intellectuallism runs deep. Even in people that deny it. It continually astonishes me that people express contempt for academic fields they know nothing about.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:33 PM on January 27, 2015 [9 favorites]


but let me be the advogatus diaboli here: 

A good grounding in the classics would have helped.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:08 PM on January 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


I can't help but feel like I missed the boat on this whole "great California educational system" thing.

You did, in that it used to be very, very inexpensive for CA residents. You still had to get in, though, to the very competitive top schols in the system, but, if you did, you were getting a world-class education for almost nothing. Very un-American.

The job outlook for PhDs remains bleak, but that's not really California's fault.
posted by thelonius at 3:58 AM on January 28, 2015


In some ways, I feel like the asking people whether they've gone to college for money or to learn about life is the wrong question, or at least one where the answer is heavily influenced by class. My mom went to university because it was the route to a job that would get her out of the place she grew up. I grew up with a constant message of "Do well in school, go to college and you get greater control over your life." That's not to say my mom doesn't value intellectual curiosity (I grew up in a house where being an academic was a laudable career choice), but if getting out required not going to university, I'm going to guess that's what my mom would have done. It seems like ever decreasing social mobility is going to influence the answers to the "why are you here" question--saying you're purely satisfying intellectual curiosity is going to feel less and less believable the more you need the degree for decent job opportunities and that's about class, not your intellectual curiosity or desire to develop a meaningful philosophy of life.
posted by hoyland at 5:23 AM on January 28, 2015


For me, the question isn't "why are you here" so much as "why should everyone be supporting public education".

If we insist on putting education in competitive and self-centered terms -- graduates can get better jobs than non-graduates, and better schools mean better jobs for them -- than I'm not going to be as enthusiastic as I would if I think of it in public terms. People who have a basic science education are going to think about health, infrastructure, and environmental issues differently from people who don't.

If a well-educated person disagrees with me, they're at least going to be able to articulate why and possibly even convince me that they're right; this is far better than just disagreeing, becoming more and more convinced that I'll never understand, and feeling that their only recourse is yelling louder and louder.
posted by amtho at 6:09 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]



Hold on, lets stop there... If college is unaffordable to many/most, and they have to work a part-time job in order to be able to afford even a cheap college education (ie: state school or community college), then how much intellectual energy will they be able to give towards their education?


College is aimed at people aged 18, 99% of whom have nowhere near the amount of money it takes to pay for it.What's more, by the magic of compound interest, what money people that age can earn and save counts for a lot more than what money they can earn later.

College is affordable to society at large, however. The only question is how to finance it, and what it is that should be financed.

Justify teaching the arts? Teaching literature? Teaching classics? Teaching music?

To an educated layman, you should be able to justify any and all of these. I'm not asking you to justify it to a mouth breathing goober from the Disqus section of a Fox News story.
posted by ocschwar at 7:21 AM on January 28, 2015


I have to trot this one out:

"The science of government it is my duty to study, more than all other sciences; the arts of legislation and administration and negotiation ought to take the place of, indeed exclude, in a manner, all other arts. I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain."

That's John Adams. One of the founding fathers. If you think it's bad for college students to study the arts, then you hate America.
posted by adamrice at 7:50 AM on January 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


I know we live in a capitalist society, but seriously, 'someone will pay me for this' does not necessarily equal value. Like, if someone pays me to write another flappy bird clone or a facebook game, can you argue with a straight face that that enriches the human race? If I improve a process or database to save one person's worth of work a year, that savings is going to flow to people who already have more money than they know what to do with. How does that benefit society?

It seems to me that education is being held to a way higher standard than every other activity in the economy. Sure we need farmers and plumbers, but that sort of actual practical work is becoming a smaller and smaller share. We don't need more than a couple percent of people farming, and we can't need that many plumbers - I've only needed to call one once in my adult life, and I haven't lived anywhere built more recently than the '70's. If you want to ask if education is 'necessary,' you have to define what that means. Necessary for survival? Because most of human civilization and human activity is nowhere near necessary for survival. And if not that, then what do you even mean?
posted by Zalzidrax at 8:49 AM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


What I mean by necessary is necessary in order to avoid voting for policies and people just because they "sound good", rather than because all evidence indicates that the thing for which we're voting is the most promising option in both the near and long term.
posted by amtho at 9:38 AM on January 28, 2015


William Cronon's "Only Connect [pdf]" is one of my favorite essays on this topic, ever since I read it my first semester.
posted by papayaninja at 11:45 AM on January 28, 2015


I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.

OMG I have been looking for that exact quote for decades, you have no idea how grateful I am to you for attributing it. I recall once when I was changing my college major from premed to art, I quoted this to my dad, who scoffed and said he studied the practical arts to improve his life, not his children's. So much for forward thinking.

Anyway, there is some other quote out there about how the practical arts teach you how to live, the fine arts teach you what life is for. I wish I could find that quote too.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:41 PM on January 28, 2015


People who have a basic science education are going to think about health, infrastructure, and environmental issues differently from people who don't.

And this benefits the Koch Brothers exactly how?
posted by acb at 4:54 PM on January 28, 2015


NOVA!

“We must freely share and support basic educational materials and interactions, so that others may have the liberty to localize these or – inspired by our example – may freely share and support their own locally relevant materials and interactions, in order to give others a right to learn from these and leverage them in improving their own lives, so that yet others may enjoy the blessing and privilege of the freedom to argue the diction and semantics of the name of the movement"

context first.

"I could fill Volumes with Descriptions of Temples and Palaces, Paintings, Sculptures, Tapestry, Porcelaine, &c. &c. &c. -- if I could have time. But I could not do this without neglecting my duty. The Science of Government it is my Duty to study, more than all other Studies Sciences: the Art of Legislation and Administration and Negotiation, ought to take Place, indeed to exclude in a manner all other Arts. I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Painting and Poetry Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.
posted by clavdivs at 12:18 AM on January 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


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