Cervantes. De Tocqueville. Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy.

My God, are college students these days really that ill-informed about their own history? I knew all those from memory. I didn’t even have to dig for them. And I went to a public university. Aren’t the prestigious Ivy League colleges like Dartmouth supposed to provide a better education? Somebody needs to be sued for educational malpractice.

9 Responses to “Tell me again — why pay Ivy League tuition?”
  1. Van Helsing says:

    You’re not paying for an education. You’re paying to feel entitled to look down on people who aren’t Ivy Leaguers.

  2. Kyle Haight says:

    For most of those students I expect it would be more accurate to say that their parents are paying. And they aren’t getting their money’s worth, because that whole sense of entitlement is ultimately grounded in the idea that an Ivy League education is somehow superior to one obtained at a ‘lesser’ school.

    An ignorant barbarian with an Ivy League ‘education’ is still an ignorant barbarian. And if the Ivy League schools are turning out large numbers of students with such gaping holes in their knowledge of their own cultural history, I think the term ‘barbarian’ is quite applicable.

  3. Tom says:

    Kyle, you went to Revelle, which is ten times more focused on great books and canon than anywhere I’ve seen since. I certainly didn’t get the same background you did at San Diego, and as far as I know the students at UNC-CH and UNC-W don’t get that either. You can’t force-feed knowledge to a 20-year-old, and most of them haven’t been convinced that there’s any reason for them to know those things (or have been turned off on them by the time they get here).

  4. Kyle Haight says:

    The Revelle curriculum I took didn’t include Don Quixote or Democracy in America, and the question about presidential assassinations is history, not great books/canon.

    What I did pick up from Revelle is an understanding of why a strong liberal arts education matters, with the consequent desire to keep learning this sort of stuff even after graduation. Author John C. Wright says that having read the great books these days makes a person like a one-eyed man in the country of the blind, and he’s right.

    You’re right that the tragedy isn’t so much that 20-year olds don’t know this kind of thing; it’s that they have no grasp of why it’s important to know this kind of thing. Without this kind of historical and cultural grounding (not necessarily the specific factoids that triggered this post, but the more general knowledge of where we’ve been as a culture and how we got to where we are now) people are almost literally lost in their own lives. It’s a sad spectacle.

  5. Tom says:

    If you have any clues as to how to convince them of why they should learn those things, I’m all ears. After the shock of “I don’t need to know how to write, I’m a CS major” last semester, I think I’m going to make *all* my students write in the fall.

  6. Kyle Haight says:

    I may have another post on this gelling in the back of my head. We’ll see if it makes it out to the keyboard.

    WRT “I don’t need to know how to write, I’m a CS major”: if you’re planning to use that CS degree to get into industry, being able to write is a real career enhancer. When programming in the large the ability to generate clear, coherent, concise and accurate specifications is a life-saver. After a few encounters with specifications crafted by people who don’t know how to write, you learn why it’s important.

    There’s more to a software engineer job than writing code. This is increasingly true as mere coding jobs get outsourced to countries like India. To compete in that kind of job market, you need to be able to do more than write code — you must be able to think about design and architectural issues and communicate your thoughts effectively to others. That means being able to write and write well.

    More generally, being able to write well means being able to organize your thoughts in a structured and essentialized way. And being able to do that is increasingly necessary in just about any kind of job.

    In short, I encourage you to make your students write. I’ll thank you for it later when I’m reading the documents they generate after they graduate.

  7. Luke Davis says:

    Mr. Haight, as a 20-year-old college student, I concur with your evaluation of the college education in the present day. No one seems to be able to explain exactly when or why or how it happened, but “institutions of higher learning” no longer teach much.

    I don’t have time to explain more at the moment, but a couple of close friends and I have been dealing with this sort of garbage for the last two years at William and Mary. If you have any advice or suggestions, I would greatly appreciate them; no one else seems to know how to help us get the education we’re theoretically paying for.

  8. Tom says:

    Hmm, I don’t know anybody on the faculty at W&M, but I’m on the faculty at a school in the same relative geographic location in the next state south.

    Don’t know your major; it might help to talk individually to your profs. In my department we sometimes have to water courses down to avoid failing the majority of students, which isn’t politically acceptable (after all, they’re “paying for an education”, they think that entitles them to a diploma). Students who think about class subjects and talk to us during office hours (1) impress us and (2) get steered in directions that help them understand even more.

    Barring that, work with your friends. In my department we sometimes say that students will learn more from their friends than they will from faculty. A lot of the facts they can get from us, and we can *tell* them how to practice, but the actual skills of practice are things they pass among each other. If it’s a writing-based major, and you really do want to learn, editing your friends’ writing can help. For computer science, sharing code reviews, or just sitting near each other while you program to help one another through tough spots. (You’ve got to be careful about your school’s honor code/plagiarism policy there, of course.)

  9. Kenneth Casper says:

    The only things that Ivy League schools teach people is how to lie, cheat, murder, steal, break all the 613 laws of Moses, and get honored for doing so much for the betterment of mankind.

Leave a Reply