Monday, December 3, 2007

Thoughts on "Why Education is Useless"

I just finished reading the provocatively-titled Why Education is Useless by Dr. Daniel Cottom of the University of Oklahoma. I had picked up the book because I was interested in reading a spirited defense of why liberal education remains important in modern times. I've read several books on that theme in the past year or so including Climbing Parnassus by Tracey Lee Simmons, Who Killed Homer? by Victor Davis Hanson, and The Paidea Program by Mortimer J. Adler.

I was very disappointed by the pedantic, incoherent, and politically correct drivel Dr. Cottom wrote. Why Education is Useless reminds me of Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind but written from a left-wing perspective. Like Dr. Bloom’s book, Dr. Cottom’s is a mish-mash of rants against the author’s personal bugaboos and a highly pedantic discussion of philosophy full of academic jargon.

Here is a typical paragraph:

“Survivalism is an acephalic, rhizomatic, activist, grass-roots movement inspired by quasi-organic intellectuals who have rejected the so-called public sphere, cultural studies an institutionally legitimized academic movement through which tenured and potentially tenurable folks aspire to transform that sphere through their transgressions. The tragic vision of turn-of-century naturalism returns as farce in contemporary survivalism, and to judge from the ‘return to beauty’ widely bruited of late, fin de siecle aestheticism may return as farce in cultural studies if we do not watch what we are doing.”

Now imagine 206 pages worth of this soporific prose- no wonder it took me almost 2 months to get through the book rather than my typical fortnight or so!

Dr. Cottom comes off as the stereotypical arrogant, anti-Christian, anti-capitalist, anti-military, ultraliberal Ivory Tower academic. He spouts all the politically correct nonsense that’s been coming out of universities since the 1960’s and demonizes anyone who happens to disagree with him as racist, intolerant, self-righteous, or at best merely ignorant. He makes little distinction between demagogues such as George Wallace and thoughtful conservatives such as Dinesh D’Souza, William Bennett, and Pope John Paul II.

Dr. Cottom asserts that universities should "celebrate the uselessness at the core of higher education" as a bulwark against the "tyranny of stupidity" of our culture epitomized for him by George W. Bush. Now, I'm certainly no fan of President Bush but I just don't get the vitriolic loathing and insufferably arrogant feelings of superiority he elicits in many liberals. It goes beyond criticism of his administration's policies, which is to be expected, to something much more personal. It started long before the invasion of Iraq and even before the disputed 2000 election (though I'm sure those events exacerbated the already-existing animosity).

I suspect that a great deal of it has to do with the militant hostility to Christianity so popular in certain social circles. Dr. Cottom specifically mentions Bush's naming Christ as his favorite political philosopher in his book and makes the astonishing claim that it identifies Bush as a "right-wing Protestant white male beneficiary of political support from racist voters." Last time I checked, Christians were a pretty diverse bunch: both genders, all different races & ethnicities, a wide variety of denominations, and the full range of political leanings. Bush is a right-wing Protestant white male and for all I know he could well be the choice of white racists (though it's important to make the distinction Dr. Cottom conveniently skips that not all racists are white). However, simply choosing Christ as one's preferred philosopher does not make one ipso facto conservative, Protestant, white, male, or racist.

No comments: