I’ve bemoaned what’s happened to mathematics in higher education quite a few times. “College” mathematics has been defined down, down, down, so that the material that is today taught in the 10th grade is also taught today in college, as College Algebra.
The reason for this strange redefinition of terms is because administration has a stranglehold over education. The rulers of our institutions don’t care about learning, they care about butts-in-seats. Teaching difficult material, pushing human beings to become better, is hard, and cuts into butts-in-seats. On the other hand, teaching the same material everyone has already seen? That really helps keep butts-in-seats.
The main reason I’ve spoken of the dumbing down in mathematics is because I have a front row seat to what’s happening in many of our universities and colleges, and I’m only too happy to tell the gentle readers about it because you sure won’t get the information from the media.
A recent video from Prager University discusses what’s happening in the liberal arts. I know, “liberal” is pretty much a slur nowadays, so allow me to mention the “old” definition in this context: liberal arts refers to the non-professional, non-technical, academic fields, such as literature, philosophy, and, yes, mathematics.
Prager University is not your typical university. It’s unaccredited. Again, this used to be a slur, but nowadays that’s a badge of honor, since it means the school doesn’t take Federal money. It’s no big deal, since they don’t have students; Prager U concentrates on education, simply by providing their information for free. Sure, they have a political agenda, but the gentle reader needs to understand that our “typical” universities also have political agendas, and also take Federal money, by the truckload. A reasonable person would conjecture that all those Federal checks might set the university agenda. Yes, Prager has a biased point of view…but at least it’s a point of view not influenced by Federal money.
Anyway, their video is called “Who Killed the Liberal Arts?” Curiously, the video doesn’t attempt to answer that question (I can help with that), but does explore what’s happened on “the other side of the campus” from mathematics, namely in English Literature.
Allow me to select some quotes:
“To get a bachelor’s degree in English Literature…you must take courses in Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Disability or Sexuality Studies….but you are not required to take a single course in Shakespeare…”
I certainly grant I’m no expert in English Literature, but Shakespeare is very influential in Western Society, especially the English speaking part of the world. Even if I’m wrong about this, I’m pretty sure when it comes to literature written by English people, Shakespeare is rather a large figure.
And you can get a whole degree in English Literature from UCLA, a top school, where you need not be even passingly familiar with anything by Shakespeare. I’m not picking on UCLA here–much as I’ve identified schools where you can get a Math Education degree, even a graduate degree, without taking any math, Prager has identified UCLA as a place where English Literature degree holders need not know the basics of English literature.
I’ve seen calculus courses not have even the concept of “derivative” in them, even as faculty who present such courses get praise from administration for keeping so many butts-in-seats. I find such courses shocking, and I can’t help but suspect that at least a few English Literature faculty feel the same way about offering degrees in English Literature that leave out a very key English author.
Of course, the opinions of academics are irrelevant in higher education, administration now controls such things, and in much the same way they can influence course content by firing faculty that don’t keep enough butts-in-seats (by eliminating content), administration can also influence entire degree programs.
So, “boring” courses on dull figures like Shakespeare are out, and “English Literature” is redefined to the point it’s more fairly called “Sexuality Studies.” I know students can’t be expected to know much, but at what point will students start asking questions about taking coursework without content, and for acquiring degrees devoid of major concepts and influential figures?
What’s the purpose of the English Literature degree, if not to learn about, you know, literature, from, you know, England? UCLA explains the purpose of the degree now:
“…to expose students to “alternative rubrics of gender, sexuality, race, and class.”
“Rubric” is one of those Educationist words, basically means a grading system, or measure. So instead of evaluating English Literature, an English Literature degree holder will learn how to measure all of humanity in terms of skin color and genitals.
In short, Liberal Arts is leaving the building, to be replaced by Liberal Ideology, not the same thing at all. According to the video, the purpose here is
“…to reduce the stunning complexity of the past to identity and class politics.”
I really don’t care what the purpose of the change is, except to note that the purpose is in violation of the stated purpose of the degree program, of the purpose of higher education: to help human beings improve. Teaching our kids to reduce everything to terms of genital status and skin color is not going to help them. I think actually studying the greatest works of human literature is far more likely to help with that, and for English Literature I think an Englishman like Shakespeare is rather appropriate….but I concede I’m no expert here.
For what it’s worth, I disagree with the video regarding the purpose of the change to content-free degrees. The purpose of this shift is about butts-in-seats. It’s easier to sell genital-related courses than it is to sell Shakespearean courses. So, Shakespeare out, genitals in.
The video blames the faculty for this shift. Yes, faculty do have a responsibility for what’s happened to higher education, but, bottom line, faculty are basically dead meat on campuses now. I’ve seen faculty try to stop what’s happened in mathematics, try to stop the re-defining of college material to the point that it’s simpler than 10th grade math…these faculty are destroyed.
The initiatives to dumb down the math didn’t come from faculty, and faculty were powerless to stop it; those who tried were terminated. I very much suspect the same thing happened in English Literature: the faculty there I’m sure didn’t work to remove Shakespeare as a relevant figure, and I’m sure any faculty that tried to stop Shakespeare’s removal were themselves removed.
While I disagree with the video’s claim for why Shakespeare was removed, the video goes on to note that universities formed in part to learn from the geniuses humanity has produced in the past. This is certainly reasonable to say, and as good a 30 second introduction to the beginnings of the Western university system as any. It’s a worthy video, 5 minutes well spent, even if I don’t agree with all of it.
The video doesn’t do a proper job of answering the question: who killed the Liberal Arts? Yes, I often point the finger at our rulers of higher education as the primary suspects, but a better question to ask is “What killed the Liberal Arts?”
The answer to the latter is the student loan scam. Endless money pouring in to higher education made quality irrelevant, only a willingness to take the money. Administration was willing to take that money, and a far too complacent faculty allowed for control of higher education to slip from their hands, leading to the death of Liberal Arts at many of our universities, even our prestigious ones.