Saturday, December 14, 2002 :::
DAVID BROOKS has another report on the state of the nation's universities. As usual, he is more cheerful than we would be: he seems to accept the vacuous meritocracy and emotional underdevelopment of student life today as the inevitable result of bourgeois society. Perhaps he's right. But as John Stuart Mill observed, the health of middle-class democracy requires the existence of certain sanctuaries from ordinary life that can act as checks on mass society. If universities have rarely actually played this role, wise men have long expected that they would one day bear their social responsibility proudly and effectively. Giving up our hopes for a more humane academy may seem like a prudent concession to reality. But in the long run it can only impoverish our imagination, drawing into ever-closer harmony our visions of what is and what might be. And that makes the price of Mr. Brooks' optimism too high.
::: posted by our man in Cambridge, MA
at 12:35 PM
THE NATION GETS ONE RIGHT. The cheery screeds produced by the likes of Dinesh D'Souza display the intellectual infirmity of American conservatism in cold print. Twenty years of shooting fish in a barrel has made their aim lousy. And the new generation of polemicists never had the academic training or serious encounters with ideas that were common to the original neo-conservatives. Much as we respect him, there are more serious things to be defended than the good name of Ronald Reagan. As a compendium of yippie-style tactics of disruption, Letters to a Young Conservative does thoughtful conservatives no favors, and young malcontents no service.
::: posted by our man in Cambridge, MA
at 12:15 PM
Thursday, December 12, 2002 :::
A THOUGHTFUL post from a high school-teacher in rural Virginia (one with a philosophy degree), writing under the name "Vinteuil", asks some uncomfortable questions about the state of high schools in the United States. He concludes: "America sacrifices real education for those who want it and can achieve it to the perverse project of putting the unwilling and the unable through a few useless motions. A project that achieves its full flower in the slogan “No Child Left Behind”—which is merely a euphemism for LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR." One can only agree. One of the problems besetting American schools clearly is the structure of schools. America needs to recognize the need to differentiate its secondary school system, and set standards appropriate to natural talents. That means different diplomas for different people, and various types of high school. Two years for some, four for others.
Wednesday, December 11, 2002 :::
COULD YOU GET INTO THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN? As everyone is now aware, it depends nearly as much on the color of your skin as your academic and social qualifications. The Michigan Review provides an admissions calculator that permits you to see how you stack up -- and how you might have done as a member of a favored minority group. Don't worry. We didn't get in either.
Tuesday, December 10, 2002 :::
ALL MUST HAVE PRIZES. You can't make this stuff up. Today's Times (of London) brings the wonderful news that British universities "will have to discriminate in favour of poorer students from non-academic backgrounds under new guidelines being developed by the Government." Well, that's grind-of-the-mill social engineering, what's new, you might say. But it goes further. Indeed, "Admissions officers will ... be expected to give special consideration to applicants from schools with a history of poor examination results." Once the process of admitting those who are manifestly unqualified to be admitted (on the basis on their "poor examination results"), the pressure will of course be on to relax what remains of academic standards in the universities. One cannot fail all those underprivileged kids once admitted. And so Britain continues to blow up what is left of its once admirable education system.
Monday, December 09, 2002 :::
WERE BATMAN AND ROBIN, YOU KNOW? We don't know either. But Marvel Comics has seen fit to introduce its first gay title character. There's no need here to rehearse old arguments about the collapse of traditional morality. Yet it's worth wondering why, if Marvel is really interested in displaying its tolerance and refuting quaint ideas about homosexual effeminacy, it has seen fit to introduce a character so stereotypically, well, flaming. The "Rawhide Kid", indeed. Where's Andrew Sullivan on this one?