“The University brings out all abilities, including stupidity.” — Anton Chekhov
“I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.” — Winston Churchill
I am an assistant dean in the college of liberal arts at a public urban university. Part of my job is to help students solve the myriad of problems that can interfere with their studies. Believe me, in my three months on the job, I have seen enough to fill several blogs and perhaps a couple of novels.
Since I am in the College of Liberal Arts, I feel the urge to address the subject of liberal education and its decline on the modern college campus. Liberal education is one of the few things that I find sacred; and as a professor I was a zealous disciple. I could not understand (or accept) the fact that my students were not true believers as well. Reactions to my teaching varied considerably. On course evaluations my students usually wrote that “my expectations of them were unreasonable.” On more than one occasion I even heard some of my African-American students call me a racist because I dipped freely into the Western canon for material for my history classes. I had a few African students who had been educated in the European system. Interestingly, they found my classes “engaging.” Some faculty colleagues fretted that my methods would upset the classroom status quo and bring unwanted scrutiny to the department. Others applauded my efforts, but told me privately that they were doomed to failure. The rising generation, they warned, did not value learning—or at least, not the type of learning that was familiar to me.
I believe that we have become afraid to expect more of ourselves and our students. Our consumer-oriented society and the escalating cost of college tuition have convinced us that education is just another product to be purchased; and thus, it must therefore be as attractive and non-threatening as possible to the largest number of potential customers. True liberal education demands that assumptions be challenged, and ideas be twisted and pulled, and exposed to extremes of opinion. In my view, to be educated is to be conscientiously uncomfortable.
Ignorance, to update Derek Bok’s familiar adage, is not only expensive, but also user-friendly. Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back.