The Last Liberal

“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.

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Seven Things You Can Never Say In Politics

(In Memory of George Carlin, Requiescat In Pace)

When George Carlin died last year, I was deeply saddened.  He was one of the Great Comedians I had listened to from my childhood onward.  Indeed, I do not recall not knowing about Carlin, in the same way I do not recall not knowing how to read.

Anyway, the many obituaries and tributes that poured in paid homage to Carlin’s considerable talents, including his genius for skewering the human condition.  And, of course, they all mentioned his legendary “Seven Dirty Words.”  For a Black Baptist growing up in rural North Carolina, hearing these words was like discovering a lewd and truncated mirror image of the Ten Commandments.  (I should point out that my extremely devout grandparents, who would have cringed at Carlin’s unabashed use of the “Seven Dirty Words,” nevertheless allowed me to listen endlessly to Redd Foxx’s incredibly raunchy comedy records–on Sunday, at that.  Perhaps it had something to do with the way Black people tell stories.  Hmmm.  Methinks I have the subject for another post….)

Anyway, for some reason I felt inspired to write a little list of my own.  I have no idea why I chose politics as my canvas.  Perhaps the ghosts of Governor Eliot Spitzer’s recent resignation or the Monica Lewinsky scandal were clanging around in my head.  Who knows?  I humbly submit my “Seven Things You Can Never Say in Politics”:

  1. “I will never raise your taxes.”
  2. “Go ahead and follow me.  I have nothing to hide.”
  3. “S/he was just a staffer.  I never knew her/him personally.”
  4. “I welcome the opportunity to take my case before the American people.”
  5. “I never accepted gifts of any kind from that individual.”
  6. “I pledge to serve my full term.”
  7. “I am looking forward to spending more time with my family.”

Looking again at my list, I no longer find it as amusing as I did when I created over a year ago.  I guess you had to be there. 

Do not worry, Mr. Carlin, wherever you are.  I have no plans to give up my day job and try to do what you made look so easy for so many years.  You, Sir, were the Michelangelo of Mirth. 

[Expletive deleted.]