Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Prove you’re not stupid. That’s the label Peter Wood has come up with to describe the efforts of the Spellings DoE (much decried here at NLT) to get a handle on (put a leash on?) American higher education. Here’s my favorite chunk:

PYNS may sound like a healthy serving of common sense if you are thinking about colleges that soak up federal student loans and graduate marginally literate lunk-heads; and it may seem good medicine for universities with transvestite studies programs and the like that merely indoctrinate students in some version of victim idolatry. But PYNS comes at a considerable cost of intellectual freedom.

That’s because genuine liberal arts education cannot easily be fit to a regime of incessant outcomes assessment. Some things in education are easily measured; some can be measured only with difficulty; and some really defy reliable measurement. We can determine a student’s proficiency in reading or math; we can estimate a student’s comprehension of Plato or the Federalist Papers. But we face a daunting challenge to measure the depth of a student’s insight into a system of philosophy; the quality of a student’s grasp of Cymbeline or Beethoven’s violin sonata in F; how well a student holds in suspension the contradictions that lie between competing disciplines such as economics and political theory; and how fully a student synthesizes the disparities that lie between great theorists who disagree, or between the same though expressed in two languages.

He’s right, of course, but that won’t stop the DoE’s attempt to turn American higher education into a massive version of the typical K-12 public system.

For more evidence of tendencies in this direction, see
this piece about textbook buyback/rental mandates under consideration in North Carolina. The intent is to help students get a handle on soaring textbook costs. The effect might be to limit the autonomy of professors to exercise their professional judgment about what books to assign. You might say: so what, they’re all unreconstructed 60s radicals. Unfortunately, the professors and educrats who would end up making these decisions have more in common with that stereotype than you’d like. Under the circumstances, it might be difficult for anyone to do anything extraordinary (or even "traditional") in the state system. I repeat: people who care about genuine liberal education have to be friends of diversity, properly understood.

Discussions - 9 Comments

nice article...

The biggest problem with Bloom’s neoliberal / neocon Closing of the American Mind is that it is an ideological attack upon ideology.

Bloom was not a traditionalist, nor did he want to provide a defense of tradition. He was a self-confessed Leftist, displeased at some of the relativism on the Left.

However, he ended up throwing out the baby with the bath water, as his assault upon relativism became an attack upon traditional historicism (viz. Burke) the the conservative concept of "the ancestral," which all neocons condemn.

Boom was a universalist Jacobin attacking both real conservatives and relativist Leftists. In this case, your enemy’s enemy is also your enemy.

Edmund, you miss the point entirely.

Bloom a leftist? Please.

Prove you’re not stupid. Academics ought to claim innocence until proven guilty.

Why does the DoE want to turn American higher education into a massive version of the typical K-12 public system. when it is already claiming dissatisfaction with that K-12 system? Anyway, it sounds as if a college could claim its mission to be tranvestite studies or cover that with a grander sounding title, and be acceptable within this system.

As to the textbook article, there are already a number of options to help students with textbook costs, private and market driven. The community college does give me a list of approved books to choose from, most of which I do not approve of because they are tedious and useless. I chose the least offensive writing handbook and tell my students to get it as cheaply as they can, short of theft. Online options abound.

I’ll tell you what gets me. I get these students, of ages from high school to the mid-thirties, and most of them have never read a book. What kind of education system gets them to my classroom without ever having read a whole book? It is one that has been governed by the DoE and is textbook driven and I’d rather see the occasional college with transvestite studies than have an entire educational system built on what amounts to sound-bites from literature and the like.

I could grieve on, but I suppose you guys know all about it.

Kate, great phrase: "I could grieve on ... ". I may use it (in appropriate circumstances, of course). And with proper attribution.

Kate should replace Spellings at DoE.


Your brother has other plans for Kate. He still wants to hire her to educate his children. Having her replace Spellings is a bit too indirect.

Paul, thank you. I could NOT replace Spellings at DoE. I hope she is irreplaceable. The heads of government departments seem to become like to those they are supposed to lead. Margaret Spellings might have been a perfectly decent person, once.

I wish I could oblige Gary, but for two things: my family would object and I really do not know anything about basketball.

It is nice to have been asked, and I DO like teaching children. I volunteered as a substitute teacher at my daughter’s school on Friday. At one point, I was applauded and then had a chorus of thanks as they left the room. Considering that I had been asked to lead a review of indefinite pronouns, to bring clarity to the subject prior to giving a quiz, it was very sweet. We never treated substitute teachers like that when I was at school.

Peter Wood sends another one over the wall...and we look forward to his promised take on outcomes-based ed. Here’s some background on his exp. w/ the Empire State building evangelical institution, King’s College.

Leave a Comment

* denotes a required field

No TrackBacks
TrackBack URL:

Warning: include(/srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/sd/nlt-blog/_includes/promo-main.php): failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/2007/03/pyns.php on line 637

Warning: include(): Failed opening '/srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/sd/nlt-blog/_includes/promo-main.php' for inclusion (include_path='.:/opt/sp/php7.2/lib/php') in /srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/2007/03/pyns.php on line 637