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.