lunadelcorvo: (Medieval Scholar)
(Originally posted at the Washington Monthly)

Apparently the Pope is now criticizing what he sees as an increasingly vocational concern in higher education. At a meeting of university professors in Madrid last week, Pope Benedict XVI said:
At times one has the idea that the mission of a university professor nowadays is exclusively that of forming competent and efficient professionals capable of satisfying the demand for labor at any given time. One also hears it said that the only thing that matters at the present moment is pure technical ability.

This sort of utilitarian approach to education is in fact becoming more widespread, even at the university level, promoted especially by sectors outside the university. All the same, you who, like myself, have had an experience of the university, and now are members of the teaching staff, surely are looking for something more lofty and capable of embracing the full measure of what it is to be human. We know that when mere utility and pure pragmatism become the principal criteria, much is lost and the results can be tragic: from the abuses associated with a science which acknowledges no limits beyond itself, to the political totalitarianism which easily arises when one eliminates any higher reference than the mere calculus of power. The authentic idea of the university, on the other hand, is precisely what saves us from this reductionist and curtailed vision of humanity.
Wow. Benedict actually said something I agree with.... (So how will we protect our aircraft and overhead lines from all those newly winged pigs?)

Seriously though, much as I hate to admit it, and even though I doubt Benedict's idea of 'something more lofty' bears any resemblance to mine, I agree that post secondary education has increasingly moved away from creating broadly educated, well-read people capable of cultural literacy and critical thinking to turning out trained technicians. And I think this has been to our detriment.

Granted I speak as a professor in the Humanities, but it seems that our public is dangerously lacking in either contextual understanding of current affairs, or the ability to employ reason, logic, and critical thinking to evaluate claims, be they claims of politicians or corporations.

It is the long-standing trope that pre-med or business students rail against the burdensome requirements of courses in philosophy, literature, and the like. But when we yield to these rants, do we not produce doctors and business men with no understanding of anything beyond the tools of their trades? Don't we want a society peopled with thoughtful professionals? True, one may not need to have read Plato to perform surgery. But perhaps Plato might have relevance to when to suggest it in favor of a different approach, or to finding empathy with a patient. Having read Orwell may not enhance one's understanding of markets, but does Orwell have nothing to say to those who shape markets?



Things I need to remember:
• Asking for help is not, as it turns out, fatal.
• Laughing is easier than pulling your hair out, and doesn't have the unfortunate side effect of making you look like a plague victim.
• Even the biggest tasks can be defeated if taken a bit at a time.
• I can write a paper the night before it's due, but the results are not all they could be.
• Be thorough, but focused.
• Trust yourself.
• Honesty, always.

Historians are the Cassandras of the Humanities



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