Harvard Goes Back In Time To Save The World

In the midst of all the usual sturm und dreck of the daily news – you know, economic catastrophe, Iraq crashing, Afghanistan crumbling, Obama reneging, Republicans stupidifying – there’s a good piece about Harvard by Tracy Jan on the front page. Granted it’s down in the lower right-hand corner, but still, a front page story on the resurgence, sort of, of the liberal arts is worth noting.

Some tidbits:

Today, the number of students conversant in Cicero and Plato has dwindled, with only 42 – less than 1 percent of Harvard’s 6,640 undergraduates – choosing classics as a major. Then there’s Sanskrit and Indian studies, which has three students, and astronomy and astrophysics, with five starry-eyed souls.

Although most students may deem the undersubscribed subjects impractical, the bastion of liberal arts education has in recent years begun promoting learning for learning’s sake as a worthy and enriching pursuit. Rather than viewing a major solely as a stepping-stone to a career, the university is pushing students to broaden their interests and explore more esoteric topics.

Annual majors in economics and in government number 700 and 500 respectively. Not that The Lion would draw a straight line between such numbers and the current state of the economy and government, but it’s interesting to contemplate the movement of universities from bastions of liberal arts education to bastions of career training over the last several decades.

Instead of teaching classics and literature and history and philosophy and critical thinking, they’ve been teaching how to make a living. The Lion suggests a straight line from that education to the credo of American society summing up as something like, “Whoopee, look at all the money I got myself. I’m dumb as fucking post and don’t know anything and haven’t read a book since ninth grade, but I got money.”

The value of a philosophy major – a fellow who could do hard thinking, who valued logic, who could think critically – decreased as businesses sought drones to push paper and technicians who could competently perform rote operations. And too often, as the world has learned to its dismay, the bright stars who moved up lacked any ethical compass, lacked conscience, lacked any concern for consequences. But they certainly knew the ins and outs of finance and economics, fancy cars and champagne, penthouses and pricey call girls.

It’s educational to note that the financiers apparently consider their businesses to be the biggest industry in America. Odd, since they don’t produce anything, they don’t build anything. They move money from here to there and skim a healthy piece off the top. Sometimes the money makes a bridge possible or starts a business, sure, but in recent years the only thing that’s been important to these fellows is how big a chunk of cash goes into their pocket and the consequences  be damned. These people are more akin to bookies and loan sharks than they are to honest businessmen.

Maybe if Harvard and the rest of the universities get back to education, to the liberal arts, to the classics, to history, maybe the world can get back to being a decent place to live in the future.


13 Responses

  1. Ric,

    I know you were a philosopy major, but you never described what you do for a living. Do you find tha philosophy helped?


  2. I was an English major, but spent most of my time in theater. I somehow managed to keep my learning to a minimum in college. Philosophy is a late interest.


  3. That said, I do believe that the intellectual tools needed to study philosophy – logic, critical thinking – would help anyone succeed in whatever they do. Except of course theology and religion (not the studies thereof, but the practice) which pervert logic and critical thinking.


  4. I started out as a computer engineering major. I was good with the math. I detested the math. I decided to major in something I enjoy and worry about a career when the time was right. So I switched to history (European history, to be exact). So now I am a public historian interpreting labor, industrial and railroad history. And I am happy.

    College is not, and should never be, a trade school. That is what trade schools are for!


  5. (((Billy))) stole my comment. 1,200 at Harvard studying business and government? The could have come to L.A. Trade Tech and saved a WHOLE LOTTA MONEY.

    Meanwhile – “and astronomy and astrophysics, with five starry-eyed souls.”

    What – the – fuck


  6. Evo: Sorry I stole your comment. And your referrence to ‘starry-eyed souls?” You (or at least your avatar) don’t even have eyes.


  7. Ha! No souls either. This is a no souls zone. Barefoot is okay.


  8. Ric: Is fish okay? You know, sole? In a nice lemon butter sauce? With a nice wheat-pomegranite beer?


  9. The students are largely to blame, because that’s what they’ve been wanting for years, essentially a votech experience. You almost can’t blame them since as tuition prices have skyrocketed, as a student, you have to know that you’re going to get a return on that investment (ie – will I make money to pay back the fucking loans for this education which adds up to more than a mortgage for a new house).

    I went to college with that naive idea of being surrounded by bright people, engaging in intellectual talks, and being exposed to all kinds of things. What an idiot I was. 😦


  10. “I went to college with that naive idea of being surrounded by bright people, engaging in intellectual talks, and being exposed to all kinds of things.”

    That’s what we have blogs for… 🙂

    Take a look here, and scroll down to ‘Navigating the Trivium of Life.’


  11. () –

    Wheat-pomegranate beer? What are you, an effete liberal snob? Sounds awful. Fish is okay, as long as you pick out the little blobs of mercury first.


  12. I missed the wheat-pomegranate beer. Christ, wtf?

    I heard about something worse the other night. It’s called either a shandy or a radcliffe, and it’s a lighter beer mixed with 7-up. How nasty is that? Blech!

    Ric, maybe if there were blogs back in ’88, I could have saved a lot of money on college. I really don’t think my actual degree has gotten me work ever. I’m not sure though. I think the scariest moment I had was once getting my car from a garage and the attendant saw my Lafayette jacket and said, “I graduated from there in ’79”. Great.

    The economy was in the toilet when I graduated. It was a sick joke in school to staple all your rejection letters on your door, and it became a contest to see how many times you could get turned down for a job. There was a lot of fear back then, and no doubt there’s fear today with kids in school or about to go, so I can understand the kids (and their parents) looking at college as needing to be more votech like, with the arts being frivolous distractions. It’s really hard to fight that. Art and music programs are usually the first to go in public school budgets, too.


  13. Ric: Senece brewery makes a wheat-pomegranate ale which is very good. Not at all effete and quite non-tasteless. It came in a twelve pack (called “What Ales You?”) with six different beers. Good way to buy beer for an infrequent drinker.

    Philly: (((Boy))) started out looking at college as a trade school. Now he is holding a double major in history and either fine arts or graphic design (hasn’t decided that part yet). Not a bad combination. I’m hoping that, by the time his five years in college are up, our economy and priorities will be in better shape.

    I try to raise a level headed kid and goes all art on me. Sheesh.


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