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Hullabaloo


Friday, March 20, 2015

 

Changing the culture. Emphasis on cult.

by Tom Sullivan

This is an old story of mine about how views on education have changed:

I grew up thinking that education was its own reward. In college, I studied, philosophy, art, drama and science. Yeah, I waited tables and traveled for awhile. After college, I was appalled at the attitude of many customers. They’d ask if I was in college. No, I told them, I’d graduated. Next question: What was your major?

When I told them, their eyes went blank. “But what are you going to do with it,” they’d ask. You could see the gears going round in their heads. How did that (a philosophy degree) translate into *that* as they mentally rubbed their finger$$ together.

Education used to be valued for its own sake. Not anymore.

America's founding ideas were cultivated and distilled by people of the Enlightenment, probably the best educated the world has ever produced. Men mostly. White men. Wealthy white men.

Two and a quarter centuries later, another collection of wealthy white men want America to return to those roots, where only wealthy, white people will be educated in wealthy, white, business-friendly ways. State supports for low tuition rates "distort" the market. Costs must rise to drive students who can still afford it into the more remunerative majors. Tech schools for the rest.

Our modern Übermenschen want to terraform our minds. To make humans suitable for their brand of capitalism, they must remake the culture. Emphasis on cult. The Great Whitebread Hope is trying to "reform" the University of Wisconsin into a vocational school. Meanwhile, the purge continues at the University of North Carolina. I've written about it over and over. Now it's the Jedidiah Purdy's turn at the New Yorker:

For several years, there have been indications that the state’s new leaders want to change the mission of public higher education in North Carolina. In 2013, the Republican governor, Pat McCrory, told William Bennett, a conservative talk-show host and former Secretary of Education, that the state shouldn’t “subsidize” courses in gender studies or Swahili (that is, offer them at public universities). The following year, he laid out his agenda in a speech at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Using the language of business schools, he urged his audience to “reform and adapt the U.N.C. brand to the ever-changing competitive environment of the twenty-first century” and to “[hone] in on skills and subjects employers need.” McCrory also had a warning for faculty members whose subjects could be understood as political: “Our universities should not be used to indoctrinate our students to become liberals or conservatives, but should teach a diversity of opinions which will allow our future leaders to decide for themselves.”

All those stupid, unmarketable things our Enlightenment Founders had learned in school? You know, history, Greek and Latin? E pluribus unum? French. French literature and philosophy? What did they ever do with that? What use are they to homo corporatus? He needs a trade. Well okay, maybe a little philosophy of the proper sort. Purdy continues:

The other reformist front is a call to revive the Great Books model of humanities education: literature and philosophy as a source of eternal truths, dating back to Plato, passing through John Locke, and perfected by Ayn Rand and the libertarian economist Friedrich Hayek. A Pope Center research paper published this year describes a “renewal in the university” through privately funded programs dedicated to teaching the great books untainted by relativism. The report devotes a great deal of attention to programs dedicated to “the morality of capitalism,” which have been founded at sixty-two public and private colleges and universities. Many of these programs, which are often housed within business schools or economics or political science departments, were funded over the past fifteen years by North Carolina-based BB&T Bank, under its former president John Allison, who is now the C.E.O. of the Cato Institute. In a 2012 statement, Allison explained that he funded the programs to “retake the universities” from “statist/collectivist ideas.” He also noted that training students in the morality of capitalism is “clearly in our shareholders’ long-term best interest.”

Because when betterment meets bottom line, betterment loses (or is redefined). "A successful humanities education makes the obvious questionable," Purdy writes. But questioning is not the object for results-oriented businessmen. They want results and a return on investment. Just a wild guess, but the only market testing these Market mavens did (if any) for their proposed curriculum was among other wealthy, white men.

As it happens, I wrote about BB&T's putsch to indoctrinate university students in Ayn Rand's sociopath morality as the Great Recession took hold in January 2009. Reprised here:

A struggling George Bailey once received a fat cigar and a generous job offer from banker Henry Potter. Potter pointed out that it would be in George’s self-interest to accept it and forget about that old savings and loan and all the little people it served. George Bailey turned down that deal.

Western Carolina University and other financially struggling universities have received similar offers from the BB&T Foundation. The catch is that they have to indoctrinate students in Ayn Rand’s economic philosophy and teach Atlas Shrugged.

Mountain Xpress’ report on the BB&T grant to WCU [“Capitalism on Campus,” Dec. 23] quotes College of Business Dean Ronald Johnson saying, “As a businessperson, you have to have a set of principles—or a philosophy. … Those people who do not have a firm foundation … are not likely to be very successful.” Also, “The base of my philosophy is wealth maximization.”

Wealth maximization, I take it, has always been the primary philosophical foundation of business ethics—pretty thin gruel—and the foundation for both Duke University’s recent Fuqua School of Business cheating scandal (among others elsewhere) and the scruple-free atmosphere behind the subprime gold rush.

Pursuit of—if not full realization of—the “pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism” that Rand advocated has brought the world economic system to its knees. Rational self-interest wasn’t supposed to be so irrational. Nonetheless, free marketers have redoubled efforts to resuscitate their philosophy, including offering colleges lucrative grants to teach it. Economic meltdown is not a failure of their philosophy—no. Washington just didn’t do laissez-faire right. When tax cuts failed to produce promised jobs, it just meant we needed more tax cuts. Or as the blogger Digby observed, “Conservatism never fails. It is only failed.”

The Detroit bailout debate revealed that, for many opponents, the loss of millions of jobs was acceptable collateral damage in propping up their economic philosophy: Government intervention would be a deplorable violation of free-market principles.

It is symptomatic of the Gilded Age that economic principles trump all others. Most people learn better in Sunday school.

In the wake of business-school scandals, the Enron/WorldCom/Tyco scandals and Wall Street’s sub-prime/derivatives scandal: If parents and churches don’t, somebody should teach remedial ethics. But is it acceptable for our shrugging Atlases to bribe colleges to teach theirs?

Having taken control of state governments, conservatives/libertarians no longer have to ply potential converts with beer or pay bribes to have their faith taught in state schools. They can simply "reform" the schools. I call them the Midas Cult. Their behavior and tactics continue to reinforce that impression.