A mod­est pro­posal

With apolo­gies to Jonathan Swift

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE - Paul Green­berg Paul Green­berg is the Pulitzer Prize-win­ning ed­i­to­rial writer and colum­nist for the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette.

To who it might con­cern:

It has come to my at­ten­tion that to­day’s col­lege cam­puses are be­ing over­whelmed with su­per­nu­mer­aries who are prov­ing a bur­den to their fam­i­lies and coun­try and mankind in gen­eral, and it is im­per­a­tive to see that this plague of use­less pedants is re­duced or, prefer­ably, elim­i­nated. Wav­ing ad­vanced de­grees that usu­ally re­fer to ar­cane “dis­ci­plines” like sci­ence, phi­los­o­phy or lit­er­a­ture, they do noth­ing but take up space that could be put to much bet­ter use by those for whom con­tem­po­rary col­leges are in­tended: the keep­ers of the sput­ter­ing flame who go by the cur­rently es­teemed name of ad­min­is­tra­tors.

At present it is a melan­choly sight in­deed to watch these ide­o­log­i­cal par­a­sites prance and preen about, and even pre­tend to rem­edy the ed­u­ca­tional short­com­ings of stu­dents who would be much bet­ter off else­where, where they could en­joy suc­cess­ful ca­reers as carhops or park­ing-lot at­ten­dants if given suf­fi­cient re­me­dial ed­u­ca­tion—a term that calls to mind a pre­scrip­tion to be used at a pro­fes­sional drug­store or am­a­teur meth lab in­stead of a proper, bu­reau­cracy-packed, over-ad­min­is­tered and downto-date col­lege cam­pus in these with-it times.

In­stead, stick­lers for gram­mar and other an­ti­quated arts keep sub­mit­ting ever-chang­ing es­ti­mates of how well or how poorly these sub­jects of their un­wanted at­ten­tions may be do­ing in “re­me­dial” classes. Who cares so long as they’re suc­cess­ful, even if suc­cess is not de­fined be­yond bring­ing home a pay­check?

What should count these days is mak­ing a liv­ing, not a life. Just get rid of all the hang­ers-on and save ev­ery­one the bother of de­cid­ing who needs the kind of use­less “re­me­dial” ed­u­ca­tion that is now be­ing forced on these un­sus­pect­ing louts and loutesses, who’d profit by a large dose of salu­tary ne­glect. Af­ter all, wouldn’t you just as soon be op­er­ated on by a doc­tor who spent his col­lege and grad­u­ate-school years loaf­ing about? The way kids should. Rather than spend­ing their time the way the book­worms did, striv­ing to ex­cel. The striv­ings of those pre­ten­tious types al­ways puz­zled the rest of us. Though ours was a puz­zle­ment not un­mixed with envy.

Know­ing whether stu­dents are sup­pos­edly ready for col­lege in a state like Arkansas that tra­di­tion­ally places near or smack on the bot­tom in the per­cent­age of its pop­u­la­tion handed sheep­skins shouldn’t mat­ter, for that tra­di­tion is worth pre­serv­ing. It’s not as if every­body could be some­one as high-paid and all-im­por­tant in Amer­i­can so­ci­ety as a foot­ball coach. The rest of us should be more than con­tent with an aca­demic sys­tem that long ago out­grew ed­u­ca­tion as a goal and in­stead aimed for de­gree at­tain­ment, a term so much more sat­is­fy­ing than mere “ed­u­ca­tion.”

For that term has a fu­tur­is­tic, sci­en­tific, multi-syl­labic ring, as Gen­tle Reader will surely agree if only he wouldn’t stop to think about it. For think­ing about things is the great vice of this mod­ern com­mand-and-con­trol so­ci­ety that some­how fails to do nei­ther. Bet­ter not to bother our pretty lit­tle heads about such mat­ters but just leave them to those who know how to make ad­min­is­tra­tive de­ci­sions, and who bet­ter pre­pared to make them than of­fi­cially des­ig­nated ad­min­is­tra­tors?

It is a melan­choly sight to walk through a col­lege cam­pus these days and see no signs of bois­ter­ous stu­dents quaffing pints of ale as in the High Mid­dle Ages, but only stu­dious neo­phytes headed for the li­brary or lab for an all-nighter, risk­ing their health and sense of to­tal sat­is­fac­tion with them­selves. Those were once the very hall­mark of a well-trained col­lege pop­u­la­tion, but not now. Talk about deca­dence. Yes, a sad sight in­deed.

Ihave been as­sured by a very know­ing ob­server that a re­me­di­ated stu­dent makes a most fit­ting sub­ject for any re­spectable dic­ta­tor to res­cue from a life­time of hav­ing to make his own de­ci­sions. Ig­no­rance re­mains bliss, and how self­ish of the rest of us to deny the next gen­er­a­tion of its sat­is­fac­tions. I com­pute that the Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas at Fayet­teville or its sis­ter cam­pus, the Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas at Lit­tle Rock, could con­trib­ute thou­sands of cer­ti­fi­ably re­me­di­ated grad­u­ates ev­ery decade if both would just try harder, dif­fi­cult as it is, to dumb down stu­dents who may be hope­lessly ad­dicted to knowl­edge, skill and other such bad habits, poor things.

I can think of no ob­jec­tion to my pro­posal to let grad­u­at­ing se­niors re­main as in­no­cent of real learn­ing as they were when they came to the cam­pus as fresh­men. Many an­other state or even whole coun­try would be de­lighted if its stu­dents showed as lit­tle re­gard for an old-fash­ioned ed­u­ca­tion as ours.

But it’s an up­hill strug­gle to keep the lit­tle dar­lings as dumb as we were. For here we be­lieve in Reg­nat Populus, which seems to mean let the peo­ple alone. But to do so risks their aim­ing to be­come bet­ter than they are, which would un­der­mine the pur­pose of this mod­est pro­posal.

It’s not as if every­body could be some­one as high-paid and all-im­por­tant in Amer­i­can so­ci­ety as a foot­ball coach. The rest of us should be more than con­tent with an aca­demic sys­tem that long ago out­grew ed­u­ca­tion as a goal and in­stead aimed for de­gree at­tain­ment, a term so much more sat­is­fy­ing than mere “ed­u­ca­tion.”

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