I went to a commencement ceremony at a public university in the Bay Area recently. It was held in a beautiful, outdoor setting with the Bay Bridge as a backdrop. The graduating seniors were well-behaved, with only one incident of a student stepping out of line, literally. That was a surprise.
Unfortunately, what wasn’t a surprise were the speeches of certain faculty and guests. One directed her talk to black women, reciting a long list of “heroines” that included Angela Davis and Michelle Obama and declaring that we would not have the civilization we have today without them. Another, a refugee from Iran who became a successful businesswoman, lambasted the Trump administration in a rambling speech that lasted half an hour. She donated five million dollars to the university last year.
What I have known for a while and the ceremony confirmed is that the aim of higher education today is not to form citizens who will assume leadership roles in society. It is to tear down that society and replace it with one that, according to progressives, is egalitarian, just, and inclusive. What they don’t tell you, possibly because they are not aware of it themselves, is that the progressive cause has nothing to do with social justice. It has everything to do with power and the replacement of one dominant group by another. Out with patriarchy, in with matriarchy (or some form of neopaganism).
Those at the other end may be worse. They are not conservatives, because they have eschewed the distinction between bourgeoisie and proletariat. They are the new financial elite of globalism who owe allegiance to no sovereign nation, amass capital, and make decisions affecting millions based on profit, expediency, and the consolidation of power. They rule the rest of the world by dividing and conquering: black-white, gay-straight, Left-Right, documented-undocumented, etc.
For this elite, your worth is determined by your training in areas like machine learning, cybersecurity, data analytics, and cloud technology. A valuable college degree will allow you to work in “digital commerce,” where you can do things like analyze taps, dips, and swipes for making payments on handheld devices. The fact that universities are even concerned with machine “learning” says it all. Forget Virgil.
Both extremes have reduced university education to a specific end. For progressives, that end is the fulfillment of an ideology that is moving us lock step toward Orwellian thought control. For the financial elite, it is the establishment of a global network of commerce in which there will be no more ethnic, linguistic, or cultural distinctions. We will all shop at the same malls, eat the same processed food, worship the same generic deity (think “coexist” bumper stickers), and live as consumers rather than persons.
Although it may be too late to revive classical education with its trivium (grammar, rhetoric, logic) and quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music), it is still possible to be inspired by its aim. That aim was not directed toward a specific ideology or “skill set,” but to the discovery of truth. It recognized the importance of reason and acknowledged its reliance on the past and the role of virtue in looking toward the future.
Any adaptation of that educational model today would have to meet the needs of contemporary students, many of whom lack not just the fundamentals but those characteristics that make democracy work: self-awareness, initiative, individual responsibility, and commitment to a unifying identity.
The historical context that allowed classical education to thrive no longer exists, of course, but whether a student is going into investor relations or bio ethics, they will be better served if their education has taken them out of the “narrowing bondage of the present” that our age is obsessed with (Mundus Alter et Idem).
It also may prevent further hijacking.