June 8, 2010

COPYEDIT FAIL: David Brooks’ column defending the liberal arts includes this howler: “But allow me to pause for a moment and throw another sandbag on the levy of those trying to resist this tide.” Unless he thinks people are being taxed to resist vocationalism, it should have been levee. He’s right, of course, about the value of studying the humanities — so long as the study is rigorous, and not feelgood PC schlock, as it unfortunately often is these days. Brooks writes: “If you go through college without reading Thucydides, Herodotus and Gibbon, you’ll have been cheated out of a great repertoire of comparisons.” But, of course, those are Dead White Males all.

Not so sure that “The Big Shaggy” counts as rigorous, though. And I couldn’t help thinking of this.

UPDATE: Reader Matthias Shapiro writes:

I’m a big fan of the liberal arts, but I think we need to start making some major distinctions in the realm of education. Just because someone had a class with Thucydides, Herodotus and Gibbon on the syllabus doesn’t mean they have an education.

Millions of people have learned far more about these writers for free via Wikipedia than through paying $3,000 to listen to a professor poking students to keep them awake.

I would agree that an education in the liberal arts is vitally important. But I would disagree that a formal education in the liberal arts holds the importance it once did. Mr. Brooks doesn’t seem to make this distinction; to him, if people aren’t learning it in college, they aren’t learning it at all.

Unfortunately, when liberal arts are placed in college courses, the readings tend to be (by necessity) rigid and inflexible. Interested in philosophy? Hope you don’t grow attached to Socrates because if we happen to cover him the same week you have that chemistry test, you might not catch much. Interested in theories of morality and worldviews of individualism? Ayn Rand is a great read and very provocative, but your class will probably never get around to talking about her.

The simple fact of the matter is that formal education is extremely expensive while self-education is cheap, expansive and more accessible than it has ever been. We should learn to appreciate the latter and not assume that formal education is the only possible means of expanding our horizons.

Yeah. Also, Brooks should maybe reading his own paper on this. Or mine.

Plus, the original Brooks copy error has been fixed. InstaPundit gets results! Thanks to reader Michael Reed for pointing out the change.

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