October 9, 2019

DISPATCHES FROM THE EDUCATION APOCALYPSE: Who killed the American arts?

The idea that Americans could educate their own sensibilities to international standards lasted little longer than Emerson and Whitman. By the late 1800s, the United States had adopted a university system along German lines, and ambitious Americans were funneling themselves into its specializing disciplines. By the early Sixties, University of California administrators were boasting that they had created a ‘multiversity’ geared to the needs of technocracy, while University of California students were rioting about an alleged lack of free speech.

By the end of the Sixties, students and administrators had arrived at a Westphalian peace. The students permitted the university to stay in the business of training specialists and technicians. The university let the students redefine the humanistic curriculum. Henceforth, the purpose of liberal education was to prevent the education of classical liberals.

In the new age of identity politics, Americanization had to be reverse-engineered, the glorious miscegenation returned to pure essences. No more mingling of Debussy and Gershwin, or Gershwin and Louis Armstrong in the marketplace of musical ideas. No more mingling of European high culture in impressionable American minds. The arts served to confirm political principles. As Soviet film-makers had cranked out propaganda about tractors and steel, so American teachers vouched for provincial mediocrities like Frida Kahlo and Alice Walker. In subsequent decades, these brave innovations filtered into school syllabi.

The idea was to turn the culturally patriotic melting-pot into a radical rainbow coalition. The result, as we know, was Bill Clinton on sax, a collapse in Humanities enrollments in colleges, and the production of historical illiteracy on a scale not seen since the Roman empire went south.

Read the whole thing.

Flashback: Law professors argue colleagues’ ‘bourgeois’ ideal is racist and classist.

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