| June 2, 2011

When Higher Education Isn’t

One of the sad and dangerous signs of our times,” Thomas Sowell wrote last month, “is how many people are enthralled by words, without bothering to look at the realities behind those words. One of those words that many people seldom look behind is ‘education.’ But education can cover anything from courses on nuclear physics to courses on baton twirling.”

He’s right. And there are too many “soft courses,” Sowell says, “that allow students to spend years in college without becoming educated in any real sense.”

I’ve argued before that taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize courses such as “Pre-College English” and “Spelling and Phonics” (actual courses from Oklahoma college catalogs). Taxpayers have already paid for elementary and secondary education once. Why should they have to pay for it again?

And why should they be forced to subsidize “Badminton,” “Principles of Floral Arranging,” “Beginning Bowling,” “Puppetry I,” or “Billiards”? Or, from the current University of Oklahoma catalog: “Star Wars and the Hero’s Journey,” “Six Years in the Life: The Beatles and the Counterculture,” “Disney Dogs and Popular Pets,” “Monsters, Mummies, Myths: A Study of Bad Archaeology and Pop Culture,” “The Evolution of a Media: Hip Hop Narrative,” and “Environmentally Conscious Living”?

This sort of higher education brings to mind former Boston University president John Silber’s quip: “Higher than what?”

Grad Rates

But at least those courses are merely frivolous. What’s worse is “higher education” which is actually harmful, promoting radical feminism and other socially destructive ideologies at taxpayer expense. For example, the Gender and Women’s Studies program at OSU is devoted to “expanding horizons for women and GLBTQ [Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, or Questioning] individuals.” A professor at OU has published academic “research” entitled “Towards Queering Food Studies: Foodways, Heteronormativity, and Hungry Women in Chicana Lesbian Writing.”

The current OU catalog features courses like “South Park and Stereotypes: TV Racism in the Obama Era, “Jersey Shore-GRC: Depictions of Gender, Race and Class on The Shore,” “Sociology of Gender and Sexuality in Media,” and “Rough Girls and Sweet Boys: Gender, Personality and Communication.”

With courses like this nationwide, it’s no wonder venture capitalist Peter Thiel is offering grants of up to $100,000 for certain students to drop out of college, or that columnist Jerry Bowyer observes (“The Coming College Education Bubble”) that “higher education’s price-earnings ratio looks like Nevada housing circa 2007.”

“We don’t need more government ‘investment’ to produce more of such ‘education,’” Sowell says. “Lofty words such as ‘investment’ should not blind us to the ugly reality of political pork-barrel spending.”

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