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Scholars of the World Unite!

December 21, 2010

Anthony Grafton in The National Interest:

SINCE THE Reagan years, academics and journalists have scarified the American university again and again. Allan Bloom, that well-known advocate of classical education, drew up one of the first bills of particulars in his Closing of the American Mind; Charles Sykes, Martin Anderson and other prophets of the ivory tower’s demise enriched his analysis with vivid details—or at least decorated it with scurrilous anecdotes. Professors, these writers argued, are obsessed with producing highly specialized research to meet the priorities of their sclerotic, self-obsessed disciplines. We write more and more about less and less, producing articles and books cast in impenetrable jargon, babbling to one another at some ninety thousand conferences a year for the liberal arts alone.

Worse, we train our graduate students to do the same, even though they will never find tenure-track jobs. By doing so we condemn them to a hopeless, grinding life, which they will spend trying to pursue their pedantry while flying down the freeway from one part-time position to another. We don’t teach undergraduates at all, even though we shamelessly charge them hundreds of dollars for an hour of our time. Mostly we leave them to the graduate students and adjuncts. Yet that may not be such a bad thing. For on the rare occasions when we do enter a classroom, we don’t offer students close encounters with powerful forms of knowledge, new or old. [More]

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