A Truth on University Education

Why is it that a university student studying business is applauded, while one who studies history is met with a blank stare followed by a contorted facial expression and a nasally, “Whaddya gonna do with that?—teach?” This just shows how bourgeois such an old and once-respectable process has become after decades of devolution and dilution. In my lifetime, the middle classes got hold of higher education. And then higher education became a business. And then it became an outright con perpetuated by the very fools being conned by it.

Let’s start with the obvious point. Universities are not and never have been trade schools. They are institutions of higher education. In other words, they are luxuries. They are places where one can become educated, but without the expectation that a job would be waiting after finishing the degree. In most cases, the liberal arts and most other courses exist as enlightenment trappings that will serve anyone who does not need a career or who is well-connected enough in life to never have to seek employment on his own. Yes; universities exist and have always existed to keep the higher social orders knowledgeable about all things—immediately useful or otherwise. Suffice it to say, universities should only exist to educate the top 10% of America’s socio-economic spectrum. This excludes most of the middle classes and all of the poor. This is because people who are well-positioned already for a life in cutting hair, hammering nails, repairing pipes, laying bricks, constructing a suit, repairing an engine, cooking a meal, picking up garbage or guarding a city park have no business going $80,000 in debt in order to read and understand the plays of Aeschylus or Sophocles. Does the son of a butcher really wish to ruin his father’s life savings in order to learn the differences between Platonism and Aristotelianism? Or, for that matter, is there anything he will usefully learn in macroeconomics for the required tuition? Chances are, his best education will come from carrying on his father’s work and spending some of his off-time reading the newspaper.

Of course there are always exceptions to this rule of thumb. There are those citizens not of the top social orders who might be particularly gifted, talented or who have worked hard to master mathematics or the hard sciences. These people should not be denied their chance to benefit themselves or society. We need engineers, physicians and scientists.

But the idea that a formal education in business will suit one for a fast career within a corporation or in even starting his own business is one of the greatest canards put forward by an industry. To make a middle class man a Master of Business Administration is like teaching a man with no hands or sense of smell how to be a master chef. In both cases, knowledge is bestowed that cannot be applied. One can of course say the same thing about a newly-minted Bachelor of Arts. But at least the history department is honest enough to not suggest that its faculty is teaching practical knowledge that will serve one in a regular career. The well-to-do in our society have time on their hands. Their careers, if they will need one, are planned out and awaiting them years before adulthood. So it benefits them to learn about history, politics, economics, philosophy, literature and the like. They are your patricians; the future leaders of the nation in both business and politics. They require an enlightenment curriculum.

After the Second Great War ended in 1945, the middle classes were given a taste of the luxuries enjoyed by the more fortunate. One of these luxuries was access to a university education. For two decades the nation produced some great university professors, scientists and doctors. These newcomers shook up some of our stale institutions, looking at them with a fresh set of eyes. But after that, education became an industry. Worse than that, universities became whimsical playgrounds for drinking and carnal knowledge. In the old days, debauchery was at least discreet if it wasn’t outright top secret. Young men wore suits and ties to class; not because it was mandatory, but because it was the right thing to do. But, over time, a university degree came to be viewed as a certificate into entering the higher echelons of business or wealth. I am here to say that it has never been any such thing. I can even recall holders of business degrees in the 1950s finding employment, not in the top offices of a corporation, but in the mail room. In those same days if a young man of a blue collar family studied philosophy, he would go to work after graduation as a welder—albeit, one who could hold his own in any philosophical debate. But now I think more graduates in similar situations are more inclined to go back to the university and become even more educated. They become Juris Doctors or Masters of Arts! This is followed at best by a career at serving in restaurants. This is both an injustice to the duped scholar and a mockery to the high educational degree. It could have been avoided had the degrees never been pursued in the first place by someone who had no business doing so.

Now, even the wealthy are buying into this nonsense that liberal arts degrees are pointless. We are losing our intelligencia as a result. This is why we have no more Thomas Jeffersons or Alexander Hamiltons. Education is not for everyone. It was made for the upper crust and for the talented. Everyone else is supposed to find their life path elsewhere. And a good place to look for that is with their parents. Otherwise, the system will continue to be mocked and destroyed.