Sunday, September 6, 2009

Education for education's sake

In "Dehumanized: When math and science rule the school" (Harpers, September 2009 - online for subscribers only), Mark Slouka asks "Why is every Crisis in American Education cast as an economic threat and never a civic one?" Slouka defends the value of the humanities, but not in the conventional way by arguing - as many liberal arts programs and professors (but not Stanley Fish) foolishly do - that a sound knowledge of Schoenberg and easy conversance with deconstructionsim  makes one more competitive in the global marketplace. Slouka objects to the instrumental "what's it good for?" conception of value altogether; we don't ask that question about a particularly fine view, or an orgasm (hah! let's see if that doesn't bring people to this blog!), so why is it always asked about literature or philosophy?  I'm completely sympathetic to his argument, though his overwrought and overly earnest prose is slightly off-putting. I find it be useful to strive for a posthumous perspective on such issues - what was it good for?  I'll bet you literature and philosophy score relatively higher from those quarters.  OK, that\s a trite observation, but a useful - instrumental - one.

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