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News and Education

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One cannot approach the news or writing this day without noting the events in New Zealand.  But please, spare me the politicization.  This was a group, likely a small group, of crazies doing heinous evil.  Manifesto and victims notwithstanding, it is not about guns, immigration, religion, skin color or anything like that.  It is about evil and people that have let evil take root in their hearts.  Be angry at the evil, decry it, mourn the victims and grieve with their families, but once, just once, can we not recognize evil as evil and not make it about issue A, B or C?  The tradgedy is almost too much for us to bear.  But bear it we must and overreaction does not help.

On to other things.

When the college entrance scandal broke, guest-host Ed Morrisey and Duane pointed out that it was the nearly perfect talk radio subject. It elicits so many emotions, responses and reactions that one could go on for days.  Everybody has a take – the illusion of meritocracythe hypocrisiesthe moral bankruptcy – and my personal favorite is the mass of litigation to follow in its wake.  I bet my wife last night that this litigatory wave will be quickly quieted with large settlements hastily offered.  Makes me wish I had a college aged kid right now – it’ll be a feeding frenzy, but it’ll be a quiet, settled one.  The universities, many massively endowed, will use a good bit of that endowment to keep this out of the papers as much as possible.

But little commented upon, at least as far as I have seen, is how utterly tragic this story is for the students involved and for what it means for education itself.

An education is only as good as the effort a student puts into it.  Even the best institutions and teachers have failures and even the worst institutions and teachers can produce a star pupil.  In robbing these students of the opportunity to earn their entrance through their accomplishment, the parents have actually robbed them of education itself.  It would be funny were it not so sad.  In an effort to get their kids a good education, these parents have denied their kids a good education.

Have you ever thought about what the end game of an education really is?  The high point of academic achievement is the graduate degree.  Graduate studies are not about going to class, they are about research.  The few classes I had to take when doing my graduate work I barely attended.  It was easier, more time efficient and more productive, to go to the first class, get the syllabus, study on my own, and just show up for the exams.  The pinnacle of academic achievement is to be self-teaching and to use that self-teaching to advance knowledge itself.  In other words, an education is not simply the acquisition of information or a skill – that is a trade school.  An education, particularly an elite education, is about learning to learn.

This scandal reduces education to a mere consumptive activity, just obtaining checks in boxes on lists.  In that light, this scandal makes perfect sense.  If an education is just consumption, then those with more money should be able to get more.

Chuck Todd noted on the show Thursday that there was nothing surprising in this scandal other than perhaps its scale and organization.  I agree, it is entirely predictable.  It is predictable, not just because it was obvious what was happening in academia, but because it is reflective of the general arc our culture has been on.  We are on an arc that reduces every thing to consumption.  Nothing actually changes us anymore, we don’t think we need to change, we just consume what we like and leave the rest.  Even churches, the ultimate transformative institution, are changing themselves into a service provider of sorts.

When one transitions from a student to a self-learner, one is changed very fundamentally.  These parents have denied their children the opportunity to become not just more learned, but better people.  That is tragic on an extraordinarily level.


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