Friday, April 24, 2015

The Liberal Arts vs. Neoliberalism | Commonweal Magazine

Far from the Tiger Moms and the standardized testing gradgrinds of Shanghai and leafy Connecticut suburbs was the Jesuit high school where I was educated on Carroll Street  in Brooklyn.  Taught by celibates, four years of Latin, three of ancient Greek, two of French, four of English...we certainly did not have a market-oriented education.  We hoped for meaningful careers and mostly got them.  - gwc
The Liberal Arts vs. Neoliberalism | Commonweal Magazine

William Deresiewicz's 'Excellent Sheep'
Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life
William Deresiewicz
Free Press, $26, 245 pp.
by Jackson Lears
In Deresiewicz’s book, for starters. He does not mince words: “An undergraduate experience devoted exclusively to career preparation is four years largely wasted. The purpose of college is to enable you to live more alertly, more responsibly, more freely: more fully.” The key to this process is “developing the habit of skepticism and the capacity to put it into practice. It means learning not to take things for granted, so you can reach your own conclusions.” So it comes down to an effort at self-culture, as Emerson would have said. And self-culture involves an inward turn: it is “through this act of introspection, of self-examination, of establishing communication between the mind and the heart, the mind and experience, that you become an individual, a unique being—a soul. And that is what it means to develop a self.” Deresiewicz, the son of Orthodox Jewish parents, is not himself religious. But he finds religious language—beginning with the marriage of self and soul—inescapable in describing the intellectual quest fostered by the liberal arts. “People go to monasteries to find out why they have come, and college ought to be the same,” he writes. It takes real courage to make such claims amid the market-driven discourse of contemporary higher education.
It is a platitude that we cannot defend the humanities without slipping into platitudes. Why is that? Part of the answer involves the corrosive impact of contemporary intellectual fashion. We are besieged by a resurgence of positivist scientism—the transformation of science from a method to a metaphysic, promising precise answers to age-old ultimate questions. Yet while pop-neuroscientists, evolutionary psychologists, and other defenders of quantifiable certainty have beaten back postmodern philosophical critiques, the postmodern style of ironic detachment has flourished. The recoil from modernist high seriousness, epitomized by the turn from Abstract Expressionist painting to Pop Art, has persisted long after Andy Warhol displaced Jackson Pollock as the celebrity artist du jour. As a signifier of the dominant cultural tone, the furrowed brow has been largely eclipsed by the knowing smirk. The commitment to searching out deep truths has yielded to the celebration of playing with surfaces (in the arts) or solving problems (in the sciences). The merger of postmodern irony and positivist scientism has been underwritten by neoliberal capitalism—whose only standard of value is market utility.

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