Who can disagree? As Schlichter says, "much of academia's product is largely garbage," particularly in the liberal arts. People are now graduating with English degrees without having read Shakespeare, or without knowing how to spell Shakespeare, for that matter.
Of course higher education argues ad nauseam that a degree in liberal arts has some intrinsic worth. As John Kenneth Galbraith put it years ago:
Education is, most of all, for the enlargement and the enjoyment of life. It is education that opens the window for the individual on the pleasures of language, literature, art, music, the diversities and idiosyncrasies of the world scene. The well-educated over the years and centuries have never doubted their superior reward; it is greater educational opportunity that makes general and widespread this reward.But who believes that anymore? Administrators at small liberal arts colleges purr seductively about the value of a liberal education while they lay off history professors to beef up their MBA programs-where the real money is. And ever so earnestly, they defend inflated tuition prices even as they discount their tuition rates by half.
Really, why pay good money for a liberal arts degree? Why study American literature if professors cannot identify a canon of great American writers? Why read Faulkner, Hawthorne, Henry James, Melville, or Fitzgerald if the English faculty writes them all off as a bunch of dead, white, misogynistic and racist males?
And in truth, I would not advise a young person to invest much time in reading William Faulkner or Henry James. Or Steinbeck, for that matter, although The Grapes of Wrath speaks to me as a great book, probably because I am a descendant of Okies.
In fact, American writers are still writing great books, maybe better books than the ones our old professors said we must read. T.C. Boyle's Tortilla Curtain is as searing a book as you will ever read about being a despised refugee in America, every bit as good as The Grapes of Wrath. And although The Great Gatsby may be the great American novel, Tom Wolf's Bonfire of the Vanities, a more contemporary tale, describes the emptiness of wealth just as movingly as Fitzgerald's classic.
Today, American society has become so diverse that it makes no sense to argue that there are great American novels that everyone should read or even an accepted narrative of American history that everyone should learn. I read Marquis James' Pulitzer Prize winning biography of Andrew Jackson and was convinced Jackson was a great American. But we may take Old Hickory off the $20 bill; and if we do, he won't be coming back.
I read Douglas Southall Freeman's multi-volume biography of Robert E. Lee and concluded that General Lee was a decent man. But New Orleans ripped Lee's statue of its pedestal at Lee's Circle, and Lee definitely won't be coming back.
Maybe we should all construct our own personal canon of great books, our own personal narrative of history. As a Catholic, for example, I consider the Philadelphia Bible Riots every bit as important as the so-called Boston Massacre, but few people would agree with me. And for me, the great coming-of-age novel is not Catcher in the Rye by that sleazebag J.D. Salinger, but Richard Bradford's Red Sky at Morning, a book about being young in northern New Mexico during World War II.
But if we are all free to construct our own canon of literature and our own narrative of history, which liberal arts professors are basically arguing we should do, then why the hell should we pay sixty grand a year for our kids to attend some moldy liberal arts college in the upper Midwest?
Because the colleges need your money, I suppose. And if you don't have sixty grand, don't worry. The government is quite willing to loan it to you.
Kurt Schlichter. Don't Go To College, Townhall, March 22, 2018.