Sending Your Kid to College: The Wrong Questions to Ask
Dennis Prager, who apparently hasn’t been on a college campus in a few decades, compiles a handy dandy list of questions to ask in selecting a college for your kids.
1. Can one obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree at your college without having read a single Shakespeare play, one Federalist Paper or one book of the Bible?
If so, why attend such a college?
I’ve attended and/or taught at a total of seven institutions of higher learning. All, except for the United States Military Academy, were state schools in the Southeast. None of them required Bible reading. Nor, come to think of it, was it absolutely certain that you’d be required to read Shakespeare or a Federalist Paper.
Why on earth would reading a book of the Bible be required as part of a university education? An understanding of the role of religion in history, sure. Learning about the centuries-long struggle to define the proper roles of church and state, absolutely. Knowing how the 10 Commandments fit into the evolution of our legal system would certainly come into play. But college isn’t Sunday School.
I read plenty of Shakespeare in both college and high school and have seen several of his plays performed since. But most universities that I was associated with allow B.A. students to chose between two semesters of either American or British Literature. Those choosing the former, obviously, could escape forced exposure to the Bard.
I’ve got three degrees in political science and have read and taught both the Federalist and the Anti-Federalist Papers. I honestly don’t remember, though, whether, say, Federalist 10 was part of the core curriculum when I was an undergrad. Nor, really, is it immediately obvious why it should be.
In many of the schools I was associated with, a political science class was not absolutely mandated; it was merely one of several social sciences/humanities offerings from which students had to pick several courses. An American National Government survey course was a requirement for certain students at Troy State when I taught there and both Steven Taylor and I required some selections from the Federalist Papers. I’m not entirely sure we would have been remiss, though, had we just taught the principles and eschewed the primary source reading. We didn’t, for example, require reading Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws even though we taught about checks and balances.
The rest of Prager’s list is equally misguided. He asks such questions as, “In the political science, English, sociology, anthropology and history departments — or any other liberal arts department — what is the ratio of Democrats to Republicans among the professors?” Or, “What are the names of the speakers invited and paid with college funds to speak last year at the college?” Or, most hilariously, “Can my child live in a same-sex dorm and are the bathrooms co-ed?”
The list’s core flaw is that it begins with the common — and yet obviously absurd — premise that decent, hardworking folks send their kids off to college only to have their values assaulted by hippie, dope smoking, Communist professors who hate America.
Not only is that not the case but it wouldn’t matter if it were.
Yes, the professoriate is, on average, less religious and more likely to vote Democrat than the median American. But there’s plenty of diversity on campus. At most institutions, there are plenty of professors who vote Republican, go to church, and enjoy the company of the opposite sex. With rare exception, professors simply teach their subject matter without any interest in converting students to their worldview.
Moreover, most of us survive college with our values intact. Most conservative intellectuals, business leaders, and even preachers managed to spend four years with liberal college professors and still learn learn something. If anything, they come away with a better understanding of their own position after being exposed to other ways of thinking. Hell, that’s what college is supposed to be about.
Frankly, if you want your kids to be steeped in the Bible, I wouldn’t advise waiting until sending them off to college. It’s a little late at that point.
Instead of Prager’s questions, parents would be better served to ask things like:
- What is the ratio of required courses taught by full-time professors rather than graduate students or adjuncts?
- How strongly is the Writing Across the Curriculum program integrated into the institution’s philosophy?
- Are courses in statistics and logical analysis required or at least available?
Mostly, though, a college education is what the students make of it. Parents need to make sure their kids are intellectually, emotionally, and socially ready for higher education and should guide them to choosing schools that will fit their personalities. Not everyone will thrive on a large campus, for example.
Via Leonard Pierce, who fisks some other portions from the left flank.