Saturday, May 25, 2013

Is the Success of a College Education Connected to the Success of Museums?

Or is the success of a college education linked to the success of this magazine?
Gary Gutting, a philosophy professor at Notre Dame, reflects on the goals of a college education. In the process he makes some good points about the skills needed for most white collar jobs.  Here is a taste of his recent piece at The New York Times:

College education is a proliferation of...possibilities: the beauty of mathematical discovery, the thrill of scientific understanding, the fascination of historical narrative, the mystery of theological speculation. We should judge teaching not by the amount of knowledge it passes on, but by the enduring excitement it generates. Knowledge, when it comes, is a later arrival, flaring up, when the time is right, from the sparks good teachers have implanted in their students’ souls.

The fruits of college teaching should be measured not by tests but by the popularity of museums, classical concerts, art film houses, book discussion groups, and publications like Scientific American, the New York Review of Books, The Economist, and The Atlantic, to cite just a few. These are the places where our students reap the benefits of their education.

Many will see all this as fuzzy idealism, ignorant of the essentially vocational needs that must drive even college teaching.  Students need jobs and employers need well- trained workers.  What do the alleged joys of the mind have to do with these brute facts?  It’s hard enough to just teach what people need to do their jobs.

But what do they need to do their jobs?  In professions like medicine and engineering there’s a body of technical knowledge learned in school and maintained through subsequent use.   Beyond that—at least it is often said—we need critical thinking and creativity: the ability to detect tacit but questionable assumption and to develop new ways of understanding issues—in short, to think beyond what “everyone knows.”

But it’s our intellectual culture—physicists and poets, psychologists and musicians, philosophers and visual artists—that above all generates criticism and creativity.   Those not tuned in to this culture lack the primary source for new ways of seeing and thinking....