A recent study by the Pew Forum revealed in great detail what even casual observation makes plain: Americans, like their European counterparts, are increasingly less religious than they used to be. Moreover, religious diversity is on the rise. As Western culture becomes more secular and more religiously diverse, it is interesting to wonder what holds it together. Can secular conceptions of human meaning provide a sufficient foundation for social life and political affiliation? The challenge of modernity and liberalism specifically, at least beginning with Hobbes, has been how human beings who share little more than common fear and common natural…
CUNY staff members protesting on July 28, 2016 on campus in New York City. (Credit: Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/Alamy Live News).
Robert C. Koons, a philosophy professor at the University of Texas at Austin, has written a piece titled “Dark Satanic Mills of Mis-Education: Some Proposals for Reform” in Humanitas. The problems at Behemoth State University (here Koons self-consciously borrows from Russell Kirk) did not begin, Koons writes, “with Sputnik or the G. I. Bill.”
Instead, Koons—with help from Irving Babbitt and C. S. Lewis—identifies two principal foes, neither one a twentieth century progressive: Francis Bacon and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He writes,
We can best understand the modern university by seeing it as built on the synthesis of these two tendencies, Baconian and Rousseauan. We now justify the hard sciences almost entirely in pragmatic and utilitarian terms, as the incubators of technology, not as observatories from which to behold and contemplate the music of the spheres. In contrast, many in the humanities, as well as most in the new fields of “communications” and “education,” have abandoned the hard road of fact to become the playgrounds of “values.” Since all value is the arbitrary projection and construction of liberated egos, there is no true hierarchy of value to be learned and internalized and to structure the course of learning into a true curriculum.
This work is a continuing development of Koons’s earlier reflections on what he calls the uncurriculum that dominates the landscape of research—and many would-be research—universities. Basically, an uncurriculum is the system of distributive requirements that universities demand from students, for the benefit of the professors, under the guise of giving students choices. The result: Professors get to teach whatever they want to teach that furthers their research interests, and students are required to take those classes, independent from their interests or how such classes could help or develop them.