By Dan Kervick
President Obama’s new “vision” for higher education is so crass, so ignoble, so barbarous, and so chilling that it is hard to believe that it could have been written by anyone other than the most vulgar and mercenary corporate suit in his employ. It is a plan aimed at speeding up the corporate takeover of our higher education system, and transforming it once and for all into nothing but an assembly line for the production of useful human capital. I will leave it to the reader to scan the philistine details. For those whose minds, upon hearing the term “higher education”, immediately run to associations with business-world terms such as “bargain”, “investment”, “competition”, “options”, “performance”, “ratings system” … well then, it might be to your taste.
Totally missing in this plan is any lively embrace of the idea that educating its young people is a responsibility of the whole society; or that the possession of an educated and cultivated mind is a good of the highest order in itself for the person who possesses it, and not just a means to more prosaic economic ends; or that education serves social and cultural ends more lofty than the efficient allocation of labor talents to industry; or that the future of our democracy depends on the existence of a cultivated citizenry and not just an army of mentally skilled worker-monkeys; or that the advance of human culture depends on our ability to generate compassionate moral visions out of the deep but confused recesses of our spiritually groping humanity.
Obama seems to regard higher education primarily as a consumer choice, undertaken by an individual for the purpose of long-term individual gain of the most banal kind, and as thus primarily the responsibility of that individual. So he sees the social task here as just making sure the market for higher education is working well, enough to guarantee a wide assortment of individual options for personal advancement through post-secondary training, with sufficient competition so as to assure affordability, and with quantitative measurement tools conducive to informed shopping.
The Obama plan for the American future is the ongoing stratification of Americans into a variety of castes, with post-secondary education continuing to evolve into a divisive system of young adult trade schools delivering the desired human product into the countless nooks and crannies of the production system.
I am tempted to say: This is so Republican! But that is an insult to the Republicans I know who appreciate the value of higher education, and who are able to lift their eyes above this dreary level of meanness and commercial depravity.
I wonder about the inner life of the kind of person who could produce this kind of document. Increasingly, our President seems like a narcissistic social climber and shallow “achiever” with a cold, cold heart and a barren soul.
Cross-posted from Rugged Egalitarianism