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Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

Excellent article Thank you for telling us so eloquently and with so many facts what we know already. This article should be shared widely.

Richard Hopkins
Richard Hopkins
2 years ago

A deeply disturbing article. One wonders how far British academia is down this Orwellian rabbit hole?

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

Proverbs 4:7 says it best, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom; Yet, with thy getting get understanding.”

William Murphy
William Murphy
2 years ago

Thanks for a great essay. What the author does not mention is the mind bending amounts of money involved in American universities, assisted by generous tax breaks. The big boys might have endowments of 40 billion dollars to supplement the fees of 250,000+ bucks for a four year degree. Even less prestigious outfits like Notre Dame in Indiana have eleven billion in endowments, as well as 250,000 fees. I gather that ND had ideas above its station, like getting an academic and research reputation on a par with Harvard.

I have elsewhere noted my visit to ND in 1999. The first thing you see on entering the campus is not the library or lecture halls. It is the football stadium.

At one time, students could work their way through such second division colleges, paying the modest fees as they went. Now, even with scholarships, you are looking at massive student debts, which promise to provide another future financial crisis by themselves as ex-students default on a large scale.

No wonder students expect and get an insane percentage of top grades. The customer is always right. Especially when he needs a good looking result to get a good job to pay off his debt.

Last edited 2 years ago by William Murphy
Tom Watson
Tom Watson
2 years ago
Reply to  William Murphy

The economics is a huge part of the problem, imho. I thought it was bleakly funny (and revealing) how the author is so good on the tragedy of the university selection system squeezing bright young minds into a hypercompetitive rat race, but completely ditched that when looking for an explanation for wokeness.
“[Students] will work without cease for years on end, sleeping little and foregoing the freedoms of adolescence.This is not a system that’s designed to foster intellectual engagement. Students learn to skip and skim, not just their assigned readings, but everything. Everything is done at maximum speed and with the least possible effort. Curiosity and passion must be actively suppressed. Students become experts, not so much in subjects as in working the system. There is simply no time to do anything else.”already competing for the next prize, continue to conduct their lives at the same frenetic pace.” Sounds terrifying. And yet the explanation of wokeness is just “the opportunistic infection of a host with an already weakened intellectual immune system”? The people who’ve been hothoused their entire lives, optimised solely for sniffing out and exploiting the tiniest competitive advantage over their peers, suddenly adopt wokeness en masse at university because they’re insufficiently intellectually robust? It’s rather flattering account to the self-conception of someone who lives the life of the mind – “the poor untutored novitiates, falling for all these bad ideas because they haven’t really had to think about anything up to now like I do” – but aside from that conflict of interest it totally fails to explain why all the students go woke, rather than randomly adopting whichever of the smorgasbord of bad ideas that are out there happens to strike them first.
Does anyone seriously think that the average elite student claws their way into a top university, forgets everything they’ve known up to that point and suddenly becomes interested in ideas for their own sake? Look at the careers page of a major bank, law firm, management consultancy or tech giant and tell me wokeness isn’t just the next arena for what these people are experts at – ruthlessly weeding out the competition.

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
2 years ago
Reply to  Tom Watson

Tom Watson says that Deresiewicz’s article “totally fails to explain why all the students go woke, rather than randomly adopting whichever of the smorgasbord of bad ideas that are out there happens to strike them first.” Good question! Deresiewicz’s explanation is “for earlier generations of young adults, that function would have been performed by Marxism or Freudianism or feminism or liberal progressivism or American patriotism.” Is it (as he suggests) that wokeism is simply now the only leading candidate offering to provide comprehensive existential coherence (in default of Marxism, Freudianism — for that matter actual religion too — etc.)? Maybe not “ALL the students go woke”? How do we know that some people do not also select from a smorgasbord of less well-publicized options — or even just drift along with something like an inarticulated “justice is the interest of the stronger”?

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
2 years ago
Reply to  Tom Watson

Very perceptive analysis.
And more scary, because what it also implies that those slimeballs adopting wokeism as a career advancement tool, are precisely the same ones who slide their way to the upper layers of management and control the culture and policies of organisations.

Kathryn Allegro
Kathryn Allegro
2 years ago
Reply to  William Murphy

Louisiana State University has an even bigger stadium than Norte Dame’s; it seats more spectators than Wembley does. At LSU the library is closed on Saturdays – who wants to study when there’s a football game to go to? Having successful football and basketball teams keeps the alumni happy, and donating.

Gunner Myrtle
Gunner Myrtle
2 years ago
Reply to  William Murphy

A friend once described Harvard to me as ‘a giant investment fund that also runs a small college.’

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
2 years ago
Reply to  Gunner Myrtle

My daughter attended Harvard. One year, she stayed and took summer courses where she met a just-graduated Harvard senior – a theology major. Said senior insisted she has never met a Jew before, that being my daughter. A theology student at Harvard who had never met a Jew? She asked my daughter all sorts of questions about Judaism – very basic questions that one would have thought a Harvard, senior theology major would have known. Funny that.

Last edited 2 years ago by Cathy Carron
Richard Powell
Richard Powell
2 years ago

“They didn’t know how to read; they didn’t know how to write; and they didn’t know how to think.” In what sense, then, can these students be described as “almost all smart, a couple genuinely brilliant”?

polidori redux
polidori redux
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Powell

I thought the same.
Then I read this: “The degree of student ass-kissing that I’ve observed among professors now is something to behold.”
Know thyself.
Good article though

Andrew F
Andrew F
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Powell

I guess, author means that education they received made them deficient in this areas.
However, based on his experience of teaching other students, he feels that their potential is higher.

Richard Powell
Richard Powell
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew F

Yes, that’s presumably what he means. I have one friend who almost completely lacks formal education but whose intelligence shines through nonetheless. But at a university one would expect brilliant people to have worked out how to read, write and think even if their classroom education was deficient.

Graham Willis
Graham Willis
2 years ago

Meanwhile the Engineers, Physicists and Mathematicians quietly get on with building the modern world.

Philip Tisdall
Philip Tisdall
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Willis

Yes, but this article is about what they learned in college. Don’t confuse “because of” with “in spite of”.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Willis

Perhaps, but it also might be a world that is utterly not worth “living” in. But it depends, I guess, on what one defines as “living”!

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Willis

While Plumbers, leckies, brickies and mechanics keep it going.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago

I am an avid reader. I read and read and read… I was the youngest person ever to join the adult library in my town. Reading is my life.

But I am old and very boring. Why do people need to read today? On this site I often recommend books to others. But most people recommend YouTube to me. Surely, reading is now too slow for accumulation of information?

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

The problem is that you don’t just need to accumulate information. You need to understand it, as well. Video is better than reading when what you want to teach is a technique that is easier shown than described. If you want to learn how to make an omelette that doesn’t stick to the pan and comes out in one, perfect, browned piece, head to youtube. ‘when it looks like this, do that!’. However, if you want to learn the chemistry of why eggs coagulate, reading works better. A lecturer will breezily say one sentence about the thing you do not understand, and then move on to the next bit. If you happen to be attending an in person class, and are very good at noticing when you aren’t understanding something you can maybe interrupt, and get a fuller explanation. This doesn’t work for youtube at all.
The potentially dangerous thing here is that after listening to a video you can feel as if you have learned the topic well. It’s only when you need to apply the thing you thought you understood that you discover that you didn’t understand it after all.
Reading is not perfect, but by requiring your active participation it means that at some point, while you are reading something, you get the ‘and I have no clue what that means’ sensation. Maybe reading further in the written explanation is all that is required for understanding — after you have finished the thing, it will all make sense. Maybe it won’t — you will have to do some supplementary reading before you can understand it, but you will have some idea as to what that reading ought to be about. And maybe nothing on this earth will ever make it possible for this to be understood, because it is nonsense, or completely illogical, or simply wrong.
It’s easier to fool people by talking to them than by sending them letters. Mail fraud happens, but the most successful charlatans rely on ‘the gift of the gab’.
I think this is part of the problem plaguing the youth. It’s not that they don’t understand things, but that they don’t understand that they don’t understand.

Last edited 2 years ago by Laura Creighton
Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
2 years ago

I agree, horses for courses.
I’m a software engineer and I actually get frustrated by how much tutorial/explanatory type content is in video form where text is far better in my opinion. Finding, and referring, to specific information in text is far easier than in video (particularly when contending with buffering issues on streaming services).
On the other hand, anything particularly visual and tangible benefits a lot from video. I enjoy painting, and video tutorials are vastly preferred over books in this regard. Not that books do not retain some place still.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

Very true indeed. The most frustrating person to deal with is someone who doesn’t know what they don’t know.

John McKee
John McKee
2 years ago

Oh so true!

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

“Reading is my life”
Mine was always more Basingstoke.

John Potts
John Potts
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Slough?

Kerry Davie
Kerry Davie
2 years ago
Reply to  John Potts

I’m looking forward to the next instalment of the Slough House tales of the misfit bumbling spooks.
Now, that is a non sequitur I admit, but any fan of Mick Herron’s idiosyncratic writings will get the point.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Good one. As I’m between both I suppose they both are for me, although I not sure that there is life in Basingstoke any more.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

I did most of my growing up – such as it was – in a village near Kingsclere, and as a youth pulled pints in the Feathers Inn in B’stoke.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

I know Kingsclere well, I used to have dear friends who lived there.They used to have a really nice Italian restaurant, sadly no more.

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Harwich for the continent . . .

J Bryant
J Bryant
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Keep recommending books. I have obtained several good recommendations from the Unherd comments section including “Excellent Sheep” by the current author. I am a cheapskate, though, and only read a recommendation if I can find it in my public library. Youtube is also great. There’s a lot of high quality content on youtube if you dig around.

Andrew F
Andrew F
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Youtube is also great you say.
But at what depth?
I looked at some videos “explaining” Ukraine situation in context of Russian history.
But even those at 60min plus length barely touch the subject.
What is the equivalent of 60 min video in print?
15 pages?
I am not a speed reader but I can definitely do better than that.

Mike Bell
Mike Bell
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

People (esp teachers and academics) have been peddling a myth: that reading a lot, or ‘reading for pleasure’ is a ‘good thing’. It (usually) isn’t.
If you want to learn anything you have to go through the process of creating long-term memories which means applying the knowledge – and repeating the process over an extended period.
If you just read the next thing, you will end up knowing almost nothing.

Andrew F
Andrew F
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Bell

But it is always the problem.
Do you go for depth or width?
What is the purpose of your reading?
General knowledge or career in certain subject?
If your goal is to be CTO, your reading will be wider but at less depth than if you want to become best computer programmer.

Adam Grant
Adam Grant
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew F

This gets at the heart of the problem. It shouldn’t be about being the best, it should be about making a meaningful contribution. How can I move my field forward while doing something rewarding? Where can I add value? I found the author’s contention that students who have spent their early academic careers in empty competition are seduced by the sense of meaningfulness offered by wokeism compelling.

Andrew F
Andrew F
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

You might be right, to a degree.
I spent years in IT and while Google and YouTube are great in getting some superficial knowledge of the subject, you need to read to get any depth.
I hope that humanities require more reading?

William Murphy
William Murphy
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

There are numerous examples of long essays, many on the Web, which develop a well thought out argument over thousands of words. The Anglican theologian Alastair Roberts provides some great examples of knotty moral problems which cannot be properly considered in a few hundred words. His 6,000 word essays require serious attention, but most lay people could understand them.

And it would be far more difficult to follow the full development of his thinking if you listened to him reading the same text. It would be far more awkward to backtrack from para 11 to para 3 to see if he was being consistent.

There is plenty of room for YouTube as well. The 2,000+ Gresham College lectures are worth exploring. Professor Alex Ryrie of Durham University reminds you how interesting a good teacher can make any topic. For a combination of serious history with wickedly funny human follies, I suggest his talk on the religious and political chaos of England from 1640 to 1660 – “The republic of King Jesus”. Religious nuttery was seldom so entertaining. Though, as Prof Ryrie points out, all religions make totalising demands and the nutters are usually the really consistent followers.

Alan Groff
Alan Groff
2 years ago

The madrassas metaphor is interesting in light of the information revolution that enables all of us to learn anything and find contradicting arguments for everything. The university is the new church, the kids will rebel, and knowledge will emerge in new forms from surprising places. If it does not, the conflict between civilizations will bring change from outside our borders.

Last edited 2 years ago by Alan Groff
R Wright
R Wright
2 years ago

A superb essay.

Philip Tisdall
Philip Tisdall
2 years ago

I teach clinical reasoning to medical students. This captures my experience exactly. Pass the multiple choice question exam, check the box “completed”, move on.

Jim Davis
Jim Davis
2 years ago
Reply to  Philip Tisdall

Even the American Medical Association is now pushing “woke.” https://www.ocregister.com/2022/02/23/the-woke-hypocrites-at-the-american-medical-association/

Gareth Rees
Gareth Rees
2 years ago
Reply to  Philip Tisdall

I have been sitting on two repeat unpublished studies for 8 years that looked at critical thinking skills in medics versus monkeys with a pencil. The monkeys were statistically superior in both studies. Obviously, we buried it and most medics do with their mistakes.

Andrew F
Andrew F
2 years ago
Reply to  Gareth Rees

I am getting older and I am now even more worried.
So “Planet of the Apes” movie was based on your research?

Andrew F
Andrew F
2 years ago
Reply to  Philip Tisdall

I am getting old and you got me worried.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

What did well-off and educated young Americans do when vacationing in Europe in the 1980s and 90s? They were having the time of their lives, I imagine, unbothered by the ridiculously tiny tyrannical screens, as these devices had not yet arrived (look at episodes of the Friends tv series for the protagonists’ utter lack of interest in technology). They probably had stronger neck muscles as they held their chins up to gaze out at the fields of sunflowers passing by their train window, while chatting away to their friends. They could well have had a good old travel guide in their backpack, postcards to write, and a copy of Don Quixote near to hand. In those days, the phenomenon of “endless summer days” was still the feeling of many, many people, watching the sun dip as they wondered what to eat or do after dark.
Before technology clouded the senses, the world held a sense of wonder. Not anymore. The idea of “endless summer days” has been rendered obsolete by technology. People used to be gladly bored. Now they are unbothered by being constantly distracted. Passivity and egoism are the fruits of all this technology obsession.

Mike Michaels
Mike Michaels
2 years ago

Great comment.

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
2 years ago

There is much more to your thoughts than just the travel aspect. Exposure to a variety of people, customs and cultures places your ego in context of a broader humanity. I’m not sure the students today seek that knowledge. As I observe those who imagine America as a very flawed nation in the larger context America has a unique culture that is not shared everywhere. Not to suggest one culture over another, they simply are cultures and adaptations to society. But not understanding the opportunities and limitations of various ways of societies is quite limiting. Travel build empathy for a broader view of our shared humanity.

David Kingsworthy
David Kingsworthy
2 years ago

This article is very good if not entirely groundbreaking; but it fails to highlight a key problem resulting from decades of test-teaching, ass-kissing and now wokism, which is that the teachers themselves are almost as ill-equipped as their students. Education departments in American higher education have lowered their standards and accommodated their programs to wokery since at least the 90’s. This of course applies to all levels of our educational system. Prior to my son’s graduation last year from high school, we’d amuse ourselves while reading his English teacher’s messages to parents, counting-out the many grammatical errors. “Mrs. Jones and myself will assist students with this project.”

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
2 years ago

Alas this is not so new. My great-aunt used to tell about a man-on-the-street interview by Eye’mWitlessNews in a major American metro area in the 1960’s; the interviewee declared, “I teaches English.” Or just read Abraham Flexner, Universities: American, English, German (1930) on the characteristically low quality of American colleges of education all along. There has never been much to lower, certainly not by the time the 1990’s rolled in.

Adam Grant
Adam Grant
2 years ago

What saves America from the ineffectiveness of its universities is that only a tiny fraction of the population are required to direct the action of the government and large corporations. These people arrive at their positions through personal effectiveness that isn’t helped or hindered much by their schooling.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Adam Grant

You might be right, but currently I feel personal connections and conformist thinking play more of a vital role than personal effectiveness in getting into leadership positions.

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
2 years ago
Reply to  Adam Grant

Au contraire: although what Ivar Berg wrote over half a century ago in Education and Jobs: The Great Training Robbery (viz., most people are over-credentialed for the work they actually do — think also more recently, David Graeber, in Bullshit Jobs) remains true, so many more corporate and governmental employees are (“college-educated” is not quite right) college-credentialed that the rot is not confined to corner offices or boardrooms (if one imagines that power always coincides with authority), but extends all the way down through mid-levels, HR etc. Besides — as I suggested in another post — the educational system does not rot from the head; the rot starts in K-12 and just proliferates later on in higher ed. (There is a multiplier effect in that K-12 gets, and always has gotten, much steam from what passes for schools of education in American universities.) By the way, this general effect of mass university education on ordinary workplace life — and the multiplier effect of American schools of education — might still be true even if Jonathan Cole is also right about the real strengths of The Great American Research University.

Helen E
Helen E
2 years ago

Exactly. The author uses the phrase “high-stakes assessment regimes” to refer to the hoops students must jump through to reach matriculation at an elite school.
But the whole enterprise is high-stakes. Thanks to the increasing precarity of the economy, and the middle- and upper-middle classes’ position in it, students can never exit the achievement game—be that in GPA or woke points.
These students will have to replicate their own parents’ financial investments, under ever more exacting circumstances, if they wish to build families of their own. It will take two highly respectable incomes for housing, health care, savings, paying off their own student loans, etc etc.
There’s just no room for mistakes or dissent, let alone exploration.

Chauncey Gardiner
Chauncey Gardiner
2 years ago

Many thanks for this essay. Quite a number of quotable passages are tucked into it.
There are a lot of interweaving, dynamic processes at work, surely. Some folks wonder about “indoctrination”. Does indoctrination really work? Can people really be trained to believe certain things or to think in certain ways, or might “self-selection” be a more prominent phenomenon — that is, do people think in certain ways or believe certain things, because they’re disposed to think in certain ways and believe certain things? Or, maybe, there can be a soft indoctrination at work: denying voice to certain, challenging ideas makes it less likely for active minds to be activated…
This is the second heavy (and very nicely crafted) piece about the homogenization of education I’ve read today. Let me recommend this one: https://bariweiss.substack.com/p/the-takeover-of-americas-legal-system
It’s time to go to the gym and get some relief …

Andrew F
Andrew F
2 years ago

Well, indoctrination really worked under communism.
Question is what does “work” mean in this context?
Clearly, most people had two personas, one public and one private.
In late communism stage, at least in my country, even fairly senior officials were joking about the ideology in private.
The way West is going, it is becoming not much different.
You will not go to Gulag when you express “wrong” opinion but you will lose your job or your career prospects will be limited.
I never thought, I would write this about West, but here we go…

Erik Hildinger
Erik Hildinger
2 years ago

Real learning is doubtless still going on at universities here and there— or perhaps it’s better to say “here and there at universities,” but for how much longer?  Wokeism suppresses dissent and, probably, curiosity, but it is also expensive.  The university where I work has hired quite a number of diversity administrators lately and, apparently, special faculty who have been charged with enforcement of the narrative quite apart from whatever it is that they are to teach.  This is costly, certainly, and is yet one more layer of administration laid upon the layer that was there.  In real terms— that is, in constant dollars— the tuition at the university where I teach is now four times higher than it was in the 1970s.  I believe we have more administrators now than instructors.  A silver lining to all of this administration may be the pricing of universities beyond the reach of most, and, one hopes, with happy consequences.  
Because of the university’s measures in view of Covid, I see a sharp drop in class attendance (We are required to hold classes in person and on Zoom simultaneously.  Recordings of the classes are made available for students to watch at their convenience if they don’t attend at the time.  I suspect strongly that few of the students watch these recordings.)  The combination of recorded lectures with no pressure to attend classes, wokeism and stunning tuition may force some sort of salutary change on universities, if only by reducing the number of those willing to pay so much for so little. 

Andrew F
Andrew F
2 years ago
Reply to  Erik Hildinger

I remember writing assay about remote learning in mid 90s during my masters degree.
Technology was still limited those days, but it was obvious that university education is will eventually go the way of football.
Some star lecturers will have star incomes but average one’s will become poorer or unemployed.
Covid brought this clearly into focus.
Why would you pay the same for web based lectures as for face to face ones?
Why would you attend some useless university when online learning is, mostly, better if provided by great teachers?
It has already happened in many areas of IT education.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
2 years ago

There is a wonderful writing program used extensively in the homeschool world called Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). It teaches writing the way this professor wishes his students had been taught, in stages, with outlining, specific phrase openers, banned adjectives, etc… It’s based on how Thomas Jefferson says he learned to write in his brother’s printshop, by reading the best material he could, outlining it, then trying to rewrite it better a few days later.
We’ve used it with all our kids. I highly recommend it.

Last edited 2 years ago by Brian Villanueva
Russ W
Russ W
2 years ago

I sense remarkable truth in the following from the article:
“Indeed, after decades of postmodernism, with its assault on the very idea of grand interpretive narratives, wokeism represents a return of the repressed — the repressed in this case being the ineluctable human hunger for meaning. For wokeism, like those earlier belief systems, offers a framework that is not only cognitive and historical, but also moral and existential. It tells you not only where you come in, but also who you are and how you are to orient yourself toward others and the world. In other words, it offers purpose and direction.”
It is very much like a religion.

Hendrik Mentz
Hendrik Mentz
2 years ago

Yes. And we’re already living its effects in the one narrative.

Last edited 2 years ago by Hendrik Mentz
Peter Beard
Peter Beard
2 years ago

Thanks for this. An informative and thought-provoking article.

Iris C
Iris C
2 years ago

What has happened to debating societies? It was an excellent forum for making students think and explore different ideas and ideologies, especially when they could not choose the side on which they wanted to stand. Making a case against ones set views (and students are inclined to have set views acquired through upbringing and parents’ ideology) widens their societal knowledge and understanding of other people’s viewpoints, enriching life.
.

Andrew F
Andrew F
2 years ago
Reply to  Iris C

I guess, you know the answer?
How can you debate when only one “approved” ideology is allowed?
It is like communism but now called CRT, multi-culti, GBLT+ alphabet soup, etc.
If you express “right wing” views your social life and career prospects are limited.
That why you have so many “hidden” Conservatives in uk.
I know many people who voted Brexit but hide their real views in order not to lose, so called, friends…

Kerry Davie
Kerry Davie
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew F

Probably not much of a loss.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew F

Speaking as a Brexit-voting Tory with zero tolerance for woke, very open about my views, and living in Bristol where everyone is basically communist, I definitely notice the cold shoulder.

Mike Bell
Mike Bell
2 years ago

Some remarkable similarities here with Robert Pirsig’s discussion of ‘Quality’ in ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’.
He describes similar exercises with his students…..
I found something similar when I was teaching ‘Critical Thinking’ to the top students (~2010) in the 6th form – almost none could construct an argument.

Kerry Davie
Kerry Davie
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Bell

Ah, Zen, And the Art …..What a great book! After almost fifty years since my first reading of it (while OE in hot summer France) I still recall my thrill at the intellectual stimulation. And the same physical book, a bit dog-eared to be sure, is still sitting on my library shelves, next to his sequel, Lila (which moved me less I admit.)

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
2 years ago

Maybe a fish rots from the head; but a school system may rot from the bottom. I would connect Deresiewicz’s remarks about Claremont students who lacked any sense that writing must be metacognitive, with his observation about a parenting style (and by extension, K-12 acting in loco parentis) “allergic to authority, uncomfortable with negativity, and eager to be seen as friends.” You’re perfect, buddy, just as you are! “Murder your darlings” is essential advice for any writer but it is unlikely to be learned in a bisounours educational culture in which negativity is violence to self-esteem.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 years ago

Excellent.. It is interesting how America and Britain are most blighted by woke, whereas the old communist eastern block countries actually educated their populus to the extent that by 1989 they saw that communism did not work…. and down came the Berlin Wall and the USSR! Britain and the US are actually doing the diametric opposite!

Andrew F
Andrew F
2 years ago

Well, we knew that communism didn’t work well before 1989.
We were prevented though from doing something about it by Soviet Union.
Watching Ukraine situation should be very educational.
Although many on this forum will never (want to) learn.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew F
Jonathan Nash
Jonathan Nash
2 years ago

I’m not convinced that this is a recent phenomenon. If you don’t read, you won’t acquire an ear for language and be able to write well; and reading as a leisure activity has been in decline for many years.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jonathan Nash
Michael James
Michael James
2 years ago

‘To paraphrase the joke from the old Soviet Union, students pretend to work, and professors pretend to grade them.’
More like ”professors pretend to teach and students pretend to learn’.
Decades ago I taught at a university. These were my two main conclusions:

  1. Students invested much effort in working out how to achieve grades without disturbing their intellects (i.e. learning anything). But they eventually realised that:
  2. Lecturers tacitly assured students they would get degrees if they turned up for all exams and submitted all their written assignments. That minimised the effort lecturers needed to invest in teaching and marking, and freed them up for career-enhancing activities like research and publishing (not teaching).

I assume all this is still true but now even worse.

Last edited 2 years ago by Michael James
Kat L
Kat L
2 years ago

Quite a sad commentary and I wonder what’s to come of it societally.

Ben M
Ben M
2 years ago

Mao’s Red Guard seemed like something that could never happen here, the young gleefully destroying institutions with a religious zealotry. Well that’s now the Anglosphere, even if it took 50 more years to appear.

Ben M
Ben M
2 years ago

Mao’s Red Guard seemed like something that could never happen here, the young gleefully destroying institutions with a religious zealotry. Well that’s now the Anglosphere, even if it took 50 more years to appear.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
2 years ago

STOP donating to universities and colleges until they come out against the ‘woke’ rot that is destroying the academy.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
2 years ago

STOP donating to universities and colleges until they come out against the ‘woke’ rot that is destroying the academy.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
2 years ago

Brilliant. Simply brilliant.

Euan Ballantyne
Euan Ballantyne
2 years ago

Excellent

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
2 years ago

A very interesting article.
The difference between being clever and being intelligent seems largely unrecognised and undervalued today.

J S
J S
2 years ago

Brilliant. Thank you.

Laura Kamienski
Laura Kamienski
1 year ago

I wish I could add something other than – Brilliant! But I can’t, other than thank you.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

Show evidence of participation in a dozen or more extracurricular activities?
A dozen? As many as twelve? A Bu-bu-bu baker’s dozen, like? Crikey.

Yet “curiosity and passion must be actively suppressed.” This is what is ingrained in the hopeful youth.

So they, the fancy admissions offices, just want the student to show ‘em evidence of participation.

“Just show us what you can show us. Nothin’ fancy. We haven’t got all day.”

Could that be quickly concocted by the student? Could attending film club once a month be counted? Once a year? After all, one may not, indeed must not, be passionate about one’s activities. One’s passion must not only be suppressed but actively suppressed. Yes, actually actively suppressed. (Which is the woke way of saying “actually suppressed”, “”actively suppressed” is. Anything to get the idea of “activist” into the young student’s head, I imagine).
Surely the admissions people approve! Of such zeal for old movies! (“Do you watch any black-and-white ones?” “Oh yes. A few, every now and then. As time goes by. Casablanca!”).
How many extracurricular activities do THEY, the fancy admissions folk, ooops, people, do? Does, “I like to cook” do?

“And, finally, Scott, your twelfth extracurricular activity? I hope it’s still yet CV-worthy.”
“Ah. I like to cook. I cawk-up my cooking quite a lot, though. I’m a passionate guy. Just kidding. But I am infected by so much zeal for it. Is what I mean. Eventually it might pay dividends. Who knows? I might open a restaurant in five years’ time! Am I jumping the gun? Getting ahead of myself?”

Must be “actively suppressed.” The curiosity and passion. That brutal piece of streetwise, campuswise advice almost sounds like Stalag Luft whatever and The Great Escape or Colditz or Stalag Luft Kampus. I imagine a new student being received by a wise older companion, on arrival on campus, who is told, earnestly, with rapidity, à la British officer, “You must stifle any urge to be curious. And don’t be passionate about anything. Except about being what is expected of you here. Got that?” “Um, yes sir. Yes.”

That’s what “actively” means in “actively suppressed”: it means being an activist in terms of your routines, for your daily duties, and for conformism. It is more command than instruction. It is more an order than a request. Your peers are the ones watching your daily duties rather than the faculty members, I imagine. Your peers are the eyes for the faculty and vice versa, possibly. Got that? Careful now! What sort of person you are will be determined how well you blend into the hive, the hive of very active activities.

Imagine now a little older inmate proffering the mantra of controlling the passions and all that to a newcomer dorm buddy – but tweaked a tiny bit:

“I say, curiosity and passion must be actually suppressed.”
“Actually suppressed? Suppressed where?”
“Well, my dear chap, here, at your most precious choice of institution, what!”
“Well, 
 that is par for the course. I knew that.”
“You did? Well, I’m astonished. Peabody’s the name, by the way. Charlton Peabody. An English blow-in. My mother’s American-born. It has only just occurred to me, the moment you arrived, that after all this time, after all this time, silly me, I had not realised how incurious and button-lipped every bright little soul around this place is. And that’s what I meant. You’re brand new here. Straight from school and short pants, what! But 
 I’ll walk you around. Everybody is, well, is like a carbon copy of each other. And as mundane as a stick of carbon. And I had never really picked up on that. Just not your standard bunch of Americans I would have thought. How curious! Look here, curiosity and passion are extinct here. They 
 are actually extinct. Actually. Did you hear that?”

The two go outside to the square.
On seeing a toppled statue, its head decapitated, Peabody breaks down, collapses to his knees, crying out, his fist beating the ground.

“They’ve gone and actually done it! They’ve gone and actually done it! Nooo!”

“Um, Charlton. I trust you mean, They’ve gone and actively done it. It’s beautiful. I’m actively impressed.”

Last edited 2 years ago by Dustshoe Richinrut
Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

I don’t understand the downvotes. That was highly amusing.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Well, thank you Dear Drahcir. Not just amusing but 
 highly amusing. I’m chuffed all over again.

Milos Bingles
Milos Bingles
2 years ago

They’ll always be in a minority and will never get into power so why worry?

Last edited 2 years ago by Milos Bingles
Stuart Sutherland
Stuart Sutherland
2 years ago
Reply to  Milos Bingles

Wouldn’t be too sure about that!

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Milos Bingles

They’re already in power; at least in the institutions that wield financial, cultural, business and technological power.