From Patrick Deneen, Professor of Political Science at Notre Dame, writing at Front Porch Republic ("Res Idiotica"):
My students are know-nothings. They are exceedingly nice, pleasant, trustworthy, mostly honest, well-intentioned, and utterly decent. But their minds are largely empty, devoid of any substantial knowledge that might be the fruits of an education in an inheritance and a gift of a previous generation. They are the culmination of western civilization, a civilization that has forgotten its origins and aims, and as a result, has achieved near-perfect indifference about itself....From Myron Magnet, writing at City Journal ("Liberty -- If You Can Keep It"):
We have fallen into the bad and unquestioned habit of thinking that our educational system is broken, but it is working on all cylinders. What our educational system aims to produce is cultural amnesia, a wholesale lack of curiosity, historyless free agents, and educational goals composed of contentless processes and unexamined buzz-words like “critical thinking,” “diversity,” “ways of knowing,” “social justice,” and “cultural competence.” Our students are the achievement of a systemic commitment to producing individuals without a past for whom the future is a foreign country, cultureless ciphers who can live anywhere and perform any kind of work without inquiring about its purposes or ends, perfected tools for an economic system that prizes “flexibility” (geographic, interpersonal, ethical). In such a world, possessing a culture, a history, an inheritance, a commitment to a place and particular people, specific forms of gratitude and indebtedness (rather than a generalized and deracinated commitment to “social justice”), a strong set of ethical and moral norms that assert definite limits to what one ought and ought not to do (aside from being “judgmental”) are hindrances and handicaps. Regardless of major or course of study, the main object of modern education is to sand off remnants of any cultural or historical specificity and identity that might still stick to our students, to make them perfect company men and women for a modern polity and economy that penalizes deep commitments. Efforts first to foster appreciation for “multi-culturalism” signaled a dedication to eviscerate any particular cultural inheritance, while the current fad of “diversity” signals thoroughgoing commitment to de-cultured and relentless homogenization.
Above all, the one overarching lesson that students receive is to understand themselves to be radically autonomous selves within a comprehensive global system with a common commitment to mutual indifference. Our commitment to mutual indifference is what binds us together as a global people. Any remnant of a common culture would interfere with this prime directive: a common culture would imply that we share something thicker, an inheritance that we did not create, and a set of commitments that imply limits and particular devotions. Ancient philosophy and practice heaped praise upon res publica – a devotion to public things, things we share together. We have instead created the world’s first res idiotica – from the Greek word idiotes, meaning “private individual.” Our education system excels at producing solipsistic, self-contained selves whose only public commitment is an absence of commitment to a public, a common culture, a shared history. They are perfectly hollowed vessels, receptive and obedient, without any real obligations or devotions. They have been taught to care passionately about their indifference, and to denounce the presence of actual diversity that threatens the security of their cocoon. They are living in a perpetual Truman Show, a world constructed yesterday that is nothing more than a set for their solipsism, without any history or trajectory.
Worse still is the mindless orthodoxy that passes for intellectual life on today’s campus. Do colleges offer illimitable freedom to explore whether there might be differences in the minds of men and women that make them excel at different academic subjects, or that there may be no out-of-the-ordinary global warming caused by human activity, or that mankind’s fate might require that marriage be defined as between a man and a woman, or that affirmative action and welfare might harm and degrade their supposed beneficiaries, or that Islam may not be a religion of peace, or that environmental cleanliness may not be man’s highest value, or that money ought to speak in politics, or even that all lives—not just black ones—matter? Here the fountain of Truth has indeed sickened into a muddy pool of conformity and tradition, as Milton knew such unthinking dogma as political correctness ensures....
... As for what college students know of every subject susceptible of contemplation, a hilarious film, Politically Challenged, that Texas Tech students produced does not reassure. To the question of “Who won the Civil War?” 11 students had no idea, though two thought it might have been the South, one suggested “America,” two didn’t know who fought it, and one wondered if the questioner meant the one that occurred in 1967. Only one answered, “The North; the Union.” Only one of nine students could name the current U.S. vice president. None of five students knew from whom America gained its independence, though one thought it might have happened in the 1970s—or else the 1670s. But all of them knew the names of actor Brad Pitt’s current and former wives and that “Snooki” was a character on the TV show Jersey Shore.
Finally, from Victor Davis Hanson -- one of his best columns ever, over at Pajamas Media -- "Weimar America":
No one can figure out how and why America’s youth have borrowed a collective $1 trillion for college tuition, and yet received so little education and skills in the bargain. Today’s campuses have become as foreign to American traditions of tolerance and free expression as what followed the Weimar Republic. To appreciate cry-bully censorship, visit a campus “free-speech” area. To witness segregation, walk into a college “safe space.” To hear unapologetic anti-Semitism, attend a university lecture. To learn of the absence of due process, read of a campus hearing on alleged sexual assault. To see a brown shirt in action, watch faculty call for muscle at a campus demonstration. To relearn the mentality of a Chamberlain or Daladier, listen to the contextualizations of a college president. And to talk to an uneducated person, approach a recent college graduate.The authors also reach remarkably similar conclusions. First, Patrick Deneen again:
If all that is confusing, factor in the Trimalchio banquet of campus rock-climbing walls, students glued to their iPhone 6s, $200 sneakers, latte bars, late-model foreign cars in the parking lot, and yoga classes. Affluence, arrogance, and ignorance are quite a trifecta.
I care deeply about and for my students – like any human being, each has enormous potential and great gifts to bestow upon the world. But I weep for them, for what is rightfully theirs but hasn’t been given. On our best days together, I discern their longing and anguish and I know that their innate human desire to know who they are, where they have come from, where they ought to go, and how they ought to live will always reassert itself. But even on those better days, I can’t help but hold the hopeful thought that the world they have inherited – a world without inheritance, without past, future, or deepest cares – is about to come tumbling down, and that this collapse would be the true beginning of a real education.
Next, Myron Magnet:
Western civilization arose on why. We had better keep asking it, draining every fetid pool of political correctness that lies in the way of an answer.
And the final word goes to Victor Davis Hansen:
I wish all this could end well. But history’s corrective to 1930s chaos was a different—and deadlier—sort of chaos. And so ours may well be too.