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June 18, 2009

The case against high-school diplomas

A piece in The New Republic today is probably making former U of C president (and father of the Core and all that is "so U of C," tie-dye kid notwithstanding [not literally though]) Robert Maynard Hutchins roll around in his grave - but maybe, just maybe, out of joy.The author, John McWhorter, argues that students should be allowed to bust out of high school and into the real world a couple years before they are now (Hutchins started at Oberlin College when he was 16). Further, he says that college should be discouraged in favor of either not getting a degree that isn't really necessary or going into more technical-minded vocational training. The likely end result? Universities go back to being book-obsessed communes of robotic-claw libraries. Life of the mind!

In much less time than we take students' time up with now, they would be given a substantial but no-nonsense education tooled to preparing them to be productive citizens. This can be done without the pretense that any but a few Americans need to be plied with "book learning" for its own sake--as opposed to being taught how to think critically and having one's horizons extended, which is not the same thing--over several more years beyond this basic toolkit.
(Granted, I'm not sure that Hutchins would appreciate the thought of book learning "plying" anyone or that that kind of education might be a "pretense," but hey, can't win them all.)