Wretchard on Higher Education

Wretchard (in his new home in Pajamas Media!) writes of the political correctness of academia, with some optimism that it is now around halfway through its life-cycle. Picking up on his theme that higher education functions primarily to sort students by IQ, a commenter remarks that the growth of higher education stems from Griggs v. Duke Power, the case in which the Supreme Court held that employee testing is discriminatory, and permitted arguments from discriminatory effect, without the need to establish anything about intentions. It became impossible, in short, to identify smart people in any other way than demanding credentials. (Why the Court has not extended its reasoning to that demand is an interesting question, since it too is discriminatory in effect.) There’s something to this, though the large expansion in higher education preceded the decision, coming about in the 1960s for a variety of reasons (Sputnik, economic growth, Vietnam).

Many other commenters advise getting a degree in engineering, business, math, or the hard sciences, but avoiding the other parts of the university.

My perspective on this is somewhat more optimistic. Those fields are indeed still solid and offer excellent intellectual training. But so do philosophy, psychology, economics, and linguistics, fields minimally affected by political correctness at most universities. Even within fields rife with PC, there are large areas that are little affected. Empirically based social science is generally quite solid. Departments of English and History that house many leftist scholars who bring politics into their teaching still contain legions of professors who teach literature and history brilliantly without doing so. In all these fields, it remains possible to get an excellent education in reading, analyzing, writing, and problem solving.

It’s fairly easy to avoid most political correctness. Stay away from most _____-Studies programs. Look at course descriptions and book lists. Stay away from anything that talks about “theory” (not as in “quantum theory,” but sans phrase). Stay away from any mention of race, class, or gender. Stay away from PC buzzwords: “problematizing,” “contextualizing,” etc. Look at student evaluations from previous semesters. Talk to other students.

It’s easier to avoid political correctness at some universities than others. At my own university, it’s easy. At Duke, Brown, or Haverford, good luck. Students could learn a lot by looking at recent course offerings and descriptions when they’re applying.

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