Higher Education's Role in Coarsening Popular American Tastes

Peter Wood

Peter Wood has an interesting couple of articles on the Chronicle's Innovations blog this week. He compares Lily Bart, a fictional character in the 1905 novel The House of Mirth with Lady Gaga and talks about how higher education is responsible for giving "trash culture a veneer of respectability" and how it "encourages students to open themselves to many of their worst impulses" (Lily Bart vs.  Lady Gaga) He writes:

Higher education once fostered the aspirations of young people to take possession of some share of their civilization.  The university was never the only means to acquire that aspiration.  Reading good books and joining in conversation with others who have read further may be the better path.  But the liberal arts opened the minds of many to the riches of art, science, philosophy, and literature.  Today?  Not so much.  A tiny fraction of students bother with the liberal arts at all—about 3 percent of students—and a good many of those are channeled into what might be rightly termed the pseudo-liberal arts.   They study the fields that teach disdain for their civilization and the supposed advantages of a vaporous “global citizenship.

In his second article, Peter quotes a 98-year-old woman who says the single biggest change in America she has observed over her lifetime is that "It’s all just so terribly coarse now." He points to the power of professors and universities to shape and inform sensibilities. He argues that they bear much of the blame for the devolution of American popular culture. And "For those who still have doubts about this, consider the story reported in the Chicago Sun-Times, 'Northwestern University Defends After-Class Live Sex Demonstration.'



Image: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

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