Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Losing liberal arts

Good riddance to Leftist propaganda mills

At the end of the 2007-2008 academic year, shrinking enrollment and a budget crisis forced Antioch College to close its doors after 156 years of progressive liberal arts education. Other liberal arts colleges and programs are under similar stress. University of California-Santa Cruz is not accepting applications to its History of Consciousness for the 2010-2011 academic year. Goddard College underwent dramatic restructuring in 2002, and the New College of California ended operations in 2008. These losses are emblematic of the hardships facing liberal arts and humanities programs.

In light of rising costs, students fear liberal arts degrees are not worth the price tag. Consequently, interest in the liberal arts and humanities is on the wane, and the education they provide runs the risk of becoming restricted to elites who are rich in capital—cultural and otherwise. The liberal arts are not the only source of a valuable education, but they place an unparalleled emphasis on critical thinking, integrated learning and civic engagement. The growing inaccessibility threatens to deepen the divide between a well-educated elite (once called the ruling class) and a technically proficient, but less broadly educated, middle and working class.

In the face of financial insecurity, students, colleges and universities have begun to calculate the value of higher education in terms of the “bottom line.” As tuition skyrockets and education becomes more unaffordable, students want assurances that their degrees will benefit them financially. A 2004 UCLA survey of incoming freshmen at 700 colleges and universities reported that the top reasons chosen for going to college included “to get training for a specific career” (74.6 percent), “to be able to get a better job” (71.8 percent), and/or “to be able to make more money” (70.1 percent). Meanwhile, over the last 25 years tuition has risen by 440 percent—more than four times the rate of inflation.

A college degree is no longer a dependable ticket to a middle-class lifestyle. Though a 2006 study commissioned by the Association of American Colleges & Universities showed that business leaders seek employees with a wide base of skills and knowledge, recent graduates are not finding a higher education advantageous amid the economic downturn. The job market for college graduates dropped 40 percent in 2009, according to a Michigan State University study of 2,500 companies nationwide. For many graduates lucky enough to find employment, the recession has meant taking low-paying retail or customer service jobs while struggling to pay off student loans.

Meanwhile, colleges and universities are explicitly gearing their curricula toward the job market, including tailoring academic programs toward the needs of local corporations. Macalester College President Brian Rosenberg predicts that “20 years from now there will be fewer colleges that fall under the category of small residential liberal arts colleges.” Data on emerging trends seems to agree. In an article in Inside Higher Ed, “The Case of the Disappearing Liberal Arts College,” Roger G. Baldwin and Vicki L. Baker write that “national data on liberal arts colleges suggest that their numbers are decreasing as many evolve into ‘professional colleges’ or other types of higher education institutions.”

Some, like Massachusetts Higher Education Commissioner Richard M. Freeland, hail this development. Freeland is part of a movement to connect liberal arts and professional programs through the inclusion of internships, practical skill development, study abroad programs and experiential education. He argues that advocacy for a stronger emphasis on practical skills can complement the traditional goals of liberal learning.

Yet, it is unclear if liberal arts colleges will be able to undergo this transformation and retain their core missions. “Whether you can sustain the intensity of focus on the liberal arts portion while still doing all those other things is an open question,” says Rosenberg.

As colleges and universities strive to become more profitable, faculty are coping with their own economic squeeze. Over the past three decades, colleges and universities have replaced tenure-track faculty positions with contract positions, often part-time. In his 2008 book The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities (Fordham University Press), Ohio State University English professor Frank Donoghue writes that tenure-track and tenured professors now make up only 35 percent of college faculty, and that number is steadily falling. He notes that the decline in tenured positions has disproportionately affected faculty in liberal arts and humanities programs, which lack the government and private funding enjoyed by other departments. In turn, aspiring professors are becoming discouraged by the prospect of juggling multiple academic adjunct positions for little pay and no job security.

The current recession has greatly amplified existing pressures on liberal arts and humanities programs. Thomas H. Benton writes in his Chronicle of Higher Education article “Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go,” that universities have “historically taken advantage of recessions to bring austerity to teaching” through hiring freezes, early retirements, and the replacement of tenured faculty with adjuncts. He writes, “When the recession ends, the hiring freezes will become permanent, since departments will have demonstrated that they can function with fewer tenured faculty members.”

Students, too, are likely to face the long-lasting consequences of shrinking endowments at private colleges and budget cuts at public institutions.

This past year, the director of financial aid at Reed College tasked the admissions team to not send acceptance letters to 100 scholarship students and instead find 100 students rich enough to pay $49,950 per year for tuition, room and board. If liberal arts colleges such as Reed are unable to recover from financial hardship, they risk losing their economic, social and ethnic diversity. In turn, students lacking a privileged background may be denied access to a liberal arts education, regardless of their achievements or aspirations. “Figuring out a way with smaller endowments to provide the financial aid necessary to enroll an economically diverse student body—and to pay for all the other things that you have to pay for at a college—is a very big challenge,” says Rosenberg of Macalester College. “One of the risks that we have to attend to is not becoming the educational equivalent of a BMW.”

If a liberal arts education becomes a luxury, the implications for civil society are profound. A broad-based higher education provides an environment that fosters the critical thinking skills [Kneejerk Leftist reflexes more like it] that are the hallmark of informed, responsible citizenship. Disparity in education equals disparity in power. By making a well-rounded education available only to the elite, we move one step closer to a society of two classes: one taught to think and rule and another groomed to follow and obey. [The average man is a more realistic thinker than a liberal arts graduate]


NH: Democrat assault on homeschoolers looming: Vote pending on new demands for tests, reviews

The homeschool community is reacting with alarm to plans for a vote in the New Hampshire legislature as early as this week that could create restrictive new testing and reporting requirements for homeschoolers in the state. "Trying to sneak through massive changes in the New Hampshire homeschool law by manipulating the system is unacceptable. The Democratic leadership and the chairman of the education committee know that if they allowed an open process the overwhelming majority would vote [against the plan]," said Mike Donnelly, a staff attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association.

The organization is the premiere group in the world working on behalf of homeschoolers. The proposal to create the new state requirements is being pushed by Democratic leaders in the legislature, even though its own task force recommended against such changes.

Democratic leaders are using a legislative maneuver to prepare to advance the piece, after a bipartisan legislative study committee voted 14-6 against forwarding the new homeschool law, House Bill 368. Democratic Rep. Barbara Shaw, a retired teacher with 45 years experience, wrote the majority report, suggesting the plan is "inexpedient to legislate," or should be rejected. "After studying this issue for several years, I've gotten to know homeschoolers, the law, and how the system works, and I'm convinced that it is working fine – there are no changes needed," she said. "Some people have accused me of doing a 180 on homeschooling – and I would have to admit that's true. But that's because I've seen that homeschooling is working for children in our state and the current law is adequate," she said.

HSLDA's analysis said the Democrats are trying to move forward a whole new piece of legislation as an amendment to another proposal. It would allow, among other things, state officials to "terminate" a homeschooling program and report a child to the "appropriate resident district superintendent, who shall, if necessary, take appropriate action to ensure that compulsory attendance requirements are met."

Republican Minority Leader Sherman Packard said his party supports no further changes in the state's homeschooling law. "We've always supported homeschoolers … Until the end of last week we weren't aware that there was a problem with this legislation since the majority report was [to reject]," he said. As WND reported, the issue previously was on the agenda but didn't get a vote because of time constraints.

The plan would require new tests for every homeschool student, demand a portfolio review and submit test scores to the state Department of Education, which would be given "sweeping rule-making authority" for homeschoolers. "This legislation is completely unnecessary," said Donnelly. "The existing New Hampshire law works well, and in an era when homeschoolers are significantly out-performing their public school counterparts the last thing homeschoolers and taxpayers need is another bureaucracy wasting their time and money. We hope that enough legislators will see through the maneuver which is being used and vote to retain the existing homeschool law."

The analysis by the HSLDA of the issue said the package of recommendations from Rep. Judith Day is "the most significant threat to New Hampshire homeschoolers" since 1990. "These [plans] impose a needless burden on homeschoolers and shift authority to determine whether a child should be homeschooled from parents to others," the analysis said. "Parents have a fundamental right under the United States Constitution to direct the upbringing and education of their children, and legislation like Rep. Day's undermines this right by going against the presumption that parents act in the best interest of their children."

Both parts of the plan, H.B. 367 and 368, "are unnecessary," the analysis said, and would create additional burdens and costs and are "problematic in that it creates potentially unconstitutional vagueness which could result in needless litigation."


In Australia too, the media hate fundamentalist Christians

Lots of private religious schools get government subsidies. It is the Australian system -- going back to the days of Bob Menzies. But just one small set of private schools is singled out for criticism below -- the Brethren schools. And Rudd hates the Brethren because they supported his opposition. All the major churches supported Rudd

THE Rudd Government is handing more than $70 million to schools run by the Exclusive Brethren, a religious sect Kevin Rudd described as an "extremist cult" that breaks up families. The sect's schools have secured more than $8.4m under the Government's school building stimulus package and they will share in $62m in recurrent taxpayer funding.

Documents show a Brethren-run school at Swan Hill in northern Victoria was granted $1.2m for a library and $800,000 for a hall when its most recent annual report shows it had just 16 pupils and already had a library. [Many such bureaucratic bungles have happened with government schools too] Grants data released by the commonwealth shows that Brethren schools in every state received funding under the $12.4 billion schools stimulus package, The Australian reports.

Despite the Brethren's past disdain for computers, figures show its schools have received more than 300 under the commonwealth computers-in-school initiative.

Brethren schools have also secured grants under the Schools Pride program. All up, the 2400 children in Brethren schools will each receive the equivalent of $26,127 in recurrent funding and $11,200 in stimulus funding.

Australian Education Union federal president Angelo Gavrielatos said these sums were outrageous and the funding system had to be urgently replaced. "How can the Government justify handing tens of millions of dollars to an organisation it believes is a cult while public schools which educate the vast majority of our children are struggling for funds?" Mr Gavrielatos said. "The Government has said it will review schools funding this year. That review needs to be begin as a matter of urgency to allow for a proper public debate on where school funding should be directed and for what purpose."

The Brethren is a fundamentalist Christian sect that lives by the doctrine of separation from mainstream society. Brethren schools must teach the normal curriculum, although reports say some novels are banned and chapters on sex and reproduction are excised from science textbooks. Brethren members are taught to shun broader society. They do not use TV, radios and do not watch movies or eat in restaurants. They do not vote, are opposed to unions and other forms of association, except their own church. [There have always been Protestants with similar views -- e.g. Scotland's "Wee Frees" and the historic Puritans of Britain and America. And some famous Catholic monastic orders were doing it even before the Protestants came along. It is a perfectly defensible version of Christianity, even if it is not fashionable these days. Check John 15:19; James 4:4; John 18:36, for instance]

The Brethren has been accused by former members, and the Prime Minister in his 2007 comments, of denying those who leave access to their children, a claim the organisation denies.

Doug Burgess, the head of the Brethren's Victorian schools, said its schools were growing rapidly and the funding reflected that. He defended the sect's right to school funding, saying the children would otherwise be enrolled in state schools at full taxpayers' expense.


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