Posted by: clholoman | November 7, 2015

Crossing the Streams

In my post about summer reading, I noted my profound love and admiration for Marilynne Robinson as a novelist. Since then, she has been interviewed  by (n.b.)  the President, and has a new collection of non-fiction essays published. I assume the following will be in her next essay collection, since she has said clearly that she collects her talks until there are enough to publish and then does so. Here she is on the topic of this blog:

Offering a “variety of fields of study and great freedom to choose among them,” Robinson said, American education “has served as a mighty paradigm for the kind of self-discovery Americans have historically valued.”

Our vast educational culture is “unlike anything else in the world” and “emerged from the glorious sense of the possible, and explored and enhanced the possible through the spread of learning. If it seems to be failing now, this is true because we have forgotten what it is for,” she said.

With so much emphasis on a utilitarian education today, Robinson said, “Emerson might be surprised to find us in such a state after generations of great freedom.”

Robinson attributes the current lack of support for seemingly non-utilitarian education to broad changes in political and economic ideals, a shift best characterized by the replacement of “the citizen” with “the taxpayer.”

“While the citizen can entertain aspirations for the society as a whole and take pride in its achievements, the taxpayer, as presently imagined, simply does not want to pay taxes,” Robinson said, noting that this conflict of interest has left many great public universities “like beached vessels of unknown origin … ripe for looting insofar as what they hold would find a market.”

But, Robinson added, “a human community with a history and with a habit of aspirations toward democracy, requiring a capacity in its public for meaningful decisions about its life and direction, exists apart from these [economic] forces and is at odds with them.”

Thanks to the AAC&U for bringing this to my attention.

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