Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Failure of Education

With all the talk of reforming higher education with MOOCs, online learning, and other fancy technological doodads, sometimes it's useful to remember that the real issue is frequently just plain ignorance:
LSU fraternity releases apology for offensive banner referencing Kent State shootings
Readers of this blog know that I have an interest in the Kent State shooting. To think that this banner qualified as a joke requires two things: 1) just enough knowledge to know that there was something called the "Kent State Massacre", combined with the ignorance not to know what it was or anything about it, and 2) a casual disregard for human tragedy - an inability to understand at either a personal or political level what that shooting meant. In other words, a more or less complete failure of education.

Judging by some of the other "controversial" banners referenced in the news story above, it would appear that #2 is pretty much enshrined with this group. #1 is probably pretty firmly lodged as well. 

Those looking for an argument about the deleterious impact of college sports on American university education could seize on this group, which has managed to marry willful moral and historical ignorance with love of sport to near perfection. In truth, I don't think there's a clean causal arrow here - I don't think that LSU football "causes" these young men to be ignorant & morally blind. But it does create an occasion wherein such characteristics are not only tolerated, but celebrated.

I've no doubt that the apology will be accepted, and that next week or the week after another similar banner will grace the hallowed halls of this fraternity. There will be no lasting consequence, no lesson learned. Most of these young men will probably graduate with LSU degrees, schooled perhaps in their chosen fields of study but comfortable in their ignorance. 

Regardless of whether they go on to well-paying careers that pay off their college debts, that will still be a failure of education - which no set of "metrics" or rankings system will capture. And 20 years from now, we will complain still more about the ignorance coarsening our national dialogue, and wonder anew "what happened to civic discourse?" It is dying the slow death of a thousand cuts at universities just like LSU across the country.

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