Monday, August 21, 2006

Too easy to pick bad schools 

After lunch with a colleague with a high school senior child who should have his pick of many universities, I came back and finished this essay by Thomas Hibbs on whether universities have any soul. Anyone with a child heading to college in 2007 should read this before they start gobbling up statistics from USNews or some other college guide. In the context of reviewing a number of books about the state of higher education, Hibbs relates the student to an "amateur" (which until now I had not linked to my days of amo amas amat...)

Specialization breeds an inevitable individualism and elevates narrow expertise over breadth of learning. Clearly a university cannot do without rigorous, specialized knowledge in its faculty. The challenge Mr. Lewis and others pose is whether universities can create incentives to balance focus with breadth.

This would entail another sense of liberalism. Such a liberality or generosity of spirit would revive a proper appreciation of amateurism � not in the sense of an absence of serious training but in the etymological meaning of the word "amateur," from the French for "lover."

In an academic context, an amateur would be one who has a passionate enthusiasm for knowledge, an infectious joy at human inquiry itself and a commitment to transforming students from dependent absorbers of information into colleagues in a shared pursuit of knowledge. This spirit of wonder is the most compelling embodiment of Newman's claim that knowledge is an end in itself. Such a spirit knows no bounds � it can be equally present in an English poetry class, a chemistry lab, a music tutorial or a philosophy seminar.

As Jeffrey Hart said, "Life consists of more, thank God, than politics." Or sex, for that matter. Find those schools that agree.