Education, Neoliberalism, and the Liberal Arts

indexI recently graduated from Virginia Tech. You may know it because of its football program. Or, a little less likely, you may know it for engineering or architecture. However, believe it or not we do learn other things there. Not that most of the student body would not agree with the view that all one does there is party and watch football.

But Virginia Tech is emblematic of American higher education. Which can be summed up with a few simple questions, “What is your major?” “What is your degree?” If the answer is anything other than a hard science then the follow up question is either “Why?!” or “How are you going to get a job with that?” One is temped – and indeed we are taught how – to explain the kinds of jobs on e can get with a liberal arts eduction, but this would be to except the assumption behind the question. That assumption being – one only goes to college to get a job. Of course the implication of this is that one does not go to collage to get an education. Even worse than this however is that this dominate way of thinking about college has not rejected education, rather, it is cooping the term for its own purposes.

We need a critical analysis of this situation but, ironically, the people who would be able to provide such an analysis are the ones with a strong liberal arts education. So it would seem that in this regard the system is protecting itself.

This should also be placed in the larger context of Neoliberalism. Neoliberalism and education is a big topic. But suffice it to say there is a two pronged attack. Primary education is to be reduced by the weakening of public schools. This is done by busting teacher unions, standardizing as much as possible, and building up charter schools that take public funding away from public schools. There is also a disturbing trend in Africa right now with cheap private schools. The important thing to remember is that people with money will still have access to good schools – that is, schools that are not so heavily standardized and thus teach their students how to think rather than just how to do.

The other prong of the attack is reducing access to college. Even though they are redefining education, a college education is still dangerous (to the elite/rich). Increased tuition costs and less help from the government both conspire to reduce public access to education. This is not to mention the enslavement of debt one enters into if they do go to college.

One needs only look to the struggles going on in Chile to see where we are headed. They have been suffering under neoliberal “reforms” since the early 1970s. Something colorfully referred to as the “Chilean Miracle.” They are still fighting for the right to education. Which they do not have and either do we.

Like I said before we need more critical analysis of this issue. I am not offering solutions, although there are some I can think of, but rather hoping to bring the issue more to light.

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