Poulos on Taylor on Re-Structured University Education
James Poulos points to this Mark C. Taylor op-ed in the NyTimes on ending the university as we know it.
The core of Taylor’s counterproposal to the currently balkanized world of graduate education is the following:
1. Restructure the curriculum, beginning with graduate programs and proceeding as quickly as possible to undergraduate programs. The division-of-labor model of separate departments is obsolete and must be replaced with a curriculum structured like a web or complex adaptive network. Responsible teaching and scholarship must become cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural…It would be far more effective to bring together people working on questions of religion, politics, history, economics, anthropology, sociology, literature, art, religion and philosophy to engage in comparative analysis of common problems.** As the curriculum is restructured, fields of inquiry and methods of investigation will be transformed.
While agreeing with Taylor’s diagnoses of the problem, James has some opposing thoughts on Taylor’s proscribed cure. JP writes:
And setting shared problem solving atop the pyramid of restructured academics will not save the university from its pathologies so much as finish off the last vestiges of the one thing which political and social theorists, along with philosophers and (gasp) theologians, might recognize as the whole point of highest education: the slow, deep, patient, disciplined, costly, and assuredly ‘impractical’ transmission of authoritative knowledge* from teacher to student.
Now in the strict simple sense James is absolutely correct–Taylor’s proposal would destroy the path of transmission in the humanities. When I hear James talk of the disciplined costly transmission from teacher to student I think of Gadamer’s ontological hermeneutics (James thinks of Straussians). That way, outside of some exceptional professors (e.g. Alan Jacobs’ of the world), is largely lost in my mind.
I have to confess some pessimism here and say that I think the path of any genuine transmission, any genuine humanities is essentially gone and not coming back in the university setting anyway. Maybe it’s the politics, maybe it’s the money, maybe the technology…maybe a combination of those. Maybe it’s just pure laziness. I really don’t know.
I do think for such a humanistic-transmission way to revive will only happen through non-university contexts: e.g. churches, synagogues, art communities, (web portals?), farming, and the like.
I think Taylor’s proposal is the best that can be done to salvage any place for my beloved humanities in university (especially graduate) curriculum. Religion, philosophy, social & political thought have hugely important contributions to make to the pressing issues of our day. Without at least Taylor’s (rearguard?) position, I’m fearful all could be lost to the “effectivization and problem solving-ness” of our world.
**An example of a common problem Taylor mentions is water.