"And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it." Proverbs 8:32, 33
That American education is in a crisis is by now so commonplace as to be ho-hum in most circles. Since the 1970s and a flurry of federal and private reports and papers, we've all known that America's schools are falling behind the rest of the world in every category (except sports, of course). Lots of ideas have been vetted -- we seem never to want for new ideas -- but not much in the way of real reform has been achieved.
The schools are working just well enough to keep new blood flowing into the workforce to support those who are entering their golden years. So what's the fuss? Sure most high school graduates can't find Wyoming on a map, have never heard of Bach or Rembrandt, and couldn't construct a grammatically correct sentence if their lives depended on it, but who cares? Unemployment is low, the market is expanding, and there seem to be jobs and goods enough to go around.
That's not good enough for Michael Lind. He wants the schools to recover the focus of previous generations -- long generations ago -- when building character, teaching people how to think, and preparing young people for responsible citizenship were the primary educational aims. And to do that, Mr. Lind wants to see the liberal arts returned to prominence in the secondary school curriculum.
Writing in the Autumn, 2006, issue of The Wilson Quarterly, Mr. Lind expresses the view that the pressures of a utilitarian economy have turned America's schools and colleges into job training centers, with little or no attention being given to the formation of character or preparation for responsible citizenship. Here is where literature, the arts, rhetoric, grammar, and history could help. In the past, communities looked to liberal arts instruction to prepare their children for polite and democratic society. Parents reasoned that making their children adults was more important than making them worker-bees. The jobs would follow when their children learned to think, express themselves, and participate in the public square through dialog and debate. And for this, the liberal arts were the ticket.
The pressures of a rapidly expanding economy swept that away at the end of the 19th century, replacing liberal arts with a utilitarian curriculum, a trend which only grew stronger throughout the 20th century and now, in the early years of the 21st century, seems firmly entrenched. Mr. Lind knows he'll never get the universities to turn back to the liberal arts, so he wants the high schools to take them on instead.