Policy Documents

When Highter Education Isn't

Brandon Dutcher –
June 2, 2011

One of the sad and dangerous signs of our times,” Thomas Sowell wrote last month, “is how many people are enthralled by words, without bothering to look at the realities behind those words. One of those words that many people seldom look behind is ‘education.’ But education can cover anything from courses on nuclear physics to courses on baton twirling.”

He’s right. And there are too many “soft courses,” Sowell says, “that allow students to spend years in college without becoming educated in any real sense.”

I’ve argued before that taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize courses such as “Pre-College English” and “Spelling and Phonics” (actual courses from Oklahoma college catalogs). Taxpayers have already paid for elementary and secondary education once. Why should they have to pay for it again?

And why should they be forced to subsidize “Badminton,” “Principles of Floral Arranging,” “Beginning Bowling,” “Puppetry I,” or “Billiards”? Or, from the current University of Oklahoma catalog: “Star Wars and the Hero’s Journey,” “Six Years in the Life: The Beatles and the Counterculture,” “Disney Dogs and Popular Pets,” “Monsters, Mummies, Myths: A Study of Bad Archaeology and Pop Culture,” “The Evolution of a Media: Hip Hop Narrative,” and “Environmentally Conscious Living”?

This sort of higher education brings to mind former Boston University president John Silber’s quip: “Higher than what?”