The Blind Leading….

Readers will recall when recently the football team joined a young man on the University of Missouri campus who was fasting in order to effect change on that campus regarding alleged racism and the unwillingness of the administration to deal with the issue. The football team threatened to refuse to play and the result was the desired resignation of the president. There is no doubt about two things (1) racism is a poison and needs to be stamped out wherever it appears, and (2) a Division I football team refusing to play speaks louder than words.

There was much hullabaloo about the event and a number of articles and posts on social media — including a post by yours truly. One of the better articles attempted to put the event in perspective and led in with a photograph of the football team, with its coaches, after they had their way. A caption under the photo grabbed my attention:

“In just 48 hours a sub-500 football team affected [sic] a change that could have a monumental impact on the world of college athletics — athletes controlling what happens on campus.”

Think about this. The fact that this group of athletes was successful — in light of the fact that previous attempts by football teams failed to bring about change, as in the case of Northwestern’s team that wanted the players to unionize — indicates the power of extortion. There can be no doubt that the threat of non-playing at a time when revenue from TV and attendance is very much at stake had an important impact on the decision of the president to resign. After all, colleges and universities are becoming increasingly about business and profits (just ask the University of Iowa where a businessman with no academic credentials whatever was recently hired as president). But as an educator the thought that festers in my soul is the thought that football players can “control what happens on campus.”

Now, if this refers simply to the elimination of other cases of racism and other forms of bigotry on college campuses, so much the better. That’s as it should be. But if the influence of athletes threatening to withhold their services can effect “what happens on campus” generally one must pause. Clearly, this group of athletes was inspired to do the right thing and they were effective. But the thought of a group of athletes, or a group of students of any stripe whatever, holding a gun to the head of the administration and faculty to effect change in, say, curriculum is worrisome indeed. Such a thing is not totally absurd., as hinted at in the caption quoted above.

If a group of students were to put pressure on the administration and faculty to alter the curriculum — to substitute, say, physical education for physics — this would be anathema to everything higher education stands for. I exaggerate, of course, but interestingly enough, the precedent has already been set, and not by a group of football players at Missouri. It was set in the 1960s when militant students took over the Dean’s office in places such as Columbia University and Berkeley and insisted that there be curricular changes.  In a number of major universities during that period a great many core courses were eliminated completely on the grounds that the students found them “irrelevant.” In a word, if the students didn’t want to study, say, world history, then world history was dropped. The faculty and administration capitulated, possibly out of fear. This started a wave of rejection until within 20 years there were very few core courses on any college campus anywhere in this country. As a result, we have seen an increasing number of college graduates who know nothing about anything except those few items that happen to be of interest to them. Many of them cannot read, write, or speak coherently; they know nothing about the way their government runs (or doesn’t run) or about their history, black, white, feminine or masculine; and they have no idea whatever what science is and why mathematics is integral to the exact sciences. They are increasingly susceptible to the drivel that spews forth from the mouths of public figures who want to sell them left-handed monkey wrenches.

Thus, the thought of the athletes running the show is disturbing on a number of fronts. To begin with, it is simply a sign of a power struggle that has been lost by those who should have shown the way, and secondly it suggests the possibility of further changes in the climate of higher education that will move the students farther and farther away from the goal of true intellectual freedom, which should always be the focus of any education. Students should have a say in what they study, to be sure, but they should not be allowed to rule out whatever doesn’t happen to appeal to them at the moment. While education starts in the schools, it bears fruit later on, after graduation. But it needs a start in the right direction or else it will spin in circles and lead the college graduate into blind alleys.

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6 thoughts on “The Blind Leading….

  1. “It shall be proved to thy face that thou hast men about thee that usually speak of a noun and a verb and such other abominable words as no Christian ear can endure to hear”!…Jack Cade, Henry VI, Part two.

  2. Hugh, what I find compelling, as well as dangerously intoxicating, is the use of economic influence. Civil Rights causes were advanced when possible through the avoidance of services such as boycotting buses. Like the boycotters, the Missouri football team used their economic clout to effectuate change. The boycotters risked far more I know, but the principle is the same. Yet, this economic power should not be overplayed and must be used judiciously toward positive ends.

    At the end of the day, colleges are placing for learning, growing and finding yourself. There are reasons certain courses are offered to help serve that mission. It gets back to Rubio’s remark about welders (a very honorable and hard profession) who he said made more money than philosophy majors, which turned out not being close to true. Being a philosophy major gave the students an opportunity to comprehend and appreciate the art of discourse and humanity. This gave them an ability to perform jobs that would reward these skills.

    If a student said why do I need to take a philosophy course, they may be missing out on the a key ingredient to their future. I have rambled, so please forgive. Keith

    • Ramble away. You always have important insights. Thanks. I met with a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic a few weeks ago who had majored in philosophy in college! I told him that today’s students avoided philosophy because they thought it impractical. He laughed and said that philosophy was the most practical course of study he undertook: he used it every day. And that from a cardiologist at one of the finest medical establishments in this country. But how does one get that message across to today’s kids?? As things now stand, if the students don’t want to take a course, any course, they find it easy to avoid it — not only philosophy but also history and biology as well.

      • Hugh, very interesting. Could you ask him to write an editorial for the paper or allow you to write one? His is a compelling story. Keith

      • I suspect the man is very busy. He is a professor of cardiology at Mayo, which means he teaches and writes in addition to treating patients. And I have written far too many letters to editors on the subject — and what I say appears biased since I taught philosophy. But when I was a tennis pro outside of Chicago one of the members of the club was a financial advisor at a large company who also majored in philosophy. It is a major that fits nicely into anyone’s career plans!

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