Then and Now


Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia in order to make it possible for young gentlemen to receive an education so they could eventually become involved in politics and make wise decisions in an effort to run the country. Like cream in milk, the best would rise to the top and become the brains that would determine how the state and the country are best served. [We see how that turned out!] All of the young people were to be accorded three years of free education, including the girls. The girls would not proceed further, but the best and brightest boys would be encouraged to continue their eduction and the very best and brightest would attend the University. Plato thought women could become philosopher kings and while Jefferson admired Plato — and most assuredly borrowed ideas from his Republic — he did not go as far as Plato, sad to say.

In any event. I was born in Charlottesville and many (many) years ago I returned and visited a room in one of the original dormitories at the university and saw where the young men were housed — with stairs in the room leading down to a dark, small room below where the slave who attended to his master lived. It was disturbing, to say the least, though unlike many others I do not fault Jefferson for his racial and gender prejudices as they were common in his day and he made up for his blindness in that direction by seeing so many other things that were important for this young nation — like the essential relationship between education and the survival of democracy.  Unlike many others, I make every effort to separate the man from his ideas.


Nowadays the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia is a reputable institution and a prominent member of the NCAA Division I  — with a football team that has 85 full scholarships awarded to the best, strongest, fastest athletes, many of whom, including the quarterback, are black. (Please note the irony!) The university has 25 sports teams, in fact, nicely balanced between the men and women (yes, the women are allowed to enroll at the university if you can imagine!) Like so many major universities in this country, the athletic teams dominate the scene and the notion that the university is there to prepare young people for a life of public service, the carrying out of their civic duties, has been buried beneath the merde that has become the Division I university of our day.

Years ago I suggested that athletes in Division I schools be paid a salary and those few who wanted to attend classes and actually learn and have their minds expanded could damn-well pay for it just like the other students. With the salaries they would make as semi-professional athletes they could well afford it. There is some talk these days about allowing the young men and women who play sports in those large universities to be paid a stipend that would be based on the amount of monies the universities make in this day and age of ENTERTAINMENT where, as things now stand, the athletes are exploited by avaricious universities that make millions in TV revenue and from playing in the plethora of Bowl Games that grace our television sets from Christmas until well after New Years (40 at last count). They stole my idea, but my plan is more honest.

Things have changed. But as we must admit, all change is not progress. To be sure, there has been some progress: women are allowed to attend universities and be exploited along with the men, for example. And black athletes are compensated for their efforts in that that they are offered a free education, such as it is. But it is not clear what Thomas Jefferson would think about what is going on at his university, despite his blind spots. At the very least he could see the obvious fact that at the University of Virginia, like all other major universities in this country, the focus is on athletic success rather than academic excellence: the tail wags the dog.  We have allowed things to turn upside-down. Jefferson must be spinning in his grave — for many reasons.


8 thoughts on “Then and Now

  1. My opinion only! The downfall (and subsequent collapse) of the universal public education experiment is just one aspect of the overall collapse of global civilization. As “proof” one points to violence, greed, religious, political and financial corruption, loss of jobs to technology without a corresponding safety net for the unemployed, loss of union protection and increased mistreatment of workers (Amazon leading the pack while owned by the richest individual on the planet), endless and expanding wars, increased refugee and migrant problems, all of these exacerbated by climate change. We observe many of the old evils of racism, misogyny and Neo-Nazism resurfacing, in some cases, blatantly.

    As democratic governments were undermined, subsumed to financial interests, public institution such as education and health care were underfunded and forced to find other means to finance themselves. Increasingly, taxes went to fund private projects resulting in odious profits for the largest corporations and increased misery for tax payers while natural resources were plundered and both the social and physical conditions of the masses worsened. This trend is not slowing down, in fact it is growing exponentially. Public education is but one of the victims of what I just described as predatory capitalism which has pushed global society upon an unavoidable and unsustainable path.

    • I tend to agree with most, if not all of what you say. And the demise of the education system (which I have seen first-hand) means the end of the experiment in democracy as it was envisioned by the founders. Thanks, as always, for your insightful comments: “predatory capitalism,” indeed.

      • You say, and quote: “the demise of the education system (which I have seen first-hand) means the end of the experiment in democracy as it was envisioned by the founders.” Indeed, I had not yet made that obvious connection, but you are so right. It was symbiotic(?) that expanding public education resulted in expanding democracy! Young people were given the tools, and the time, to think about “stuff” and why some ways work and others do not. As they moved on up through the higher echelons they took these new ideas with them and built on them.
        Reverse the process called public education; make education specific to and available only to the elites and it’s a foregone conclusion that “democracy” along with more equitable, just and fair systems will follow the path that trade unions already have. Without a proper education system, democracy will not long survive.

  2. Sha’Tara’s last sentence just about sums it all up, doesn’t it? I used to think that, while not all “progress” was necessarily positive, we were working in the right direction and eventually, perhaps not in my lifetime or yours, but eventually, would end up with “the best of all possible worlds”. I no longer believe that fairy tale, for it appears that all progress this nation has made over the past two-and-a-half centuries is poised to be reversed in the not-too-distant future. But more importantly, perhaps, if we don’t wake up to the realities of climate change, it won’t matter a whole lot, for we will likely bring about the extinction of the human race. Perhaps the next species with opposable thumbs will be able to do better?

    Good post, my friend, and you’re right … for all his faults, Jefferson had a vision and what we have today is almost certainly not what he envisioned. I didn’t know you were born in Charlottesville! I received my B.S. from UVa. Small world.

      • Sigh. Yes, so it seems. We certainly have the tools at our disposal with which to do it. I never thought I would be happy to be old, but … these days there is some comfort in knowing I won’t be around to see most of the devastation and destruction.

      • I don’t think Americans have any need to worry any longer, at least not about their environment: didn’t the great level of intelligence Donald Trump just announce to the WaPo that “our air and water are at a record clean”? Since saying is believing, and believing makes it so, what’s to worry? As The Shrub would say, “Just go shopping folks!”

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