Education is useless because it destroys our common sense,
because it isolates us from the rest of humanity, because it
hardens our hearts and swells our heads. Bookish persons have long
been subjects of suspicion and contempt and nowhere more so,
perhaps, than in the United States during the past twenty
Critics of education point to the Nazism of Martin Heidegger, for
example, to assert the inhumanity of highly learned people; they
contend that an oppressive form of identity politics has taken over
the academy and complain that the art world has been overrun by
culturally privileged elitists. There are always, it seems, far
more reasons to disparage the ivory tower than to honor it. The
uselessness of education, particularly in the humanities, is a
pervasive theme in Western cultural history.
With wit and precision, Why Education Is Useless engages
those who attack learning by focusing on topics such as the nature
of humanity, love, beauty, and identity as well as academic
scandals, identity politics, multiculturalism, and the
corporatization of academe. Asserting that hostility toward
education cannot be dismissed as the reaction of barbarians, fools,
and nihilists, Daniel Cottom brings a fresh perspective to all
these topics while still making the debates about them
comprehensible to those who are not academic insiders.
A brilliant and provocative work of cultural argument and analysis,
Why Education Is Useless brings in materials from
literature, philosophy, art, film, and other fields and proceeds
from the assumption that hostility to education is an extremely
complex phenomenon, both historically and in contemporary American
life. According to Cottom, we must understand the perdurable appeal
of this antagonism if we are to have any chance of recognizing its
manifestations-and countering them.
Ranging in reference from Montaigne to George Bush, from Sappho to
Timothy McVeigh, Why Education Is Useless is a lively
investigation of a notion that has persisted from antiquity through
the Renaissance and into the modern era, when the debate over the
relative advantages of a liberal and a useful education first
arose. Facing head on the conception of utility articulated in the
nineteenth century by John Stuart Mill, and directly opposing the
hostile conceptions of inutility that have been popularized in
recent decades by such ideologues as Allan Bloom, Harold Bloom, and
John Ellis, Cottom contends that education must indeed be "useless"
if it is to be worthy of its name.
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