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Why Education Is Useless

Why Education Is Useless

Daniel Cottom
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Why Education Is Useless
    Book Description:

    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 years. 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0168-0
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. INTRODUCTION Why Education Is Useless
    (pp. 1-16)

    Intellectual rhymes with ineffectual, and rightly so, many would say. The uselessness of education is a perdurable theme in Western cultural history–one so influential, in fact, that any respect we might have for highly educated people is likely to retreat before our suspicion of them. Tradition encourages us to think that those who are book smart are lacking in street smarts. We are inclined to believe that even if their hearts are in the right place (a dubious proposition to begin with), their heads are in the clouds. We entertain this suspicion even if we have never heard of...

  4. CHAPTER ONE Humanity
    (pp. 17-45)

    Having led Hillsdale College since 1971, George P. Roche, ill resigned his presidency in 1999. He did so in the wake of allegations by his daughter-in-law that he had carried on a sexual relationship with her for the past nineteen years. It did not help matters that after making her allegations she had committed suicide.

    Hillsdale is an institution beloved of conservatives such as the writer and television personality William F. Buckley, Jr., former Secretary of Education William Bennett, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and George Will, the columnist and erstwhile lapdog to Nancy Reagan. It is known for its...

    (pp. 46-74)

    Jokes about the folly of education have a long and distinguished history. Prior to the Renaissance, the preferred slurs for the learned emphasized their unfitness for warfare and practical business, their ignominious poverty, the generally ridiculous figure they cut, and the cloudiness of their interminable debates. These images have continued to thrive right up to the present day, and who would dare predict that they are coming to an end in the new millennium? They still make us laugh; we still seem to need the conviction of truth they excite in us. Intellectuals themselves often go out of their way...

    (pp. 75-106)

    For many years now I have dwelt among university folk, especially among those who cultivate the fields of the humanities. Anyone who has studied these people knows that one of their most cherished tales has its initial setting in a provincial town in Germany in the late eighteenth century. It is there, we are told, that Immanuel Kant, the legendary Sage of Königsberg, set out on the pathway to the world of beauty. He documented this adventure in his Critique of Judgment (1790), in which he reported his discovery that uselessness is a fundamental criterion of beauty. As he put...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Identity
    (pp. 107-129)

    It must have been in the early 1960s that I first heard the joke. Maybe I came across it in an article quoting Malcolm X, to whom it is often attributed, or maybe I heard it from my older cousin Ronnie, who quit his doctoral studies at the University of Wisconsin to go down to Mississippi to work in “the Movement,” as it was called. At this late date I cannot be sure how it came to me, only that I have been troubled by it ever since I was a child. The joke asks, “What do you call a...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Survival
    (pp. 130-159)

    In the last three decades of the twentieth century, survivalism became a recognized social movement in the United States and the survivalist a familiar figure in news stories and popular culture. As the century came to a close, for example, the FBI continued to search for Eric Robert Rudolph, who was wanted in connection with bombings at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park and at an abortion clinic, among other places. Rudolph’s success in evading capture in the North Carolina mountains, where he had gone to ground, was attributed to his experience as one who had trained ever since his youth for...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Utility
    (pp. 160-206)

    It is one of the most famous educations, or miseducations, in the modern Western world. Under the tutelage of his father, a devoted follower of the Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill was made a striking example of the possibilities of educational progress. No matter what allowances we make for the differences between curricula then and now, it is safe to say that Mill learned more as a preteen than most students today know by the time they have completed college. He began the study of Greek at three years of age, Latin at eight. By the time he...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 207-234)
  11. Index
    (pp. 235-246)
  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 247-247)