Dmitry’s Orlov’s entertaining and insightful “Reinventing Collapse” has a good riff on the ongoing theme of “the post-secondary education model in the U.S. is broken”.

“…American colleges and universities often fail to achieve in four years what Soviet secondary schools achieved in two (9th and 10th) grades. That is they fail to produce graduates who have adequate general knowledge, good command of their native language and the ability to acquire specialized knowledge without any further institutionalized assistance.”

“The American higher education system succeeds brilliantly at one thing: producing a subservient graduate who has no choice but join the labor force on the terms dictated by her future corporate masters.”

He argues that higher education in the U.S. is “most commonly about training: the imparting of temporary, quickly obsolescent skills, not universal knowledge…. But it is mainly about securing unquestioning obedience within a complex rule-following system.”

As the governing literati argue amongst themselves about how to revamp and fund the now-defunct model of the $200,000 liberal arts education, it’s worth taking a look at Orlov’s point about the merit of imparting good general knowledge to students when they are in the 9th and 10th grades, rather than waiting until they are 18 + and making them pay through the nose for it.

Le Monde’s education supplement looks at the theme of general culture this week, citing sociologist Edgar Morin’s definition as a base line: “It is what, based on writings, the arts, thinking, helps us to orient ourselves in life and confront problems we face in life. Reading Montaigne, La Bruyere, Pascal, Diderot or Rousseau nourishes our mind and helps us to resolve our problems in life.”

Statue of Michel de Montaigne in Paris

Statue of Michel de Montaigne in Paris

But even in France this staple of the secondary education has been withered away thanks to a perception that it is too elitist. Some critics have suggested that France needs to emulate the U.S. model, where the fundamentals of general culture are imparted during the undergraduate years. Increasing numbers of French students are fleeing the traditional universities like the Sorbonne because these places are viewed as disconnected from the workplace and hostage to far-left unions, preferring to enroll in more expensive, vocation-oriented private schools.

As Montaigne said: “Since I would rather make of him an able man than a learned man, I would also urge that care be taken to choose a guide with a well-made rather than a well-filled head.”

The debate rages on. Mark Taylor’s op-ed piece in the NYT last month: “End the University as we know it.”