Saturday, July 22, 2006


A Modest Proposal

From Fred Reed, A Modest Proposal To Abolish Universities:
The truth is that universities positively discourage learning. Think about it. Suppose you want to learn Twain. A fruitful approach might be to read Twain. The man wrote to be read, not analyzed tediously and inaccurately by begowned twits. It might help to read a life of Twain. All of this the student could do, happily, even joyously, sitting under a tree of an afternoon. This, I promise, is what Twain had in mind.

But no. The student must go to a class in American Literature, and be asked by some pompous drone, "Now, what is Twain trying to tell us in paragraph four?" This presumes that Twain knew less well than the professor what he was trying to say, and that he couldn't say it by himself. No. Not being much of a writer, the poor man needs the help of a semiliterate drab who couldn't sell a pancake recipe to Boy's Life. As bad, the approach suggests that the student is too dim to see the obvious or think for himself. He can't read a book without a middleman. He probably ends by hating Twain.
Fred Reed is a bit over the top, as usual. But there is a germ of truth in what he says. The whole essay is worth reading.

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