Way back then…

I was listening to the radio this morning.  The topic was US News’ college report. Who was best. The criteria used by US News was not based on quality of education as you’d expect but on other factors—big name teachers, amount of endowments, class size and more.

The measures fall into seven broad categories: peer assessment; graduation and retention rates; faculty resources (for example, class size); student selectivity (for example, average admissions test scores of incoming students); financial resources; alumni giving; and, only for national universities and national liberal arts colleges, graduation rate performance and high school counselor undergraduate academic reputation ratings. — US News.

As you’ll notice, all the evaluations are subjective or for non-educational factors.

The radio discussion noted that while these institutions did well creating specialists, they were very poor creating generalists.  When an adult today is expected to have a dozen or more jobs in their career, and now that people frequently change careers during their adult life, the top schools, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, are poorly preparing their graduates for the real world. A bit of generalism is needed in this current employment climate.

When I was in college, from 1964 to 1969, it was much different.  I went to Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, IL, as did my wife.  I can’t speak to all colleges and universities at that time, but in Illinois, the publicly funded schools required a basic liberal-art core of classes regardless of your major.  The first two years gave you that foundation through a series of classes known as General Studies.  Everyone wanting to graduate had to take a minimum of these classes including arriving transfer students.

I’m relying on my memory for the General Studies classes based on the classes I took.  For General Studies, you had to take six science classes, basic physics, chemistry and biology were required.  Other science electives included geology, botany, organic chemistry, meteorology, and astronomy.

General Studies also included classes in history (required) humanities and literature.  I remember I had a choice between Shakespeare and 19th Century Literature.  I chose Shakespeare. I found a new respect for Shakespeare’s plays that I didn’t have before.

Required General Studies classes were often dictated by your major if you had declared one.  I was initially a Music major, a four-year program.  The music classes I took satisfied most of my General Studies humanities requirements.  My wife took Acoustics to fill one of her requirements in that area.

When I changed majors from Music to Psychology at the end of my Sophmore year, I had to go back and take some additional General Studies classes that were required for my new major—math classes like advanced albegra, boolean algrebra, and statistics, plus some additional science classes covering organic chemistry, more biology/endoctrinolony, and human anatomy.  There was little difference at the undergraduate level in the core requirements for Psychology as there was for Pre-med.

Like one of the criteria US News uses today, we had some famous professors. R. Buckminster Fuller was a near full-time visiting professor for design and architecture.  He lived only a block off the campus in a geodesic dome he built as a class project.

I took some Senior level classes, seminars really, in Diplomacy and American Foreign Policy lead by a professor whose name I’ve now forgotten. He was an Assistant Sect’y of State for Europe under John Foster Dullas.  That same professor had been an OSS agent under Allen Dullas during WW2 in northern Europe.  He brought a wealth of insider knowledge that, at that time, was still current and relevant.

General Studies, accord to the web, still exists at SIU.  It has been greatly watered down since I attended.  Literature requirements now are more in the order of Post-WW2 Science Fiction than the more stricter requirements of nearly fifty years ago.

The professors when I attended were almost universally conservative.  Many (most?) were military veterans.

The leftist infiltration had just begun.  There were student “riots” in 1965.  In reality, that was an overreaction by the local police. Someone set off a bomb in the Ag building in May of 1968.  After I graduated and was in the Air Force, Old Main was torched and burned to the ground.

The quality of education has changed and, in my opinion, for the worse.  I’m not in favor of specialization.  Even pre-med students when I was in college had to complete a regimen of general studies classes like everyone else.

To quote a well-known writer, “Specialization is for insects.”

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

-Robert A. Heinlein

Today’s educators have lost that necessary bit of wisdom—if they ever had it.

4 thoughts on “Way back then…

  1. I remember the Fuller dome! It's on Forest St.

    My dad recently retired from SIU-C after working for 30+ years, first at Pulliam Hall and then at the "new" Student Recreation Center.

    We lived close to Murphysboro out on old Illinois Route 13, past the Campus Drive-in theater.

    I was an ROTC student at SIU in the early eighties and I concur with your assessment that a college education isn't what it used to be. Even then there was a trend toward touchy-feely subjects and away from the studies of the classics.

    By 1985 the Political Science department was fully staffed with Paul Simon wannabees. I had to read Clauswitz and Sun Tzu on my own.

    I can't imagine that the curriculum has improved over time.

  2. Murphysboro. My wife and I were married in 1968. Our first home was a small apartment a couple of blocks off the square. It was a two story house that had been divided into four apartments. Ours was in the back. The place was next to the teen center. I bought my first pistol while we lived there because of the vandalism and burglaries from the kids that hung out at that center.

    All-in-all, it was a great time, then.

  3. I guess we're about a generation apart then. My parents were married in 1965 in Metropolis and moved up to Murphysboro shortly thereafter.

    I went to school with a Cagle (related to the SIU police chief that investigated the Old Main fire) a Grob (of Grob Ford), a Gibbs (Gibbs Barber Shop) and a Pettet (Pettet Funeral Home).

    By the time I lived there the teen center was moved out by Riverside Park, across the street from the baseball field, and the only serious crime in the area was centered around the large trailer park near St. Joseph's Hospital.

    My dad is retired and lives in Carbondale now. I'd visit more but Illinois insists that I disarm at the border. We keep trying to move him out to North Carolina but so far he's not having it.

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