The Ivy-covered con game

Burt Prelutsky
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Posted: Jan 01, 2007 12:00 AM
The Ivy-covered con game

For some time now, I’ve heard age-conscious people claim that 70 is the new 60, and 60 is the new 50, and 50 is the new 40, and so on and so forth. The point is that because of diet and exercise, not to mention cosmetic surgery, today’s 60-year-old could pass for yesterday’s 50-year-old. But lately I’ve heard it being said that today’s college is yesterday’s high school, meaning that the level of education a 20-year-old is receiving is equal to what a 15-year-old used to receive.

To which I say, how could it be otherwise when every kid is expected to go on to an institution of so-called higher education, no matter how unsuited to a scholarly pursuit he or she might be? In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think that today’s college is yesterday’s junior high.

Millions and millions of 18-year-olds are being herded like sheep to the ivy-covered pens. These are people who have no intention of becoming scientists, engineers, mathematicians, architects, physicians or lawyers. So, assuming they can’t dribble a basketball or run with a football, what the heck are they doing at what we might call trade schools for the elite?

How is it that society decided one fine day that everyone has to waste four years getting a diploma? The truth is, these days a liberal arts education is essentially no education at all. It’s a catch-all that can include such feel-good curriculums as black studies, Chicano studies, and even lesbian studies. There are classes devoted to comic books, science fiction, burlesque, and TV shows of the 50s. After four years of goofing around with this stuff, the young grads are prepared to do nothing except become professors themselves and regurgitate this drivel to the next herd of sheep.

It’s bad enough that all over this country millions of kids who can’t write a coherent sentence or do simple math without using a calculator think they’re intellectually superior to their parents and their grandparents, but the cost of this indulgence is absolutely obscene.

When it comes to the price of things like oil and health care, Americans are very vocal in their resentment. But the truth is that it costs a lot of money to explore for oil, to drill it and transport it and refine it. Likewise, health care, which runs the gamut from orphan drugs and heart monitors to MRIs and specialized surgical procedures, is understandably costly. I bet that half the people over 75 would have been dead 50 years ago, were it not for all the amazing medical advances.

But nobody has ever explained to me why the cost of a liberal arts education has gone through the roof and clear over the moon. After all, there are no expensive machines involved, no groundbreaking technological advances. The only things they use are books, and the price of paper hasn’t gone up all that much. I think what we need is a Wizard of Oz handing out sheepskins to all the scarecrows in our society.

I once confessed that if any child of mine ever said he planned to get a liberal arts degree, I’d give him a library card and wish him all the best.

But why are all you other parents having to mortgage your homes so that your kids can spend four years reading novels? Two things come to mind. The first is that professors are under-worked and overpaid. Even a lummox like Indian wannabe Ward Churchill pulls down about $100,000 a year. And when you factor in how little time professors actually spend in the classroom, their hourly wage is downright scandalous.

The second reason the colleges and universities charge so darn much is simply because, like movie theatres that charge three or four dollars for 10 cents worth of popcorn or a nickel’s worth of soda pop, they can.

P.T. Barnum, in his famous reference to suckers, remarked that there was one born every minute. He was wrong, of course. As the world of academia proves conclusively, it’s a lot more often than that.