Suzanne Fields

He knows the territory, having seen his son wooed with the flash and filigree of college brochures that now advertise such academic asides as swimming pools, saunas, hot tubs, vegetarian and macrobiotic "food courts," dorm suites with views of the Green or local street scenes (including the nearest bars), and_ diversity fairs that include an infinite variety of hyphenated Americans that turned the melting pot into an indigestible stew.

Identity issues galvanize campus politics, and pop culture has replaced history, literature and philosophy as subjects in demand. At one college, Ferguson's son had only three choices of topic for a mandatory writing class: "History of the 1960s," TV's "Mad Men," and _"Intro to Queer Theory." Jonathan Swift couldn't have improved on this _if he were to write a contemporary trip for Gulliver. But who could define Swiftian? (Or identify Gulliver?)

But if you can't fight 'em, join 'em. Kids raised on electronic media have little patience for the long read, and many of the tenured professors who came of age in the Age of Protest prefer to indoctrinate rather than instruct. This gives new meaning to the observation that "the child is father of the man." (Who wrote that?) Who cares about the lyric when you can dub the words and slam the poetry?

Is any of this important to parents who would risk a debtors' prison to secure their child a spot in an elite college? Probably not. Some parents pay as much as $40,000 to "counselors" who tell them how to devise a formula for getting into a top school.

The college a child enters has become considerably more important than who_ teaches what. It's also about who you meet, the connections you make and whom you can impress in the job interview four years later. Even_ conservative parents are willing to put aside their political convictions to wedge a child into the "right" school. Besides, life is long, and deep learning can come later. Maybe. But not reading the great books is a great loss, because students can't learn the habits of reflection inspired and taught by such books.

One mother who lives in Manhattan sued her daughter's $19,000-a-year nursery school because it didn't prepare her for the Ivy League. So now the tot has a ready-made subject for her college essay in 2025: "Fighting Failure From the Age of 4 and Learning About Litigation."


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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