As Mr. Irving Kristol points out, what most rebellious students demand by way of university reform is not culture, but anticulture. Real reform and reinvigoration of the higher learning are desperately needed in this land, Lord knows; yet (with some honorable exceptions) that is not at all the sort of change the intemperate student desires.
Finding genuine humane studies and pure science too rigorous for his undisciplined and uninquisitive intellect, the student rebel shrieks "Give Me Relevance!"--by which he means trivia and ephemera requiring no painful thought.
On many campuses, defenders of real culture are enfeebled. Not a few professors and administrators are themselves anticultural; many others supinely acquiesce in the clamor for a "relevance" signifying hostility to the works of the mind. In the present struggle over what a college or university should teach, one recalls the lines from Yeats:
"The best lack all conviction, while the worstAre full of passionate intensity."
In every age, the majority of young people have felt no strong desire for attainment of high culture. Only in our time, however, have great masses of ineducable folk, positively hostile to culture, penetrated within the Academy. The extracurricular life of the campus possessing its attractions, nevertheless, and enrollment being a means for escaping the draft, and a college degree having become essential to social status and many forms of employment --why, this mass of "students" remaining undesirous of cultural attainment, anti-cultural boondoggles must be created to occupy their time.
Some of the boondoggles are harmless enough, and for people who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like. If a young person can abide only trivia and ephemera, and his parents concur in his taste--well, supposing that such "students" or their parents pay their own bills, at least four awkward postadolescent and pre-employment years are filled for those to whom thought is unbearably painful.
Providing anti-culture at public expense, however, is something else. Even in this country, public funds for the higher learning are limited: what is appropriated for anti-culture must be deducted from culture. Worse still, students capable of something better are thrust or enticed into educational boondoggles, supported by public revenues, on the tacit principle that what the masses relish ought to be good enough for anybody.
Consider the plight of a kinswoman of mine, a good schoolteacher, required to obtain two credits in education this summer, that she may be officially certified as competent in a specialized discipline which she already has taught with distinction for several years. Of the hollow courses offered by the anti-cultural department of education at the university where she endures this summer servitude, the most promising is entitled "Creativity."
This course is taught (or monitored, rather) by the dullest dog in the department, into whose brain no creative impulse ever has entered. Mercifully, perhaps, the professor never lectures: he merely beams while the captive teacher-students in search of two credits lackadaisically discuss among themselves whatever vagrant notion may be offered by one of their number. The slim textbook, written by some obscure educationist, is calculated to make any decent student abjure creativity forevermore.
Oh, there are "workbooks," too, that the students are supposed to submit--the sort of thing they pasted together in the sixth grade. On most days, class is dismissed early, inspiration having flagged. A grade of A minus--at worst--is virtually automatic in this course.
More bluntly anti-cultural programs of study, stripped of the last stitch of moral imagination, are taking shape on other campuses. Michigan State has its course in "detective fiction," which does not have room enough for a third of the students who would like to enroll. Ohio State has its course in "drugstore literature," no less popular with Burke's swinish multitude.
Bowling Green State University, in Ohio, is the proudest pioneer--or sapper--in the demolition of culture and the erection of anti-culture in the shadow of the Ivory Tower. At that former normal school, there has been founded a Center for the Study of Popular Culture, with 35,000 recordings, twenty thousand books, a grand collection of underground newspapers and of posters, etc., etc. All this is supposed "to make education more meaningful to a mobile society." (No society ever was more mobile than that of the Huns.) The director of this Center sneers at the "solemnity" of traditional courses; he means that his charges shall study menus, cigar bands and baseball picture cards--really and truly. Soon, he hopes, the University will offer a bachelor's degree in popular culture.
Actually, Bowling Green is no more anti-cultural than a good many other former teachers' colleges converted into universities by act of legislature. Bowling Green State's general library, let it be said, is a distinctly superior collection, carefully if voraciously enlarged over the past quarter of a century.
But for some notion of students' interests at Bowling Green, walk through the university bookstore. That shop sells enormous stacks of girlie magazines and worse, though it is difficult to find any serious periodical. And Pop Culture endowed by the state, rapidly devours the remains of civilization.