We Need the Liberal Arts: Michael S. Smith Op-Ed Piece!

Dear Commons Community,

Michael S. Roth, the president of Wesleyan University, has an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times, entitled, Learning as Freedom.  He reviews the importance of a liberal arts education both for our students as individuals and for our society as a whole.   Here is a sample:

“Conservative scholars like Charles Murray, Richard Vedder and Peter W. Wood ask why people destined for low-paying jobs should bother to pursue their education beyond high school, much less study philosophy, literature and history. The venture capitalist Peter Thiel has offered money to would-be entrepreneurs to quit college and focus on Web-based start-ups instead. ..From this narrow, instrumentalist perspective, students are consumers buying a customized playlist of knowledge.

This critique may be new, but the call for a more narrowly tailored education — especially for Americans with limited economic prospects — is not. A century ago, organizations as varied as chambers of commerce and labor federations backed plans for a dual system of teaching, wherein some students would be trained for specific occupations, while others would get a broad education allowing them to continue their studies in college. The movement led to the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917, which financed vocational education, initially for jobs in agriculture and then in other industries.

The philosopher John Dewey, America’s most influential thinker on education, opposed this effort. Though he was open to integrating manual training in school curriculums, Dewey opposed the dual-track system because he recognized that it would reinforce the inequalities of his time.  Dewey asked:

Who wants to attend school to learn to be “human capital”? Who aspires for their children to become economic or military resources?”

Great advice for education policy makers.





Bill Clinton Stirs Democratic National Convention!

Dear Commons Community,

Former President Bill Clinton stirred the audience at the Democratic National convention last night.  Without a doubt he was on his game.  He praised President Obama and the job he has done while taking smooth, measured swipes at the Republicans.  Here is a description from the Huffington Post:

“A lot of Americans are still angry and frustrated about this economy,” Clinton told a spellbound audience of delegates at Time Warner Cable Arena. “If you look at the numbers, you know that employment is growing, banks are beginning to lend again, and a lot of housing prices are even beginning to pick up.

“But too many people do not feel it yet,” he said, and then vowed: “If will you renew the president’s contract, you will feel it. You will feel it.”

He paused, and then added, “Folks, whether the American people believe what I just told you or not may be the whole election. I just want you to know I believe it. With all my heart I believe it.”

The rest of Clinton’s nearly hour-long speech was a detailed litigation of the main charges that Republicans have made against Obama.

But those few sentences — an acknowledgment that the nation is still stuck in an economic slump, a promise that a second Obama term will bring better times, and a quick, sly slip into analyst mode — were the key moments of the speech.

It was an honest, forthright appeal to the voters who will, by all accounts, decide the election — those who voted for Obama in 2008, but who have found themselves disappointed, wanting to believe in the president they supported four years ago, but not sure they will. Strikingly, Clinton’s line about the possibility that Americans may not put their faith in the president was not in his prepared remarks.

Clinton only mentioned Republican Mitt Romney a handful times, but laid out a framework that he said defines this election. “If you want a winner-take-all, you’re-on-your-own society, you should support the Republican ticket,” Clinton said. “But if you want a country of shared opportunities and shared responsibility -– a we’re-all-in-this-together society — you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.”

Clinton, whose mastery of the stage left him several possible ways to attack Romney, notably did not skewer the Republican’s record at Bain Capital, instead focusing his argument in general against the GOP philosophy. Holding fire on Bain left the speech absent a zinger to sum up Romney. Instead, Clinton saved the zinger for tax cuts for the rich, warning that Romney will “double down on trickle-down.”

In reframing last week’s GOP message, he employed equal parts mockery, wonkery and plainspeak.

Clinton hit Paul Ryan in the same style. The GOP vice presidential candidate had attacked Obama for cutting $716 billion from Medicare, when his own budget proposal included those same cuts.  “You gotta give him one thing. It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did,” Clinton said.

I thought Clinton’s best line was:

“…the Republicans came to Tampa to deliver a simple message about Obama: “We left him a total mess, but he hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in.”

Yea, Bill!