Wisdom Is Sold in the Desolate Market

What is the price of experience? do men buy it for a song?

Or wisdom for a dance in the street? No, it is bought with the price

Of all that a man hath, his house, his wife, his children.

Wisdom is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy

And in the wither’d field where the farmer plows for bread in vain. . . .

It is an easy thing to talk of patience to the afflicted,

To speak the laws of prudence to the houseless wanderer . . .

It is an easy thing to rejoice in the tents of prosperity:

Thus could I sing & thus rejoice: but it is not so with me.

[From the Song of Enion in “Vala, Night the Second,” by William Blake]

There is an accurate and depressing blog by a colleague on Patheos titled “How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps.” It can be found at http://junctrebellion.wordpress.com/2012/08/12/how-the-american-university-was-killed-in-five-easy-steps.

His point is that the 1%, the only class in America that can create, implement, and finance long-term plans, decided back in the 1960s to eliminate the kinds of people (intellectuals) who could oppose their stupidity and greed. They are people who fit into Stage One in Scott Peck’s scheme of moral development. Stage One is Infantile; an adult in that stage is a criminal.

The five steps are:

1. defund public higher education. (State and community colleges were free back in the 1960s.)

2. deprofessionalize and impoverish the professors and continue to create a surplus of underemployed and unemployed Ph.D.s. (75% of American college teachers are adjuncts, with no job security or benefits, living on the edge of poverty; 57% even at Harvard)

3. move in a managerial/administrative class who take over governance of the university (beancounters with neither education nor love of it)

4. move in corporate culture and corporate money (this is why college professors now get fired for proving, for example, that GMOs are poisonous)

5. destroy the students: (a) dumb down and destroy the quality of the education so that no one on campus is really learning to think, (b) make college so insanely unaffordable that only the wealthiest students can afford to go to the school debt free.

It’s understandable why he writes his blog under a pseudonym. It’s risky enough for me to talk about all this even in generalities.

As I’ve written before, my Awakening at age 14 saddled me with an obligation to seek out “Truth” for myself about all things, not about merely one narrow academic specialty. My getting a Ph.D. was part of that path; I wanted that advanced training in order to be a better writer. I had no illusions (at least most of the time) that a Ph.D. would get me a secure and well-paying academic post; that was one of the rare instances in which I foresaw the future accurately.

I became a Doctor of Philosophy on October 22, 1980, exactly on my fortieth birthday. The degree was conferred on me by the Franciscan School of Theology, which had been founded by Fr. Junipero Serra in 1776 in Santa Barbara. As a Doctor of Philosophy, do I have a mandate to doctor philosophy? To heal philosophy? To work toward restoring the love of wisdom? For most Ph.D.s, the title is an empty formality inherited from the “Dark Ages.” Few have ever taken even a single philosophy course. But my program was all about philosophy, religious history, creativity. Should I feel that, in knowingly accepting that degree, I also accepted an obligation to carry out its mandate, one going back to that godstruck medieval hippie?

The Franciscans were the good guys and scholars of their time. It is only because of their compassion that any of the native peoples of California survived at all. Working on hagiology back in the 1960s, I wondered about the nonobvious names they chose for places in California (and some in the Southwest). Finally I realized those names commemorate the great mystics, scholars, and Doctors of the church: St. Augustine. San Tomas Aquinas. San Juan de la Cruz. St.BonaVentura. I wondered why they left out Teresa of Avila—but she hadn’t been canonized yet.

At the end of his blog, my colleague asks whether it is still possible to rescue higher education in America. I think there are some possibilities, but they amount to starting over. Consider Oxford, the oldest and still the best of all universities. I know about Oxford because my GTU doctoral program followed the Oxford model and because of conversions with an author who was a Fellow of an Oxfordcollege.

Oxford is made up of 38 colleges and five “halls,” each being autonomous, self-governing, and collegial; that is, the faculty members are not employees—they own the college and they elect the few administrators they need from their own ranks. To be elected as a Fellow is to be accepted as a partner in the enterprise. In Italy at least one university (I think Bologna) was owned by the students, who hired the teachers. Perhaps there are still some colleges in America organized like that; I haven’t looked.

Perhaps a collective of generalists, people who really are doctors of philosophy, each one being well-informed in all major areas of human knowledge, could form a nonprofit corporation and recruit students who genuinely want a real education, not job training. They would not need buildings, textbooks, tests, homework, or grades. It could be financially feasible for a great deal less than most institutions of “higher” education In America are charging right now, especially since there would be no paid administrators, though perhaps a General Factotum for coordination and continuity.

I promise to think more about all this. I would appreciate feedback and ideas. So would my colleague.


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