Friday, December 01, 2006

Are Liberal Arts Colleges Bourgeois and Elite?

While this questions has been haunting me for days (thanks alot Hanno!), I am no closer to the answer. I think part of the reason why I cannot answer is that I am a product of the upper-middle class. I did teach for 5 years in a large State University. I can compare what the mission of that institution was to my current institution, and I wholeheartedly embrace the latter. And yet, the students I taught at the larger State University were often (not always) far more motivated to learn. The students I teach now, are less motivated (with exceptions), but far better prepared. I am not sure that these observations amount to a hill of beans when working through the question: Is the LA tradition elite?

But, let's assume for the sake of the argument, that LA colleges are elite. They focus on educating the whole person, inspiring civic engagement, global consciousness, and general analytical skills. The idea is to make our students interesting, with the hope that investing in the core properties of the student, and fostering that student's innate strengths will prepare that student to succeed in any career. Have I just drunk the Kool-Aid?

But, even if what I am doing is "elite," does that make it less valuable? Maybe the goal is to make this "elite" education accessible to as many people as possible?

Furthermore, what is the real motivation of calling an institution "elite"? Is it to say that it is irrelevant? Is it a kind of indulgence of privilege? Or, when we call something "elite and bourgeois," are we just poisoning the well? Is it akin to urban youth calling each other "punks" or "whitey" if they actually care about education? Is it a kind of insecurity in one's own abilities or life chances?

What do you think?