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The Knowledge Factory: Dismantling the Corporate University and Creating True Higher Learning

Overview

Americans can't get a good education for love or money, argues Stanley Aronowitz in this groundbreaking look at the structure and curriculum of higher education. Moving beyond the canon wars begun in Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind, Aronowitz offers a vision for true higher learning that places a well-rounded education back at the center of the university's mission.

"Aronowitz should be commended for the high seriousness of his...
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Overview

Americans can't get a good education for love or money, argues Stanley Aronowitz in this groundbreaking look at the structure and curriculum of higher education. Moving beyond the canon wars begun in Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind, Aronowitz offers a vision for true higher learning that places a well-rounded education back at the center of the university's mission.

"Aronowitz should be commended for the high seriousness of his endeavor, which sidesteps the comparatively petty canon wars to ask: What is the true purpose of higher education and how can we restructure our universities to achieve it?" —Publishers Weekly

"One of the most important books written on higher education in the last fifty years." —Henry A. Giroux, author of The Mouse That Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence

"Bold, brassy, and provocative." —Michelle Fine, coauthor of The Unknown City: Lives of Poor and Working-Class Young Adults
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
After taking a disparaging look at the current state of American universities, Aronowitz, a professor at the City University of New York (From the Ashes of the Old, etc.) who has long been active in the labor movement and educational reform, proposes a radical reorganization of American higher education. He reports that there is scarce evidence of "higher learning"--as opposed to "training" or "education"--taking place in our post-secondary educational institutions. Even in today's best universities, he contends, students are rewarded for uncritically regurgitating knowledge, rather than for participating in or challenging "established intellectual authority." Aronowitz further castigates colleges and universities for selling out to corporate America by offering themselves as training sites for businesses and for turning their presidents into full-time fund-raisers who resemble CEOs more than academic leaders. As a remedy, Aronowitz proposes a renewed emphasis on pedagogy and a curriculum centered around a transdisciplinary introduction to science, philosophy and literature within a historical framework. Throughout the book, Aronowitz provides abundant examples of actual policies at American universities and profiles several critical issues, including the unionization of graduate teaching assistants. While his Marxist-influenced rhetoric may put off some readers, Aronowitz should be commended for the high seriousness of his endeavor, which sidesteps the comparatively petty canon wars to ask: What is the true purpose of higher education and how can we restructure our universities to achieve it? (Feb.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Addressing what he sees as an overall "intellectual decline" in higher education, Aronowitz (sociology, Graduate Ctr., CUNY) argues that the American academic system has failed to meet its lofty goals of providing students with a well-rounded education. Instead, most colleges and universities offer specialized fields of study without requiring students to take courses outside those fields. The fundamental mission of higher education, Aronowitz says, should be to play a leading role in the development of general culture--a mission that is undermined when academic institutions allow student-athletes to slide through the system. Other factors Aronowitz ponders include the G.I. Bill--which, he says, allowed a broad base of the populace to attend college and to consider a college education a right instead of a privilege--and corporate partnerships, which can dilute an institution's integrity. He also suggests that colleges emphasize pedagogy. Even his old, familiar complaints are put in a new perspective. For academic and larger public libraries.--Terry A. Christner, Hutchinson P.L., KS Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807031230
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 3/28/2001
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.50 (d)

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Preface


Although I have been accused of being chronically gregarious, I have always loved learning new things, an activity that periodically takes me away from the social world and into books, articles, and libraries. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to discover some idea that knocks me on my rear end. But in the course of a fairly long life, I am occasionally at pains to remind myself to be cautious about rejecting the "new," particularly when it challenges what I have taken for granted. The more violent my response, the more certain I am that eventually I will embrace the strange and often despised idea(s), at least for a time. For this reason I have tended to be suspicious of received wisdom. Perhaps this is the reason I have never trusted institutionalized knowledge.

    I come to write this book out of personal engagement, not alone as a result of the intellectual curiosity that sometimes inspires in me dispassionate inquiry. I teach sociology and cultural studies, but I have also found time to try various types of educational innovation, both within the system of public secondary and higher education and outside of it. From 1970 to 1972, I was a planner and director of the first experimental New York City public high school in the post-World War Two era. By May 1999, I had completed more than twenty-six years as a teacher in four American institutions of postsecondary education—a community college, a leading public research university, an Ivy League school, and finally the graduate school of the largest urban university in the country. But, I must confess that although I am in theacademy, I am not of the academy. Like many who have completed various stages of their education, I was never sure why I was there. My unorthodox professorial career began in 1972 when I was appointed assistant professor in the experimental school of Staten Island Community College. I was thirty-nine years old and possessed only a bachelor's degree from the New School, a credential I obtained in circumstances virtually unimaginable today.

    Until I graduated high school, the most memorable experience of my schooling was in the sixth grade under the tutelage of Dr. Helen Harris, whose degree was in languages. Later, my mother told me PS 57 in the Bronx had been designated a "progressive" experiment by the Board of Education. The experiment consisted in a transdisciplinary curriculum in which, excepting math, all of our subjects were integrated. We learned something of the geography, culture, and history of Italy, Mexico, and Russia. We sang their respective national anthems in the original languages and read stories by native authors. I know I learned something in Dr. Harris's class because I can still sing these anthems, although I've forgotten some of the words, and I have never lost my affection for the culture of the three countries.

    From Dr. Harris's perspective, I was a bright but disruptive child who used my skills of persuasion to lead many less talented students away from the beaten path. Consequently, my friends and I spent large chunks of time in the principal's office for disruptive behavior, and my mother was hauled into school on more than one occasion to answer for my indiscretions. Yet in Dr. Harris's class, I discovered for the first time since kindergarten that school knowledge could be pleasurable and intellectually stimulating. Sixth grade became the benchmark against which I measured my subsequent schooling and, invariably, found it wanting. Seventh grade was not a complete washout because it was there that I learned to type, without which, given my atrocious handwriting, I am sure that this and my other books would never have been written, let alone read by prospective editors.

    I was in the "rapid advance" program, which enabled me to complete two years of junior high school in one, and sometime early in the eighth or ninth grade I learned of the exam for New York's Music and Art High School, which survives today as part of the much larger La Guardia High School. Although I was never a good enough violinist to contemplate a career as a professional musician, I passed the M and A test for music because it was based on identifying tonal intervals and rhythms, which required no particular training. I took the test because my neighborhood high school was, even in the late 1940s, one of the classic "at risk" public high schools in New York. What I didn't realize was that, music and art subjects aside, M and A was an academically "challenged" school. As a group, its teaching staff was of indifferent quality; some even bordered on incompetent. No English teacher inspired me, the math was rote, and the science actually off-putting. Only one social science teacher managed to engage my attention. Like many in the department, unless he was cheating on the dues, Mr. August Gold was probably a card-carrying Socialist Party member and an official in the then vibrant consumer cooperative movement. He was a follower of Charles Beard, whose economic interpretation of the Constitution and other aspects of American history was considered quite avant-garde in an era when the prevailing textbook interpretations proclaimed the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, and of the centrality of Great Men. The historians of what Richard Hofstadter has called the "progressive" school were regarded as dissenters from received wisdom, and sometimes condemned incorrectly as Marxists.

    Like many other good enough high schools, what saved M and A were the students. They divided into two groups: the professionally oriented, most of whom, in music, aspired to performance and in art were equally divided between the commercial and "fine" art camps; and an equally large group of those, like myself, who had some artistic inclination, but were there primarily to escape the parochial environments of our neighborhoods. Many were sons and daughters of New Dealers, some of thirties radicals, mostly of the communist variety, a distinction often blurred by the virtual end of intellectual radicalism by the war's outbreak. Some were members of the labor Zionist movement and had broad left-wing sympathies, but since they were destined to emigrate to the newly formed state of Israel, kept their distance from involvement in American politics. Those young radicals who were not Zionists tended to hang out together, and in the immediate postwar period, a substantial minority joined the prevailing CP-led "progressive" youth groups. In a school of some 1,800 students, our chapter of the Young Progressives had 250 members and, in the 1948 presidential election, carried our school's straw poll for third party candidate, former vice-president Henry A. Wallace. We met in the local club of the American Labor Party and had about a hundred students in monthly attendance. Most of us performed well enough in school but reserved our real education for the drama and study groups we formed among ourselves.

    Some of us attended the CP-controlled Jefferson School of Social Science, where we learned everything from drama to Marxist orthodoxy. Jefferson School turned out to be my real university. At age sixteen, I enrolled in the Marxist Institute, which, among other subjects, exposed me to philosophy. We read Thales, Anaximander, and Heraclitus from the pre-Socratics, Plato's Republic (but only in order to refute it), and Aristotle's Metaphysics as a precursor to Hegel and Marx. We studied Descartes and the English empiricists, especially Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, a demonstration in the futility of bourgeois idealism. We learned how Marx turned Hegel on his head by preserving the dialectic and throwing out the idealism. The interpretation was, to say the least, incomplete, but I got to read large portions of the Phenomenology of Mind in the turgid translation of the English Hegelian, John Baillie. Finally, I studied Marx's German Ideology, Capital, and the historical writings. A hefty menu of Lenin and Stalin brought us to the apex of human knowledge. Some of my teachers were stimulating: in particular, Marx Wartofsky, later of Boston University and Baruch College, and Harry K. Wells, a rather orthodox Marxist who wrote his dissertation at Columbia on Alfred North Whitehead and later published an unrelenting attack on pragmatism and a more modulated materialist critique of Freud.

    As I look back, my group was quite separate, not only from the future Jascha Heifetzes and Vladimir Horowitzes or the prospective abstract expressionists who had no place in the art curriculum, but from the apoliticals in our midst—although we probably had some ideological influence on them. I made a few enduring friendships, but the curriculum had little impact on me. I was completely uninterested in science and mathematics, and my high grades in social studies and English were accomplished through my reading of alternative texts. Indeed, by the time I reached college age, I was truly unclear as to what I might do there. But the aspirations of my parents prevailed over my strong impulse to postpone further formal education.

    In fact, I barely qualified for entrance into Brooklyn College. Founded in 1931, Brooklyn was one of only four senior public colleges in New York and had slightly lower admission requirements than the famed City College. Like the other New York municipal colleges at the time, Brooklyn was tuition-free. Otherwise I would not have been able to go to college, since my family was unwilling—and probably unable—to pay the tuition fees. As it turned out I did not stay very long, for when I arrived at Brooklyn, McCarthyism was in full swing.

    New York State's legislature had enacted the Feinberg law, which prohibited communists from teaching in public schools and colleges. Brooklyn's president, Harry Gideonse was, in fact, if not formally, a practitioner of Sidney Hook's idea of academic freedom: faculty would enjoy freedom of expression, provided they were not communists or followers of their line. Students would have the right to question authority, but within the rules of "civility," that is, no student had the right to transgress campus facilities to demonstrate against the administration and its policies. In my freshman year, the administration banned the student newspaper for an editorial opposing its refusal to grant official club status to the Labor Youth League, a procommunist student organization. As a member of the Young Progressives (which did have official status) and president of the Philosophy Club, I joined seven other student leaders in sponsorship of a demonstration at the dean of students' office. Four hundred students sat in, and the eight leaders, including myself, were suspended for "conduct unbecoming a student." We were offered a reprieve if we apologized for our unruly behavior. Some seniors recanted in order to be eligible for graduation and to prevent a report of their activities on their transcript. I was one of three who refused to apologize. Suspended, I happily retired from college, for the next fifteen years.

    In rapid succession I became a factory worker, got married, had a child, moved to Newark to be near my job, had another child, and became active in union and community affairs. For me, the 1950s were not dismal; they were exciting. If the 1950s were years of very local concerns, in the 1960s I found myself in the swirl of the new social movements, in the first place civil rights, and then the student and peace movements. By this time I had moved back to New York, leaving my estranged wife and my children behind in New Jersey. I saw them on weekends and provided for their financial support, but I had relinquished everyday parenthood.

    In reality, my academic career began in 1964. It was then that I was invited to join the editorial board of Studies on the Left, started only four years previously by a group of William Appleman Williams's graduate students in the history department of the University of Wisconsin and probably the most influential intellectual journal of the growing new American radicalism. At the time, I'd just left the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, where I'd been running the union boycott and some of its national organizing campaigns, to take a job as an organizer for the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers in the northeast region. I think the invitation to join Studies was mainly related to my trade union experience and also to the fact that I was associated with the Students for a Democratic Society. I served as an advisor to the SDS Economic Research and Action Project, a community organizing program to send college students into black and white poor communities in major northern cities. I had arranged for an SDS group to go to the Clinton Hill section of Newark, where an active community organization, of which I had been vice-chairman, was fighting city hall on a host of neighborhood issues. At seminars and workshops and innumerable meetings to plan the community organizing activities and in informal conversations with prospective organizers, I taught the fundamentals of organizing some political economy, and the history of the labor movement.

    As a result of these experiences and because I had witnessed firsthand the devolution of the once promising industrial union movement into a series of bureaucracies that functioned more as insurance companies than as social movements, I began to think about writing a book on the American working class and its movements. Since the United States had few, if any, Borgias to support someone who aspired to write such a tract, at the back of my mind I was considering whether it would be a good idea to get a B.A. as a preliminary step toward an eventual teaching career. The opportunity arose when I learned of a Ford Foundation program at Brooklyn College that enabled what we now call "adult learners" (I was thirty-one) to obtain a baccalaureate degree. I didn't know whether I could make time for this three-night-a-week regimen, but I applied and took the requisite Graduate Record Examinations in verbal, quantitative skills, and the humanities. My math scores were mediocre, but I scored high on the other two tests and was admitted.

    I attended classes for one week and dropped out, I told myself, because the organizing duties presented insuperable scheduling conflicts. I guess that was part of it, but the main reason for my departure was that I found the classes boring. I don't remember whether it was the relatively "basic" content or the pedagogy or both. But it was clear that the same underlying impulse that drove me out of Brooklyn College fourteen years earlier was still at work: I simply lacked the motives to tolerate boredom for the four years of the program, which didn't acknowledge "life experience" as a legitimate curriculum component.

    Nevertheless, I started to write longer pieces than leaflets for organizing campaigns. In the winter of 1964, I published a review essay of three books on labor for Studies, and subsequently wrote occasional pieces for the Village Voice, the Nation, and Liberation. But it was not until I took leave of union organizing in spring 1967 that I tried again to reenter academia. Through the generous offices of Norman Birnbaum, then a sociology professor on the faculty of the New School, I presented my GRE scores, some of my published writing, and my resume to the dean of the graduate faculty, Joseph Greenbaum. My proposal was to waive the B.A. requirement and enter the graduate program in sociology. He demurred, insisting that I spend at least a year "in residence" in the general studies program as a B.A. student. I was to be assigned a mentor and was required to write a "major research paper," although I was spared the obligation to attend classes. Since meanwhile Birnbaum had accepted a position to teach at Amherst, Trent Schroyer, an assistant professor of sociology and a recent graduate of the Ph.D. program, was assigned to work with me. I wrote a seventy-five-page paper titled "The Fate of Historical Materialism in Advanced Capitalism," a critique of Marxism along the lines of the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt school and, after receiving my degree in 1968, entered the graduate school in sociology.

    This time I went to classes filled with high hopes. The New School enjoyed an international reputation as the intellectual and political refuge for outstanding European scholars. At the time, its faculty included the political philosopher Hannah Arendt, the great phenomenologist Aron Gurwitch, the economist Adolph Lowe, whose classes I sometimes audited while writing my senior paper, the historical sociologist Hans Speier, and ethicist Hans Jonas. When I arrived, visitors from a more recent generation of mostly German academic intellectuals also graced the faculty: Iring Fetscher, the eminent Marxologist, and Albrecht Wellmer, one of the bright lights of the second-generation Frankfurt school, whose best-known member was, of course, Jürgen Habermas, another regular New School visitor. I was especially drawn to a less well known figure, Hans Peter Dreitzel, a sociologist from the Free University of Berlin, whose work had a much more empirical bent. He brought his students into his home and sponsored miniature salons on a wide variety of topics. On balance, my first semester in graduate school did much to allay my fears that my history in institutions of higher learning might repeat itself.

    Meanwhile, I participated in several experiments in radical education, notably the Free University of New York—founded in 1965 as a non-degree granting, noncredit school situated in a loft on West 14th Street—and its successors, the Free U and the Alternate U (the "U" being a concession to the New York State Education Department, which forbid the schools to use the designation "university"). I taught courses in politics, labor, and culture. My colleagues included James Weinstein, editor of Studies; another Studies editor, Staughton Lynd, then in the throes of a tenure battle at Yale; the social ecologist Murray Bookchin; the well-known economist and follower of Frederick Von Hayek, Murray Rothbard; his friend, libertarian political theorist Leonard Liggio; Rosalyn Baxandall, who taught women's social history; and Susan Sherman, among several writers who taught poetry. Grace Paley taught short-story writing. Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs, a performer and song writer, was a student in one of my classes, as were Ellen Willis and Robert Christgau, both of whom were among a small group who were just beginning to invent rock criticism. There were writing and painting courses, children's programs on Saturdays, and music and theater workshops. It reminded me of Jefferson School, but without the Stalinist or any other dogma.

    What impressed me about these schools was that students of all ages came to learn new things as well as to meet people and socialize without the expectation of a credential that would prepare them for a job or a career. Most of them were young radicals, many burning to change the world. So the Free Universities were not institutions of "useless" knowledge, except from the perspective of the economic and political system. But unlike American colleges and universities, private as well as public, they were not founded to serve the state or to transmit what had been thought and said by icons of national culture. Instead, in the minds of the founders, we were fulfilling one of the requisites of Marx's eleventh thesis on Feuerbach: "Philosophers have sought to interpret the world in various ways; the point is to change it." We did not hope, nor did we expect, to be integrated into the prevailing system of economic, political, and cultural power. Notwithstanding the Free University's leftist tilt, we were swept up in the New Left wave of nonsectarianism. We welcomed free market libertarians like Rothbard because we opposed the tendency, all too apparent in the late 1960s, of mainstream higher education to demand homogeneity in political and intellectual standpoints. There were Marxist-Leninists on the "faculty" but also anarchists and libertarians, antistatist socialists like Lynd and myself.

    The Free University thrived on the turmoil that constantly raged in its administrative and political councils. In radical democratic fashion, prospective teachers submitted their course proposals, not to the tiny administrative staff, but to the community of students and faculty, which met frequently to decide school policy. So the typical "curriculum" was a melange of ideological orientations, and there was no principle of exclusion save what the community thought was "relevant," a criterion that sometimes masked serious ideological differences. But under pressure of the "new communist movement," which glorified centralism and trashed democracy, the New Left splintered into warring factions. In 1970 the Alternate U, the surviving incarnation of the Free University, imploded.

    I ran out of visiting Germans at the New School. I was obliged to take the core courses offered by those trained in post-World War Two American sociology. Apart from the regrettable pedagogy, I found the content painfully thin. One instructor did nothing in class but read from Max Weber's texts, without inviting discussion or offering commentary. Another, although a much nicer and more open person, was so wrong, in my estimation, that continuing to follow his course would have elicited constant disagreements and hostility. Within weeks of the start of the second semester, I was contemplating switching from sociology to political economy. But since I already had a fairly good grounding in Marx, Keynes, and their followers, I was not inclined, at age thirty-seven, to go over familiar ground in order to earn a Ph.D., so with some trepidation, I quietly left.

    I found an answer to this academic crisis in a unique program called the Union Graduate School, which afforded people like me the opportunity to earn a Ph.D. on the basis of writing and other evidence of academic competence. The school accepted my publications record, the courses I took, my life achievements, and best of all, my thesis on technology and its implications for labor, which was later incorporated into my book Science as Power. I worked with permanent core faculty and adjuncts, but did not attend classes. The school was in the accreditation process when I received my degree in 1975. A few years later it was fully accredited.

    In short, I write this book from liminal space. I am neither an insider, never having completed a course of study in an institution of postsecondary education, nor an outsider, since I have worked and been visiting professor in a fair sampling of the range of colleges and universities comprised by the American academic system. As with all of my books, my approach here is critical: I pretend to offer neither a history nor a sociological profile, although there are elements of both between the covers. I draw from my own experience as well as the corpus of research on higher education, and my point of view is by no means tucked into the jargon of science.

    My claim is that with only a few partial exceptions, there is little that would qualify as higher learning in the United States. By "higher learning" I mean places where students are broadly and critically exposed to the legacy of Western intellectual culture and to those of the Southern Hemisphere and the East. It is not only that the preponderance of undergraduate curricula, except for specialist majors, ignore China, India, Latin America, and Africa and the literatures and histories of America's racialized minorities and women. The typical college graduate generally leaves without having encountered, in more than a thin survey, European and American philosophy and literature. My intention in writing this book is not to reform the existing system, for I am not at all persuaded that it is possible. For those who would do something different, perhaps these ideas might inspire innovation.


Chapter One


KNOWLEDGE
FACTORIES


1

THIS IS A BOOK ABOUT "higher" learning and its teaching in America. It is becoming harder to find a place where learning, as opposed to "education" and "training," is the main goal. Training prepares the student in knowledges that constitute an occupation or a particular set of skills. For the most part, graduate schools train students to enter a profession. Education prepares the student to take her place in society in a manner consistent with its values and beliefs. Whatever content the school delivers, the point is to help the student adapt to the prevailing order, not assimilate its values in terms of her own priorities and interests. Education is successful when the student identifies with social and cultural authorities.

    The United States of America spends more on primary, secondary, and postsecondary schooling than any other nation in the world. Once limited, for most, to some ten years, formal schooling beyond high school is now the norm for a large percentage of American students. At the end of the twentieth century, about half of those who enter elementary school and more than three-fifths of those who complete high school attend some postsecondary institution. In articles, classes, and public talks over the years, I have used the term "postsecondary" rather than "higher" to describe what U.S. colleges and universities do. The reason is that for as long as I have been teaching in these systems, I have observed only rare instances of "higher" learning, especially in the humanities and the social sciences. For the most part, undergraduate education in the United States may achieve what a decent secondary school was expected to deliver fifty years ago. In turn, with the exception of the thesis or dissertation stage in a candidate's schooling, graduate education aspires to no more than what used to distinguish a good undergraduate degree, and often falls short of the mark. Postsecondary education is rapidly becoming mandatory, if not in legal terms, in practically every other. If present trends persist—a question I intend to address in this book—most Americans will soon spend an average of eighteen to twenty years in school, which implies that a considerable number attend school for a lot longer.

    On the eve of World War Two, some 1.5 million students attended postsecondary institutions. In 1941, at a time when the labor force was about 50 million, the proportion of the potential working population attending postsecondary schools was about 3 percent. From 1945 to 1965, college and university enrollments, consisting mostly of young adults of working age, grew by 300 percent while the economy advanced 200 percent. In the next thirty years, enrollments grew by two and a half times while the economy doubled; college attendance has maintained a steady advance in the half century since the war while the rate of economic growth slowed considerably after 1969. By 1991, 61 percent of high school graduates entered some kind of postsecondary school. In 1997, the proportion of college students to the adult population had risen to 13 percent, more than four times what it was in 1941. Of a work force of some 114 million, more than 15 million people of working age were enrolled in an institution of "higher" learning. Of that 15 million, almost 10 million were full-time students. Since more than 80 percent of students entering high school now graduate, that means about half of America's eighteen-year-olds are enrolled in a college or university. Seventy percent of American students are enrolled in public schools, so funding the basic operations of postsecondary institutions constitutes a major government expenditure. Added to the billions spent on public universities are the annual congressional appropriations for research—nonmilitary as well as military—to private and public research universities. It is thus no wonder that "higher" education has become a contentious item in federal and state budgets and the budgets of millions of Americans.

    These are astounding statistics. It means that nearly 10 percent of the adult population under age sixty-five is enrolled in a vocational, technical, or liberal arts college and millions of others have already earned postsecondary credentials. Compare this enormous enrollment to virtually any other advanced industrial society. France, Germany, and Italy enroll less than 4 percent of the population in higher education, and enrollments in the United Kingdom are only slightly higher.

    The questions leap out: Why in America do we place such a high value on college? Why is college rapidly becoming an imperative for most young people and for a substantial number of "mature" students—those entering at age thirty or older—as well? What are the implications for the growth of higher education for American politics and culture? What does "higher education" mean for its students and their families? Do burgeoning enrollments signify a more educated population? Or are they due to the fact that, more and more, even many elite schools offer vocational programs? If the latter, does this emphasis subvert the historic function of universities as the guardians, even the gatekeepers, of Western or national culture? Can universities maintain their role as political unifiers of an increasingly diverse population by providing the basic guidelines for what constitutes "citizenship" in the contemporary social world? Or, as some have claimed, is higher education for sale and destined to be reduced to a series of advanced and intermediate training schools?

    Critics of American society and its culture have expended a great deal of print attacking schools. According to one of the most common critiques, many schools are not merely neutral institutions that transmit skills and intellectual knowledge; they are highly politicized. In David Nasaw's phrase, students are "schooled to order." Schools rob students of their individuality and, instead, train kids to become cogs in the corporate capitalist machine. In elementary and secondary schools, the curriculum is oriented to patriotism, obedience, and above all, to the prevailing morality—the "work ethic," "family values," and citizenship —which equates virtue with responsibility to something called the "community." Of course, the community is not to be equated with the neighborhood but to the nation-state. The visibility of the education system may be measured by the degree to which schools contribute to the stability of the social order by helping students to know their place within it and their responsibility to maintain it. The key to whether schools work is whether kids hold these truths to be self-evident and endowed by their creator.

    This rough model of the function of school in society is only slightly at variance with another take: that at the secondary and postsecondary levels, the role of the humanities is to articulate, in the public sphere as much as the classroom, the essential elements of national culture. If the student is to situate himself in society, it is by means of imbibing those knowledges that mark him as a national subject. Some recent writing on higher education insists that the process of social and cultural formation is effected, in the main, through literature rather than through history and philosophy. Certainly the social sciences, which are usually viewed as "debunking" disciplines, cannot fulfill this socializing function, for in their classical modes, they are preeminently critical rather than positive.

    It is worth noting that, at least in the last thirty years, the relationship between literature and the social sciences has been reversed: since the war the social sciences are, to a great extent, policy sciences and, with the single exception of anthropology, have largely lost their critical character. In contrast, having been deprived of their socializing function by the relative decline of the nation-state after the 1960s, both citizenship and its concomitant, national culture, have receded. What is left for literature is criticism and theory, two endeavors whose utility is constantly questioned by technoscience.

    The social sciences have increasingly veered toward the natural sciences in their self-conscious subordination to the prevailing order. Their preoccupation with questions of research methods by which to measure public opinion have made them part of the barometric orientation of American politics. Social scientists have become the technicians of social control, providing the scientific legitimacy for social, education, military, and other areas of policy. With few exceptions, the garden-variety social scientists—sociologists, economists, and political scientists—are the intellectual servants of power. Like natural scientists, they are prone to follow the money. Among the social science disciplines, economists are virtually tied at the hip to corporate and government bureaucracies. If the others have not yet enjoyed this intimacy, for many practitioners, it is a condition devoutly to be wished.

(Continues...)

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Table of Contents

Preface ix
Chapter 1 Knowledge Factories 1
Chapter 2 Higher Education or Higher Training? 15
Chapter 3 The American Academic System 38
Chapter 4 Academic Labor and the Future of Higher Education 68
Chapter 5 Who Gets In, Who's Left Out of Colleges and
Universities? 102
Chapter 6 What Is Taught, What Is Learned? 125
Chapter 7 Dismantling the Corporate University 157
Notes 195
Acknowledgments 199
Index 201
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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2004

    Obsolete assessment

    The real problem -- it is a CUNY-wide problem -- is lack of currency. Everything Aronowitz asserts in his assessment of the post-Modern Academy was said (rather loudly) in the mid- to late 1970s (and one suspects Aronowitz heard it all then...). Even within his own, now generally disregarded demi-Marxist school, the fundamental lines of thinking are better delineated in, e. g., Alvin Gouldner's careful studies of the late- and post-Modern intellectuals and the new class they constitute. Add to this same-old character, one doubts the (implicit) assessment of Gen-X/Gen-Y &c. -- effectively, the folks who will have to renovate the university (most likely, after folks of Aronowitz's era have been superannuated by decrepitude -- CUNY's faculty have a strong union...).

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