Sent via email on January 29, 2017 and unprinted. The article that I’m responding to has 182 comments online as of October 7, 2017. I remain pessimistic of the quality of web comments. It is too easy to submit a comment online, and requires a significant commitment by the commentor to arrive at his thoughts through writing and editing before submitting the letter. There was a culture of invested conversation in early blogging, when both the culture of print remained and there were editors looking after every story and approving comments. What to do with the promise of Web conversation, I don’t know.
The purpose of an education is to see through the conjecture and implausible techno-fantasies penned in David Gelernter’s recent Journal op-ed piece, “A High-Tech Rebirth From Higher Ed’s Ruins”. Would it to be too much for Gelernter to mention an institution, a course, or a faculty member to substantiate his characterization of college as a catastrophic failure with ‘slanted readings and random garbage’?
His portrait of a dying industry could not be further from my experience in higher education. Colleges are dense ecosystems of learning and research that have propelled decades of innovation. Students learn from faculty, from each other, from the vast resources at hand, and by being at arms length from the marketplace. Colleges are vital centers for thought that ask students to form opinions and put themselves into the debate. There are facts to be learned, yes, but there are many ways to interpret and make use of those facts. To be educated is to have knowledge to draw from today, but also to have the capacity to learn in perpetuity.
Underlying Gelernter’s networked future is a belief that education exists to serve the marketplace. Education falters if it is not valued as a good onto itself. What catastrophe awaits our society if we dismantle higher education in favor of limited certificate training with ‘software templates’ from think tanks, churches and biotech companies. The marketplace teaches only what the marketplace needs. As artificial intelligence improves, an education steeped in the humanities will become more important, not less. There is proof that college functions, just ask the many college-educated leaders in our workforce today.