• August 30, 2015

Revalorizing the Trades

For the 10th-anniversary issue of The Chronicle Review, we asked scholars and illustrators to answer this question: What will be the defining idea of the coming decade, and why?

Vanishing of jobs will plague the rest of this decade and more. Meaningful employment is no longer guaranteed to dutiful, studious members of the middle class in the Western world. College education, which was hugely expanded after World War II and sold as a basic right, is doing a poor job of preparing young people for life outside of a narrow band of the professional class.

Yes, an elite education at stratospheric prices will smooth the way into law or medical school and supply a network of useful future contacts. But what if a student wants a different, less remunerative or status-oriented but more personally fulfilling career? There is little flexibility in American higher education to allow for alternative career tracks.

Jobs, and the preparation of students for them, should be front and center in the thinking of educators. The idea that college is a contemplative realm of humanistic inquiry, removed from vulgar material needs, is nonsense. The humanities have been gutted by four decades of pretentious postmodernist theory and insular identity politics. They bear little relationship to the liberal arts of broad perspective and profound erudition that I was lucky enough to experience in college in the 1960s.

Having taught in art schools for most of my four decades in the classroom, I am used to having students who work with their hands—ceramicists, weavers, woodworkers, metal smiths, jazz drummers. There is a calm, centered, Zen-like engagement with the physical world in their lives. In contrast, I see glib, cynical, neurotic elite-school graduates roiling everywhere in journalism and the media. They have been ill-served by their trendy, word-centered educations.

Jobs, jobs, jobs: We need a sweeping revalorization of the trades. The pressuring of middle-class young people into officebound, paper-pushing jobs is cruelly shortsighted. Concrete manual skills, once gained through the master-apprentice alliance in guilds, build a secure identity. Our present educational system defers credentialing and maturity for too long. When middle-class graduates in their mid-20s are just stepping on the bottom rung of the professional career ladder, many of their working-class peers are already self-supporting and married with young children.

The elite schools, predicated on molding students into mirror images of their professors, seem divorced from any rational consideration of human happiness. In a period of global economic turmoil, with manufacturing jobs migrating overseas and service-sector jobs diminishing in availability and prestige, educators whose salaries are paid by hopeful parents have an obligation to think in practical terms about the destinies of their charges. That may mean a radical stripping down of course offerings, with all teachers responsible for a core curriculum. But every four-year college or university should forge a reciprocal relationship with regional trade schools.

Camille Paglia is a professor of humanities and media studies at the University of the Arts, in Philadelphia.


1. davidovitch - August 30, 2010 at 07:09 am

Every now and again I will help a friend, often my girlfriend, with some carpentry work, and although I am often clumsy, and in way over my head, I do find the work immensely gratifying.
Every time I finish a project I think to myself, "They should be teaching this stuff to kids from Grade 1, right up through grade school and into college.
I wish I would have had that kind of education, if for no other reason than to not feel so clumsy with a hammer in my hand and, also, not to be made fun of by my girlfriend who learned this stuff from a young age from her brothers who both swing a hammer like they were born with one in their hand.
If they're not going to teach this stuff in public school there should be private schools willing to impart these important skills from an early age.

2. bromios - August 30, 2010 at 08:01 am


You continue to provoke with outrageous but possible ideas. I have long considered that Universities will only truly prepare students for life when it can produce graduates who value physical engagement as much as creativity, able to enjoy washing up as much as cooking.

thank you

3. english_ivy - August 30, 2010 at 08:55 am

One of my great lamentations is the loss of the unique genuis that is within the trades.
A professor of anything is no more a genuis than a senoir mechanic or carpenter.
We must stop hiding the workers.
We must stop trying promoting a "clean" world without sweat and grim.

4. richardtaborgreene - August 30, 2010 at 09:01 am

Not bad--------deflates a lot of professors bent on being elite-r than carpenters are. Deflating professors is a good thing---at least an amusing one.

5. marcyrw - August 30, 2010 at 09:23 am

When I was hired at my University and asked to revamp our Program almost 9 years ago, the first question for me was "How can I prepare these students for jobs in one of the most competitive and volatile industries in the world?". So, I worked (hard) with the University to create a curriculum for our Program that melded strong academics and a technology component with a real-world, student-run, faculty-led business enterprise for our students. By the time our students leave our Program, they leave not only with a great education, but with a four-year resume of actually working with outside professionals in the industry on which our Program focuses. And, lo and behold, they get jobs! In other words, it's possible to combine both the "contemplative realm of inquiry" through academic courses that focus on teaching (or should I say, facilitating and fostering) critical analysis and then giving the students the outlet to take those cerebral skills and put them to work, all within the same four-year Program.

6. theotormon - August 30, 2010 at 09:30 am

Not to mention that skilled labor and the trades are currently facing enormous shortfalls in qualified job applicants.

7. rdiaz123 - August 30, 2010 at 09:50 am

While I am encouraged to see a member of the "professoriate" acknowledge the limitations of the academy in preparing our youth for gainful employment, community colleges have dutifully performed this responsibility for many years with little or no recognition of either the value or challenge it represents

Universities would be well served to seek-out partnerships with their community college bethren to develop student centered strategies beyond the typical matriculation agreements that seem to dominant all collaborative discussion

8. citizenwhy - August 30, 2010 at 10:00 am

I see a business opportunity here: a private school teaching liberal arts, math, science, the arts and 3-4 trades, from grade 5.

Another idea: All people hired as journalists must pass a series of tests in a trade. Will help to weed out the neurotic and self-obsessed who write about the death of masculinity and other NY/Brooklyn obsessions.

I have seen the same Zen like calm in students trained in playing classical music instruments in an orchestra. And in the martial arts.

9. craigerman - August 30, 2010 at 10:03 am

While I couldn't agree more that most undergraduate departments do a deplorable job preparing their charges for the current, and likely future, job market here in the U.S., it should be noted that even if such changes as those suggested in this article came to pass, the so-called middle class would still dwindle if every college-aged individual took up a trade as his or her profession.
That is, this country, even as dynamic as it can be when allowed to function free from governmental interference, simply cannot support an outsized trade class.

10. gplm2000 - August 30, 2010 at 10:04 am

A college education is about knowledge learning and socializing with one's peers. It is not about preparation for life, learning trades, or how to balance a checkbook. In the US four year undergraduate education has been dumbed-down to remedial high school courses, racial identity programs, semi-pro athletics, and govt. subsidized education to prefered groups. It is no longer has a focus on liberal arts education.

Instead of pushing high schoolers into college programs, society should be making the trades an attractive alternative. A good plumber, especially one that expands his/her business, will make more money than the average college graduate. The same goes for an electrician. Not every person has the drive or smarts to go to college.

11. khesriram - August 30, 2010 at 10:21 am

It saddens me to no end that liberal education has been so twisted out of shape that ... oh well, Paglia said it much better already.
BTW, it has been a while since I came across a Paglia column over at Salon ... :(

12. mike1259 - August 30, 2010 at 10:49 am

Ms. Paglia seems to be in favor of a system similiar to that seen in Japan and Germany, in which a young adult is directed toward some useful craft if he is not obviously "college material". While this can be comforting for the directionless, it tends to damn late intellectual bloomers to jobs for which they are unsuited. One of the reasons young people are directed towards college is the hope that white collar jobs will be immune to the tides of manufacturing layoffs and building cycle boom and bust. Yes, there are some blue collar jobs that are safe or growing (truck driver, machinist) but many more have dwindled in number just as fast as their middle management counterparts. Even jobs once thought rock solid (ie. corrections) are no longer hiring. And while it is charming to lionize "students who work with their hands" the fact is these students are impassioned about a subject, not just looking for a job.

13. jacquigallagher - August 30, 2010 at 11:07 am

I recently had a a master carpenter and his apprentice doing some work for me and I asked the master how long it took him to rise to his current position. The answer was six years -- that's longer than it took me to earn a BA and MA.

14. alessardpilon - August 30, 2010 at 11:10 am

Yeah! Because jobs like "carpenter" and "ceramicist" abound. Everywhere I go, people are clamoring for someone to re-plaster their walls, or blow them some glass.

The author of this piece evidently has a job, as well as possibly some Zen-like free-lance engagement with the construction or fabrication industries. Perhaps the author and her supportive readers, blessedly spared "trendy, word-centered" educations, would like to come to Brooklyn and teach all us "media" people how to work with our hands, do things manually, the old fashioned way--help us re-prioritize, you know, and then look forward to “personally fulfilling” careers in art schools, unironically writing columns in our free time about how worthless our educations were.

Of course, that would probably tank publications like the Chronicle, and to waste our Monday mornings, we'd all have to go--gasp!--to literature.

15. orb1t - August 30, 2010 at 11:25 am

I have an MFA and no trust fund. I work in the trades and as a museum preparator because of moderate dyslexia. In my geographical area the trades are becoming the province of immigrants, who are highly skilled, work hard, fast and cheap. Think twice before advocating this career path.

16. authors - August 30, 2010 at 11:42 am

To say categorically that "The humanities have been gutted by four decades of pretentious postmodernist theory and insular identity politics" is laying it on really thick. That kind of bluster may play well over on Fox News, but I would hope we could reign it in a little better on this site.

Otherwise, there is a suggestion here worth serious consideration.

17. authors - August 30, 2010 at 11:45 am

sorry, "rein" it in.

18. mrsdillie - August 30, 2010 at 11:52 am

Look how TV popularized professional cooking--Top Chef for example--and sewing/designing. Don't need a BA for either of these trades.

And while immigrants might have taken over this area, there's no reason that a resurgence in American-made good and services can't happen. The DIY crowd is already there, and most of those people were college grads looking at a lifetime of underemployment.

19. dank48 - August 30, 2010 at 12:00 pm

John Gardner said, "A nation that values bad philosophy above good plumbing will have neither good philosophy nor good plumbing." Authors may think Paglia lays it on thick, but I don't see it. I agree that the smorgasbord of thought we were invited to in the sixties seems to have gone vegetarian, lactose-free, gluten-free, maize-free, taste-free, texture-free, nourishment-free.

Say what you like about carpentry, plumbing, electricity, and so forth, it's pretty hard to outsource those jobs. Unlike paper pushing.

20. mark_leier - August 30, 2010 at 12:33 pm

As someone who worked at a variety of jobs for several years before going to university, I liked the notion that people should learn trades. But these trades have often become deskilled. In construction, for example, roofers, drywallers, framers, and labourers do much of the work, paid at minimum wage, while one "master carpenter" supervises. Many of the "electricians" working in construction can do only basic jobs, such as pulling wire, while the technical parts are done by one "master" who circulates between jobs.

As for the so-called shortage of skilled labour, this is the result of employers who do not want to hire--and pay for--skilled work, or pay to train people.

21. orb1t - August 30, 2010 at 12:46 pm

The 'jobs Americans don't want' is code for jobs employers don't want to pay for. If you want to make a living in the trades you need to be self-employed: provide your own health care, retirement, liability, workmans comp, both halves of your Social Security. While competing with workers who may not be paying for any of the above and employers who hire them off the books.

22. inarchetype - August 30, 2010 at 01:09 pm

Your observation of the problem resonates solidly, but I can't be on board with where you (and the majority of your commenters so far) are going with it. The university is for academics, and for careers in which a post-secondary specialization in academic work is necessary. As might be expected from a bunch of university professors, your reaction to recognizing the problem is to consider how universities can change to solve it. The problem, though, is that the university is the wrong tool, so to speak. The answer is to not only revalorize the trades, but to revalorize the tracks that lead to solid training in the trades, traditional and modern. Closely related is the de-academization of highly skilled trades that have emerged more recently and whose preparatory tracks were eroneously absorbed into the university model; computer programmers, systems administrators, etc; even some business and engineering related trades. I think a good look at the German system is informative. Revitalize demanding, general liberal education at the secondary level; stop using universities on people who don't need them to substitute for inadequate high schools. Doing so is costly and inefficient for society and the student.

23. jmonroe6400 - August 30, 2010 at 02:07 pm

I look forward to the coming days when universities will be forced to consider competence at doing something to be a necessary result of university education. The present system is an anachronism, deeply out of touch with both the present and future.

With respect to 'inarchetype', above, the university system is too big to simply dismiss it as having a different mission. Public institutions of such size are obligated to either re-task, or size down. I see no reason to size down. "Higher" trades are an inevitability -- most of scientific practice is already now a trade; other trades are failing to move up the value ladder largely because we ignore them: the best minds have been poisoned with an aristocratic view of education which coils through our educational system, and they do not want to dirty themselves. Minds with potentially brilliant problem-solving skills are engaged in exercises in moral theory (either acknowledged as such or not); in short, they spend their time obsessing over their way of life; a religious exercise, in other words.

24. roughshod - August 30, 2010 at 03:06 pm

According to, well, just about every source out there, a third of all skilled tradesman are over 50 and retiring at record rates. No one is standing by to replace them. The skills gap is big, and about to get a lot bigger. One guy who talks about this all the time is Mike Rowe from that show on Discovery, Dirty Jobs. Here in Alabama, he's the face of a new campaign to revitalize the construction trades. His website is also a really good resource for the topic in gereral.

25. zatavu - August 30, 2010 at 06:04 pm


Your suggestion is right on, but too late. This kind of education needs to start in middle and high school. Our middle and high school education is so bad precisely because we show contempt for the trades, valorize college, and thus put everyone on the college track, meaning we have to dumb down school across the board. Instead, we need two tracks: one for trade schools, with an education designed to teach practical skills for practical people, another for the college bound, with an education designed to prepare students for the rigors of college. One result would be the colleges would no longer have to offer remedial courses for students woefully unprepared for college by their high schools. Another would be people educated to live in the real world and make good money doing so.

I have a Ph.D. in the humanities, a M.A. in English, and a B.A. in recombinant gene technology. I work night audit at a hotel. That is what college has gotten me. 6 years after graduating with a Ph.D., I cannot get a decent job.

26. mvturpin - August 30, 2010 at 07:08 pm

As a master carpenter with 30 years in the trades, and a late life masters degree, who started his career as an advertising writer, I can say that I became considerably happier when I started working for a contractor years ago, digging ditches. That basic happiness, though frayed at times, never left me--I feel lucky. For one thing, it was a relief to be appreciated for what I actually accomplished--life was so much easier when I could simply concentrate on "doing a good job" while I was at work. There was rarely ambiguity about what a "good job" was. My home life, my intellectual life, my political life, what I said, wore, drove, none of that mattered much to my boss, if my work was good. It felt like freedom.

Also I can say that I have never noticed an explicit difference in the intelligence of professors and plumbers. You might say the plumber is the one who is naturally better with his hands, but you'd be wrong--skills are something that can be acquired, and anyone can acquire them if sufficiently motivated, even professors. Tradesman, though, often lack the emotional sophistication, and the sensitivity to the subtle cues of status and self-discipline that are the life's blood of both the academic world and the business world--because they too have never had to develop them.

Can an American "good life" be had in the trades? Yes, it can. And it also comes with the freedom to uninhibitedly pursue a vibrant intellectual life--you just don't get paid for it. But then I am always suspicious of anyone willing to surrender significant freedoms for money, or worse, status.

What I don't understand, though, and might perhaps disagree with Ms. Paglia, is why it is so necessary (to America? the Economy? Future Generations?) for so many dullards to acquire a university education, when they are only going to trade it in for a diploma, and then spend a lifetime pissing it away in a cubicle somewhere?

27. oldsarge - August 30, 2010 at 10:09 pm

I am a born academic. "Go find out" is the greatest g

28. oldsarge - August 30, 2010 at 10:12 pm

ame ever invented. I hold both a BA in history and a MA in art and spent over twenty years in the elementary classroom challenging and, I hope, inspiring children to follow the same kind of idea . . . if they were so inclined! This constant drumbeat of preparation for cah-ledge is moronic. It devalues seventy-five percent of children who will never get or need a four year degree. Now I am learning woodworking and furniture building. In time I will pursue a MFA in that subject. It is amazing how satisfying it is to see something take shape under your own hands.

And for those who poo-poo the column, may I point out that the highest paying occupation, on average, in California is Plumber?

29. iamblichus - August 30, 2010 at 11:11 pm

I don't know if I agree with most of what Camille Paglia has written here, or anywhere else for that matter.

But there is something to be said for avoiding the kind of internecine hostility between mechanics and professors that characterized, say, the debacle over whether or not to award John Harrison the prize of 20,000 pounds, set up by an act of the British Parliament in 1714, for a method for the 'Discovering Longitude at Sea'.

For those who are unfamiliar with the story, the classic account can be found here: http://www.archive.org/details/marinechronomete00gouluoft

In any case, Harrison, an autodidact clockmaker from a small town, had clearly complied with the conditions set out by the aforementioned act of Parliament as early as 1759, but wasn't awarded the lions share of the sum until 1773, 3 years before he died. In fact, he was never to receive the full amount of the reward.

It is hard to believe that he would have suffered the same fate if he'd had an academic pedigree like Huygens.

30. nutmegger - August 30, 2010 at 11:59 pm

After getting a B.A. in English at a highly-ranked university that Ms. Paglia knows well, I went to work on a farm in a tucked-away valley in Switzerland. It was an "internship" on the master-apprentice model. For all my supposed sophistication in interpreting the English poets, I didn't know how to clean out the cows' stalls, stack wood, or even count cows (I kept losing count). I had to learn each of these tasks by doing (Erfahrung).

I worked very hard for about three months, acquiring a discipline that has stayed with me to this day. If I had stayed on, I would have begun milking the sheep. You didn't advance until you had mastered the fundamentals at the lower level. It doesn't matter what kind of degree you have; the model is focused on experience, and there is no shortcut on the way from apprentice to master.

Now, this was a good deal for the farmer because he got a lot of manual labor out of me. I'm not going to say it's a perfect system. It was rigid and arguably exploitative (room and board plus maybe 200 CHF per month in exchange for me working six days per week from 6 am to 4/5pm). But it also taught me to mind the details of the work, to take pride in the results, and to constantly look for subtle improvements in how things were done.

When I returned to the U.S., I had culture shock and the corporate world seemed even more alien than when I had left for Switzerland.

I ended up getting a master's degree in Library and Information Science. I wanted to stay connected to the world of ideas while providing a useful service in a low-pressure career. I took out significant student loans. My salary in the first years after graduating was barely enough to make payments. I eventually moved to the private sector, partly to better afford the costs of living in Boston, and partly because of concerns about a dim future for librarianship. (I believe librarians are for the most part going the way of travel agents and record store clerks.)

I want to highlight master's degrees as a problem area. I believe these are good revenue engines for universities, fueled by student hopes, credential inflation, and easy loans. But do they really provide a return on the investment? Consider these examples from a crowded field: a master's degree in Cultural Production at Brandeis University, or in New Media Management at DePaul University.

Academia begins to seem like a hydra, constantly sprouting more institutes, programs, degrees, and centers. Doctoral programs have come under scrutiny regarding career prospects of graduates. What about the return on investment for students in master's programs? Does the degree *in fact* improve career prospects and future earning power? Perhaps a good model is the SEC requiring that each mutual fund publish a prospectus: graduate programs would need to provide standard information such as graduates' median debt and salary 1, 5, and 10 years after graduation. Unfortunately, universities have no incentive to do this. It might weaken one of their revenue centers and scare away students.

31. leviticus1935 - August 31, 2010 at 12:00 am

Ms. Paglia is correct, but her ideas will be ignored by (1) the higher education establishment and (2) students and parents who continue to believe that elite colleges are the gatekeepers to career success. At the elite level, there is no more inside-the-box process than college admissions, often driven by parents who want to display a cheap plastic decal on the back window of their car showing that they are better than their neighbors.

Nothing will change that myth until market forces demonstrate that an Ivy League degree is not a guarantee of success. I have heard stories of recent Princeton and Columbia graduates who have no jobs, so maybe reality is starting to set in. The large number of elite university grads in the Obama administration has also done little to glorify the virtues of an Ivy League education.

32. kathrynsimon - August 31, 2010 at 08:37 am

I teach students who will enter the world supposedly making product and designing and marketing for an increasingly different world than the one I see them being prepared for. There needs to be a reinstatement of the arts even in an arts program! the idea of working with ones hands and thinking embodiment seems to be too far removed from the world as we know it. Changes come slowly.

33. fambus2009 - August 31, 2010 at 10:53 am

A key component is organizational competency... http://managing-turbulence.org/2010/08/05/everyone-should-be-a-business-major/

34. urbanwriter - August 31, 2010 at 10:57 am

Egads! Where do I start? Ya, ya, ya, I have the trade apprenticeship qualifications. They hang on the wall next to my BA. And in their own way are equally useless. If anyone here thinks academia is riven with distinctions, distractions, disciplines they should spend time in the trenchs of labour. Do a machinist's apprenticeship in a shipyard and the odds of getting a job with a CNC shop (perhaps @ 100,000 pieces)for aerospace, are about zero. And the woman running the CNC machine is equally unlikely to make the transition to shipyard work - were most jobs are one-off, on 'older' equipement, a vastly different level of speed, metrology, 'efficiency' and relations between a great assortment of fellow trades.

If you think 'four year colleges,' or universities, are expensive, go on-line (oops, you're already on-line) to calulate the costs of starting and running a single program: training pre-employment (and/or pre-apprenticeship) machinists. First, find a good size building, let's say 40,000 square feet. Then find an array of decent quality bench supplies. You know, a vise that will outlast more than one cohort of students. Except that you'll need 24, one for each student, in a facility that runs two courses (think 'shifts) daily - to return the investment.

And then look at fitting it out with drill-presses, lathes, boring mills, milling (in a half-dozen significant variations) machines. Then add T/C grinders, surface grinders, and another half-dozen competent CNC machines.

Off the top of my head, with no building factored in, about $12,000,000. And that is not Okuma or Cincinatti quality - that is Haas quality across the board - and there is an array of things left off the list that you cannot imagine.

Now, convince tax-payers to pay for it. Convince students to pay for it. Damn, if you were really demanding, convince 'industry' to pay for it. Industry has long since done everything it can to get out of 'training' people - arguably the best result of the second world war was an influx of tradespeople to North America - which virtually ended any real commitment from the mythologized 'industry' to train anyone.

And that bill is not for plumbers. Nor is it for pipefitters. And, yes, they are REALLY different trades. Doesn't include electricians. Or any of a hundred other, equally valuable, trades. This is not spinning a pot on a wheel. It is most certainly not some sculpture student welding up a paean to Dionysus.

For those of you who express some sense that university is for people slighly more intelligent, and there are several above, pull your head out. The same 'critical thinking skills' that are so often bandied about as the ne plus ultra of the cognoscenti are very bit as relevant, and common, on the shop floor. How many Urban Studies graduates can actually determine, without 10,000 hours of practice, which way a weldment will shift? For instance. And do it accurately, and, seemingly, intuitively.

But now I have to run off - my hands-on, not terribly fulfilling, non-academic, low-paying, boring job beckons.

35. jasonstockmann - August 31, 2010 at 12:09 pm

I agree wholeheartedly with Camille Paglia. For an excellent read on the value of the trades, the satisfaction of creative problem solving with your hands, and the vapidity and aimlessness of corporate culture, I suggest "Shop Class as Soulcraft" by Michael Crawford, a recent book in the spirit of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance".

36. aldebaran - August 31, 2010 at 12:15 pm

So, according to Camille, we must choose between getting our hands dirty in the machine shop, or getting our minds dirty in a liberal arts classroomm besotted by Derrida, "theory", and political correctness. Sorry, m'dear, but that is a false dichotomy. I choose neither.

37. aldebaran - August 31, 2010 at 12:43 pm

P.S. Most of you, especially Paglia, will find the following to be incomprehensible, but it is worth noting in this context the traditional distinction between the liberal arts and the servile arts:

"'Liberal arts', therefore, are ways of human action, which have their justification in themselves; 'servile arts' are ways of human action that have a purpose outside of themselves, a purpose, to be more exact, which consists in a useful effect that can be realized through praxis. The 'liberality' or 'freedom' of the liberal arts consists in their not being disposable for purposes, that they do not need to be legitimized by a social function, by being 'work'."

--Joseph Pieper

38. strefanash - August 31, 2010 at 01:53 pm

The job I am content to do is labouring as a woodworker - cutting wood on a docking saw and then assembling the planks into pallets crates and bins: basic carpentry.

And none of the skills needed I even learned in High School, let alone my total waste of time in university, where I did a degree in music theory and composition as I once was a bass player in a symphony orchestra and nourished the vain dream that I could compose.

The relevant skills were simple numeracy and literacy, taught in primary school.

Let my High School teachers think I am wasting my time and talent. Let our local symphony orchestra bemoan that I gave up catering to a conductor's arrogance for a vacuous thrill of playing a symphony.

A manual labourer, I am happier than they

39. popper - August 31, 2010 at 04:14 pm

There is as much chance of academia appreciating the wisdom of la Paglia's observation as there is of their reducing tuition below $50k/year. I afraid this village must be burned to be saved.

40. reavis - August 31, 2010 at 05:19 pm


You quote a figure of $12 million to equip a facility to train machinists as if this is beyond the pale. Consider that the Los Angeles Unified School District has just opened a new K-12 campus serving 4200 students at a cost of $578 million dollars.


Funding is not the issue. People judge a school by its graduation rate, the average SAT scores of the graduating class, the fraction of students going on to attend college, and which colleges they are admitted to. This is unlikely to change, at least in the foreseeable future.

41. mr_underhill - August 31, 2010 at 06:02 pm

Education in the liberal arts teaches you how to live, while education in a trade teaches you how to make a living. Everybody needs both sorts of knowledge.

I have an English degree from an Ivy League school and a monotonous office job. The job puts food on the table. The knowledge I gained in college, in spite of the pretension and identity politics which I did my best to ignore while there, provides me with a rich ongoing intellectual life, for which I am immensely thankful every day.

Along with revalorizing the trades, why not reaffirm the ennobling purpose behind a liberal education?

Just because the humanities have lost their way, we shouldn't turn Universities into trade schools.

Does Paglia think that the purer purpose behind the liberal arts is irrevocably lost?

42. luther_blissett - August 31, 2010 at 08:00 pm

You'd think Paglia, a scholar of literature and the arts, would see a romantic myth when it's right in front of her. I don't see any teachers denigrating the trades. Nor do I see teachers who think every student should attend an elite university.

I've taught students who went into the trades. Many excellent cooking students are short order cooks, making little, while the big chefs are the ones from elite cooking institutes (or the ones with the cash and connections to open a restaurant, which will probably fail in the first two years). Many excellent carpenters, plumbers, and electricians are working for Big Box Stores, which now control the wages and employment for such works in many neighborhoods. When Lowe's can send you a plumber for less than a private plumber, you know the Lowe's plumbers make even less -- and soon enough, the private plumbers either reduce their prices or work for Lowe's. It might not be like having your job sent overseas, but it's part of the same economic dynamics.

43. justiciamo - August 31, 2010 at 08:51 pm

Almost all of the folks who commented seemed to think that the trades were for working class (i.e. 'ignorant') people and academics were for middle class (i.e. 'intellectual') people. This indicates a serious problem to me. I look at my education and don't regret the liberal arts focus, the nuanced socio-historical criticism, or the rigorous research requirements. What I do regret is that my professors probably thought that their students could do something to a) change the reality we live in or b) raise a family in this reality with the tools we were given. Armed only with idealistic hopes for a new future and brains highly skilled at social criticism, we were all bound to be a little bit peeved when what we found was unpaid internships, student loan debt, and 80 hours a week for $20,000 a year. I had to quit organizing at 26 because I could no longer afford to travel around the country and pay upfront for hotels and rental cars, let alone imagine a future where I had the time and security to raise a family. I thought, "You told us we could, and MUST, do something about the mess previous generations made. How about the possibility of bringing home the paychecks and pensions they earned and are subsequently stealing from us?" So yes, I'm glad my area has a few really excellent apprenticeship programs for people looking for a job in the trades. With the money I bring home from being an electrician, I might actually be able to live on what I earn AND effect some real change in a global-capitalist structure one day. It's just too bad that we couldn't do what we were trained to do. The problem isn't the education, it's that a whole generation of people got robbed.

44. fruupp - September 01, 2010 at 01:40 am

Well, I suppose it's a step up for Ms. Paglia to romanticize laborers rather than Jim Morrison, but she's still living in a fantasy world.

The secondary schools once distinguished between college-track students and vo-tech/trade students, but allegations of discrimination put an end to all of that; now, ALL students are "college-track," resulting in America's colleges and universities being overwhelmed with under-prepared, remedial students suffering through academic courses of no relevance to their lives whatsoever. Predictably, failure and drop-out rates ensue.

We need to be honest with students: "Kid, the 'life of the mind' ain't for you. If you're looking for a job, you're wasting your life here." Or, as the NYT put it recently: "Plan B: Skip College".



45. okii_tanuki - September 01, 2010 at 01:54 am

OMG! As someone who happens to have doctorate in East Asian Languages and Intellectual History, if I have to hear (read) one more North American academic misuse to the term (concept) Zen, I will scream. What nonsense is this zen, romantic Stalinist worker/salt of the earth fantasy that Ms. Paglia is blabbing about. She's right that the humanities have been gutted, but it has nothing to do with
post-modern theory,and everything to do with Wharton,Harvard and every other business school that has churned out MBAs who dream of commodifying everything from poop to Ph.D.s. Stormy days ahead, so hang on to your hats.

46. dubiouslicious - September 01, 2010 at 06:56 am

This article uses the bad apples of literary humanism ('postmodernists') as a fulcrum for social engineering. That will sound odd at first, so let me explain (with a tinge of satire). If the author were correct (using myself as an example), we would all have to agree that I would have been better off going into the chimney sweeping business than turning to higher education myself after being inspired by professors to "think critically" about literature and philosophy (and thereafter to question veiled Thatcher-esque values like those we find in this op-ed piece, namely, the values of the mythical 'hard working grocer' turned powerful elite through practical work). Blah! Don't buy into this sophistic hit-job on the literary humanities. Not all literary theorists (with a lower case t) are impractical blowhards--they just happen to make "useless" hands from the standpoint of Realpolitik observers, who would rather all the tweeded thinker types have become CIA analysts or public relations managers or something "useful." Anything to support the ol' war effort, eh ma? Can't compete with China when we have these "literary humanists" getting kids into literature and "critical thinking," the gateway drug to sinecure and vanity, can we?

47. diplomatic - September 01, 2010 at 08:32 am

What my liberal arts education taught me is that it is important to recognize class distinction, or stratification, or division, or conflict to be more socially aware. And though Jeffersonianism, economic determinism told me I have no choice except to work for a wage, I have boldly chose to go to college also, to take out student loans, and see how the other half lives. Then I could learn about Marx, the proletariat, the bourgoisie, and the rest.

Take HD Thoreau.

He was literary and industrious. He worked with his hands, and used his education. Farming beans, fishing blocks of ice from the pond, and he had the literary skills to relay this in poetic detail while getting his hands dirty. Someone, while completely familiar with the work experience, could not do this without lots of reading and writing, literary training, an education.

And then a working-class kid like me from the community college can read “Walden Pond” and be inspired to learn about DIY industriousness.

Yes it is satisfying, as satisfying as physical exercise, even more so when self-directed and you can see the results of your labor: be they fruits, veggies, furniture, repaired machine,jazz composition; and still even more so when you own your own means of production.

Revalorize capitalism. Revalorize education. Revalorize DIY entrepreneurialism. You can learn it on the job, or in the classroom, or both.

And writing is also skilled labor.

48. dank48 - September 01, 2010 at 08:46 am

I don't know how many of the comments were made by college grads, but #14 is my favorite. I wonder what advanced degree is possessed by someone who expects a carpenter to plaster and a ceramicist to blow glass.

The assumption that anyone who can successfully install an electrical appliance or open up a drain, not to mention do anything else with his or her hands, must be too stupid for college isn't quite universal in these comments, but it is too, ah, common. With professors like these, who needs idiots?

49. neisser - September 01, 2010 at 10:22 am

These are critical issues for our society, given many young people's disenchantment with their formal learning experiences. For those interested in a proposal to re-think and renew apprenticeship for young people, please consider my book "The Means to Grow Up: Reinventing Apprenticeship as a Developmental Support in Adolescence" (Routledge). It explores many of the ideas mentioned here in in depth. Robert Halpern, Erikson Institute

50. drgarysgoodman - September 01, 2010 at 10:52 am

I encouraged a bright, talented high school grad to join the Air Force. Two years later, he is a jet engine mechanic, having also also earned college credits. He is proud of his success, and is respected for his skills and contributions--at age 20.

Pagia is on the mark when she says, "Our present educational system defers credentialing and maturity for too long."

51. quiktrap - September 01, 2010 at 11:34 am

My spouse has a BA and is a business executive. The facts and figures she learned as an undergrad have little to no bearing on the day-to-day functions of her job. What she did learn was critical thinking skills. How to identify and unpack a problem, seek out varied and valuable opinions, carefully consider these various standpoints alongside her own thoughts, and come to a conclusion on the best course of action. She went to a middle-of-the-road liberal arts college where this kind of critical thinking, no matter the subject, was always the focus.

When she entered the work force, she started off in an hourly position. Over the years, her ability to engage any number and manner of problems critically and her willingness to work hard has led her to numerous promotions. Now that she is in a position to promote, she often encounters the issue of how to "teach" the critical thinking skills she accquired in college. Almost any experienced employee can teach a new hire how to do the essential tasks of a job and how to do these tasks better. The skill of fostering critical thinking about that job, I would suggest, is one of the most valuable tools (hopefully) available to college professors. Maybe a college degree (at least from a liberal arts program that is still liberal arts) won't get your foot in the door, but I would argue that it does allow one to begin to climb the ladder on the other side of that door.

52. eskewis - September 01, 2010 at 12:02 pm

I used to work for a student loan guarantor and was once asked by a young lady if it was a good idea to take out so much loan debt for her Master's degree. I bit my tongue. I wanted to scream, "Don't do it!!!"
Here I sat, working in this non-profit organization earning a paltry 13.00 an hour and looking down the barrel of my own student loan debt of $50,000.00. How could I, in good conscious, support or vilify her choice? She was so excited and so afraid to take the risk. Knowing what I know now and still not being able to pay my own loans, I might tell her to reconsider today. I still think about that girl and wonder whether or not she is working now or watching her loans slowly slide in to default.

I had a ball in my Humanities program. It was wonderful and my teachers were terrific. I learned a ton and I thought hard about lots of things. Yes, I can critically think and I can write. All really good stuff. Do I regret the money I spent on this this? Absolutely.

If I had it all to do over again this is what I would do instead: Go to a community college or a voc-tech and get a degree in nursing or become an electrician. I would learn something useful and then, just for fun, take classes in poetry and lit and other groovy stuff. Maybe I would meander my way through a four year degree but I would pay as I go. In other words, get the means of supporting myself together first and then do the soul-feeding stuff second.

The train left the station on the usefulness of a four-year degree in liberal arts twenty years ago. Unfortunately no one noticed. Not the academic advisors at the schools, or the Dept of Education, or the banks who make the student loans or anyone had a clue. If someone noticed they were shouted down.

Honestly, no bank should be lending anyone any money for school unless that student can demonstrate that they are entering a viable profession in which they will be able to earn the money required to repay the loan.

Why is it only now that the ROI in education costs is being discussed???

53. texastextbook - September 01, 2010 at 12:14 pm

So we'd have ourselves be a nation of craftspersons, artisans, artists. I'd be a seamstress. While "tailor" and "designer" promise to pay more, what I'm after is a concept. The clothing I buy at Walmart doesn't stand up to one washing, and I'm speaking of the fabric itself now, and not, as I would've ten years ago, the seams. I realize this is the result of the specs given to the manufacturer, and not of the manufacturer's ethnicity, religion, lack of religion, etc.

The trapped Chilean miners would be artists, too: a Picasso, an Umberto Eco, an Aretha, every one of them. Why is it that the first thing we send to such people is a psychologist?

54. neapolitan58 - September 01, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Folks--just read all of these--took a while, but it was interesting. Especially had to laugh at the one about majoring in Music Theory! No offence taken I hope--it's just that's something I graduated with in 1980, Magna cum Laude. I thought I was the only one! I was a budding jazz pianist in LI, NY with some pretty big dreams. Well, didn't take long to find out what was up in the music scene at that time. What did I do? Yes, you're right, drgarysgoodman, I joined the service--as a piano player in an Army band. Did 6 years, got out, and after a year of traveling and working at a music store, went back into the USAF bands and did another 21 years, for a total of 27 years active duty. Retired as a Master Sgt, or E-7, in the AF. The pension's good, not great, but am living in AL now, so it's doable. Along the way I got to be stationed in Maryland, Italy, New Hampshire, Boston, Japan, and Texas. What did I get? Well, let's see...learned Italian by living with an Italian family for three years. Got to see the town where my grandfather was born. Met his relatives. They became my family while stationed there. Still am fluent, both verbally and in writing. Later on I learned some Japanese, although that was harder. Improved my playing skills by playing about 120 jobs, on average, along with all the attendent rehearsals, every year. Improved my music writing skills by constantly arranging music for the various groups we had. Participated in Operation Bootstrap while in the Boston AF band. That allowed me to go to school part time for a couple years and then finish it off full time to get my Masters in Jazz Composition from the New England Conservatory. Graduated "with Academic Honors" (Think Summa cum laude.) The AF paid for part of it. I tried teaching English while in Japan--very difficult at times, but it was a lot of fun. Traveled all over Italy, got to England, Belgium, France, Spain, and Germany. traveled a lot of the States. Saw all of Japan. Got to Singapore, Australia, Korea, Thailand. Played a gig with the King of Thailand. (Yes, he's really a jazz sax player--Google it.) Playeed with a lot of famous musicians. As a career NCO, my non-musical duties in each band squadron increased as my career progressed. Information management, director of administration, operations NCO, Awards and Decorations NCO, Supervisor, First Sergeant, Resource Advisor (senior budget manager) OJT trainer in piano, music theory, and general military knowledge for junior troops were some of the positions I held. Attended both the Noncommmissioned Officers Academy and the Senior Noncommissioned Officers Academy. So what's my point? Well, when I started out, I could play somewhat and write somewhat, but being in the service was a great way to hone my skills and serve my country. (I'd still be in if it were not for the fact that I'd hit the mandatory retirement year--plus one. I did 27. MSgts were retiring at 26 by federal law.) It's not how you start, it's what you do with what you have and how persistant you are long term. I realise that there are academic disciplines that have little chance of leading to a career that makes decent money. (My younger brother majored in art at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn!) But if you're willing to work hard and be a little flexible in your thinking about career, life, and what it would take to be happy, you can find what you want. And, yes, if I had the chance, I would do the same career all over again. Thanks for reading and putting up with the long post. Good luck in your respective futures. PS--while my dad and mom have a PhD and an MS, respectively, I have two uncles who were plumbers, both very smart men. And my Italian grandfather? He immigrated to this country when he was 11, didn't speak any English. Left school after the 10th grade. Became a barber who built his own home, had a shop with 6 men working under him by the time he was 25, married, raised 5 kids, and was never out of business all throughout the Great Depression. And oh yeah, he was also a very good violin and mandolin player. Go figure.

55. dboyles - September 01, 2010 at 02:11 pm

The US once defined itself against the Soviet menace, manufacturing a very compelling case for global competition (howbeit two-party) that galvanized a generation or more in the "race for space" and structured the nation to be first in science education, a historical movement that drove education at every level, from the university down to kindergarten. Science-technology-engineering-mathematics (STEM) jobs were virtually assured, at least relative to what we now witness. This was the same era in which Paglia, although in the humanities, experienced and enjoyed "broad perspective and profound erudition."

While I disagree that postmodernism or identity politics is the cause of decline--it is more an effect and may in many ways be seen as a crutch at least offering some support to individuals in times of massive change--at least she offers an alternative, not that widespread technical and vocational education hasn't been previously considered for several decades, at least in its more geographically localized context where economically disadvantaged communities could benefit.

It is puzzling that our President Obama is, however, calling for each US citizen to have a year college in light of the vocational education alternative, if indeed the latter is viable. What good is one year of college? Where are the jobs for those so recruited into the hopeful holding tank of the university, even were they to have four years of education and a diploma?

Paglia may be correct--what is required is a sweeping valorization of the trades for those elided from the decreasing number of the elite. Not that ceramic pot-making is the answer, however, unless we are regressing to living off the land in highly decentralized, more-or-less agrarian, self-sufficient supplots as per Georgescu-Roegen. But are those in positions of authority in this country (1) as optimistic as Paglia on the value of even a vocational education, and if so, (2) have they the wherewithal to so structurally align education and employment in the US that prosperity, however minimal, is assured?

56. kimmatthews - September 01, 2010 at 03:58 pm

I hope readers don't honestly think that Ms. Paglia advocates that everyone stop what they're doing and run out to make a life of macrame. What I believe (and hope) she is suggesting is balance-although she does it by illustrating the absurdity of dualistic thinking. Arts education is invaluable because it is holistic education. It provides the best opportunity to reach students of all learning styles. It can offer the sense of short-term accomplishment that the tradespeople here speak of, while fostering intellectual development. It is unfortunate that design thinking and structured art training (versus "play" only) aren't requisite primary education so that by the time students are considering career choices, they're fairly well rounded, able to solve problems, and perhaps have some inkling as to what career path might be the most satisfying. Maybe I'm an idealist, but I believe that success comes not only from hard work but from self knowledge and passion-not just ambition to make a buck.

57. em_painter - September 01, 2010 at 09:24 pm

Physical production has been devalued in favor of financial manipulation. The dollar was delinked from the physical substance gold in 1972 in order to facilitate government intervention in currency markets. At the time it was hoped that this would offer ways for the government to bring about growth in places and under conditions where this was difficult before.

The disconnect of the financial system from any physical commodity in fact led everything else to shun the physical world in favor of the manipulated world. Conceptual art in its most strident form denigrated physical skills in favor of texts or thoughts. The financial elite which stood to gain the most from floating currencies therefore abandoned art which offended this system by remaining old-fashioned and touch-based.

Camille is coming close to the right conclusion supported by recent brain science that the physical test is how we learn and improve. Even writing can be associated with the physical test of speech and clear communication.

However as long as the system of supplying artists, scholars or tradesmen with money disfavors the physical, there will be no place for these people properly trained with high skill levels to go. The trades have as much of a problem with shoddy work as any other occupation, and as much of a tendency to drone-like work arrangements, probably worse as beancounting from above for the attitude "good enough for government work" is par for the course in tradework, not to mention the vicious abuse from the supervisors.

58. surazeus - September 02, 2010 at 01:12 am

Camille always inspires me, my bright-eyed muse.

Hold Out My Open Hands
Angeliad of Surazeus
2010 08 31

I strike stone to stone and spark fire.
I feed flames to heat glowing coals.
I melt stone to lava shining like stars.
I pour fire in clay mold to forge a blade.
I hold out my open hands and sing spells
that preserve memories of dream time.

I hone blade on stone sharp and bright.
I forge and hone blade for an arrow.
I smooth stick and bind arrowhead tight.
I bend bow and tighten horse-gut string.
I hold out my open hands and sing spells
that preserve memories of dream time.

I walk shadows of forest hunting deer.
I fire arrow and pierce its beating heart.
I slice open deer and roast fresh meat.
I hang deer skin to smoke while I feast.
I hold out my open hands and sing spells
that preserve memories of dream time.

I carve large log with hot burning coals.
I sail wood boat on rippling river waves.
I cast pole line and catch wriggling fish.
I weave straw to make a holding basket.
I hold out my open hands and sing spells
that preserve memories of dream time.

I walk meadow of flowers and bees.
I gather herbs and berries and eggs.
I collect sweet gold honey in clay jar.
I brew juice in bubbling brass cauldron.
I hold out my open hands and sing spells
that preserve memories of dream time.

I chase horse galloping over hills.
I ride horse exploring rivers and vales.
I fly over a thousand miles sea to sea.
I organize warring tribes in empire of peace.
I hold out my open hands and sing spells
that preserve memories of dream time.

I shape wood into wheels with spokes.
I harness cows to plow fields of wheat.
I haul wagons of wheat to warehouse.
I bake bread for feast after full moon.
I hold out my open hands and sing spells
that preserve memories of dream time.

I carry pole and walk in circle of guards.
I watch over women and children we love.
I stick four posts in hard-packed dirt.
I build feasting hall with hearth of stone.
I hold out my open hands and sing spells
that preserve memories of dream time.

I carve Runes on large beech boards.
I chant words written in ancient books.
I recite deeds of heroes fighting tyrants.
I lead warriors to defend our homeland.
I hold out my open hands and sing spells
that preserve memories of dream time.

I take pregnant woman safe on a boat.
I sail over sea of lightning and wind.
I help her walk on glistening gold beach.
I protect queen of stars in cave of hope.
I hold out my open hands and sing spells
that preserve memories of dream time.

I transform shape of wood and stone.
I build homes and wagons and boats.
I forge swords and scepters and guns.
I build empires with hands of working men.
I hold out my open hands and sing spells
that preserve memories of dream time.

59. justinrace - September 02, 2010 at 09:17 am

The problem with this article is it pits one stereotype against another, and quite unfairly. Office workers are portrayed as paper pushers--unsatisfied drones who have no idea how they got there and why they do what they do. Meanwhile manual laborers are portrayed as master craftsmen who do rewarding, concrete, relevant work with their hands and so go home each night with a sense of accomplishment and purpose.

But how different this article would read if an office worker were portrayed as working with his mind and accomplishing something meaningful on a broad scale, and if a plumber spent all his day hunched over a toilet or knee-deep in sewage. Such portrayals are just as stereotypical as the article's. The point isn't that one is any more accurate than the other, but rather the absurdity of pitting the best of one way of life against the worst of another way of life and concluding we need more carpenters and less philosophers.

Anecdotes of well-educated people trading in their cubicle for a toolbelt or conversely of manual laborers staying up late into the night to complete an education to gain a spot in a cubicle--what does either show other than that some people prefer to work on a job site and others in an office, and that figuring out which you'd like is a difficult and lengthy task.

There are already schools, institutions, and paths that lead to each. If we decide as a society that we want supercitizens who can do all things manual and mental at the highest level, then I think there's a good guidebook for how to do that in Plato's "Laws." If not, people will have to continue to choose, however imperfectly. Either way I don't think gutting a liberal arts education will solve anything, the same way I don't think forcing a craftsman of any level to read Plato would solve anything.

60. jbportraits - September 02, 2010 at 12:38 pm

I love Paglia. She always provokes; kicks people into thinking. This article didn't disappoint, and the experience just got better as I read all the comments. That said, Paglia writes from the premise that we have a future. She forgets, like the rest of us in our turn, that none of this matters if we don't have a planet to live on and clean water to drink. The world is being murdered by corporate psychopaths that are not going anywhere unless they are made to stop. I wish Paglia would write about this. She'd be great for stoking the coals of a real resistance. Honestly, what else really matters if you don't have a planet to live on? It's hard to make an argument these days, with all the research and data to support this, that things are not that dire. The earth is on fire. What else matters? What future? Whose future?

61. more_cowbell - September 02, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Thia article is so bang on. I have tasted first hand just how huge the disconnect is between a humanities education and the real world are in today's world. I have a PhD in a very topical field yet I am working for years in an unrelated job I could have gotten with my BA. I now believe that an MA and PhD in the humanities has very limited to no value outside the university. For years as a student, I used to argue the contrary, and parrot what my professors told me about the benefits of an arts degree. So much for learning "critical" skills in university.

I long gave up on an academic career and have spent years applying for non-academci jobs which I thought I was grossly overqualified for. I learned that employers think otherwise. Meanwhile, people 15 years my junior have "normal" jobs in the trades, etc. and have the things I put off for years in order to get an education - families, houses, cars, retirement savings. I, on the other hand, started over from scratch at age 35 and will be lucky to be able to retire at 70. I now rarely admit to people that I have a PhD as I have found that most people's reaction reveal that they either have no idea what a humanities PhD is (you're a doctor?!?) or they view it as something useless.

People are much better off going the trades route. When asked by young students about going to college, I say, sure, get a BA in history or philosophy if you want, but do it for love of knowledge. Don't expect anything material to come of it.

Higher education has become and joke and has indeed lost its way. What's saddest in all of this is that within the university, it is business as usual. Professors - apparently our society's most educated - either have no idea what it has become, or they don't care. Depts and university admins also routinely tout how beneficial graduate and arts degrees can be outside academe. I read letters to the editors in newspapers from these poeple and want to puke. They should stop spreading such nonsense.

62. rossemmett - September 02, 2010 at 01:16 pm

Much of what Ms. Paglia says of the trades is also appropriate to entrepreneurs. Even when academics begin to speak of "entrepreneurship" they always add "high-tech" or make sure they point out they're not talking about someone starting a local ice-cream shop. Yet, as a prof in a liberal arts college of public affairs, my students are gaining a new perspective on what really adds value to the lives of those around them by interacting with entrepreneurs. Several have decided to delay or forego professional/academic careers to start their own businesses.

63. asymptosis - September 04, 2010 at 10:10 am

The only country with a liberal arts model.

Far and away the best higher-education system in the world.



64. what4 - September 08, 2010 at 10:53 am

In a class that covered some graphic design, I was presenting the "hen-and-chicks" idea of page design when I noticed a lack of response.

The hen-and-chicks formula says that if you use several pictures on a printed page, make one of them big and the others small and of a similar size -- in the proportion of a hen with chicks. It's a formula that will produce acceptable results until you have time to do something creative.

On an impulse, I asked how many students had ever seen a hen with chicks. Out of 25 students, one hand went up.

Many students today not only lack the manual skills that are learned through physical work, building structures, constructing Heathkits (remember those?), repairing stuff, growing food, tending animals, etc., many of them have led lived restricted to the contents of a few urban blocks and media plots.

Working with your hands is one of the main things that teaches you to think and solve problems. Finding the resources to make and fix things puts you in touch with some of the industries, people, and skills on which everything else is built.

Both, both: People need to work with the mind in their hands, and they need to learn to "grasp" ideas with their minds.

65. guapodog - September 10, 2010 at 03:33 am

Has Ms. Paglia ever heard of St. John's College in Annapolis and Santa Fe? Its program, almost unique in the U S, is the true embodiment of what the study of the Liberal Arts should be. Students learn Greek, and study the great thinkers of Ancient Greece, and then continue to explore the work of many of the great thinkers of Western Civilization in literature, the arts, mathematics, science and philosophy, not taking the word of professors as proper interpretation of the works, but rather, arriving at their conclusions through discussions in seminars, and in the process developing phenomenal skills in critical thinking and problem solving. One of the advantages of this approach to learning, is that there is no separation between fields of specialization thus there is a truly rounded intellect. One of the discoverers of the double helix was a St. John's graduate and currently you will find "St. Johnies" excelling in virtually every field of human endeavor. Education can be used as a means to an end, but it should be an end in itself; anything else is simply training for fodder in the corporate world.

66. timecat - September 11, 2010 at 03:04 pm

Quite an ardent and smug chastisement coming from a career Humanities and Media Studies professor. What trades do those disciplines serve exactly?

"The humanities have been gutted by four decades of pretentious postmodernist theory and insular identity politics."

Pot, meet kettle.

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