I came across two cranky quotes about education. The first is from Kingsley Amis, about the ridiculous offerings of the usual fare in modern research. The second is from Evelyn Waugh, about the declining quality of education in the modern age.
First, Kingsley Amis from Lucky Jim:
It was a perfect title, in that it crystallized the article’s niggling mindlessness, its funereal parade of yawn-enforcing facts, the pseudo-light it threw upon non-problems.
The protagonist (Dixon), who never even approaches heroic status, is trying to be ever so successful at everything, but finds himself usually unlucky. He is not interested in his research, but has landed -- one can only assume -- accidentally upon an obscure, lackluster topic. He suspects, with reason, that the topic itself is incidental to his real aim of being successful.
How many titles, in the modern research engine that drives so much academic welfare, are so very perfect, which throw so much pseudo-light upon non-problems?
Then there is Evelyn Waugh, who has a Roman Catholic priest indict modern education. The priest overworks himself trying to catechize someone who wants to become Catholic. He finds that this someone is quite the ideal citizen of the new world of commerce and industry -- a captain of the new order that has come to replace old Christendom. This wealthy capitalist (who hails significantly from the New World) wants to become Catholic, and has no conscious obstacle to belief.
The only problem is that this person (Rex Mottram) has no problem with any belief ... which is to be expected, since such an open-minded person really does not believe in belief. At best, belief to him is a business of intellectual assent. But more likely, there is nothing intellectual about such assent. In fact, there is nothing that distinguishes such assent (even "religious assent") from the enthusiasm of entering into a new fashion.
Here, without further ado, are the exasperated words of a tired old Father Mowbray, after having beat his head against the gelatin of Mottram's religious insouciance:
The trouble with modern education is you never know how ignorant people are. With anyone over fifty you can be fairly confident what’s been taught and what’s been left out. But these young people have such an intelligent, knowledgeable surface, and then the crust suddenly breaks and you look down into the depths of confusion you didn’t know existed.
Waugh wrote this in 1944, when such a crust existed. Now, there isn't anything that even passes for the intelligent and the knowledgeable, except for mercenary knowledge that will help the Lucky Jim's of the world get successful.
Meanwhile, we, the unlucky priests of the world, are faced with the catechetical problem of people who will not argue logic or resist rhetoric, and will politely nod to any religious eccentricity. But they will not be convinced, nor will they believe. They will give that 21st century shrug of contingent assent, and you are certain that their religion is all a lark and an entertainment. Why not sample the religious smorgasbord and be exotic as you wish? Why not assemble yourself a new identity, a new persona, from all the array of the obscure and haute cuisine of cult, medium and prophet?
But it is all still a crust ... and we unlucky catechists try to teach belief to people who no longer have any place for belief. Belief is not admitted in the modern doctrine of man. Opinion is, fad is, personal whim is, but certainly not a belief that informs emotion and behavior.
The Lucky Jim's of today want knowledge, but only "knowledge as power," as Alvin Toffler liked to say. I suspect that this knowledge really does not relate to a larger, objective reality. But instead, it is a knowledge that is subjective and power-oriented. It is a knowledge that is geared, essentially, for the advantage of the knower ... and if knowledge does not contribute toward this advantage, then this knowledge is dismissed, as "good for nothing."
Knowledge as power is the epistemological doctrine of industrialism. But knowledge as power leads to the corrosion of human knowledge. It is the deconstruction of epistemology.
Those who subscribe to this deconstruction of knowledge are in no way able to believe. They can talk about belief. They can even write about belief.
But they have become so self-conscious of themselves as "knower" that they are inured to knowledge as truth.
Those who cannot get beyond the "knowing" of the "knower" cannot perceive the logos of anything, much less the Creator. To become conscious of anything less than the "One Who Is" is to become -- sooner or later -- skeptical of that anything, for no entity or phenomenon can bear being the object of an attention that refuses to admit its creaturely aspect.
Thus, they who are self-conscious of believing no longer find it possible to believe. Such are the Lucky Jim's, who have graduated with honors from the modern education of this world.