If you were wondering which hour-long academic discussion of America's educational system you were going to watch this weekend, look no further. Charles Murray, the controversial right-wing political scientist, recently gave a provocative and wide-ranging talk at the Fordham Institute on education, class, and social mobility, which you can watch here
. In it, he covers issues he raised in The Bell Curve, Coming Apart, and even his little-known Real Education.
His basic theme, which he's been hammering on for at least two decades, is the increasing intellectual and social isolation of the elite. As Murray and his co-author Richard Herrnstein pointed out in the Bell Curve, an explosion in the usage of psychometric testing by elite institutions (particularly colleges and universities) that began in the 1960s has created a world in which members of the elite can spend their entire lives in a bubble of like-minded (in more senses than one) peers, without making real contact with the nation at large.
Murray argues that this had led to a “tenacious upper-class. Much more tenacious than it used to be. Tenacious in preserving not just its monetary, but its human capital.” As a result, “We now have a higher education system which, instead of serving as a bridge to adulthood [will instead serve as] institutions which prolong adolescence.” This is his explanation for grade inflation, the increasingly forgiving attitude towards academic and social misbehavior at school, the explosion in support services for university social life, and on and on.
“No child who goes to these schools should be allowed to emerge from them without being humiliated… As it stands now, if you're in the social science or the humanities, you can go all the way from kindergarten through graduate school without having been given an academic task you couldn't do.” This swaddling, he believes, produces arrogance in elites and elite aspirants, in that they have no understanding of their limitations.
This is a challenging, if somewhat amorphous argument, and although Murray, in a populist manner, believes he can see the effects of this trend in the new enthusiasm for political paternalism
, it's difficult to pin down exactly what this all means. That said, it's refreshing to hear a call for greater inter-class contact and solidarity from the right-wing, and many aspects of his argument will ring true for anyone who has attended a liberal arts college or university.