November 14th, 2017

The ivory tower contemplates the world

By Frank Bruni:

…there is and always has been disagreement about the very mission of higher education. Should it grapple with the world as it is or point the way to the world as it should be?

The article goes on for quite some time, and I read the whole thing, but it was that last sentence in the quote that made me pause in thought for a long long time.

“…Should it grapple with the world as it is or point the way to the world as it should be?”

Excuse me? Are these two endeavors mutually exclusive?

And how on earth could a person or persons “point the way to the world as it should be” without deeply studying and “grappling”with the world as it is?

Maybe there’s something I’m missing there; after all, I haven’t really been part of any discussions about the “mission of higher education.” But it seems to me that the passage by Bruni illustrates the very essence of the expression “ivory tower.”

So, “higher education”–and educators–ought to tell us how the world should be (and by implication, how to get it to that point) without “grappling with the world as it is” first (or simultaneously)? That would be like repairing a refrigerator without knowing how the refrigerator works.

That’s the same hubris that Communist true believers (the idealists among them, that is—and there were and are quite a few of those) have long operated under: that they could “fix” a complex system that they don’t understand. This is a common dream on the left. Hey, it’s a common dream of humans in general, which probably explains the continual and enduring appeal of leftism.

32 Responses to “The ivory tower contemplates the world”

  1. expat Says:

    My own college education opened doors for me in areas such as philosophy, history and art. I certainly didn’t end up as an expert on anything, but I learned how I could view the world and teach myself. Even now after all these years and vast experience, I can only suggest ways to improve tiny segments of the world–ones I know. And even when I see a problem, I am more than happy to hear from others about how it can be solved. I guess I wasn’t meant to be a dictator.

  2. T Says:

    “‘…Should it grapple with the world as it is or point the way to the world as it should be?'” [Bruni quoted by Neo]

    So who died and left academics the arbiters of what should be?

    As a former academician myself, I can testify that most of these so-called visionaries live in a theoretical world as far removed from everyday experience as quantum physics is removed from engineering. IMO this is one of the reasons that socialism/communism, although proven failures, are still championed by the left; it’s the imposition and importance of the theory. The failed results are irrelevant.

    This question by Bruni reeks with the same underlying sanctimony as most ideas from the Progressive left: That they, somehow, are uniquely gifted with a special knowledge and vision to determine what is right and just. The important flaw in that position (after arrogance, of course) is that they see culture linearly evolving in one direction, their chosen direction, which is synonymous with the way the world “should” be. Bruni and his ken fail to see life and culture as a dynamic engine in constant flux.

  3. Barry Meislin Says:

    “…that they could “fix” a complex system that they don’t understand.”

    Ah yes, the old “It must work like this because it should work like this” trick.

    Reminds me of Nancy Pelosi’s infamous “first pass it, then read it” with regard to Obamacare….

    Except that she didn’t even want to understand it before she foisted it on the country.

  4. Griffin Says:

    Yep, the real problem with that quote is the ‘point the way to the world as it should be’ part. It’s conveniently always leftists that get to decide how the world should be.

  5. Oldflyer Says:

    A little late, because other posters have “stolen” my thoughts. I confess that I have spent very little time pondering the mission of higher education; but, even if I had, I doubt that I would have settled on “point the way to the world as it should be”.

    Maybe old fashioned, maybe shallow thinking; but, I would define the two-fold mission as extending the body of knowledge of complex subjects beyond that addressed, or mastered, through secondary education, and refining techniques and habits of critical thinking. I might add, inculcate mental discipline as a prelude to critical thinking.

  6. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    “Should it grapple with the world as it is or point the way to the world as it should be?”

    Neither. It is not academia’s job to do either. Their job is to first teach the student reading, writing and arithmetic. Then how to process knowlege through reason and logic. Then to impart factual information for the student’s consideration.

    But… having abandoned belief in an afterlife, all that is left for their lives to have meaning is the formation of reality in their own image.

  7. Ann Says:

    Interesting to contemplate what Harvard and Yale’s original mission was:

    “To be plainly instructed and consider well that the main end of your life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ.” Founded in 1636, this university employed exclusively Christian professors, emphasized character formation in its students above all else, and placed a strong emphasis on equipping ministers to share the good news. Every diploma read, Christo et Ecclesiae around Veritas, meaning “Truth for Christ and the Church.” You’ve probably heard of this school. It’s called Harvard University.

    Only 80 years after its founding, a group of New England pastors sensed Harvard had drifted too far for their liking. Concerned by the secularization at Harvard, they approached a wealthy philanthropist who shared their concerns. This man, Elihu Yale, financed their efforts in 1718, and they called the college Yale University. Yale’s motto was not just Veritas (truth) like Harvard, but Lux et Veritas (light and truth).

  8. Gringo Says:

    “Should it… point the way to the world as it should be?”

    The phrasing of the latter part of the question does a good job of illustrating the hubris of the SJW academics.

    As if THEY knew any better than anyone else. Their tendency to write gobbledygook indicates to me that they do not know better than everyone else. If you can’t explain it in clear, simple English, my conclusion is that you don’t know what you are talking about.

    Thomas Sowell has written a lot on this, such as Intellectuals and Society or The Vision of the Anointed:Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy.

  9. Tom Says:

    Neo, I don’t know if you have seen Jordan Peterson’s new youtube video, but it touches heavily on these sorts of topics. Some of his discussion nearing the end, as it relates more specifically to what you bring up here, is spine chilling.

  10. M J R Says:

    “Should it grapple with the world as it is or point the way to the world as it should be?”

    Academia needs to include an in-depth understanding of “the world as it is” — otherwise, it renders itself pitifully removed from reality (“the world as it is”).

    I will contend that an understanding of “the world as it should be” may include touching on the various utopias that have captured peoples’ imaginations, categorized under social and political philosophy.

    I will expect that this touching will include robust discussions of characteristics of these utopias, and a sufficiently diverse student body will debate in a spirited manner whether any of these utopias is (1) desirable and (2) achievable, if desirable.

    Of course at this late date and at far too many colleges, “a sufficiently diverse student body debat[ing] in a spirited manner” is becoming more and more a characteristic of “the world as it should be”, rather than a characteristic of “the world as it is.” Such is life (“the world as it is”).

  11. arfldgrs Says:

    So, “higher education”–and educators–ought to tell us how the world should be (and by implication, how to get it to that point) without “grappling with the world as it is” first (or simultaneously)? That would be like repairing a refrigerator without knowing how the refrigerator works.

    AFTER 50 years of the feminists doing that to all walks of life and here and there and all that you would think NOW this is crazy… they been doing that the whole time..

    (your finding out now why the oppressors who stood when their oppressed entered the room, would die for their oppressed, ahve to remove a hat to their oppressed, hold a seat for their oppressed, pay the bills for the oppressed, be a free body guard for the oppressed.. have no defesne to accusations from the oppressed, cant keep their jobs if the oppressed want them, cant keep their kids or home either, and you wonder?)

    heck, they are still waiting for proof that women in sports cant compete with men 1 on 1… (yes they are… no ability to see the world unless told by researchers they want to hear from)

    We Thought Female Athletes Were Catching Up to Men, but They’re Not
    you read and it has all the ways you might try to avoid the obvious..

    right now i have to deal with people who think its going to be a better world for their daugher who will do so much better(but then what is equal mean?), and have no idea that they were giving out free butt plugs at harvard for teaching people how to have good anal sex. not to mention teaching young ladies in vogue teen about that..

    heck.. poor BRENT… she was a MMA and feminist, and she cant admit that the 2 minutes with fox, that broke her orbital, smashed her up, and put her in the hospital is that men are stronger.

    heck.. what about how free love would make women happier (all i see is them getting more and more sad the more and more debasement is norm)

    i am referring to people who believe that they have a wonder bra… who think they have magical powers cause they have a period… who smear fruit on themselves to look young… but hate men who like them that way.

    want to see an opitime of that delusional norm they made?

    Catfights over handbags and tears in the toilets. When this producer launched a women-only TV company she thought she’d kissed goodbye to conflict…

    the whole article is about how what they were told and taught was what?

    too few will read it.. and get it.

    but remember, who wakes up in the morning and decides how tall they are? who else wears makeup but clowns, actors, and women? who can change their image and pretend to be things and FEEL like an artist.. or FEEL like a woman.. or FEEL like a real boss… (screw BEING)

    who can reinvent themselves weekly.. who today wanders around dressed like a cross between peter pan, the pirate on a rum bottle, the jackets of the wizard of oz monkeys, face makeup, purple hair, and expect to be CEO..

    the whol ebeing of modern women today is to hate and ignore reality till you force it or the men to make it that way for you and take credit.

    for the most part women live little lives of delusion
    delusion that their mates oppressed them
    that the system is against them, but bends for them
    that walking around exposing yourself at night with a candle in a group will stop rape.

    heck.. they even try to let loose urine so they can fake an ejaculation – hows that for deluded.
    that they imagine men are this conspiracy of collusion that wins cause they are so innocent and dont (when thats all they do, but read the article above and ask, maybe the kind of judgment the women used to run her production company and start is is why the good old boys seem to exist. can anyone show me the way to them, i didnt get my pass. but think hard if you read it, that the people who didnt put her up top, were avoiding someone who didnt have common sense and doesnt realize it!)

    so much of he womans movemnt is on a foundation of delusion and lies (many consructed by people like kinsey, franz boas, etc… and most have been found out to be marxists cheats.. and some were operatives of a foreign state.. )


    i really suggest reading the all woman production thing
    you find out it goes the same way the feminist rags went when they had to get in bed with tobacco and alcohol and get women to drink and smoke lik men..

    same thing, exactly
    the delusion that this would work
    and the delusion that all that was real and anyone could say what would happen, was what cant happen
    to the tune of over a quarter million dollars. but in the clinch she could not stop them, could not pull them in, they were all entitled and didnt understand work was work and more.

    the distance between the dream she had, and the reality is the metric mesaurement of the depth of normalized delusion

  12. Stu Says:

    Fixing the complex system is the disease that Hayek analyzes in his brilliant treatise entitled “The Fatal Conceit”. He discusses this and the statist impulse in his Nobel lecture as the knowledge problem.

  13. Mike K Says:

    Antonio Gramsci explicitly described the mission of modern colleges.

    To counter the notion that bourgeois values represented “natural” or “normal” values for society, the working class needed to develop a culture of its own. Lenin held that culture was “ancillary” to political objectives, but for Gramsci it was fundamental to the attainment of power that cultural hegemony be achieved first.

    The student must be emptied of “bourgeois Culture.”

    Then, Gramsci’s thought emanates from the organized left, but he has also become an important figure in current academic discussions within cultural studies and critical theory. Political theorists from the center and the right have also found insight in his concepts; his idea of hegemony, for example, has become widely cited. His influence is particularly strong in contemporary political science (see Neo-gramscianism). His work also heavily influenced intellectual discourse on popular culture and scholarly popular culture studies in which many have found the potential for political or ideological resistance to dominant government and business interests.


  14. parker Says:

    Tired Of People Who Think They Know Better Than Me.

    TOPWTTKBTM. Its the new WTSHTF. They need to spend a month on a farm in flyover country to learn the reality of life. I am processing firewood on my (inherited white privilege) rural property, I could teach them some of that there reality and tips on firearm safety.

    Actually, they might want to get a clue about first they shoot the ‘intellectuals’.

  15. T Says:


    I do not disagree. Many of the problems today could be solved just by giving our betters a pick and a shovel and making them use it.

  16. Ymar Sakar Says:

    Religion deals with the latter, practical reality skills deal with the former.

    Can you change the world vs can you change yourself.

  17. parker Says:

    Ymar Sakar,

    Before you free Tibet, first you must free China. Pretty obvious, but flies over the attention span of ‘intellectuals’. Just one example of cluelessness.

  18. Artfldgr Says:

    a product of the ivory tower..

    Twice in recent weeks, French courts have refused to prosecute men for rape after they had sex with 11-year-old girls because authorities couldn’t prove coercion. Amid the public disbelief over the situation, the French government is drafting a bill to say that sex with children under a certain age is by definition coercive.

    Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet provoked consternation among feminist groups Monday by saying a legal minimum age of 13 for sexual consent “is worth considering.”

  19. Artfldgr Says:

    another ivory product
    TEEN VOGUE: Anal Sex: What You Need to Know
    How to do it the RIGHT way.

    how do i know its ivory tower?

    Harvard Just Hosted an Anal Sex Workshop Called ‘What What in the Butt’
    These Ivy League students got some thorough sex education

    The workshop, titled “What What in the Butt: Anal 101”

    Natasha’s presentation framed anal play as a fun, natural part of sex-positive behavior, and wanted to “encourage people to go after their desires and not feel shame.” Students reportedly were shown butt plugs and given instructions on anal relaxation strategies, among other teachings.

  20. Ira Says:

    Excellent take down of that portion of Bruni’s article.

    Keeping in mind that the article is about the apparent scarcity of conservatives in certain colleges, Bruni finished his article with this piece of gall:

    And colleges should be places where we learn to persuade people not to take paths that we consider dangerous instead of simply gaping and yelling at them. That requires putting them and their ideas into the mix. Too many schools are flunking that assignment.

    The “people” to which Bruni refers are conservatives, and he presumes that, OF COURSE, they are the ones who need persuading.

    This is another belief of Communist true believers–conservatives MUST be persuaded of the error of their thoughts.

  21. M J R Says:

    . . . if not summarily executed when the time is ripe.

  22. Artfldgr Says:

    from the University of Hawaii,

    Not to alarm you, but I probably want you to quit your job, or at least take a demotion. Statistically speaking, you are probably taking up room that should go to someone else. If you are a white cis man (meaning you identify as male and you were assigned male at birth) you almost certainly should resign from your position of power. That’s right, please quit. Too difficult? Well, as a first step, at least get off your hiring committee, your curriculum committee, and make sure you’re replaced by a woman of color or trans person.

    yeah, thats the american mathematical society blog

    [and you thought i was writing about the hawaii professor that wanted to forbid them from legally working, like germany in the 30s.. nah… this was a african american woman professor, the other was a white male professor]

    you can go to
    Medusa Magazine
    Feminist Revolution Now.

    and read..
    Beyond Pro-Choice: The Solution to White Supremacy is White Abortion

    In a progressive society, it is often white families that stand in the way of equality and justice. Systemic white supremacy depends, first and foremost, on the white family unit. When white conquerors forcefully penetrated the indigenous, egalitarian homeland of the Native peoples of America, they were quick to replicate their white societies, initiating their parasitism by establishing white plantations, headed by white fathers, submissive white mothers, and, most critically, white children, with full dominion over the enslaved and oppressed people of color that were forced to uphold these micro-fiefdoms.


    it is critical to understand that the appeal to abortions being “Constitutional” reinforces white supremacy. There is no way around it. The Constitution was drafted and signed by white men, for white men. Slavery was Constitutional. The “right” to terrorize citizens through the bearing of arms is Constitutional. So-called “due process,” in which white juries condone the murder of innocent black men, is a Constitutional process. Being Constitutional does not make something progressive or innately valuable. In fact, Constitutionality is often synonymous with “exclusively beneficial to the white race.”

    most women have no idea where their sisters have beengoing and doing for ages

    White women: it is time to do your part! Your white children reinforce the white supremacist society that benefits you. If you claim to be progressive, and yet willingly birth white children by your own choice, you are a hypocrite. White women should be encouraged to abort their white children, and to use their freed-up time and resources to assist women of color who have no other choice but to raise their children. Women of color are in need of financial and humanitarian resources. As this white supremacist society continues to imprison black fathers, women of color are forced to stand alone in their plight to raise the next generation of Americans. White women: instead of devoting your time and energy to white children who will reinforce the struggles of women of color, how about asking women of color in what ways you can assist them in their self-liberation? How about adopting children of color who have lost their parents to the destructive white supremacist society that you have enabled and encouraged?

    if you want to know what white tower did that above you should read about Peggy McIntosh..
    Peggy McIntosh is an American feminist, anti-racism activist, scholar, speaker, and Senior Research Associate of the Wellesley Centers for Women. She is the founder of the National SEED Project on Inclusive Curriculum (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity). She and Emily Style co-directed SEED for thirty years. She has written on curricular revision, feelings of fraudulence, and professional development of teachers.

    In 1988, she published the article White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work on Women’s Studies. This analysis, and its 1989 shorter form White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, pioneered putting the dimension of privilege into discussions of power, gender, race, class and sexuality in the United States

    [that is what was going on in 88 your now living the adults born then.. wait till you see what the late 90s and more have for you!!!!!!!!!!!!]

    In her 1988 essay, McIntosh listed forty-six of her own everyday advantages, such as “I can go shopping most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed,” “I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race,” and “If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.”

    wait till you read about the guy that wants genocide… he is a pip
    but his students wont be part of things like those became for another 10 years… maybe less… who knows… i dont.

    not my circuis, not my monkeys…

  23. Mike K Says:

    Your white children reinforce the white supremacist society that benefits you.

    IQ is a bitch.

  24. Molly NH Says:

    birthed and raised 3 of them, & they are all married to similarly hued people and birthing some of their own….. oh, why the sad face Ms Macintosh ? Bad year for apples ?

  25. AesopFan Says:

    Artfldgr Says:
    November 14th, 2017 at 7:09 pm
    a product of the ivory tower..

    Twice in recent weeks, French courts have refused to prosecute men for rape after they had sex with 11-year-old girls because authorities couldn’t prove coercion. Amid the public disbelief over the situation, the French government is drafting a bill to say that sex with children under a certain age is by definition coercive.

    Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet provoked consternation among feminist groups Monday by saying a legal minimum age of 13 for sexual consent “is worth considering.”
    * * *
    If the accusations against Judge Moore are actually true, he might want to consider Making America France Again.

  26. Tim W Says:

    Being a refugee from higher ed, the Bruni piece is a great example of all that is, and continues, to be wrong with higher ed.

    Lots of socialists and Marxists who don’t get the real world. And they control funding and hiring, so guess what happens if you study military history or don’t buy into their toxic worldview?

  27. AesopFan Says:

    Neo, you might enjoy this takedown of the Ivory Tower mentality that has subverted education for decades.

    “The Killing of History: How Literary Critics and Social Theorists Are Murdering Our Past

    Keith Windschuttle, Author Free Press $26 (304p) ISBN 978-0-684-84445-9
    The deliberately provocative title of this latest entry in the ongoing culture wars belies a reasonable, subtly argued if wide-ranging and at times unwieldy critique of contemporary historical theory. Australian author and lecturer Windschuttle contends that the introduction of fashionable academic “”history”” courses under such rubrics as cultural, media and gender studies are agenda-driven and have undercut the practices of history as a discipline. Windschuttle clearly subscribes to Roger Kimball’s “”tenured radicals”” thesis, and places much blame for the decline in traditional history on postmodernist French literary and social theorists–above all, Michel Foucault. In the introduction of theoretical approaches like structuralism, poststructuralism, deconstruction and semiotics, he says, contemporary radical theorists posit a cultural relativism that denies an objective, knowable truth about the past. The author argues that history is inherently empirical: that historians draw conclusions by inductive reasoning based on research, rather than by the application of preconceived theories. Each of the nine chapters examines a particular episode or issue and analyzes current trends in scholarship. For example, a chapter on the conquest of Mexico presents a fascinating overview of this event and various historians’ interpretations of it. The author warns that “”cultural relativism will never serve the real interests of indigenous peoples if it denies them access to the truth about the past.”” While these views will scarcely endear Windschuttle to the academics whose theoretical approaches he attacks, he largely succeeds in shedding more light than heat on some contentious issues.”
    * * *
    I tried to post a link to an excellent review by Roger Kimball in New Criterion, but the comment got lost last night somehow.

  28. Tatterdemalian Says:

    “Excuse me? Are these two endeavors mutually exclusive?”

    The way the intellectuals view “the world as it should be,” yes. When “the world as it should be” includes things all the laws of physics disallow, like teleporters and transwarp drives and perfectly functioning socialism, it is in fact diametrically opposed to “the world as it is,” and support for the former must necessarily call for the latter’s destruction.

  29. Ymar Sakar Says:

    Some humans don’t even want to be free. The Left, for example, already sold their souls (or rather inheritance rights) for a Faustian bargain.

    No returns on that deal.

  30. GRA Says:

    > “…Should it grapple with the world as it is or point the way to the world as it should be?”

    Yea, I too sort of thought this was, uh, rather strange. I tend to strongly think that higher education, or just education in general, looks at the world as it is in order understand.

  31. n.n Says:

    Replacing gods with mortal gods, men and women with delusions of omniscience and omnipotence, and other elements of grandeur, is unlikely to end with a reconciliation of moral, natural, and personal imperatives.

  32. Ymar Sakar Says:

    That is why their solution is to change the world. Then it is no longer necessary to reconcile issues that conflict. They will make them equal in the ReCreation. Unlikely to be feasible if all they had was nanotech, evolution, and cybernetic upgrades.

    But very feasible if the supernatural elohim are real and have given them the use of higher powers.

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