KNOXVILLE—Louis Menand, noted academic and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, will try to explain “Why We Have College” when he delivers the annual Anne Mayhew Distinguished Honors Lecture at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, on October 13.
The event, sponsored by the Chancellor’s Honors Program, is free and open to the public.
The title of Menand’s lecture,”Why We Have College,” was also the title of a June 6, 2011, column he wrote in The New Yorker.
In that column, Menand offers a couple of different theories about why college is important. First, he suggests, “College is, essentially, a four-year intelligence test. Students have to demonstrate intellectual ability over time and across a range of subjects. If they’re sloppy or inflexible or obnoxious—no matter how smart they might be in the IQ sense—those negatives will get picked up in their grades. As an added service, college also sorts people according to aptitude. It separates the math types from the poetry types. At the end of the process, graduates get a score, the GPA that professional schools and employers can trust as a measure of intellectual capacity and productive potential. It’s important, therefore, that everyone is taking more or less the same test.”
He also outlines a second theory: “In a society that encourages its members to pursue the career paths that promise the greatest personal or financial rewards, people will, given a choice, learn only what they need to know for success. They will have no incentive to acquire the knowledge and skills important for life as an informed citizen or as a reflective and culturally literate human being. College exposes future citizens to material that enlightens and empowers them, whatever careers they end up choosing.
“In performing this function, college also socializes. It takes people with disparate backgrounds and beliefs and brings them into line with mainstream norms of reason and taste. Independence of mind is tolerated in college, and even honored, but students have to master the accepted ways of doing things before they are permitted to deviate.”
Read the full column at http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2011/06/06/110606crat_atlarge_menand#ixzz1ZkbG9q48.
Menand is the Robert M. and Anne T. Bass Professor of English and American Literature and Language at Harvard University. He is an expert in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American cultural history. He is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a contributor to The New York Review of Books, among other publications.
Menand’s book, The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America, won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for history, the 2002 Francis Parkman Prize and the Heartland Prize for Non-Fiction. It is an intellectual biography of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., William James, Charles Sanders Peirce, and John Dewey. His most recent book is The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University. His other books include Discovering Modernism: T.S. Eliot and His Context and American Studies, a collection of essays on prominent figures in American culture.
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