When I was in high school, my adopted aunt, Dorothy Holtz, (Baby D we called her behind her back) introduced me to reading Jane Jacobs. Dorothy was one of the foremost city planners at the time–she created the first urban pedestrian mall in downtown Minneapolis and helped put Minneapolis as a leader in the “new” city beautiful movement. Aunt D was a brilliant urbanist, an eccentric, a wise old lady and a pal of Jane Jacobs.
The Death and Life of American Cities was referred to like fundamentalists quote scriptures. I’m glad we’re reading it. But at the end of her life, Jane Jacobs got pretty depressed about that “life” that was supposed to happen in American cities. She put her critical eye on education, which I think might be germane to our discussion.
In her last book, Dark Ages Ahead, Ms. Jacobs returned to one of the pillars of decay that she heralded for the Dark Ages. Here’s a link to an article she published in The Virginia Quarterly Review, which was in part the basis of the second chapter of her book, Dark Ages Ahead
For those who don’t want to read the whole thing, here’s an excerpt:
After World War II and then the Korean War, the government provided tuition and encouragement for veterans who had the desire and qualifications to attend universities or colleges. Tens of thousands of former GIs, many from families in which nobody had ever before been given a chance at higher education, took advantage of this opportunity. On the whole, the veterans were noted for applying themselves more seriously than students just out of high school. They also swelled student enrollments. When the stream of GI students ran dry, their hunger for education was missed in university communities, along with their government-guaranteed tuitions. Credentialing emerged as a growth industry in the 1960s, just when universities needed it to address problems of their own.
The more successful credentialing became as a growth industry, the more it dominated education, from the viewpoints of both teachers and students. Teachers could not help despairing of classes whose members seemed less interested in learning than in doing the minimum work required to get by and get out. Enthusiastic students could not help despairing of institutions that seemed to think of them as raw material to process as efficiently as possible rather than as human beings with burning questions and confusions about the world and doubts about why they were sinking time and money into this prelude to their working lives.
Students who are passionate about learning, or could become so, do exist. Faculty members who love their subjects passionately and are eager to teach what they know and to plumb its depths further also exist. But institutions devoted to respecting and fulfilling these needs as their first purposes have become rare, under pressure of different necessities. Similar trends in Britain have begun to worry some educators there. My impression is that university-educated parents and grandparents of students presently in university do not realize how much the experience has changed since their own student days, nor do the students themselves, since they have not experienced anything else. Only faculty who have lived through the loss realize what has been lost.
just keeping up my end of the conversation
The short form