Anyone who knows me knows that I think interdisciplinary university programmes that have as their mandate Saving The Planet are bunk, because in such programmes the students don’t actually learn anything except ideological attitude. A little more evidence of the stupidity that grounds such initiatives has now come to light in the alumni magazine of McMaster University, the school where I was trained. Mac is planning to ditch the liberal arts as it has been understood to date, and replace it with “Liberal Arts for the 21st Century” which has as its twin goals (a) “to empower leaders of tomorrow to make a difference around the globe, as well as in their own communities and personal lives” and (b) (more importantly I’m guessing) to make “McMaster… known as the global university.”
The justification for the initiative is an account of a particular student’s experiences in Cameroon. I’m going to quote it verbatim in the next two paragraphs, resisting the urge to provide sarcastic interlinear commentary.
“Catherine Vanner, a fourth-year political science major at McMaster, wanted to get a better understanding of poverty in the developing world so she went to Cameroon, Africa last May to see things for herself. Volunteering for six weeks in a state-run orphanage, Vanner cared for children who had been abandoned by their parents and left to die in the streets, in garbage, and even toilets. In between comforting the children and battling a mild case of malaria and typhoid herself, the Kingston, Ontario native came to some pretty important realizations. For one thing, textbooks don’t tell the whole story of a country or its people. For another, there is no greater impoverishment of a nation than a deficit of critical thinkers.
“The main problem Vanner fond in Cameroon was that citizens were not empowered to think for themselves or to find solutions to social problems from corruption and unemployment to substandard education. But what struck her most was how children were raised in that society. ‘Nobody was asking the children about their homework, nobody was teaching them manners, and nobody was telling them “I love you,”‘ she says. ‘I saw a definite connection between how they were raised and how the society functioned.”
Words fail me. McMaster is shouldering the white man’s burden.