We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

The whole creaking machine is lubricated by the magic grease of grade inflation. As of the early Sixties, 15% of grades at American colleges and universities fell within the A range. By 2013, the proportion had reached 45%. To paraphrase the joke from the old Soviet Union, students pretend to work, and professors pretend to grade them.

It is within the context of these forms of collegiate stupidity that we can understand the one that is now the most salient: wokeism. Wokeism can be thought of as the opportunistic infection of a host with an already weakened intellectual immune system. Students haven’t learned to think, so they lack the means to spot its inconsistencies, its hypocrisies, its absurdities. They haven’t learned to read, so they uncritically absorb its empty language. They know little of history, so they accept whatever tendentious version wokeism hands them.

William Deresiewicz

10 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Fraser Orr

    I read this piece and find myself cheering it and booing it at the same time. The argument he is making is, IMHO, founded on an outdated view of what college actually is. Of course, I imagine the professor would disagree with me on the fundamentals here, and that, I think, is true of many arguments today — surface arguments ignoring foundational differences.

    The professor seems to think of college in the same way we did 100 years ago — about getting a well rounded, general, liberal arts education. I’m surprised he doesn’t advocate for courses on Latin, Greek and Hebrew. (How can one study mathematics without the Greek to read Euclid?) But I think this is an entirely impractical idea in a world where college costs a quarter of a million dollars (or, even, I guess, for you Brits forty thousand pounds.) It is to reserve education for the elites who, as 100 years ago, were the only ones who could afford such niceties.

    Rather I think for most parents who aspire to send their kids off to college (who the hell knows what kids think) it is in fact a fancy vocational training school. A place to learn a craft that will enable them to pay their way through society. Engineer, Doctor, Lawyer, Scientist, Designer, Architect. In a world where college is so insanely expensive I simply question the value of degree in the humanities, outside of a vain self indulgence. It is, after all, evident in his piece. Discussions on Shakespeare, English Lit and the humanities. What do they qualify you to do? Bloviating Barista? Or even worse, Journalist?

    By no means am I saying that the humanities don’t have value, they do, just not quarter of a million dollars worth. From what I can see, here in the USA, the only people demanding the government repay their student loans are students who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in degrees that offered no ultimate commercial value.

    But, you might ask, where will kids learn to make arguments, learn to write effectively, learn to read critically? And I think the answer to this is really twofold. First of all, FFS why didn’t they learn that in high school? Certainly the purpose of high school should be to give kids a rounded education, one that doesn’t cost the price of a vacation home in the Hamptons. Most of the failure in the US education system happens there, and is mostly the responsibility of the teachers’ unions. Allow parents to choose their schools and teachers and this problem would go away very, very quickly.

    Second, within the context of their vocational courses at colleges students absolutely DO learn these skills. My kid is a student at a major school of Computer Science and I assure you the course there is VERY rigorous. Medical degrees, law degrees, these kids are taught in a very rigorous way, with high degrees of feedback, revision and improvement. It is just in subjects that don’t matter, like “Studies in Shakespeare” and “The Experience of the Black Womyn in Modern America” where rigor doesn’t matter, because the course itself doesn’t matter, that there is a problem. Why don’t these kids learn to make arguments? Because the subject about which they are arguing is so insubstantial itself that substantial argument is almost impossible.

    Ultimately, American colleges (and proportionately British colleges) are where the vast majority of Nobel Prizes and earth shattering discoveries are made. So, despite their many faults, American colleges are being successful in the things that really matter, it is just that they have this cancerous growth sapping them of their energy and power.

    Wokism in college? It is really a symptom and a disease of students taking courses that don’t really matter. The rest of the college students? They are too busy doing their homework to get involved in any of that nonsense.

  • If I could turn back time, I would skip university entirely. It was of little value (to me) back then, I think it is of profoundly negative value now.

    And for what it’s worth, I know a senior chap working for a medium sized multinational company who said that unless there is a STEM requirement for a given job, he consciously ‘marks down’ (his words) job applicants who are grads if they have no other work experience these days. Make of that what you will.

  • It is to reserve education for the elites who, as 100 years ago, were the only ones who could afford such niceties.

    But that *is* who should be going to university, the elite, society’s drones (in the bee sense, not the Bayraktar sense). For people who just need vocational training, the worker bees, frankly the ones who actually matter 😀 university is a bonkers way to do that.

  • Martin

    I’d agree it isn’t worth the fees and student debt for an arts degree generally. That said, many arts degrees are a lot easier to do online than many STEM subjects would be, and if you do it this way it is a lot cheaper. It’s about £14k for the total course fees for a history degree at London by distance learning for example. Of course these are perhaps more appropriate for older adults who are working but I don’t think it’s a bad thing necessarily to work for several years after high school before continuing education later.

    There’s a lot of variance within the ‘arts’ as well. I’d say Classics, languages, history, philosophy, etc have a lot of value still. Grievance studies, media studies etc are just complete garbage. While I won’t deny the value of STEM subjects, I’d caution against the idea that graduates from these backgrounds are necessarily more immune from ideological corruption. A lot of the staff at big tech companies are STEM grads but we also know a lot of them are leftist fanatics. Likewise, a good chunk of the medical profession showed their colours during the BLM ‘summer of love’ two years ago.

  • bobby b

    Sent eldest son off to UC-Boulder years ago. (Good school.) In a month, he was ready to quit. He said it was like sitting in a remedial class in high school. First-year math profs had to bring the bottom third up to speed by teaching them algebra, writing courses had to teach “how to write a paragraph.” Everything was infused with wokeism.

    After long discussions about the debt that both he and I were taking on for very little value, he didn’t go back for his second year. He’s doing well now without it.

    I’ve always understood the argument that college should foster more than vocation, it should foster minds. Mostly, it no longer does that. It’s finishing school for people who had lousy high schools.

    Education after 18 years of age is a great thing if you have a plan, if you know why you’re there. Fraser Orr’s kid (above) sounds like that person. I would guess that 80% of students don’t. For them, it’s a colossal waste that leaves them in huge debt unless their parents pick up the tab. I’d much rather hand them $100,000 to invest in a safe fund. They would almost all do much better in life with that instead of college.

  • NickM


    I’m a graduate of Nottingham University (BSc Physics). I guess I haven’t really used it as such but I do work in IT which is not exactly unrelated. Similarly my mates Mark and Phil (both Chem Eng) wanted to set-up a craft brewery before such things were a thing. Back in the ’90s when I was a student Nottingham wasn’t “woke”… God knows now. But we did have one course which was utterly like whatever… American Studies. Think of it like doing a languages degree without having to learn a language. It was an utter piss-take. As to the “rounding out”. That is bollocks on a Penny Farthing. Most of my time at college (I also did an MSc in astrophysics – fully funded by HMG) was spent living in shared accomodation with other STEM sorts. We’d talk about all sorts of things. We’d go to the theatre and stuff. We were not the nerdy squares we are so often portrayed as. And gay, straight, male, female we were much less likely to be going home alone on a Saturday night 😉 I can tell y’all having a 4.5″ Tal-Mizar Newtonian Reflector is worth a ship-load of the works of some dead French wanker.

  • Snorri Godhi

    WRT the benefits of a STEM education (which i have) i’d like to remind North-American readers that in (most of?) Europe, unlike in North-America, you can go to university to study a STEM subject and expect to study nothing except what is strictly relevant to technical competence in said subject.

    WRT the “humanities”, it is not so simple.
    As a first approximation, the humanities can be described as a double-edged sword.
    They can instill a spirit of liberty, but they can also be used as statist propaganda.

    It’s worse than that: it is difficult, indeed almost impossible, to divide “humanistic” books into a set that instills a spirit of liberty and a set that is nothing more than statist propaganda. It depends on how you read them.

    All what i can say is that, if you study the humanities in an institution that is in any way dependent on the State (and all American universities are), then you are probably — but not certainly — learning to read them as statist propaganda.

    That is not to say that by studying them on your own, or in an independent institution, you’ll gain a spirit of liberty.

  • Snorri Godhi

    PS: It goes without saying that i believe that the main limiting factor for critical thinking by American students is not American education, but the American diet.

    European diets are not much better.

  • Paul Marks

    An interesting theory Snorri Godhi – the rise in carbohydrates and the decline of protein? Endless pizza and less and less steak and fish?

    As for “education”.

    Only a few years ago dissent was still allowed – not it is not, the change happened roughly at the time Barack Obama became President of the United States, his Administration started to “interpret” the Civil Rights Act as meaning that places of education had a duty to create a “safe environment” by CRUSHING DISSENT.

    Frankfurt School Marxism – the idea that Freedom of Speech was “Oppressive Tolerance” which must be destroyed (Herbert Marcuse and others).

    Almost needless to say – other countries followed.

    In the past what was taught in universities was often nonsense (lies and rubbish) – but one was allowed to dissent from it, then (now) one is NOT allowed to dissent from it – dissenters are “racists”, “sexists”, “Islamophobes”, “Transphobes” and so on – to be “cancelled” in line with Frankfurt School of Marxism “Woke” doctrine – and YES it is hitting “STEM” as well.

    Everything must serve the Progressive cause – including the physical sciences and mathematics.

    Otherwise they are “racist” and-so-on.

    And it is NOT just at the higher education level – it goes all the way down to kindergarten.

  • Paul Marks

    General rule of thumb – does the American university accept government backed “student loans”?

    If it does – do not go there.

    As for schools lower down – as so many private schools are as corrupted as the government schools. Home Schooling may be the only option.

    Which is why such States as California de facto ban Home Schooling – all children must be brainwashed into the Progressive cause.