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Post re: Education: Adrian College at 150 (David Westbrook, US)
Created by John Eipper on 03/29/09 4:08 AM - re-education-adrian-college-at-150-david-westbrook-us

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re: Education: Adrian College at 150 (David Westbrook, US) (John Eipper, USA, 03/29/09 4:08 am)

David Westbrook responds to JE's post of 28 March, on the Adrian College Sesquicentennial: At JE's instigation, I was invited to Adrian this past fall. I gave a very public lecture and taught an anthropology class (the first time I taught undergraduates). Adrian College is a truly pleasant place and a fine institution, and President Docking is a gracious host. Adrian is a nice example of one of the really strange and neat things about the United States: the enormous number of small colleges "tucked away" throughout the nation. As perhaps all WAISers know, but may be worth a moment's reflection, these colleges are fundamentally independent of one another and pretty much everything else, and vary in countless respects--from JE's Dartmouth (NH), to my brother's Davidson (NC), to Deep Springs CA (technically a two year operation, where I spent a summer), to a number of historically black institutions such as Morehouse and Spelman (where my father taught), both in Atlanta, to women's schools to military schools to various more or less religious institutions . . .it's not an educational system so much as an ecosystem, with truly striking diversity. And while we may remember the charismatic megafauna (Harvard, Stanford), it is the countless birds and butterflies and obscure trees that make up the rain forest. The chaotic institutional environment that has evolved in the US is, in my opinion, a really healthy if somewhat fortuitous development. One of the wiser things that RH used to say regularly was that comparisons are invidious, that is, the human all too human tendency to rank ourselves vis-a-vis one another is often unkind, and produces a certain discouragement among the also-rans, i.e., almost everybody. Educational centralization, because it fosters comparison, seems to produce a profound institutional conservatism, a kind of highly qualified complacency among elites that may be politically stable, but intellectually unfortunate (bet on Matisse, not the Academy). Criticisms of elites in China, France and England along these lines are familiar and, pace RH on invidious comparison, need not be rehearsed. As a legal and institutional matter, there are at least two sources for all of this educational diversity in the US. First, the religious, ethnic, and general pluralism of the U.S., combined with a very free and easy tradition of incorporation, meant that people would be inspired and able to found colleges (or a theaters or art galleries or [especially] churches or [obviously] business companies). All one needed was some money, either one's own or that of members/backers/investors/fellow travelers. So characters like Asa Mahan founded colleges for whatever their reasons, and the colleges so established had nothing much to do with one another, evolved in different ways, and became quite different places. Second, state legislatures founded colleges and universities, from so called "teachers colleges" and technical institutes to great research institutions that, by operation of federalism as it were, are independent of one another. As a result, the US developed a "system" of higher education that is diverse, sloppy, complex, innovative, occasionally truly excellent, and most of all, vigorous. For all the system's faults (don't get me started), I think this is how markets, or more broadly, institutional civil society, is supposed to evolve--and surely provides something worth thinking about for those of us who are worried about the structure of global markets. But for now, congratulations to the students, faculty, and staff, especially our own JE, on Adrian's 150th anniversary! JE comments: Very kind words, and excellent reflections on the cultural origins of higher education in the US. Thank you, David. -- For information about the World Association of International Studies (WAIS), and its online publication, the World Affairs Report, read its homepage by simply double-clicking on: http://wais.stanford.edu/ John Eipper, Editor-in-Chief, Adrian College, MI 49221 USA


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