Saturday, 4 June 2016

Lessons from Trump U

I’ve fallen a little in love with Kayleigh McEnany. She is by far my favourite Donald Trump surrogate — a cute little gal who is often trotted out to express Donald Trump’s innermost thoughts on CNN. She is both pretty and perky. And now and then she even smiles in a way that suggests she is human.
To those who dismiss Donald Trump, listening to a Trump surrogate might seem like a giant waste of time. 
Well, it’ not. 
True, Trump admits he gets most of his ‘facts’ from the web. And Trump surrogates like McEnany — when asked for proof of their assertions, often reply — ‘just google it!’
But you find this new, slaphappy, internet-dependent attitude to knowledge everywhere. Nobody bothers to prove anything with a reasoned argument anymore. They just throw websites at each other: ’I read on the web that….’ ‘Well I read on the web something else….’
What I find so fascinating about Donald Trump is that he has admitted to trolling right-wing websites and podcasts to inform his policies. That’s because he’s less concerned with the truth than the most popular opinion. And his surrogates — the ‘Kayleigh McEnanies’ of the world — just parrot what right-wing dumbbells are saying online. 
In this context, McEnany’s defence of “Trump U’ is fascinating. Trump University — as you’ve most likely heard — was a very-much-for-profit education company guaranteeing instruction in real estate success. The company is now defunct and under investigation for fraud. The whole thing seems pretty clearly to have been a con job. But McEnany’s defence of ‘Trump U’ really tells us what America thinks about the state of higher education (I will paraphrase it here):
‘Donald Trump is just doing what any university does. He’s offering a product; so he sells that product. And he’s doing it a lot better than those left-wing universities that promise you a job by teaching you something useless called ‘philosophy.’ 
The terrifying news is that what Kayleigh McEnany is saying is not that crazy.
As North American universities bow to pressure to become career factories, they gradually lose their ability to articulate what higher education should be. Professors are being required to come up with ‘learning outcomes’ for their courses that guarantee students are getting a bang for their buck. 
I find the notion of ‘learning outcomes’ repellant — not just because I’m a left-wing professor who often teaches ‘philosophy’  — but because I’m appalled that higher education has become less and less committed to teaching critical analysis, fostering originality, and encouraging students to think outside the usual cultural paradigms.
In a steadily shrinking job market teaching students how to fit into the world is robbing them of the ability to think outside the box and create a new world and a new place for themselves in it.
And is it ultimately wise for universities to start saying their purpose is to prepare students for jobs in the real world, when a trade school or community college can do that much better? 
If universities continue to describe themselves as prime movers of the economy rather than centres of intellectual thought, they will get what they deserve — in other words, they may very well be sued for fraud by their students (or should I say customers?).

And not even Kayleigh McEnany will be cute enough to defend them.