Column on Students and their education

Students and their education

Tibor R. Machan

Columnist David Brooks of The New York Times, now sadly a reliable lapdog of conservative statism, has come out, in his May 31, 2011 column “It’s Not About You,” against college and university students regarding their education as a means for advancing themselves in their lives. No, he believes their education ought to serve society, the country, the nation, the public, humanity or some such vague purpose.

Brooks begins with an utterly false premise, namely, that commencement talks routinely address graduates with the message that they need to use their education to advance their own lot in life. After 40 years of college teaching I can testify that this is not what most commencement speakers advocate, quite the contrary. Instead what most of them do is echo John F. Kennedy’s detestably statist sentiment that one ought to serve one’s government or country and not insist that government or country serve oneself.

However much praise this sentiment has received over the years, it is straight out of Nazi and communist propaganda. The citizen in those systems must be subjugated to the state. Indeed, individual lives in such systems matter only as they serve to promote the will of the state, not at all as they themselves flourish in life. So to echo JFK is a mistake and goes contrary to the notion that one’s life is supposed to be dedicated to achieving one’s own happiness first and foremost, after which come others–family, friends, neighbors, citizens, and so forth.

Brooks’s message is way off. As professionals, teachers, not only physicians, dentists, plumbers, and so forth, are put to work mainly to help their clients. Not only is the idea of promoting society or country utterly vague, so one can invent nearly anything as a candidate, but it is mostly used as an excuse for some special group in society to rule the rest for the sake of the public good. Just consider, as a simply case in point, how whenever lobbyists plead their case in the corridors of power, they always do it with the pitch that their cause will serve the public interest. Which, of course, is mostly a lie. And indeed if teachers fail to serve their students, they are perpetrating malpractice.

From time immemorial people have been hoodwinked by those of their fellows who aim to rule them for their own ends via the mantra that the public or common or national or some other collective interest requires their sacrifice. But a moment’s reflection will show this to be very dubious: whey do the goals of the people or the country or humanity matter so much but one’s own hardly at all? Who are those who comprise the people, country, humanity, and so forth but you and these other people. And then why is their advancement in life such a superior goal compared to one’s own? Makes no sense at all.

It does make a bit of sense in certain circumstances to preach community solidarity–united we may stand while separately we may fall–but mostly because that is indeed everyone’s best bet. To contend that we should all abandon caring for ourselves, improving our health, wealth, and happiness–including as we aspire to learn about the world and prepare to live in it successfully–is a ruse and it is best that we realize this early on otherwise the price we pay is our own sovereignty, our right to govern ourselves.

There are millions of people out their who sadly prefer living off the rest of us instead of getting ready to live for themselves and cooperate with their fellows on a win-win basis. It is best that these folks do not get the upper hand. Whenever they do, the result tends to be the tyranny of some over the lives of others.

Mr. Brooks, by the way, was to be a voice of American, individualist, conservatism at The New York Times, which is to say the voice of the philosophy of the American Declaration of Independence. He has become, instead, the voice of European, collectivist conservatism. Maybe that is why he is so welcome on the pages of The Times.

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