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What's happened to 'higher' education?

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Our arch adversaries in Moscow knew better than to squander the national brainpower on idle chatter. It was time for the US to know better, or else! Several days after Sputnik was launched, The New York Times carried ominous warnings from Dr. Elmer Hutchisson, director of the American Institute of Physics: Unless future generations appreciate the role of science in modern society and understand the conditions under which science thrives, he said, "our way of life is, I am certain, doomed to rapid extinction."

Within a decade, stimulated by the civil rights movement and an unpopular war, criticism moved to a decidedly shrill part of the register, dismissing all traditional features of higher education as simply irrelevant and – shame of shames – elitist.

All this, of course, had been said long before. In 1692, the great English philosopher John Locke warned against an education that would trade "your son's innocence and virtue for a little Greek and Latin." He disparaged "the learning now in fashion in the schools of Europe," insisting that "a gentleman" can well do without it.

We see as early as the Age of Newton, and in the writing of Newton's most committed disciple, an impatience with attention to the remote past at the expense of a future that stands to benefit from the achievements of science and the practical arts. One does not reach the moon by way of Plato's dialogues.

The roots of higher education

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