You don’t begin with a manifesto and a top-heavy board of advisors

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2021

Pano Kanelos has left his post as president of St. John’s College in Annapolis (the Great Books school) to build the University of Austin, dedicated to the fearless pursuit of truth.

Arnold Kling wishes them luck, but he doesn’t think that this is how start-ups work:

You don’t begin with a manifesto and a top-heavy board of advisors. You begin with a few very energetic founders trying to put together a prototype. I say get some proof-of-concept work done, then go after endorsements. Yes, it’s hard to do “proof-of-concept” if your mental model is to be a better version of Harvard. But that means you should have a different mental model.


  1. Harry Jones says:

    It’s not so much a start up as a rebellion with a business model.

  2. Contaminated NEET says:

    It’s not a start up or a rebellion. It’s a grift.

  3. Wang Wei Lin says:

    It will be woke. It will fail.

  4. Harry Jones says:

    My understanding is it’s supposed to be a reaction to woke. If it goes woke, I will conclude that NEET was right all along.

  5. bomag says:

    Looks like a quaint attempt to salvage higher ed.

    Is the thing salvageable? Besides sports, it seems mainly a way to channel high achieving women into careers that delay childbearing; and this is vigorously defended.

  6. Jim says:

    He’s probably the brightest light in the cold wet damp Indiana Jones ancient underground pyramid booby-trapped bat cave that is “higher” “ed”, so berating him when you could berate the Ivies and state schools is unwarranted.

    But he’s a creature of the system he purports to reform. He grew up in it and was molded by it. I haven’t checked, but probably he never left it. Sure, he’s had some good ideas, but the question is, do they matter? (Which is to say, are they radical enough to matter?) And bomag asks the central question, is the thing salvageable?

    No. Not a chance.

    It’s just a stage of the school system, the last and probably least important stage. To salvage it you would have to abolish it. At least, salvaging it would be virtually indistinguishable from abolishing it. Notions of grading and testing and curricula and indebtedness and “college culture” and employment prospects and probably employment itself would disappear.

    All that would be first and foremost and most importantly for the public schools, by the way. Not “colleges” or “universities” but grade schools. You would need to re-engineer the grade schools and it would look like abolition.

    To understand why, you have to tear up your assumptions and reconsider what school is for, and in parallel you have to examine the evolutionary process of school from its origins to the present day.

    In stark contradistinction to when school was actually good, the cornerstone aspect of schools today is that, like nursing homes, prisons, and sanitaria, they are institutions. To enter an institution is to be institutionalized. You can’t leave.

    Even under the most charitable interpretation, assuming a sincerely benevolent state, once you force every child in a given area into a particular building under the pretense that their physical presence will (by some mechanism left conveniently unelaborated) make them into intelligent, well-spoken, productive, and/or moral citizens, you’ve completely and totally jumped the shark.

    The human being is an unequal creature. Attrition is not only normal and natural, it is necessary. Retards, by which I mean those who don’t read and can’t write, are like pollution, a thick hazy smog that, merely by its presence in a room, suffocates brilliance to death and crushes hopes and dreams. Violent and extreme intervention executed to forbid attrition on the grounds that some children aren’t learning doesn’t propel those children to greater learning but it does very effective accomplish its true objective: preventing smart children from learning. The standing nails are hammered down; the tall poppies are weed-whacked.

    Everyone who wants children to be subjected to compulsory schooling likes abusing innocents and may be a domestic terrorist.

  7. Jim says:

    “preventing smart children from learning” => “preventing children who can learn from doing so”

  8. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Jim: “You would need to re-engineer the grade schools and it would look like abolition.”

    Very astute comment! If children were being properly educated in grade schools, the denizens of “Higher Ed” would be mocked and harangued mercilessly by their students for promoting politics over learning.

    Back in James Watt’s day, lecturers at the University of Glasgow reportedly earned their living by collecting a fee from each student — after each lecture. That may be a system worth re-introducing to “Higher Ed”.

    As for grade schools, remember that society needs ditch diggers as well as computer scientists. And if the educated computer scientists are working for Twitter, they are less useful to society than moral reliable ditch diggers.

  9. Harry Jones says:

    Let us esteem the morally reliable ditch diggers while we have them. For the day is coming when the ditch diggers are replaced by robots.

    Middle management is slowly being replaced by software. Robots are already schlepping in Amazon warehouses. Skynet has been killing children in Dadgumistan. The process is well underway.

    Everyone below the top percentile will be watched over by machines of loving grace until they go insane from the boredom. Then they will kill each other or else commit suicide by robocop.

    A few will cheer, thinking this holocaust will greatly and permanently increase the intelligence of the human race. They will discover that they don’t understand genetics as well as they think they do.

    (Alternative: fake jobs. Give people the illusion of a meaningful, productive life. Every hamster gets a wheel.)

    Given about fifty millennia of this, evolution will get the job done. But it will be slow going. Humanity will evolve into two species: one hyperintelligent and one docile. One will keep the other as pets.

  10. Jim says:

    Gavin: “If children were being properly educated in grade schools, the denizens of “Higher Ed” would be mocked and harangued mercilessly by their students for promoting politics over learning.”

    It isn’t really about politics (or “politics”). It’s about the system gradually-then-suddenly slipping into the incarcerationist/exterminationist mode necessary to secure capital, capital value, and capitalists and their capital and capital value as the greatest social dislocation in human history unfolds: the mass firing of the corporate serf. They call it the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and it encapsulates the course of things as the beneficiaries of Clinton’s make-work jobs program yield to, as Harry Jones says, software programs, robots, and Skynet.

    The old (post-WWII) folkway-cum-moral order of school-job-pension has evaporated and must be replaced by something. Evidently, that something is COVID, where the carrot is UBI and Second Life, and the stick is track-and-trace QR codes to granularly “permission” (verb, tech nerd jargon) your access to all physical space outside your house, contingent on your continued compliance with the biannual plausibly deniable preventative counterinsurgency genetic modification program.

    But the most interesting part of your comment, Gavin, is how you reveal that you believe the purpose of grade school to be the production of reliable diggers of ditches. This is a stunningly anamolous view. It is not American. It may even be anti-American.

    The American conception of the transcendent purpose of school was to produce literate, numerate white men capable of governing themselves.

  11. Harry Jones says:

    Jim, I am not convinced the public school system in the US ever had a transcendent purpose. Near as I can make out, it was always shit, and that as much by design as by accident.

    I for one shall miss the reliable ditch diggers. Not so much because they dug ditches, but more because they were reliable. I will always admire those who do a necessary job well.

    Now, the drunken pothead ditch diggers who smash your sewer line, screw those guys.

    I just hope those robots are programmed using pointer-safe programming languages.

    If robotopia works out, the corporate serfs may be glad they got the sack. I don’t think they’ll even need fake jobs. This type are already acclimated to a sense of meaninglessness.

  12. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Jim: “But the most interesting part of your comment, Gavin, is how you reveal that you believe the purpose of grade school to be the production of reliable diggers of ditches.”

    Obvious failure to communicate there. If it was my careless phrasing, I apologize. If it was your careless reading, I forgive you.

    The point is that a society needs all kinds of skills to work. If society consisted only of politicians, CEOs, and professors, they would all soon starve to death in a stinky mess. Schooling should indeed produce literate, numerate, historically-aware citizens — not just people on an academic track.

    My first professional job was in a company where the President necessarily spent a lot of time on the road. When he was absent for weeks at a time, business carried on without any interruption. However, when one of the little lady office cleaners called in sick, a temp was brought in to do her work the same day. Some people’s unglamorous work is very important — think about that the next time you turn on a faucet.

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