Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Lifelong Learning: John Sutherland on the Education of the Barcalounging Masses

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Lifelong Learning: John Sutherland on the Education of the Barcalounging Masses

Article excerpt

Over the past five years, a long collective howl of pain has interrupted the habitual calm of the American campus. It emanates principally from arts and humanities professors. You can't get your research published any more. Academic imprints are shrinking their lists. University accountants weigh up the prestige of a college imprint against the donations generated by championship track, field or ball teams, and the jockstrap wins every time. Librarians ponder: Shall we buy a new stock-control program or keep our subscription to Neophilologus? Microsoft wins.

In a profession whose motto is "publish or perish"--where tenure requires one monograph and full professorship two--it's a crisis. But look over the top of the ivory tower, ignore the donnish howl, and scholarship is doing remarkably well. Outside the academy, that is.

Two terms help one perceive the non-academic higher--educational boom: "enrichment learning" and "life learning". Americans, in general, distrust institutions and favour individual effort. It's deep in what William Carlos Williams called the "American Grain". They prefer free enterprise, even in higher education--something that Europe reflexively sees as a monopoly of the state.

Millions of Americans, incredibly enough, want to be lectured to by professors as they cruise the freeways or recline on their barcaloungers. They are, or aspire to be, "life learners". Leading the supply of this "enrichment learning" to the non-enrolled, barcalounging masses is the Teaching Company. …

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