Winning Colleges

By Goode, Stephen | Insight on the News, October 2, 2000 | Go to article overview

Winning Colleges


Goode, Stephen, Insight on the News


In a time of rampant political correctness on university campuses, Insight finds 30 excellent colleges that still offer students a well-rounded education, where professors are committed to teaching and traditional values are not suppressed.

The great scholar and Columbia University professor Jacques Barzun published his thoughts on education, Teacher in America, more than half a century ago, but the book remains as useful and pertinent as when it appeared in 1945. Barzun noted then that "Americans believe in education" as a means of improving life and pay "large sums" for it. He went on to sound another familiar note. Despite their great concern about education, and all the money they spent on it, Americans nonetheless were enormously dissatisfied with what they got for all their worry and expenditure. Why? Because, wrote Barzun, and here his comments seem particularly apt in the year 2000, "Education does not seem to yield results."

Insight thought about Barzun's words this year in drawing up the magazine's annual list of politically incorrect schools, this year expanded from the usual 10 schools to 15. What results do parents -- who often lay out as much as 35,000 a year for kids in private colleges -- expect from those schools? What do students themselves, who frequently go deeply into debt to put themselves, through college, want from those expensive and long years spent acquiring a "higher" education?

The questions are not easy ones. In Teacher in America, Barzun listed the standard answers: "Education should be broadening," for example, and "It should train a man for practical life." But Barzun went on to wonder if Americans expected too much from their schools, requiring them "to do everything that the rest of the world leaves undone." They must "root out racial intolerance," for one thing, and produce young men and women who will be "happy married couples." But education, Barzun concluded, really is only one part of a life well-lived. And it is, as the encyclopedia salesmen used to say, a continuing process. Indeed, Barzun wrote, it "is a lifelong discipline of the individual by himself, encouraged by reasonable opportunity to lead a good life."

He saw education as a tool that helps men and women acquire this "lifelong discipline" and believed education isn't completed when college years are over -- far from it. For Barzun the best and most useful results a good education produces are men and women who are capable of, and very much inclined toward, lifelong growth and change.

Insight's 15 politically incorrect colleges provide this kind of training if their students take advantage of what's offered them. That's the catch, of course: Education never is a passive affair and it isn't absorbed merely by being on campus. It's always an active enterprise, one that's achieved through deep immersion and intense effort.

The 15 colleges chosen for 2000 vary considerably. James Madison College at Michigan State University, the College of William and Mary and St. Mary's College of Maryland are state-owned schools, while the others are not. Calvin College and Wheaton College are evangelical Christian institutions, but Christendom College and the Franciscan University of Steubenville are Roman Catholic. Claremont McKenna College and tiny Shimer College (on Insight's list this year for the first time) are secular and have no religious affiliation at all.

What puts each of these diverse schools on the list is, first of all, a dedication to teaching: Insight believes college should be as rich an experience as possible, and this happens only when undergraduates come into regular contact with professors who are happy to be teaching and do it well.

A core curriculum, too, adds richness. "A core curriculum is one that ensures that every student take basic, broad-based courses in the fundamental subjects, from the humanities to the sciences," says Jerry Martin, president of the Washington-based American Council of Trustees and Alumni. …

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