Monday, December 13, 2010

Sayers' TLTOL (part 2)

Today I wearily consider these paragraphs:

Before you dismiss me with the appropriate phrase--reactionary, romantic, mediaevalist, laudator temporis acti (praiser of times past), or whatever tag comes first to hand--I will ask you to consider one or two miscellaneous questions that hang about at the back, perhaps, of all our minds, and occasionally pop out to worry us.
When we think about the remarkably early age at which the young men went up to university in, let us say, Tudor times, and thereafter were held fit to assume responsibility for the conduct of their own affairs, are we altogether comfortable about that artificial prolongation of intellectual childhood and adolescence into the years of physical maturity which is so marked in our own day? To postpone the acceptance of responsibility to a late date brings with it a number of psychological complications which, while they may interest the psychiatrist, are scarcely beneficial either to the individual or to society. The stock argument in favor of postponing the school-leaving age and prolonging the period of education generally is there there is now so much more to learn than there was in the Middle Ages. This is partly true, but not wholly. The modern boy and girl are certainly taught more subjects--but does that always mean that they actually know more?
Last night at 2:45 a.m. (a school night, mind you), I had to go ask the college student neighbors to turn down their music so that I and my baby could sleep. The house party included girls dancing in bras and a suspicious-smelling smoke. Is this "the modern boy and girl"? Their parents are paying for them to engage in substance-abusing revelry in the middle of a school night as part of a college education? Truly this is a marked prolongation of adolescence.
My own story is quite different. I moved into on-campus housing and started as a full-time university student just before turning 17. I attended BYU where there is little in the way of drinking or drugs, and I studied a lot. Sunday nights, I went to bed early so I could be ready for the week's coming classes and assignments, and I don't think I was too different from most other BYU students in that respect. We were occasionally reminded that much of BYU's operation budget came from donations by LDS church members and that we were accountable for how we used our opportunities at BYU. While the student body fell short of perfection, it was still very hardworking. Also, I never lacked for opportunities for legal recreation (especially dances, which I loved).
Based on my own experience, I believe that it is perfectly realistic to expect a majority of college students to engage in responsible behavior and that we do them a disservice by acting as though they're incapable of doing so. We also don't help them any by setting low educational standards for them. I enjoy Sayers' essay because she imparts a vision of a higher, attainable standard of education than that which now prevails in mainstream US culture.

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