What, according to James Thurber in My Life and Hard Times, marked the decline of education in the Middle West and why?I am unable to comprehend the paragraph "Ohio State was a land grant...

What, according to James Thurber in My Life and Hard Times, marked the decline of education in the Middle West and why?

I am unable to comprehend the paragraph "Ohio State was a land grant university and therefore... decline of higher education in the Middle West". Please help me understand the paragraph. I would also like to know the appropriate answer for the question.

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In his autobiographical volume titled My Life and Hard Times, the American humorist James Thurber mocks various aspects of his experiences as a student at Ohio State University.  In general, he mocks the fact that during the time he studied there, the university was emphasizing activities that had little to do with true education.  One of these activities involved military drills.  The First World War was taking place at the time, and students were expected to participate in military practice so that they would be prepared to participate in the war if necessary. Ohio State was at that time a “land grant” university (a school intended, by the state and federal governments, to focus on practical education rather than on the traditional study of the liberal arts). Military training, according to Thurber, was required of the students at land-grant institutions.

In the paragraph you’ve asked about, Thurber says that because Ohio State was a land grant university, “two years of military drill was [sic] compulsory.” Yet the students drilled with outdated weapons and studied outdated military tactics. They learned about how to fight effectively in the Civil War – an event that was over fifty years in the past:

It was good training for the kind of warfare that was waged at Shiloh but it had no connection with what was going on in Europe.

The students' military education, then, was anything but “practical” in the truest senses of that word. The students showed no enthusiasm for participating in such training, and Thurber jokes that some people even suspected that Germany (America’s enemy in World War I) might have paid for such training so that American forces would be easier to defeat. He further jokes that the people who held these suspicious were afraid to voice them openly, lest they be imprisoned as German spies.  The illogic of potentially imprisoning such people is just the latest in a long string of examples Thurber provides to suggest that thinking during this period was “muddy” (that is, confused and obscure).

The university, which should ideally be a place of lucid, higher thought, had thus become a locus of illogical thinking.  This is why Thurber jokingly asserts that this period marked “the decline of higher education in the Middle West.”

 

James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1933), 71.

 

 

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