Russell Jacoby has chosen to discuss various themes which he believes define educational philosophy in the United States. He begins by questioning whether the real purpose of a college education is to create well-rounded individuals equipped to live life to it fullest or to train a skilled workforce prepared to find lucrative jobs. A curriculum which emphasizes “liberal arts” has given way to a curriculum which emphasizes “practical arts.” A sacred tenet of the college campus is freedom of speech, Jacoby continues. When one’s livelihood can be affected by what one says, he concludes, freedom of speech does not and cannot exist.
Political correctness, at the expense of free speech, supports what Jacoby sees as the current oversimplification of universal tolerance called cultural diversity. Jacoby argues that while multicultural American society appears to aggrandize each of its ethnic and cultural components, its real goal is to achieve cultural homogeneity. Finally, Jacoby delves into the vested interest of liberal college faculties who promote specialization as a means of self-preservation. To this end, professional jargon is developed and scholarly writings published in language so contrived and convoluted as to be incomprehensible to the uninitiated.
It would seem that Jacoby’s purpose is to advocate a return to a democratic, universally tolerant liberal arts education capable of truly preparing young people for full, productive and satisfying lives. Discerning this purpose is somewhat difficult for the very reader whom one would assume Jacoby would most like to reach: the inquisitive individual who, though no specialist in higher education, is nevertheless concerned with society’s increasing fragmentation and the demise of critical yet tolerant thinking. DOGMATIC WISDOM is a book with some provocative and welcome ideas which better editing might have helped to keep in focus.