Home > Essays > The Nexus Between Progressivism and Corporatism Revealed in Decline of the Classics

The Nexus Between Progressivism and Corporatism Revealed in Decline of the Classics

June 8, 2021

As one who has long decried the desire of politicians to use post-graduate earnings as a “quality metric” for colleges while advocating for more open enrollments in colleges, I was taken aback by Aaron Sibarium’s article in the Washington Free Beacon that showed the link between these two seemingly opposite stances. In his piece, Mr. Sibarium quotes extensively from University of Tulsa’s Classics professor Jacob Howland who elaborates on the link between “wokeness and corporatism”. Noting that the classics, particularly language offerings in Greek and Latin, are on the decline in colleges across America at the same time as business-related courses are on the rise, Howland offers some insights on the relationship between those two phenomena: 

The justifications reflect dueling accounts of what ails classical education, which has experienced sharp declines in enrollment since the 1970s. One narrative attributes this attrition to identity politics and postmodernism, which killed classics by demonizing the “dead white men” who wrote them. The other centers on corporatization and careerism, with students ditching the humanities for majors that promised marketable skills.

These accounts aren’t mutually exclusive, though, but rather two sides of the same story—one in which economic and political pressures worked in tandem to hollow out the humanities.Fields such as classics are facing a “monstrous alignment of corporate and ideological incentives” that push in the same direction, said Jacob Howland, a classicist at the University of Tulsa. Slashing requirements makes majors easier and, in certain cases, more consonant with progressive sensibilities, drawing in just enough students to keep the liberal arts afloat. It also appeases activists pushing for changes within the liberal arts, which give those fields cover to pursue their own institutional self-interest.

This nexus of incentives has been strengthened by developments in the business world. Large corporations have embraced the ideological outlook of universities, Howland noted—so, by doubling down on that outlook, universities are effectively preparing students for jobs at large corporations.

Later in the article Mr. Sibarium promotes a position analogous to that of Mortimer Adler’s Paideia Proposal whereby all students would be enrolled in a classically-based curriculum for all students that had no elements of job training. In doing so, he shunned the notion that various liberal arts programs needed to water down their standards to “market themselves” to progressive-minded students who don’t want to read books by “dead white men” while also shunning the notion that schools should offer only those courses that lead to high paying careers. 

Here’s my takeaway: the “woke curriculum” and the “career curriculum” ARE opposite sides of the same coin… but the real question for educators— AND the real focal point of education— is this: what it the coin itself made of? 


%d bloggers like this: