Turning Kids Into Buffoons

By Joe Long Published on September 14, 2018

The guy could land a job in the admissions office of most major universities today. “Eat all you can! Be a glutton! Stuff yourselves! It’s all free, boys! It’s all free!” That’s how the barker in Disney’s Pinocchio welcomes the youngsters to Pleasure Island.

He’d fit right in at Behemoth State and Cozy Little College. Of course, he wanted to turn those kids into mindless buffoons.

The Call to Indulgence

Several years ago, I had the responsibility of shepherding a particularly gifted high school student through the college admissions process. We heard a few barkers.

Universities must compete for the money which comes along with enrolling students. They do so by promising a few years of indulgence, allegedly followed by a lucrative lifetime career.

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At one big university’s “Honors College” recruiting event, we enjoyed a steak while hearing the sales pitch. The honors program is prestigious, and the steak was delicious. The sales pitch, however, felt much like any other sales pitch that would come with a free meal — whether for a condominium, an alarm system, a diet plan or, now, an education.

Every student in the room had received an invitation because of a high SAT score. Every parent in the room radiated pride. Some folks looked uncomfortable in their Sunday suits. Others seemed to have deliberately dressed-down.

Exciting Projects and Great Times

The presenters were students of the Honors College, bright, attractive and confident. They told of exciting research projects in the hard sciences, of internships completed and job or graduate school prospects they were looking towards upon graduation. However, the main theme seemed to be the Great Time which students would have as part of the Campus Community.

They emphasized football and its attendant festivities, and gave a nod to other sports. No one mentioned religious activity at any point, though they featured other student activities. They didn’t describe classes beyond promising a low teacher/student ratio for Honors kids.

However, the university’s “food court,” an arrangement replacing the traditional cafeteria, was discussed at great length. It’s like eating at different restaurants, every meal! “Cake, pie, dill pickles and ice cream!” as the barker might have said.

The fitness center was palatial; the internet service, impeccable. Someone said there was an impressive library somewhere on campus.

The Floor Was Opened

After the prepared presentation by the university students, the floor was opened for questions. All of the prospective student questions were variations of, “How much fun will I have on campus, and what kind?”

“Does the university have kayaks available?” But of course. What color? “How strict are the rules in the dorms?” Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that — wink, wink. Oh — but, parents, security will certainly keep your students very, very safe. “What are football weekends like?” Why, you just wait!

One young lady, hair dyed bright blue, did vary the pattern. She demanded to be told whether, as an incoming freshman, she could live in Married Housing with her Significant Other. (You could hear her capitalize “Significant Other”.)

The student spokesmen punted that question. A university staff person then said, “no.” Blue Hair’s mother seemed relieved, though I might be imagining that.

The parent’s questions, too, generally fit a basic template. “How will this be paid for, again?” “Financial Aid” was the basic answer to that question. “Don’t worry, we’re very good at Financial Aid.”

A lone father did ask an academic question. “For our student presenters: Could you each tell me what was the best book you’ve read while in college?” One of the three seniors named a Michael Crichton thriller. Another chose an anthropology textbook, from a course he’d taken sophomore year. The third “couldn’t really think of one.”

The three answered quickly, confidently, casually. These honors students were prepared for the occasional odd, off-topic question. Now, back to those kayaks …

An Education?

By now, those spokesmen are two years past their college graduations. Each, no doubt, departed bearing excellent credentials.

Did they happen to receive educations, as well as credentials? Perhaps they did — but they weren’t advertising an education when they spoke to the high school seniors. They were advertising the University of Pleasure Island. Come one, come all, and bring a hearty appetite for indulgence! It’s all free!

Beasts of burden are always valuable. Modern higher education turns them out in great numbers, with student loan debt (“Financial Aid!”) as a handy harness. Luxury fitness centers and round-robin restaurant visits are replaced by the concerns of white collar work requiring barely a high school education. Frankly, many college graduates (especially in the liberal arts) have barely received a high school education anyway.

The universities, however, have been well reimbursed for those students. You see, they really are very good at Financial Aid.

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