Fred’s Been Reading My Mail and Probably Yours


The inimitable Fred Reed has some words of wisdom for those of you who have ambivalent feelings about your direction in life and your questionable education.

To begin with, sending a child to a university is irresponsible. These days it costs something like a quarter of a million dollars, depending on your choice of frauds. The more notorious of these intellectual brothels, as for example Yale, can cost more. This money, left in the stock market for forty hears, or thirty, would yield enough to keep the possessor in comfort, with sufficient left over for vices. If the market took a downturn, he could settle for just the vices. In the intervening years, he (or, most assuredly, she) could work in a dive shop.

 Hey now, let’s not upset the Educationist Establishment, Fred.  They might take a meaningless vote or something.

To the extent that universities actually try to teach anything, which is to say to a very limited extent, they do little more than inhibit intelligent students of inquiring mind. And they are unnecessary: The professor’s role is purely disciplinary: By threats of issuing failing grades, he insures that the student comes to class and reads certain things. But a student who has to be forced to learn shouldn’t not be in school in the first place. By making a chore of what would otherwise be a pleasure, the professor instills a lifelong loathing for the material.

The truth is that universities positively discourage learning. Think about it. Suppose you want to learn Twain. A fruitful approach might be to read Twain. The man wrote to be read, not analyzed tediously and inaccurately by begowned twits. It might help to read a life of Twain. All of this the student could do, happily, even joyously, sitting under a tree of an afternoon. This, I promise, is what Twain had in mind.

But no. The student must go to a class in American Literatue, and be asked by some pompous drone, “Now, what is Twain trying to tell us in paragraph four?” This presumes that Twain knew less well than the professor what he was trying to say, and that he couldn’t say it by himself. No. Not being much of a writer, the poor man needs the help of a semiliterate drab who couldn’t sell a pancake recipe to Boy’s Life. As bad, the approach suggests that the student is too dim to see the obvious or think for himself. He can’t read a book without a middleman. He probably ends by hating Twain.

Twain is probably being taught as an example of the Patriarchy’s attempt to emasculate Nigger Jim and objectify the co-dependent Becky Thatcher.  The story of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court was clearly an example of U.S. imperialism trying to "improve" a pre-Christian, pagan indigenous peoples.  You get the idea.

Worse, these alleged academies, these dark nights of the soul encourage moral depravity. This is not just my opinion. It can be shown statistically. Virtually all practitioners of I-banking, advertising, and law began by going to some university. Go to Manhattan and visit any prestigious nest of foul attorneys engaged in circumventing the law. Most will have attended schools in the Ivy League. The better the school, the worse the outcome. Any trace of principle, of contemplative wonder, will have been squeezed out of them as if they were grapes.

Perhaps once universities had something to do with the mind, the arts, with reflection, with grasping or grasping at man’s place in a curious universe. No longer. Now they are a complex scam of interlocking directorates. They employ professors, usually mediocre, to sell diplomas, usually meaningless, needed to get jobs nobody should want, for the benefit of corporations who want the equivalent of docile assembly-line workers.

See, first you learn that you have to finish twelve years of grade school and high school. The point is not to teach you anything; if it were, they would give you a diploma when you passed a comprehensive test, which you might do in the fifth grade. The point is to accustom you to doing things you detest. Then they tell you that you need four more years in college or you won’t be quite human and anyway starve from not getting a job. For those of this downtrodden bunch who are utterly lacking in independence, there is graduate school.

The result is twenty years wasted when you should have been out in the world, having a life worth talking about in bars—riding motorcycles, sacking cities, lolling on Pacific beaches or hiking in the Northwest. You learn that structure trumps performance, that existence is supposed to be dull. It prepares you to spend years on lawsuits over somebody else’s trademarks or simply going buzzbuzzbuzz in a wretched federal office. Only two weeks a year do you get to do what you want to do. This we pay for?

Unfortunately, it is indeed what we paid for, Fred.  We are none the better for it, either.  In the words of the equally inestimable Al Swearengen" In life you have to do a lot of things you don’t fucking want to do. Many times, that’s what the fuck life is… one vile fucking task after another."


2 Responses to “Fred’s Been Reading My Mail and Probably Yours”

  1. sgazzetti Says:

    Funny that you invoke Swearengen here — we just started watching "Deadwood" on DVD last night. Also because this puts me in mind of Louis L’Amour’s memoir of self-teaching through the method advocated by Reed, "Education of a Wandering Man". Which you may recall me reading during our time on casual at DLI. Anyway, an interesting argument which I may well take to heart in 16.5 years.

  2. Sarcastro Says:

    You had me read that book at DLI. Both Louis and Fred are on to something. Especially for a kid who is getting out of high school with no real idea of what to do in college than drink, chase women and go to class occasionally. Ishmael Suarez never went to college, and look how he turned out.

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