HOME page                  NEW STUFF page 
          WRITING CONTENT page       GUEST ARTISTS pageHome_1.htmlNew_Stuff.htmlEssays.htmlGuest_Artists.htmlshapeimage_1_link_0shapeimage_1_link_1shapeimage_1_link_2shapeimage_1_link_3

Colleges: Perceptions and Realities

John W. Pinkerton


I'm not sure what set me on a path determined to enter college.  I suppose it was my high school classmates most of whom seemed to be going on to “higher” education.  There was never a doubt in my mind, and LSU was my chosen institution.

In 1960, the year I began attending LSU, the perception by most folks---and myself---was that colleges were institutions in which one could become a well-rounded, erudite individual who would be valued by the world.

By the time I graduated from LSU with an English degree and served a couple of years in the army, I began to realize this perception needed an update.  Colleges had become job-training institutions.  My degree in English was not at the top of the list for employers.

Fast forward thirty or forty years or so when the perception and reality of colleges once again changed: with the creation of programs to lend money to students so they could manage the rising cost of higher education, schools began to create course offerings which would appeal to a greater range of students, everything from basket weaving to pissed-off-women studies programs.

I recall speaking to a young lady in a restaurant who was puzzling over her laptop computer. I asked her what she was doing on her laptop to which she replied, “Picking courses for my next semester at A&M.”  I then asked her what her major was.  She named about five possible majors none of which presented much prospect of making a decent living…or contributing much to the greater world.

Today the perception and reality of higher education is once again changing.  Both parents and students have noted the rising cost of education and the diminishing value of what students receive in return.

Colleges have also noted the growing trend of potential students who are foregoing the college experience altogether.  That, of course, cuts into the colleges' bank accounts.

In order to avoid losing students---and thus their money train---colleges are beginning to pare down their course offerings eliminating Cracker-Jack box courses in order to regain their good reputation as serious institutions.

Although I support this trend, I hope the colleges don't throw out the baby with the bath water. They still need to provide the students with a well-rounded general education: philosophy, art, history, sociology, etc.

Some of these young people, both college students and non-college students, will self-actualize the pursuit of this solid foundation. Others may need a little assistance.

Efforts have been made to accomplish this in the past.  I recall Great Books of the Western World which is an attempt to provide the essential foundation of Western culture through its literature.  Some versions are upward of sixty volumes.

I'm reasonably certain you may have a short list of works which you feel would benefit anyone wishing to be both erudite and well-rounded.  Send your contributions to me, and I'll include note of them in future issues.

At this time I only have one work which I would like to see on a list of essential reading: The Education of T. C. Mitts, one of the best books ever on mathematics, written by Lillian R. Lieber and illustrated by her husband, Hugh. 

It was first copyrighted in 1942.  I came into possession of a really rough looking copy which was discarded by a library.  A couple of years ago, I checked Amazon, and they only had a couple of used copies.  I did find a company in India which produced the book at the present time.  However, when I checked recently, it is currently available at Amazon.

The hero of the volume, T. C. Mitts, is actually an acronym for “the common man in the street.” The purpose of the book is to emphasize that mathematics can be understood by anyone.  Well, I'm anyone, and I'm pretty common.  It not only explains math but relates it to many subjects: democracy, freedom and license, pride and prejudice, success, isolationism, preparedness, tradition,  progress,  idealism, common sense, human nature, war, self-reliance, humility, tolerance, provincialism, anarchy, loyalty, abstract art, etc. 

In summary, the book conveys the relationship between the world and mathematics, and it's a delight.