Reflections on a goofy three months, or how I spent my summer vacation.
When I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago way back in the late 1960s, I was informed by one of my professors that true academicians are at best marginal people — living in but not of the real world. I and many of my "firebreathing" grad school brethren firmly if not boldly dissented from this view concerning our impact on and involvement in future events. But recent developments have finally made me see the underlying wisdom of the old prof's message: "I can explain things, but in all honesty it's very tough to understand them."
Fact 1. In July I traveled to Lancashire Polytechnic Coilege in Preston, England (near Manchester), to participate in a conference on comparative higher education policies. The hottest debate concerned the issue of educational access. Some British profs claimed that their country's higher ed system was elitist and that it discriminated against older and working class individuals' becoming potential students. So far so good. Reality went out the window, however, toward the conference's conclusion when comparisons were made between Great Britain and the United States. A youngish British professor, dressed in 1965 Berkeley, Calif., garb, claimed that the English system should do away with curriculum structure, grades and admission standards. His evidence was a belief that across the Atlantic Americans were basking in an educational Valhalla of opportunity, equity and performance excellence. So much for the information age. It was as if he and several of his colleagues had emerged from an SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) time capsule and were ignorant of the higher educational crisis we are facing here today, in large part due to our attempts to implement a few decades age the suicidal educational policies advocated by this chap.
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1980s Jesse Jackson and not Ronald Reagan was the dominant American politician (a fact which makes the marginal analogy look even stronger). Yet even I was surprised by some of the academic guerilla theatre which gave evidence that, unlike leaders in Eastern Europe, many political scientists in America refuse to abandon Marxism. At one panel all middle age, white males were called oppressors; at another the social-educational needs of America were articulated without any reference to taxes or budgets; a third group expressed shock that middle and working class whites and blacks were leaving America's central cities for suburbia to escape crime and poor schools. Coming home did not bring reality any closer. In Illinois politics I saw that U.S. Sen. Paul Simon's lifelong career of unfinished and honorable public service is being dismissed by some due to his questionable but not illegal action on behalf of a constituent friend involved in the S&L mess.
In Cook County politics I saw an all black Harold Washington Party on the ballot at a time when the president of South Africa is calling for integrated party politics.
What to do. In desperation for answers to this summer of confusion I turned to my patron saint of reality, Martin J. Dooley. Yes, Finley Peter Dunne's fictional Chicago saloon keeper will finally have his day in the city. And none too soon. On October 13 and 14 noted Irish actor Vincent Dowling will conduct a seminar on Mr. Dooley at the Irish Heritage Center in Chicago.
Dooley zealots will gather from across the world to praise the "honorable one," and Dunne's son Philip will appear via video from his home in California. Perhaps in the sea of Dooleyisms that will be exchanged at this seminar, a few pearls from "himself" might explain the mysteries of the past few months. Remember, it was Mr. Dooley who summarized government leadership in America by claiming "a constitutional executive is a ruler who does as he damn pleases and then blames the people."
Yes, help may be just around the corner.
Paul M. Green is director of the Institute for Public Policy and Administration, Governors State University.
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