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  • The Lady Gaga-fication of Higher Ed

    Guess how many top-tier universities offer a course on Lady Gaga? Four! The University of Virginia, the University of South Carolina, Wake Forest University, and Arizona State University all now offer semester-long explorations of Lady Gaga’s apparently profound influence—since 2007—on music, fashion, and the LGBT lifestyle. Yet none of these universities requires students to take a course in U.S. history before graduation. Professors and faculty at top-ranked institutions are giving preference to frivolous classes at the expense of true education.

    In a new study by the National Association of Scholars, only one in 75 top universities required students to study western civilization. In 1964, more than half required students take a two-semester course that covered the history of western civilization from Greece to the modern era. The other half of universities required courses that guaranteed graduates understood the history of their society. But studying the foundations of our society no longer seems to be a priority for American universities.

    It is not just studying western civilization that has been tossed out the window. There is a dearth in all general requirements. Asking “What Will They Learn,” the American Council of Trustees and Alumni has found that only 20 percent of universities require students to take a U.S. government or history class. Only 5 percent require students to take a class in economics. Many, including top liberal arts colleges, have no general education requirements. With this setup, it is increasingly unlikely that college graduates will leave their alma maters even grasping the basics.

    Paying—or borrowing—close to $20,000 a year, students and parents should approach the collegiate plunge with serious expectations of their investment. Most expect a higher standard of living. This generally involves a job, which, in an economy with an 8.6 percent unemployment rate, is hard to come by. The second expectation is more fundamental: knowledge. As a society, we expect that four years of constant studying would yield college graduates with a decent handle on composition, history, and politics.

    The unwashed recent college grads occupying Wall Street have a real impetus behind their protest: disillusionment. They were sold a bill of goods. They say that their angst is against every fat cat in a suit, whom they’ve titled “the 1 percent.” But villains don’t always wear designer suits; sometimes, they wear tweed jackets. Maybe it’s time to occupy the universities.

    Posted in Education, Featured [slideshow_deploy]

    42 Responses to The Lady Gaga-fication of Higher Ed

    1. Wahoowa says:

      I can't speak for the others, but the course at UVA is not actually about Lady Gaga. It's a writing course for freshmen, taught by a grad student. Since the purpose of the course is to improve writing skills, the topic of the writing doesn't matter, and the grad students typically pick a fun topic like Gaga or Harry Potter. The article you link to mentions this fact. Please, remove Virginia from this article and take your count down to three.

      • Mike Brownfield Mike Brownfield says:

        Wahoowa — That's not how I read it. Here's a quote from that article:

        In Graduate Arts & Sciences student Christa Romanosky’s ongoing ENWR 1510 class, “GaGa for Gaga: Sex, Gender, and Identity,” students analyze how the musician pushes social boundaries with her work. For this introductory course to argumentative essay writing, Romanosky chose the Lady Gaga theme to establish an engaging framework for critical analysis.

        “We’re exploring how identity is challenged by gender and sexuality and how Lady Gaga confronts this challenge,” Romanosky said.

        • jts says:

          The comment from Wahoowa is correct. This is a writing class that is offered with themes, see http://www.engl.virginia.edu/undergraduate/writin…. I do find that the graduate student does a very poor job of explaining what she is supposed to be doing, but that maybe because she would rather be teaching lady gaga than a class about writing. One of the problems with academic freedom is too many believe their freedom to teach outweighs the students right to receive a class that meets the course objectives.

          In partial defense of the set up at UVA, the idea of a theme to a writing class is to find a topic that students are interested in. They then will want to find information and write about that topic as opposed to having to spend a part of class figuring out what to write an essay on, and then potentially being way outside of the instructor's knowledge with their topic when they seek help. In looking at the UVA courses for the spring there are about 5 themes, and 4 unthemed. Ironically, 4 of the 5 themed are full, and only one of the unthemed is full. I would suspect that the themed classes save significant time in not having to waste days helping students find a topic to write their essay and provide students with more direct help from the instructor. My suggestion to UVA though would be that the same benefits would be achieved by pairing the classes in learning communities with another required class. This would mean the writing could be about a science class, or history, or economics, or even an intro to a profession.

      • West Texan says:

        Why waste a writing course on such brainless entertainment? Sort of like offering empty calories with zero benefit. Not much analytical or conceptual thought needed. I'm not worried about the folks who'll never graduate (good revenue source for the school), it's the ones filling this class who do manage to make it through. That's when people must ask, what have these institutions produced? Those poor kids and/or their parents are entitled to a full refund plus damages.

        • Sarah says:

          West Texan, these "poor" kids and their parents know exactly what they are paying for. They are not victims in any real sense of the world. Anyway, you can analyze anything, and there's plenty to analyze about popular entertainment, whether you think it's creative genius or a blight on society. The point is to get the kids to write about something that interests them.

          (And by the way, there is no such thing as "empty" calories.)

      • 1mom says:

        Another concern is what happens to the student who takes the position that states what Lady Gaga (or whoever the influential icon may be) is doing is detrimental to society. That student will more than likely be "punished" with a bad grade. Anyone heard of the store Macy's?

    2. UVA Student says:

      That article states just what the first poster said: ENWR 1510 classes are required courses for first-years who do not place out of preliminary writing requirements through high AP English or SAT Writing scores. Their purpose is to develop critical writing skills, and in the academic world you can write critically about any topic. Other ENWR topics include Abnormal Psychology, Black Art and Aesthetics, and Graffiti and Remix Culture. Students should be able to write about what interests them, as it can challenge them to look at supposedly shallow things (Lady Gaga) in a new and engaging way (how her music has impacted the LGBT community). And UVA has a 93% graduation rate, so that's not much of an issue for Virginia.

      I've found that Universities which allow students greater freedom to choose courses which interest them better serve an inquisitive student than those which require that you take Econ 101, Health 101, and US History 101 (even if you may have taken these courses, as many students at 'top-tier' universities have, in high school).

    3. David Powell says:

      You've got to be kidding me. This is like finding some college class in the 1980s was all about Warrant songs.

      Don't get me wrong, I like her beats and her music, but man.

    4. Mark Sinclair says:

      Leslie Grimard, your college should have taught journalism..Then perhaps you'd have researched your subject so you'd know just what the curricula was of the courses you're criticizing.

    5. Old Voter says:

      The continual 'dumbing down' of America. No wonder people like Obama get elected to office. We need to get back to the '3 Rs', and teach these collegiates how to think, not what to think.

      • magnolialover says:

        Says someone who has no idea what these classes are actually about. Since it didn't mention it in the article at all.

    6. Chris Akin says:

      I went to college in the 80s. I really wish their would have been a "Dokken Development 101" or "Lynyrd Skynyrd Lifestyle 151" course offered. It really would have been much more interesting that all that history, biology and math I had to take.

      No wonder all our jobs are going to China – with this kind of agenda, we're not smart enough to do anything other than take orders, cook burgers and telemarket.

    7. Lori Maynard says:

      I respectfully disagree with you Wahoowa. Nothing in life exists in a vacuum and the same should hold true for education. The topic of one's writing does matter, since writing courses should teach students to develop their thinking as well as writing skills. Writing is a vehicle of communication, not a course in and of itself. What one chooses to communicate often drives the quality of the writing. There are much more substantive topics to think/write about, it is hard to believe students and parents are willing to actually pay tuition for this.

    8. gg84mom says:

      The purpose of a writing course is not merely to improve student writing; writing begets critical thinking. Providing students with a meaningful topic upon which to write/think is immeasurably beneficial. If we require challenging, thoughtful reading, students will gain both knowledge of an important topic (my current freshman comp class focuses on Ben Franklin) and improve their writing skills. I agree with West Texan's "empty calorie" theory. One of our responsibilities as faculty is to move students beyond their comfort zones–to introduce them to material they might not consider on their own–feed them some meat and vegetables in class and leave the chips and cake for the dorms.

    9. Lance Espinosa says:

      Do like I did. I sent my son to Hillsdale College, where they're Ga-Ga for the Constitution!

    10. Kim T. says:

      I can't repeat the quote verbatim but "he who forgets history is doomed to repeat it!" For many, college is no longer an intensive, indepth furtherance of the basics taught in K-12 education. It's more "feel good, pc blather about nothing" which fails horrendously to prepare graduates for the "real" world which requires hard work and common sense along with an education to succeed. This is exactly why we have thousands of OWS protesters who can't even communicate a central defining complaint as the basis for their angst. The liberal education arena has coddled and candy-coated reality with pretty promises of utopian equality for all to mislead these poor children. But their target is a result of the socialist agenda of the professors they've lived to learn from for years. Reality is a rude awakening. Yes you were lied to. But open your eyes, it was the liberal socialists who promised you a free ride on the rainbow, not the rest of us who are paying the bills.

      • Sarah says:

        Again, these "kids" are not victims of anything but their own stupidity. Unemployed college graduates are not children. They're at these protests because of their laziness and their own poor life choices. Sure, they were lied to by the educational establishment, but so are all students. Most of them aren't stupid enough to fall for it. Don't feel sorry for obnoxious Marxist protesters. People are autonomous agents. No one got them in this mess except themselves.

    11. Jake Kerr says:

      The Wake Forest class also has the Lady of Shallot in its title. Are we now attacking classes that feature Alfred, Lord Tennyson because a contemporary point-of-comparison is included in the class?

    12. h. engler says:

      Just another way to accumulate credits; so they can graduate with a degree in GKW (God knows what). Then they can join the rest of the grads @ McDonald's & Walmart.

    13. Sir John2 says:

      The main focus for me is that so many colleges do NOT require learning about Western Civ or even U.S. History. I took 2 years (4 semesters) of Western Civ and became so much more well-rounded.

    14. W. Heisenberg says:

      This is really the most petty "article" on this site recently and your best attempt to veil an anti-LGBT attack as the "concerned citizen." Well done, gents.

    15. David Moyer says:

      "But villains don’t always wear designer suits." Someone asked me the other day about my college education. I told them i did not get educated in college, but received a discipline ( i work in STEM career). Any true education must have a moral anchor. So….what's a villian?

      Great article, thanks

    16. Dave says:

      The "petty" comments are just that "petty". You look at the entire article and conclude it is an anit-LGBT attack or the comment with Alfred, Lord Tennyson misses the entire point of the article. The contrast of previous required courses in history, government, economics,…etc. does say a great deal in the lowering standards of "higher education". Do you really think that college kids will get a balanced view of society by taking a course on Lady Gaga and not having exposure to courses in Western Civilization, history, economics……etc. I would argue, like the author, that having exposure to these other subject areas in "higher education" is foundational before moving onto a class involving Lady Gaga's view on contemporary society!

      • eng says:

        I don't think any of these courses purport to know Lady Gaga's "view on contemporary society." They may, rather, look at what the fascination with Lady Gaga reveals about "contemporary society;" that is, about us.

      • Bob W says:

        The difficulty with your comment and the article is that it isn't a course about Lady Gaga. It's a freshmann writing course, taught by grad students, which uses many topics as the point of departure for essay writing. 19 students were in the "GaGa" section. There are more than 1,000 freshmen and 24,000 students overall at UVA. There are 15 General History and another 15 US History courses offered to undergraduates and another 40 or so history courses involving other world regions. See: http://www.virginia.edu/history/course/courseList

    17. Bob says:

      I think the uni should require all students to learn American history, studying the ideology of Founding Fathers, so they can see for themselves why America is the best country in human history. They should also be taught the proofs for God's existence, and the superiority of Christian morality.

    18. Holly Vradenburgh says:

      I don't think comparing certain elective courses with the absence of core requirements is appropriate. UVA, at least, offers a lot of US History courses, and its determination of what to include in core graduation requirements doesn't really have anything to do with Lady Gaga. Not to mention the fact that Lady Gaga's popularity is a FASCINATING (and perhaps tragic) commentary on modern culture.

    19. Stirling says:

      And people are actually "PAYING" for this nonsense of a course.. wow.. Can I offer these students some swampland in Florida after taking the course, of course for a small fee.. Talk about throwing good money after bad.. In theory it sounds like more of the progressive agenda to separate reality from as many of the next generation as possible.. Dumb them down then steal their futures without them knowing it.. Thanks Higher Education..

    20. Leon Lundquist says:

      The point of this article is beyond Lady Ga Ga. When I considered going back to school I looked in vain for a class that would actually help me out. Nothing but baloney classes, things that wouldn't help me at all. I gave up on the notion of going back to college. They weren't teaching anything useful. The Progressive Socialist Curriculum has been created to make stooges and not productive citizens. Lady Ga Ga is a wonderful artist with genuine talent. Read a magazine. Universities should teach Entrepreneurship, Free Enterprise and yes! History! Please!

    21. Spiritof76 says:

      I wonder how many of the newly minted liberal arts graduates know anything about Shakesphere? May be they will write:"Like, so boring to read about some dude that lived in ancient times, man." Most of the American college education is waste of money and time unless of course it is about how to obtain useable skill set.

    22. Elizabeth says:

      My husband and I once discussed the idea of "General Education" courses at universities, and he said that in Germany, there's no such thing — you move directly into your major field of study. The expectation is that you've learned all the "general education" — history, general sciences, math, composition — in the gymnasium and should be fully-prepared for higher-level study upon passing the Abitur. I think that's really a better approach than hand-wringing about lack of broad survey course requirements at universities.

      • lino martinez says:

        Elizabeth,
        Your are right, that 'should be' the norm, however our high school graduates are not good at writing so the colleges that get them have to go backward to get them on board

    23. Tom Mayer says:

      I think some of the arguments raised by the first few commentaries have validity. I agree that students can learn to write using any number of frivolous topics, but such essay or research topics can easily be offered as options in a comprehensive writing course. Using a whole semester to explore the nuances of one Lady Gaga is, well, gaga. We should expect more from our top tier schools.

    24. Pearce says:

      Try looking at
      http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/detai

      this is a more "scientific" look at the education people receive in college. (I don't recall where I first heard about this, but it may have been in an email from the Heritage Foundation)

    25. Erin says:

      I actually TEACH the course at Wake Forest, and I'd be happy to send the syllabus along to those who see fit to dismiss it as "frivolous" without investigating the actual content of the course. Besides the Tennyson poem referenced in the title, we also read Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Kierkegaard, William Wordsworth, Percy Shelley, Oscar Wilde, and Toni Morrison, among others. Hardly, I think, a list that suggests that the so-called great books aren't being taught anymore. On the contrary.

    26. Graham says:

      I went to the University of South Carolina, and I greatly appreciate the Heritage Foundation upgrading my degree to "top-tier." I'll be sure to let all my potential employers know the high standards you hold my school in!

    27. Larry Rothfield says:

      So, Heritage Foundation, let me get this straight: you write an article attacking the debasement of education represented by courses on Lady Gaga, but as the comments indicate, these courses are not really about Lady Gaga, and in fact for at least one of them the reading list is straight out of Western Civ. But who cares about facts when the answer is already given in advance? It makes everything so much easier not to have to actually get to the truth. Perhaps rather than a think tank you should call yourself a thoughtless tank.

    28. Hungry Scholar says:

      Problem with this essay and some comments is not putting rhetorical action/performance into context of the actual courses being taught. I am not particularly a fan of Lady Gaga nor reality TV shows generally and have rarely watched one, but we need to be honest that such popular culture phenomenon can place such phenomenon within a storied history of Western Civ. It's like pretending social media doesn't exist and has changed our world, even as I don't particularly want to participate in parts of it I find troubling. I won't pretend all courses and professors do this type of analysis equally well, of course, but one essay I often teach that students love is one about the Yippies from the 1960s that puts their antics within the tradition of the ancient Cynics in Greece who were equally off the charts. Diogenes and cohorts were every bit and maybe more so in a the theater of the absurd. But those ancient Greeks were part of Western Civ, too–like it or not but fact is fact– and some of these classes attempt to situate those performances within a history that is often dicier than commenters wish to acknowledge. Some popular culture might "matter" more than others, but I would suggest that the current scandal at Penn State and its idolatry of sports at the cost of unspeakable crimes against victims speaks to widespread popular culture in ways that academics have a duty to address if we expect young ones to be critical thinking beings with an ethical bone. Present culture is a chief rhetorical text. Why is a course in Lady Gaga more outrageous than one offered for years in Penn State about Paterno as a football coach?? Students got credits in it. I can cite lots of Shakespeare passages by heart, but other events merit analysis if public really wants a thinking populace.

      Respectively.

      .

    29. Jason Thomas says:

      This comment thread was the most entertaining thing I read today. Every singe post, excepting the two UVa students, has some pretty spectacular combinations of grammatical errors and logical flaws. As someone who left the University of Virginia because I found it to be even more "stuffy" than the private University of Richmond I attended prior, I find the article and the comments beyond humorous. Virginia has the most impressive public education system in the nation and it offers options that range from attending ANOTHER "public ivy" that also happens to be the oldest university in north america (The College of WIlliam and Mary) to a military style liberal arts college with a very conservative student body (The Virginia Military institute) if they don't find the course offering at the University of Virginia instructive enough for their tastes. As it is, UVa is a school with students clad in Kakis and polo shirts, steeped in tradition and looking to charge head first into careers in the private sector. Not only does it have one of the top history departments in the U.S., but a consistently #1 ranked undergraduate business school and top ranked graduate business and law programs. In New York CIty, where I live, a UVa degree carries about as much weight in the job market as a Harvard or Stanford degree and it consistently ranks in the top 10 for lifetime earnings of graduates. If the economy of Virginia is any indication of the quality of its educational system, and UVa's quality in particular, then I would say UVa is doing a fine job given that Virginia contains the majority of counties or independent cities in the U.S. with a median income of $100,000 a year or more. Both this article and it's ensuing comments thread are strong indicators that if colleges are to start requiring any course, one from the philosophy department in logic 101 or perhaps just basic critical thinking would be the best ones to consider.

    30. James Lawruk says:

      This blog post was mentioned in a recent WP blog post:
      http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/campus-overlo

    31. Hungry Scholar says:

      Problem with this essay and some comments is not putting rhetorical action/performance into context of the actual courses being taught. I am not particularly a fan of Lady Gaga nor reality TV shows generally and have rarely watched one, but we need to be honest that such popular culture phenomenon can place such phenomenon within a storied history of Western Civ. It's like pretending social media doesn't exist and has changed our world, even as I don't particularly want to participate in parts of it I find troubling. I won't pretend all courses and professors do this type of analysis equally well, of course, but one essay I often teach that students love is one about the Yippies from the 1960s that puts their antics within the tradition of the ancient Cynics in Greece who were equally off the charts. Diogenes and cohorts were every bit and maybe more so in a the theater of the absurd. But those ancient Greeks were part of Western Civ, too–like it or not but fact is fact– and some of these classes attempt to situate those performances within a history that is often dicier than commenters wish to acknowledge. Some popular culture might "matter" more than others, but I would suggest that the current scandal at Penn State and its idolatry of sports at the cost of unspeakable crimes against victims speaks to widespread popular culture in ways that academics have a duty to address if we expect young ones to be critical thinking beings with an ethical bone. Present culture is a chief rhetorical text. Why is a course in Lady Gaga more outrageous than one offered for years in Penn State about Paterno as a football coach?? Students got credits in it. I can cite lots of Shakespeare passages by heart, but other events merit analysis if public really wants a thinking populace.

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