I'd never heard of the “Wisconsin Idea” – “the principle that the university should improve people’s lives beyond the classroom” – until Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker set out to dismantle it. Born in the Progressive era, the idea was to make the state education system a “laboratory of democracy.” Walker has backed away from his earlier language to rewrite the university’s mission by removing, "Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth” and deleting the phrases to "extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campus,” "serve and stimulate society,” and “educate people and improve the human condition." Instead, he would have the university’s mission be "to meet the state's work-force needs."
The creepily Stalinist language is gone, dismissed as “a drafting error.” But the utilitarian message lingers.
And then I received this from a friend: “I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the ramped-up horrors abroad in the world, almost feeling like a descent into another Dark Age, and keep coming back to the notion that the only defense and antidote is beauty of whatever kind – it helps to balance the hideous dark stuff and thank God for it all!”
I think of Galway Kinnell, the late Irish poet who wrote, “To me, poetry is somebody standing up . . . and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment.”
We need educated workers. We also need poets.