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“Why Education Is Useless”

Daniel Cottom
256 pages, $26.50 cloth

Education is useless because it destroys our common sense, because it isolates us from the rest of humanity, because it hardens our hearts and swells our heads. Bookish persons have long been subjects of suspicion and contempt—nowhere more so, perhaps, than in the United States during the past 20 years.

Critics of education point to the Nazism of Martin Heidegger, for example, to assert the inhumanity of highly learned people; they contend that an oppressive form of identity politics has taken over the academy and complain that the art world has been overrun by culturally privileged elitists.

Asserting that hostility toward education cannot be dismissed as the reaction of barbarians, fools, and nihilists, Daniel Cottom, the David A. Burr Chair of Letters at the University of Oklahoma, brings a fresh perspective to all these topics while still making the debates about them comprehensible to those who are not academic insiders.

A brilliant and provocative work of cultural argument and analysis, “Why Education Is Useless” brings in materials from literature, philosophy, art, film, and other fields and proceeds from the assumption that hostility to education is an extremely complex phenomenon.

Ranging in reference from Montaigne to George W. Bush, the book is a lively investigation of a notion that has persisted from antiquity through the Renaissance and into the modern era. Facing head-on the conception of utility articulated in the 19th century by John Stuart Mill, and directly opposing the hostile conceptions of inutility that have been popularized in recent decades by such ideologues as Allan Bloom, Harold Bloom, and John Ellis, Cottom contends that education must be “useless” if it is to be worthy of its name.

— University of Pennsylvania Press

Originally published on May 1, 2003