In July 2017, a Pew Research Center poll revealed that most Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (58 percent) believed “colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country.” Meanwhile, a solid majority of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (72 percent) saw higher education’s effects on the United States as positive.
Higher education has become a polarizing topic in U.S. politics, but the underlying issues—who should be taught, what should be taught, and to what end—stretch back to the Middle Ages, when universities first came into existence. In the late 14th century, the English writer William Langland considered these questions at length in his poem Piers Plowman, a religious and political work of 7,000-plus lines. Langland spent most of his adult life crafting and revising the poem; it is, alongside Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the greatest English literary achievement of its time. A highly educated man, Langland framed the idea of education as a social and ethical project—and a questionable one at that. [read more]
Boston College Magazine winter 2018/2019: 48-9