05 October 2006

A Brief History of the Modern University

Schools and universities have always been subordinate to the dominant institution. They get their funding and their support because they support the Church (even Harvard, established in the 1600's, turned out more theology students than anything else initially), the State (geography lessons are important for soldiers heading off to conquer or rule colonies) or the corporation.

The origins of the modern university can be traced back to Wilhelm Humboldt, whose brother Alexander was not only friends with Thomas Jefferson and Simon Bolivar but whose wide-ranging travel and writing led to his having more geographic spots named after him than anyone else (e.g., Humboldt County in California). To make a gross simplification, before Wilhelm universities taught accepted knowledge, conveying what was known. After Wilhelm, the model for higher education became a research university - an institution that actually created knowledge in the form of studies and research that could be conveyed. The Prussian government agreed to finance Wilhelm's university in Berlin because its research was so helpful to industry. By WW1, Germany led the world in industries that depended on knowledge workers - industries like automobiles and chemicals. Even after the allies defeated Germany, after the first world war, they were unable to make much sense of the patents and formulas they found, given that British and American education were not up to German standards. Since that time, the modern university naturally feeds the corporate need for fresh knowledge and fresh knowledge workers.

There are divinity schools that prepare young people for the Church. There are military schools that preare young people for service to the State. But these two forms of higher education are dwarfed by the number and size of universities that prepare our youth for the Corporation.

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