Essay: Consumerism and Education

At many universities changes are happening every day for students. According to a 1997 article in Harper’s Magazine by Mark Edmundson titled On the Uses of a Liberal Education, universities are changing due to consumerism affecting the education system. A professor of English at the University of Virginia. In the article, Edmundson says his overall point is that the consumer ethos is winning (Edmundson 50).
The setting of this discussion involves the academic setting of the classroom that Mark Edmundson teaches in. As a professor at the University of Virginia, Edmundson has published many scholarly articles on literary and cultural criticism. As part of his life work and career, one could see how Edmundson is very knowledgeable as he uses several examples of himself and his students to explain the problem of consumerism affecting the education system.
Edmundson beings by telling us about one of his classes on a day he doesn’t exactly enjoy, evaluation day. He noticed a buzz amongst the class and how all his students are wide awake. Though Edmundson describes himself as feeling distressed as he left the room even though he usually gets good reviews he says:
Yet I have to admit that I do not much like the image of myself that emerges from these forms, the image of knowledgeable, humorous detachment and bland tolerance. I do not like the forms themselves, with their number rating, reminiscent of the sheets circulated after the TV pilot has just played to its sample audience in Burbank. Most of all I dislike the attitude of calm consumer expertise that persuades the responses. (Edmundson 4)
Here Edmundson is referencing the ‘cool consumer’ worldview that he believes is corrupting youth and universities. This ‘cool consumer’ view makes them have a mindset of being devoted to consumption and entertainment as Edmundson says. (Edmunson 9).
Edumundson says that one of the major influences in media is what he calls persona ads. Edmundson says that these persona ads are ‘ads for Nike and Reeboks and Jeeps and Blazers that don’t so much endorse the capacities of the product per se as show you what sort of person you will be once you’ve acquired it.’ (Edmundson 14) He also says, ‘My students did not ask for that view, much less create it, but they bring a consumer weltanschauug to school, where it exerts a powerful, and largely unacknowledged, influence.’ (Edmundson 9) By using the word weltanschauung he is trying to make the claim of students having a certain conception or apprehension of the world and where that view of the world has a powerful influence.
According to Edmundson, students tend to frequently visit his office and tell him how they felt intimidated in class. The students feel scared to be embarrassed in front of everyone else. Edmundson says he asks the logical question: Should he be letting a major factual error go by so as to save discomfort? (Edmundson 35) Almost every student is cautious and defensive when they visit him.
Edmundson goes on to further note how many students have imbibed their sense of self from consumer culture and from the tube. (Edmundson 13) He claims many students desperately try to blend in and that even the slightest departure from this code will get you ostracized. Edmundson describes this effect as emotional display is forbidden. He says full blown conflicts are rare now, with one of the parties in an argument only saying ‘whatever’ and then slouching away. He uses this example to describe what he now calls ‘a tensely committed laidback norm.’
(Edmundson 15) During classes he asks for comments and no one responds which makes him have to randomly call on students, whose answers seem too laid back and not descriptive. Edmundson however notes that there are a few remarkable students that manage to have enthusiasm and are set apart from the other students.
Edmundson also believes that universities are starting to lose sight of their main goal, which is to educate and not entertain students. Over the past few years he describes the physical layout of his university as constantly changing and becoming more like ‘a retirement spread for the young.’ (Edmundson 24) He describes the University like this:
We have a new aquatics center and ever-improving gyms, stocked with StairMasters and Nautilus machines. Engraved on the wall in the gleaming aquatics building is a line by our founder, Thomas Jefferson, declaring that everyone ought to get about two hours’ exercise a day. Clearly even the author of the Declaration of Independence endorses the turning of his university into a sports-and-fitness emporium. (Edmundson 24)
Edmundson makes a point though by saying these things shouldn’t be surprising as universities always attempt to become attractive to students and is a part of a trend. As to how this point was reached, Edmundson traces it back to the time of the G.I. bill after World War II. (Edmundson 28) After the influx, colleges began turning their attention to the consumers needs. He says colleges tend to serve and not challenge the student at all anymore, saying students now have the ability to be able to add and drop classes in the first two weeks of the semester without making any commitments. Edmundson describes students today as happy consumers saying, ‘A happy consumer is, by definition, one with multiple options, one who can always have what he wants. And since a course is something the students and their parents have bought and paid for; why can’t they do with it pretty much as they please’? (Edmundson 31) An issue with this way of thinking is that a person will never be able to experience things that could be mind altering due to the fact that they don’t like something about the particular subject. A college financial officer told Edmundson that ‘colleges don’t have admissions offices anymore, they have marketing departments.’ (Edmundson 27) According to Edmundson, these changed in universities were inevitable and the only way that they could manage to stay in business. Why is Edmundson concerned with consumerism affecting and changing universities?
In this article he wrote, Edmundson is trying to teach and persuade his audience. Throughout the article he is making clear just how much he is against consumerism in higher education. He is trying to teach the readers because he is giving them all the information that is required for the readers to be able to form their ideas and opinions. A persons own unique ideas and opinions are something that readers can sense is important to Edmundson. He points out about how he finds little passion in most of his students, unless there is a rare one who possesses the passion to learn. Edmundson is using a certain tone in his objective writing to try to be persuasive and clear.
In conclusion, Edmundson makes his point well and clear for his readers. He is very descriptive, precise, and informative. The stories of his students and the effect of consumerism on them are very interesting. Edmundson says that it is ultimately up to us as individuals and students to ultimately make our own way against the tide of consumerism and to reach our true potential by being challenged. We may have to do stuff we don’t like, but it will have been better for us in the end.

Works Cited
Edmundson, Mark. ‘On the Uses of a Liberal Education.’ From Inquiry to Academic Writing. Stuart Greene and April Lidinsky, eds. Boston: Bedfor
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