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To Boost Results, College Bans Literature

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Diana Senechal

"After this successful pilot we look forward to ending our arts, ethics and theoretical science programs next year," said President Hubb.

Buchanan, Virginia—When Lewis Blankford entered Outcomes College two years ago, he thought he’d be an English major. “It still existed,” he told reporters. “Little did I know it was in its last hurrah. Without the hurrah, that is.” The college eliminated the department, then the courses, and finally the books, all within Blankford’s first semester. Today, if a visitor mentions literature, any good Outcomes student will reply politely, “We don’t use that word.”

“How did we get these results so quickly?” asked President Elmer Hubb rhetorically. “We bombarded our students with print-rich environments—that is, environments full of informational print. Take a look at our classrooms. They’re plastered with vacuum operation manuals, telephone guides, private eye reports, pop neuroscience newsflashes, employee training manuals, sanitation codes—stuff with hard facts, not fliggy-fluggy literary stuff.”

“Every day, in class, we’re given a slip of paper,” said Bernice Waar, a junior and information sciences major at Outcomes. “That’s our exit slip for the lesson. We’re supposed to walk up to the bulletin board, find one fact, and write it down. That gets us into data-driven thinking. And it’s easy.” When asked for an example, she rummaged in her pocket and pulled out a crumpled ball. Unrolling it, she read, “10,356 times per week. A standard deviation.” She puzzled over it for a moment. “I guess that’s two facts,” she said, “but I can’t remember where they came from. I got my credit for the day, anyway.”

Not every student has chosen to comply. One recalcitrant sophomore was caught exiting a restroom with a volume of George Eliot in hand. “Middlemarch, Mill on the Marsh, Floss of the Will, we don’t know and we don’t care,” said Hubb. “We dealt with the incident. Fortunately our data was not affected.”

When asked how this policy was boosting results, Hubb flourished a newspaper. “Have you seen this? We’ve been rated #1 in the country for preparing students for a knowledge economy.” Asked what a knowledge economy was, he seemed flustered. “It’s s-sort of where you have to know things,” he began. “Except you d-don’t really have to know them, since they’re right there at your fingertips. It’s more like you know how to do something with them, like copy them down off a wall. You’d be surprised how many students around the country don’t know a fact when they see one, and don’t know what to do with one when they find one. Our students are pros at this.” He gestured toward a student busy copying down the fact that Einstein had Asperger syndrome.

Would Shakespeare’s birth and death dates count as facts? “Yes, but we won’t go there,” said Hubb. “For obvious reasons.” He loosened for a moment. “I’ll quote you a line, just to prove my point,” he said. “Can’t remember which play it’s from, but it goes, ‘Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth.’ Now, we know there’s no evidence that a soul exists. That’s one strike. The question of sin is personal and not for a college setting. There’s two. And I never bought the earth nor was given it, so it’s definitely not mine. End of story. You see how confusing it would be for students to read this sort of thing. I’m getting confused even talking to you about it.”

When asked about critical thinking, Hubb lit up. “We do it all the time. Every Wednesday is ‘What I Think Day.’ Everyone takes a fact and brainstorms about it for a few minutes in group, and then shares out. It’s a powerful experience. Sometimes my eyes well up. But I fight back, because tears have been known to wash away results. We can’t afford that risk.”