Compare and Contrast two Articles


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This essay synthetically compares and contrasts two articles appearing in the Harper’s Magazine in September 1997. The first article ‘On the uses of a liberal education: As a weapon in the hands of the restless poor’ is authored by Earl Shorris, who is a contributing editor of the Harper’s Magazine, and the author of ten books, including American Blues: A journey through poverty to democracy, which he talks about in the article. The other article, ‘On the uses of a liberal education: As a lite entertainment to bored college students’, is written by Mark Edmundson, who is also a contributing editor of the Harper’s Magazine and the author of Nightmare on Main Street, which is a gothic study in contemporary culture. As such, it is observable that the authors of both articles are magazine contributing editors and book authors. The similarities between their articles will be described first, followed by the differences.


To start with, the two articles compare in the sense that both address the common topic of the use of liberal-arts education. Interestingly, both articles were inspired by members of educational institutions. The institution in Shorris’ case is a the Roberto Clemente Family Guidance Center in lower Manhattan, a facility providing counseling services to the poor residents of Manhattan, while the institution in Edmundson’s case is the University of Virginia. The students at these facilities motivated the authors to write their articles.

On an agreement note, both articles admit that the initially intended meaning and effectiveness of  liberal-arts education in helping the community has been lost. Concerning this, Shorris (50) holds the opinion that the education of liberal arts is currently ineffective because the culture of universities and colleges in America is so much devoted to the usage of educational resources for entertainment purposes. In similar manner, Edmundson (43) asserts his opinion that liberal-arts education is currently ineffective due to the undesirable consumer culture of American colleges and universities characterized by obsession with entertaining students rather than inculcating the required knowledge and expertise in them.

Additionally, both articles agree that colleges and universities have currently adopted the consumer culture of marketing themselves and ignoring the essence of offering their educational programs. Shorris (52) categorically remarks that educational institutions now concentrate more on wooing students through interesting materials and sidelines the more important knowledge and expertise that students should gain from learning. Universities and colleges, according to Edmundson (45) have turned into businesses where the institution with the best entertainment package for students takes the day by admitting more students that the others that do not ‘market’ themselves in attractive ways. For that reason, priority has been given to entertainment a rather than effective education.


Notwithstanding, there also exists some differences in the themes of the articles. To start with, the article by Shorris, on one hand, regards education as a humanistic tool of fighting against poverty through education and empowerment of the members of the society; hence the title ‘On the uses of a liberal education: As a weapon in the hands of the restless poor.’ On the other hand, Edmundson’s article views liberal-arts education as an asset of self-development that is commonly misinterpreted through overemphasis of entertainment of students, with the not-so-convincing reason of keeping them from getting bored.

Moreover, while Shorris views education as source of enlightenment for people languishing in lack of knowledge and consequential poverty, Edmundson views education as a social crisis that has been brought about by critics’ perception of the liberal-arts education program. To illustrate this, Shorris regards people’s ignorance as a dark cave, and education as the light that brings in enlightenment and empowerment by revealing to the people the things that have long kept them in the dark and in poverty all their lives. In furthering his course of making education a weapon against poverty, Shorris writes that he went ahead to link some of his students like Charles to organizations that would give them scholarships to advance their education and help their communities in the future (Shorris 59). However, Edmundson (39) observes that critics currently hold the opinion that education in liberal-arts is in crisis due to the perceived invasion of universities by professors who have the peculiar ideas of queer theory, deconstruction, feminism and Lacanianism. He also notes that the critics have a belief that tradition and genius are outdated, and that identity politics and multiculturalism are the in things due to the invasion by tribes from tenured radicals (Edmundson 40).

Towards this end, while Shorris sees education as a means of benefiting the whole community, Edmundson perceives it from a rather egocentric view, as a way of personal gratification and fulfillment of individual desires. Specifically, Shorris recognizes that the best education for any group of people is that which benefits all the members and even reports that the proposed Clemente Course in Humanities should be of benefit to all people and be similar to similar courses offered in other educational institutions (Shorris 57). He even made possible the offering of a course offering medical and educational services to adolescents and managed to get donors to the program. On the contrary, Edmundson (49) believes that the aim of good liberal education is to see that people do not become ‘passive victims of what they deterministically call circumstances’, but rather free themselves to be what they most value and what they greatly desire to become.


The two articles by Shorris and Edmundson on the uses of liberal-arts education address similar themes, only that they are delivered through different methodologies. Both authors are magazine editors and book authors, and agree with the claim that liberal-arts education has lost its meaning and effectiveness due to the overemphasis of student entertainment and adoption of consumer culture. However, the articles also differ in some opinions. The bottom line of this disagreement is rooted in the titles of the articles. While Edmundson’s article views education as an entertainment for bored college students, Shorris’ article views it as an effective weapon needed by the society to fight against poverty. 

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