12 September 2015

Whose Responsibility is a Collegiate Overthrow?

In Virginia Woolf’s manifesto for gender-based equality, Three Guineas, she challenges contemporary universities—age-old institutions of higher learning, competition, and economic viability—because of their exclusion of all women, deconstructing their very foundations and scribing new blueprints of a more just, more powerful educational sub-society, one that would train all of its students in the arts of both intellectual curiosity and ethical behavior. However, in proposing her ideations of an “experimental college,” she fails to enumerate communal ramifications for straying from her individual didactic stipulations, thus eliminating the possibility for any future positive collegiate universalism (Woolf 43).



Whereas Woolf plans an undeniably more wholesome and effective university system—a transition from the “old college” to greater alternatives—her rules remain starkly individual, and thus, jarringly unfollowable (42). She writes of transitioning from the “old college,” a breeding ground for grandeur and a stop for those who wish to “emphasize their superiority” over their peers via titles and letters, to the “new college,” a place to “teach the arts of human intercourse,” along with those of empathy and interdisciplinary appreciation (42, 27, 43). A pulpit for learning, cooperation, and respect, it would be. And yet, in each of her terms for donation—learning with an omnipresent, weighing sense of “poverty, chastity, derision and freedom from unreal loyalties”—she forms stipulations for individual students, rather than any college itself, relying upon abstract advice for unaccountable learners and disregarding macro-educational woes within contemporary university life (96).

Thus, Woolf, in her idealistic reveries of approaching higher learning, regrettably occludes any universal standards for collegiate education as a whole, providing little guidance to contemporary universities as to how they may better their programs, in order to inculcate a community of peace. Instead, Woolf simply assumes that enfranchising women with the “weapon of independent opinion” will ultimately prevent war (71). However, firstly, in her connection between gender-based equality and positive peace, she unrightfully persists that the role of female enfranchisement catalyzes global pacifism, when, in reality, it may be merely a limiting condition, hence why war remains omnipresent well into the 21st century. Secondly, her individual advice holds no one but the individual student, who may not even read Three Guineas, accountable for the future of his or her education, thus transforming Woolf’s own powerful manifesto of feminism and pacifism into a sagacious peroration of a pedagogical fortune cookie, providing advice that, most likely, will be ignored in the decades to come.

When accounting for the worth of a single-guinea investment, Woolf provides not the standards for what education should emulate in the decades to come, but instead a selection of advice for the individual student and a prayer for employment opportunity for the individuals who follow her ways. Thus, its wisdom has been lost in decades of institutional responsibility for individual performance, and, until such communal responsibilities arise, its guidelines of “poverty, chastity, derision and freedom from unreal loyalties” will remain as unfollowed as modernist-era universities were unjust (96).

Works Cited

Woolf, Virginia. Three Guineas. London: Hogarth, 1938. Print.

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