I Love The Kool-Aid, But…

    Now that Joseph has stirred up the pot, and it is a pot that definitely needs to be stirred, I thought I’d do a little bit of a response at this late hour.

Right off the bat I think Joseph is right in saying that students don’t use what they don’t think they need. I see this apply to blogging a lot, if a student doesn’t see an intrinsic value in it they will not use it. For those skeptics it takes a lot of convincing that blogging is not really like writing a paper in a word document. I would also say what they have to blog about may make it harder or easier for somebody to write. I will even admit that I have been behind on my blogging for my Digital History Seminar because a lot of what I am doing for that class involves technology and I don’t really like writing documentation. But sometimes you just have to suck it up and do it. I am really looking forward to the idea of talking about solutions for these kinds of problems at Faculty Academy, like really excited. I see this also be connected with something Martha recently blogged about, along similar lines with the FSEM. Basically, I am excited hah.

Jeff also responded to Joe’s post with a lengthy comment/post, there is one particular part that stuck out to me:

Yes, I’m asking students to do something new, or to push themselves, or to think about doing something in a different way, and yes, that potentially takes away from their time to read (or learn) about those darn battles, but that’s a choice I’ve made as the creator of the course. That choice is based in my desire to balance the skills and content portions of my class (that’s an over-stated dichotomy here) to provide the best possible experience for the students going forward, not just in that course, but hopefully in others as well.

This goes back to something I have been thinking about lately. What exactly is the purpose of higher education? Is it about content or is it something more? I would like to think that it involves more than content, in fact I can’t stand the thought of purely a content driven education. Personally, at this moment I am not planning to teach history (my major), or work at a museum, or necessarily do something along those lines. I am investing in a college education because of the experience and the skills, the content is more a coating on the pill to make it go down easier. This is just my opinion, but I am guess that the majority of students are traveling down this same road.

There is more I want to say, but its is too late and I have to get up early. More to come.

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1 Response to “I Love The Kool-Aid, But…”


  1. 1 Gardner March 10, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    “What exactly is the purpose of higher education?”

    I’m teaching Hamlet right now, so of course I have to say “that is the question.”

    And that really is the question. I’m glad it’s emerged. My basic answer is that all education is a conceptual framework for augmenting human intellect. We know something about how that happens developmentally in the earlier grades, though even there we find a lot of controversy. Witness the SOLs in Virginia, all the push toward assessment in NCLB, etc. More: Bruner famously argued that one could teach an authentic version of any subject to any child at any age once the child could read and write; the trick was to find the appropriate means of pitching that authenticity to the level the child could meet (or just past it, to keep the learning challenging).

    Higher education is not just about advanced content. Though it is about that too, it’s also about something more. The “something more” has to do with fostering higher reasoning skills: better facility with abstractions, better tolerance for suggestion and connotation when an exact answer isn’t present, better problem-solving skills and heuristics, and (I’ll emphasize this part a little more) some history of the big questions and attempts to answer them. Modes of inquiry, in other words, including ways in which works of art inquire, and celebrate, and move their audiences.

    And yet those higher reasoning skills aren’t the whole story, either. Imaginations can be strengthened, horizons of expectation pushed out farther. Higher education needs to equip students to expect great things, and be ready to make them happen.

    I guess higher education is the ultimate bootstrapping operation, where we study what we study so that we can improve our processes of improvement.

    Yet there are problems. The higher goals get lost in the utilitarian (and necessary) pursuit of employment. Socialization blinds everyone to need for work, sacrifice, devotion. The entire process becomes an assembly line that ceases to be a means to an end and becomes an end in itself. These are all pretty visible problems.

    But the invisible problems are also tricky. One of them is particularly difficult, in that students may not recognize the significance of what they’re doing until long after the fact. (This is part of what I was trying to get at in my comment on Joe’s post.) If a student doesn’t think the work is relevant or significant or important, that may say something about the work, and it may not. Good to tread cautiously here, I say from experience, as I did not myself perceive the importance of everything I was learning as I was learning it. But it’s also true that some of the college stuff I didn’t enjoy was just not very good stuff. I was lucky, and I quickly learned who the profs were who would feed my soul, but even then I didn’t always get the great ones.

    I do worry, though,that an overemphasis on apparent “relevance” and immediate gratification will lead us away from augmenting human intellect, just as an overemphasis on vocation, or recreation, or socialization, etc. etc., will lead us away from that same goal. I also think that content matters, and matters vitally, though not if the goal is simply to memorize it. That said, my colleagues in Jepson would rightly respond that it matters whether one memorizes facts or not, because without that memorized content, there’s no scaffolding for further knowledge or judgment.

    Difficult questions, these, but those are the ones worth engaging with…. Apologies for the long comment on a provocative post. 🙂


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