Colossally Bad

I was at the last meeting of one of my committees this morning, when someone from the Humanities mentioned that traditional higher education has worked pretty well for the last hundred years or so.

I replied that we are colossally bad at higher education.

The rest of the committee was a little taken aback by my comment, so I briefly tried to justify it, though I admit I did not do a good job. I still believe that, for the most part, students learn despite higher education and not because of it. We know that humans have a limit to their attention and capacity to learn, and yet we insist on putting students through an industrial education model. We are glad that our students get jobs and make money, but we talk very little about quality of life and preparation for lifetime learning. This is knowledge work, not factory work.

Given the amazing and accelerating interconnected complexity of the world’s problems (many “wicked problems”), I am more and more convinced that teaching students a smidgen of any one topic is really not worth the effort — whether that’s literature, computing, architecture, etc. If students cannot grok the interconnectedness of problems, they will continue to be tools of those who do.


3 Responses to “Colossally Bad”

  1. Jaek Smith Says:

    Sometimes I momentarily wonder how things might turn out if we allowed people to be responsible for their own education / success (from an early age)? ;)

    • Paul Gestwicki Says:

      I agree with your sentiment. I am not enough of a cultural historian to know if there really is a “entitlement generation”, but a modicum of personal responsibility is called for. It’s also easy to point fingers at K-12, but I think the problems are bigger than that. (Still, excellent K-12 teachers can make a difference, and this has been demonstrated in research, so K-12 is a good place to start fostering lifetime learning.)

  2. Writing, Scholarship, and Software « Paul Gestwicki's Blog Says:

    […] year. In Fall, I felt productive and I also felt that I was learning. In much of the Spring, I was frustrated. (Interestingly, as I look back at the past semester’s writing to pull out those links, there […]

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