Five Purposes of Higher Education

What do you think higher education is for?

Back in September, Richard Kahlenberg gave a convocation speech in which he outlined five “Purposes of Higher Education.”  I don’t entirely buy them.  Kahlenberg, in his speech, is critical of the extent to which higher education has accomplished these things; I wonder whether they should be our goals at all.

1.  To ensure that every student, no matter the wealth of her parents, has a chance to enjoy the American Dream.

2. To educate leaders in our democracy.

3. To advance learning and knowledge through faculty research and by giving students the opportunity to broaden their minds even when learning does not seem immediately relevant to their careers.

4. To teach students to interact with people different than themselves.

5. To help students find a passionand even a purpose in life.

“4” and “5” work for me as ideals.  How often are they accomplished?  As Kahlenberg says, not very well.  Every time I walk through my school’s cafeteria, I notice that, even after a year or two or three in college, students are still choosing to interact with people very much like themselves.  And a few hours in a few classrooms will show anyone that many college students feel passionate about very little that school has to offer them.

Where “2” is concerned: educating “leaders” is overrated.  We can’t all be leaders, and the world needs educated, successful followers, too.  Kahlenberg seems to be suggesting that those who go to university should be the leaders; this is an outmoded view.  Nowadays, plenty of people who go to university will be employees in large companies, or civil servants.  There’s no reason that higher education can’t provide for them, too.  Kahlenberg is worried that universities are perpetuating old norms by giving preferential admissions to the wealthy and other “legacy admissions”; I think there is a greater problem with the idea that a university education needs to be focused on leadership.  A university education needs to be focused on learning, in all its forms.

Which brings us to “3,” which seems like two different things to me, and neither mentions “learning how to learn,” the most relevant skill to any career or life.  In fact, “3” doesn’t seem concerned with student learning, per se, but with the “advancement of learning” in an abstract sense.  If higher education is to be “education,” it needs to put the concrete, day-to-day learning of students at its center.  “Giving students the opportunity” to “broaden their minds” suggests that faculty are spouting wisdom that students are welcome to partake of if they wish – this view of “education” sits very poorly with me.

And as for “1”…well, I’m not American, so maybe I don’t know from American Dreams, but the concept has always seemed like a great big fraud to me.

Take a hop over to the article, and then come back here and tell me what you think.

Image by Carlos Alberto Brandão

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How Do Games Help Us Learn?

In an early post of mine, you can read about a couple of games that I have used in my classes to get students moving, talking and thinking: a getting-to-know-you game, and a grammar relay race.  A few weeks ago, a reader (OnQuicken), left a comment on that old post, asking to hear about more classroom games.

There are many ongoing studies of video and computer games as learning tools.  Educational researchers are also investigating the general concept of play, and its role in learning.  I’d like to look into some of the research in this area, and write about it here in the near future.

For now, though, I’d like to hear about your games.

I expect that if you are a primary teacher, you incorporate games into your teaching.  Do you use any games that would be suitable for, or adaptable to, older students?  I’m especially interested in how teachers of high school, college, university and adult education use games in the classroom. What experiences have you had with playing games?  What are the pros and cons of using them?  What successful games have you used?

Students, can you think of learning games that you’ve found especially effective?

Most importantly, have you seen any evidence to suggest that the games you have played, in the classroom or otherwise, have helped you or your students learn?  What and how?

Image by Mark Daniel

University Isn’t Everything

This is the final post in our series “What Students Think Should Change About School.”  In today’s post, Ruth explains that our fixation on getting everyone to university means a poorer education for everyone.

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Society has this idea that certain levels of education are necessary for a person to have any worth. I think this is a ridiculous idea that is harming students today. In many circles, a person is told they must at least have a college bachelor’s degree in order to get a job or be respected in society. Just going to a technical school or learning a trade is not enough anymore. And yet, if everyone is getting a college degree, then soon even that will not be enough. How far will we push those outrageous expectations?

Because of those expectations and the increased attendance rate at universities and colleges, it seems that our value of education is lowering dramatically. With increased class sizes and more and more fees everywhere a student turns it is so difficult for the average student to get a good education. I know so many students (including myself) who have to take a packed class load while working one or two jobs on the side just to get by without starving. How is a student to get a quality education while stressed to the max?

The thing that has frustrated me the most in my college career has been the useless classes I have had to take. I realize that part of this is because I am going to a liberal arts Bible college. However, I do not think a student should be forced to take (and PAY for!) classes that they do not need. That part of the system is definitely messed up. College is not the place for high school students to play catch-up at the expense of their fellow students.

The last comment I have to make is about how prepared college students are to actually face the world. My biggest complaint is with the Teacher Licensure programs around the country. I had so many teachers in high school fresh out of college that had no idea how to actually function in a classroom and deal with students. When a carpenter learns his trade, he does not spend the majority of his time sitting on his backside learning theories of carpentry. He also does not spend only a few months doing actual hands-on carpentry. If such a method would not work for a carpenter, then how can we expect it to work for a teacher? Teaching really is a skill that cannot be learned sitting in a room learning theories and making cut-outs. Students of teaching need to BE teachers and spend most of their time practicing in order to become skilled. Most Teacher Licensure students at my college spend three and a half years in the classroom with a practicum thrown here or there and only one semester actually teaching. Even though it is not my personal goal to become a teacher, I have spent almost every summer for the past seven years working in a summer school classroom. Comparing my experience with what some of my friends are learning in a classroom shows a major discrepancy in ability and skill level. My exposure and experience actually being in the classroom have prepared me more than years of sitting in class have prepared them.

It seems that the push for a college education has caused schools to create degrees for things that do not need a conventional college degree. Students are then forced to sit through boring and unnecessary classes in order to achieve their goals.

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What do you think of Ruth’s perspective?  Is it true that pushing everyone to go to university makes for useless degrees, boring classes and an inadequate education?  Please leave your thoughts below!

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Previous posts in this series:

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I’ll be taking a hiatus next week to take care of some other matters, so I’ll see you again on October 24.

Image by Piotr Lewandowski

If You Can’t Pay for College, Don’t Go

What would students like to change about school?  Our series continues.

Today’s post is from Aewl.  His perspective?  College should be reserved for those who can pay for it.

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I’m currently a Freshman at a local Junior College. All my classes are online classes as I work during the day full time as a Carpenter for the local school district. Yes, I’m a bit older than most students as I graduated from High School 28 years ago. I did a semester of college right after High School, but didn’t do well as I was more focused on partying than studying. Times have changed and I’ve matured just a bit.

One thing that I can’t get over about college today is all the remedial and prep classes that are not only offered but usually pretty full. 28 years ago, there were few if any remedial courses offered that I remembered. I’ve never had to take a remedial course, so I can’t comment on whether they are a help to students or not.

If I could change just one thing about college, it would be to get rid of Pell Grants. That may seem a bit outlandish, but let me explain. By making college affordable to many people that years ago would not have been able to go to college, it basically makes it an extension to High School. There are quite a few people that if they had to work to pay for their college would not go. These are the same students that do poorly in college and really have no business being in college. Colleges are obligated to try to teach students that are not prepared and are also under pressure to show decent graduation rates. To achieve this, they have to hire more faculty member to teach remedial courses and also to lower the bar of expectation. There is a real danger of grade inflation going on throughout the nation. Today an “A” doesn’t mean near as much as it did a few decades back.

As I do the work for my classes, I have an incentive to do well which has only come from years of working hard and learning from life’s experiences. Unfortunately, even though I do well in my classes, due to grade inflation, it is not seen as much of a big deal as it used to be.

In my day job at the school district, I get brief glimpses of students from K-12 in classes. I also get to interact and develop friendships with various teachers. For the most part, most are motivated to teach well, but of course there are the bad apples in the system that have forgotten why they are there. The lack of parental involvement is a clear indicator of a student’s future failure in the academic world. Consequentially when these students go on to college because the government is subsidizing their education, they have to go to remedial classes which take up resources from the college that in my opinion could be put to better use for the students that are prepared for college.

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What do you think of Aewl’s perspective?  Do you agree that students should hold off on college until they have the means to pay for it themselves?

Tomorrow’s post: Katy thinks we should lighten up about grades.

Yesterday’s post: Emily thinks school is too easy.

Are you a student?  What do you think should change about school?  Go to this post to leave your thoughts, or write me a message.

Image by jitheshvv