0266 – What I Think Higher Education Should Look Like

So there’s this man named William Deresiewicz who is a passionate critic of higher education, culture, politics, and “anything he can get away with.” I consider him one of the great thought leaders of our generations and have always enjoyed reading about his take on education. Here is one that I just read for a second time: The Disadvantages of An Elite Education.

As always, Mr. Deresiewicz has managed to capture most of my thoughts about education in his usual eloquence. I agree with him on pretty much everything.

My favorite quote from the reading:

“…most of them have seemed content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them. Only a small minority have seen their education as part of a larger intellectual journey, have approached the work of the mind with a pilgrim soul. These few have tended to feel like freaks, not least because they get so little support from the university itself. Places like Yale, as one of them put it to me, are not conducive to searchers. … Throughout much of the 20th century, with the growth of the humanistic ideal in American colleges, students might have encountered the big questions in the classrooms of professors possessed of a strong sense of pedagogic mission. Teachers like that still exist in this country, but the increasingly dire exigencies of academic professionalization have made them all but extinct at elite universities.”

Gotta love this man.

I am a searcher, and I feel like  a freak. I’ve also given a lot of thought to my future as a professor, and I firmly believe in the importance of posing the big questions in the classrooms. It’s a shame it’s becoming extinct, because I, for one, am not ready for that to happen.

Given my interest in higher education, I figured I should spend some time to think about how my ideal education would look like. Here’s what I came up with:

– Education will become more interdisciplinary. Requirements for each concentration will be drastically reduced to allow for room to explore other disciplines. If necessary, a limit of classes within the major may be set, in order to prohibit overspecialization. I would contend that 90% of the college students now are overspecialized.

– A Bachelor in General Studies will be heavily promoted. It is a way for students who have interdisciplinary or unique interests to craft their own education. The stigma around “not knowing what I want to do” will be removed.

– The emphasis will be on training students to become thought leaders, not just “leaders” if you can even call it that.

– There will be more courses that allow students to take control of their intellectual journey and look within, instead of without. Textbooks can only provide so much. Much wisdom is found in the depth of the soul.

– I am against instituting all sorts of requirements for college students, but if they will exist regardless, one of them should be a course about paradigm shifts, change, and life.

– There will be more courses offered related to what makes life worth living, the meaning of life, spirituality and all that important stuff that colleges now ignore.

– Emphasis will also be placed on the mental and physical health of students. Students should not be subject to the pressure to work day and night before exams or ridiculous homework. The end never justifies the means. The means is the end. It’s all about balance. Colleges need to train students how to live and how to think.

– College will not simply be a place where one prepares oneself for a career. It will be a place where one learns how to think and how to be a responsible global citizen (as opposed to _____. You fill in the blank.)

– Colleges will work tirelessly to deemphasize the value of GPA and promote the importance of a holistic education.

– Instead of having all students from the same majors, classes will consist of students with diverse interests and backgrounds.

– Less textbook, more discussion.

 

That’s it from me for now. This doesn’t work too well for very specialized degrees such as engineering and medicine, and I haven’t quite figured those out yet. I know that engineers and doctors have to become less specialized in college. It’s not going to hurt their quality, because they are always going to receive some sort of training again before they start their careers. College should be a place where students can freely start asking the important questions without feeling isolated. It should be a place where students can build a solid foundation for a meaningful life, not one that is simply based on the pursuit of success and wealth. What is success anyway?

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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