Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Worried that higher education is "Academically Adrift" ...? Don't read this

I am now well past the midpoint of my stay in India, and my parents are wondering when I will leave.  Nah, they are not; they knew about my departure date even before I landed here :)

As I begin to think about the term ahead, it was nearly automatic for me to start with the usual suspects, like the Chronicle of Higher Education.  Reading that was yet another reminder to me that my academic life would perhaps have been much better if only I hadn't gotten into the 'bad' habit of reading the likes of the Chronicle right from my graduate student days.  Because, all those publications offered me way more than I had ever wanted to know about higher education and that meant thinking more about higher education.  Serious and systematic thinking then led to so much of disagreements with most faculty and administrators who are hell-bent on maintaining the status quo, which works well to their benefit and much to the detriment of students.

Oh yeah, those faculty and administrators so effortlessly do talk about being "student-centered," when they couldn't care less about students, and this pisses me off even more, and I express more disagreements and soon I end up excommunicated.  "Kind of isolated from your colleagues" as one friend recently described his observation of my professional life.  Little does he know that "kind of isolated" is a terrible understatement :)

The chronicle has an opinion piece that adds more clarity to my view of higher education, when the author comments about the much-discussed Academically Adrift:
the most shocking thing about Academically Adrift was not what it revealed about what college students learn. It was that nobody had ever attempted to measure learning
Yep.  Simply awful that the world of higher education did not care enough to understand and measure "learning," when that learning is pretty much the raison d'etre

The author adds:
[The] lack of other credible studies providing alternate perspectives on college learning meant that, in the national higher-education conversation, Academically Adrift became the only game in town.
Last month the authors released new results that should only add to our national worries about higher education. While press coverage of Academically Adrift focused mostly on learning among typical students, the data actually show two distinct populations of undergraduates. Some students, disproportionately from privileged backgrounds, matriculate well prepared for college. They are given challenging work to do and respond by learning a substantial amount in four years.
Other students graduate from mediocre or bad high schools and enroll in less-selective colleges that don't challenge them academically. They learn little. Some graduate anyway, if they're able to manage the bureaucratic necessities of earning a degree.
The central problem in American higher education today is that most of the people running things in politics, business, and academe come from the first group, but most of the actual students enrolled in college are in the second group. The former cannot see the latter, because they are blinded by their own experience. And so they think the problems of the many don't exist.
Why worry about such issues, right? I should simply cheer the football team on, and donate all my earnings to constructing better gyms on campus!  Student learning and success be damned, eh :(

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