Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A decline in who we are?

The news media has picked up on what has been on on-going discussion in the Chronicle for Higher Education and among educators: the decline in education.

Of concern at the college level is the decline of standards in critical thinking and research, the shift from scholar to customer, and from the search for truth to how to make more money and increase your personal lot in life.

Critical thinking means many things, but for this purpose the ability to reason through and understand all sides of an issue or problem and be open to altering your own view or acknowledging the strengths as well a weaknesses of opposing viewpoints.

In other other words: think.

Teaching at the high school, trade school, community college and university level, teachers and faculty observe that students want to go the easy way: to teach to the test, to have their views be heard without any reference or serious consideration of the views of others, to not have to delve into such valuable resources as history, philosophy, psychology, religious studies or anything that may require and understanding of society differing from the one they grew up in and accept as the one true way.

Too many students want it their way...their view and vision of the world to be the one and only acceptable way of doing or seeing things. [This may explain the election of a government that no longer compromises and governs but sticks to black and white constants over a functioning society]. 

Research is an 8 letter 4 letter word, beyond quick Internet searches, Google, Wikipedia and whatever is fastest and easiest to find.

Some schools no longer allow faculty to encourage, much less require, scholarly juried sources of academic material. It has become OK to use pulp magazines and Internet sites that present the misinformation or sales bias material provided by public relations and advertising sources as "fact" (without any indication of the source being anything less than balance and academic). [I have worked in the media and know how these "sources" the students feel should be accepted are generated.] These schools call themselves colleges and/or universities. Even public universities have eroded the standards of research and ability to reason through all point of view and question the authenticity of not only opinion but of facts.

Those same students then complain about getting a B instead of an A, credits not transferring and faculty members who dare to present views or opinions that do not fit with their own.

Education as a customer service institution has grown as state budgets get tight, increasing consumer centered generations take over decision making positions and the model of public-private partnerships and government backed student loans fuel the engines of education.

But can a student be a customer? Are teachers there to help students grow into citizens, decision makers, leaders and excel or to simple train them for the jobs they perceive as allowing them to pay off their student loans and have a better life for themselves and their family. The American Dream as money and not as a concept of democracy, public service and social interdependency may already be so entrenched that the solid liberal arts education of the past, the self thinkers who built this country, may have gone the way of the dinosaurs for most of America.

Can a student be an informed customer if they are not aware of the inaccuracies of thought, of how others think, of a changing work beyond YouTube and Facebook?

While seeking to better yourself, and by extension your families wealth and well being are a key part of American capitalism and most say American democracy, should it be the foundation of how decisions are made, the motivation for our educational standards and actions, the root source of who we are?

That's another debate, one that requires critical thinking skills, research, being open to a wide range of views and the overall needs of society as well as self.

Are we capable of such a discussion? Are we teaching our future generation of leaders to be able to make solid decisions on these and other key issues?

Or are we teaching them to get what they pay for, demand what they want and believe what they already believe?

And what of the educators and administrators?

Are we hiring teachers who read, question, put the pursuit of knowledge first or who are seeking steady jobs working with age groups they like being around? Are we hiring administrators who hire and fire, move chess pieces around and who are more interested in balancing budgets than rewarding employees who push their students to think, funding programs that help students to push the envelope and opening the door to debate and critical thought? Are they setting prohibition and policies or allowing for faculty to stretch and challenge students? And are they bean counters or innovators?

A discussion for another time.

-Dr. Art Lynch

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