The Purge of Higher Education

From the AAUP; here’s a description of the larger issues facing education in this country:

“Daniel Greenstein writes in the fall 2019 issue of Daedalus that we may be on a track toward a dramatic bifurcation in the US higher education system, with students at wealthy, selective institutions enjoying personal, face-to-face learning experiences and the rest of the population enrolled in online college programs. The liberal arts are in danger of following a similar polarized pattern, remaining strong at elite colleges while vanishing at working-class institutions; less privileged students may be driven to focus on what they hope are practical courses of study, but they too thirst for more than just vocational education. Aside from the inherent injustice of such a scenario—a scenario I suspect most Americans would find unacceptable in K–12 education—this kind of educational system would increase social inequality.

Great dissatisfaction already exists among students and parents in K–12 education with standardized curricula and testing, with “teaching to the test.” As teachers and students have less and less influence over educational curricula, the dissatisfaction grows. Simultaneously, in recent decades there has emerged what Henry Giroux (following French philosopher Georges Didi-Huberman) has called a “disimagination machine,” a set of cultural apparatuses that work to erase any unexpected memories and histories that might give evidence of past dissent and struggle. These erased histories could have shown and reminded us of possibilities and paths not taken, but instead the disimagination machine’s sanitized account of the past undermines critical thinking and amputates the imagination, so that alternatives to today’s state of affairs become unimaginable. The result is an educational version of what cultural theorist Mark Fisher referred to as “capitalist realism,” or “the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.”

Similarly invoking a loss of broader vision in contemporary educational thinking, Peter Taubman has argued that a reliance on numerical data in assessing education results in loss of context, a vulnerability to changing conventions, and, most important, a loss of utopian energies as citizens become customers and vocabularies of imagination are replaced by languages of money and markets.

What Will Be Lost

John Dewey scholar Kathleen Kesson recently told me a story about a class in education she taught. When she asked her students to create a utopian school project as an exercise to develop their educational imaginations, the teachers-in-training came up with ideas like, “I’d make the class period for history be only fifty minutes long instead of fifty-five.” Even when given free rein to recreate education from the ground up, her students were unable to imagine an alternative educational structure.

It might be argued that the loss of old-fashioned liberal arts institutions—with their close mentoring and apprentice-like relationships, open-ended and exploratory course structures, and skepticism toward rubrics and grades—will affect only a few Americans. Alternative colleges, which emphasize the essential role of democracy in education and cultivate interdisciplinary understandings that allow us to engage with the environmental and social issues that threaten life on Earth itself, enroll even fewer. But the very existence of these models, with their structures, long histories, and successes, bears witness to other possible worlds.”

Read the entire article here. . .







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