Oh the Humanities!

Oh the Humanities! July 1, 2019

Perhaps the place to begin this post that meanders through the liberal arts, liberal education, humanities, core curriculum, and the relationship of all of the above to higher education in general, is with the news that Oxford University received an incredibly large gift that the donor explicitly earmarked for the humanities. I’ll also mention the news about Carnegie Mellon’s dedication of funds to provide free technological tools to support education – read more about their OpenSimon Toolkit on the Carnegie Mellon website.

And then I should also share this article about The Big Bang Theory that has the same punny title as mine:

“Oh, the humanities!”

An important article appeared about what the public thinks about higher education in the United States:

Most political speeches or media coverage would leave you with the impression that Americans believe college degrees aren’t worth the money, that Democrats overwhelmingly support free college as the answer to the college affordability problem, and that Republicans don’t care about holding colleges and universities (especially for-profit ones) accountable.

Turns out none of those things are really true — or at least that the public’s true attitudes are much more nuanced than that.

What we should hope for with regard to graduates’ information literacy:

I guess that’s what I hope for our graduates – that when they run into a question that matters to them, they don’t just Google it, they think “I wonder who’s spent some serious time studying this?” and that, once they’ve found out who those people are – they’re on Google too, after all – they value what scholars do enough to put some trust in what they have learned.

Barbara Fister wrote:

Yes, digitization has changed the way we search, but students have always struggled to make knowledge out of information…In over thirty years, I don’t recall a time when students didn’t struggle with the idea that they should ask questions, not simply seek answers, that they should make arguments, not write reports. That’s always been a challenge.

Meanwhile, as I was preparing to travel to the day-long workshop on the future of gen ed that I mentioned in another blog post (and which I still plan to continue to blog about), an article on academic freedom had this to say about something students often take in place of core classes:

AP courses are nothing like college classes. They may be rigorous, but that does not make a course worthy of college credit. A college course is defined by the presence of a professor who is an expert in their subject and the freedom of that professor to pursue truth in the classroom and in scholarship. AP advocates argue that their courses are as difficult as college classes, but what defines a college course is freedom to seek truth far more than how hard a class is. Employees of a powerful corporation design AP courses, which are standardized rather than crafted by individual teachers. And high school teachers, who lack the expertise and autonomy to offer college-level instruction, teach such courses.

In other words, AP courses, even if more rigorous, are less like college courses than even traditional high school courses because AP teachers must teach to a predesigned test with predetermined assessments. Ultimately, AP’s approach is similar to how Western Governors or College for America designs and implements its curriculum, except that the AP relies on high school teachers instead of learning coaches.

Taken together, an increasing number of American students are receiving college credit in contexts where those delivering the material lack academic freedom. Colleges and universities, however, are intended to be places where the search for truth predominates. Their very foundation is freedom of thought. In philosopher Tal Brewer’s words, colleges campuses are places “devoted to discussion and thought unfolding under its own inter­nal demands.” Institutions that lack tenure and shared governance, or where a standardized curriculum is developed by a small group and administered by nonexperts, lack the freedoms that are fundamental to the academy.

Also striking was the discussion of how the American model of higher education went from being the envy of the world to today’s rather different situation. Here is a quote:

Put all of this together with the rather clear indication that most of the various “excellence schemes” adopted all over the world in the first years of this century have made precious little difference in terms of shaking up the global academic hierarchy, and one wonders whether or not we may start to see a new and sustained policy reaction against notions of stratification and in favour of broader notions of progress in higher education.  Perhaps we will move to a world where the models to emulate will be countries where high proportions of students are taught in high quality institutions (e.g. Canada, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands) rather than ones where a few students are taught in world-beating ones; where breadth of quality trumps concentrations of “excellence”.

It is difficult to conclude from all this – yet- that the global obsession with “world-classness” is over.  But for the first time in at least twenty years, we may be starting to see the pendulum move in the other direction.

Commonweal had a piece on why college should remain akin to a department store

What is a university today?

The Chronicle had articles on students believing unreliable sources online, and on improving the “dreaded survey course”

Jim Spinti quoted Bob on Books in praise of the Liberal Arts. Bob on Books explained why he has confidence in research scientists. Jim quoted George Steiner on pseudo-literacy in U.S. schools.

The things that make Emily Nussbaum a good writer

Sharing Blame: Professional Organizations and the ‘Death’ of the Humanities

Gamification in the Chronicle

MLA Commons has materials related to Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities, with focus on topics such as gaming and blogging.

OPINION: Can the liberal arts navigate poverty, diminished opportunity and robots?

Why Computer Science Should Be a High School Graduation Requirement

Energy studies and the Liberal Arts

Humanities at community colleges

Technology and neuroscience have a great deal more to contribute to traditional liberal arts education than some traditionalists realize or admit.

Pitfalls to avoid when interpreting research about higher education

Here are ancient thoughts from Seneca about being broadly and diversely educated.

The core values of Medieval universities

On Not Knowing: Irony and the English Department

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