August 11, 2005

Introduction drafted for Citizen-Scholar

In response to one reviewer's comment, I've drafted an introduction to put a broader frame around the other chapters. The following is from a passage on the policy feedback of greater educational attainment:

The majority of adults have sat through college lectures, both good and bad. They know that college students have to study on their own. They know that college classes tend to be larger than high-school classes, except in a minority of colleges, and that many classes have several hundred students attending at once. Millions of adults remember applying for loans and scholarship and combining work and study (and, on the rare occasion, sleep). Millions are still paying back college loans. In other words, the majority of adults have direct, personal experience with both good and weak college teaching and, moreover, are familiar with the overloaded, institutional life of colleges.

The consequences of this experience for the politics of higher education are subtle but important. The majority college experience of the nation's adults has laid the foundation for non-ideological criticism of colleges. The troubles of most college students have little to do with the political leanings of faculty. First, consider what happens in classes. College students are familiar with both good and bad teaching, and their experience tells them that most bad teachers are painful to watch and work for because they are disorganized or do not know their subjects. While many have some experience with a teacher or two whose lectures consisted of ideological rants, from a common student perspective the problem with most such ranting is that it wastes their valuable time. (From a faculty perspective, I have greater concerns about ranting, beyond the time wasted.) But, for the most part, students are concerned with the effectiveness of teachers, not their political inclinations.

Part of this comes from my thinking over a key chapter in Hersh and Merrow's Declining by Degrees, a companion book matched with the documentary. I've commented elsewhere on the book, a set of first impressions. I still think the book is uneven, but if a book changes my thinking significantly, there's something important of value there.

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Posted in Academic freedom on August 11, 2005 2:16 PM |