Thursday, May 22, 2008

A College Education

A thought-provoking article in the Atlantic magazine resonates with some ideas put forward by Alan Jenkins, who will be facilitating a workshop at the Symposium on links between research and teaching.

The author of the Atlantic article essentially argues that the type of liberal education that North American higher education provides is not suitable for everyone. The reason this is a provocative suggestion is that there exists a strong, cultural affinity with liberal education in North America, such that it is widely perceived that everyone should have one. The students who tend to do well in liberal education (and by that I mean a broad curriculum which encompasses subjects from the humanities and sciences) are those who are 'ready' for college and can cope with the intellectual demands that it makes.

Alan Jenkins may be able to persuade us that we can engage students in these types of intellectual endeavours if we bring them into the research process early in their undergraduate careers. He says:

"My intellectual starting point is Humboldt’s vision for higher education - a vision which arguably finds its strongest current manifestation in the highly selective (US) undergraduate research programmes which are generally for selected able /rich students and may well be outside the formal curriculum e.g. in summer enrichment programmes. However, I argue that the key to mainstreaming undergraduate research is to integrate it into the curriculum for all /many students."

In his workshop, he will be helping us to think about how to do this. In the meantime, we can ponder this thorny issue of whether a 'university' education (liberal, research-oriented, or specialised) is really suitable for everyone. The author of the Atlantic article makes a funny comment in this regard: "Telling someone that college is not for him seems harsh and classist and British, as though we were sentencing him to a life in the coal mines".


1 comment:

Iain said...

Coincidentally the issues of 'universal' access to HE has been raised in a very controversial manner in a paper that will be reported on in the Times Higher soon. It is based on the argument that working class people have lower IQs and hence will not benefit from HE!! Charming. As an ex-working class member I guess I shouldnt be reading the Times Higher or blogs like this....