Peter Wood has an interesting couple of articles on the Chronicle's Innovations blog this week. He compares Lily Bart, a fictional character in the 1905 novel The House of Mirth with Lady Gaga and talks about how higher education is responsible for giving "trash culture a veneer of respectability" and how it "encourages students to open themselves to many of their worst impulses" (Lily Bart vs. Lady Gaga).
The Labor and Employment Relations Association, previously called the Industrial Relations Research Association, is a learned society devoted to industrial and labor relations. Traditionally, LERA has supported the National Labor Relations Act but it had not been overtly partisan. In fact, its most prominent member, John T. Dunlop, had served as Secretary of Labor under President Gerald Ford. When I finished my doctoral studies in 1991 I found the organization to be pro labor rather than neutral in orientation, and I had not participated in it since the January 2000 meeting. Since it is one of the only games in town, I decided to give it another chance in 2011. What I found is shocking. LERA is not merely ideologically biased, but overtly partisan and Democratic. Virtually every session I attended included an attack on the GOP. I submitted a blog to LERA's new website, called the Employment Policy Research Network (EPRN), questioning the group's partisan atmosphere. The LERA leadership, which oversees the website, not only refused to publish it but refused to respond to me in writing. I had to call the LERA office to obtain a verbal response. I posted the blog on my Website.
A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education titled "Doing Time, With a Degree to Show for It," discusses the value of higher education for prison inmates. The author is a distinguished fellow at the Bard Prison Initiative. I was especially arrested by this excerpt from the author's conversation with a former inmate:
As I pressed him to explain, he talked of growing up in Harlem, where his friends in the street always wanted to know "who was putting us down." Bard taught him, he said, to think critically about statements like that. His classes in history and anthropology had enabled him to understand his situation in a social context. "Now," he said, smiling, "I know life is more than 'us versus them.'"
Life is more than 'us versus them.' I'm glad that history and anthropology classes are teaching this to the incarcerated. But for most students, liberal arts classes teach just the opposite - that history is the history of identity-group-based oppression. Just look at Howard Zinn's textbooks. It sounds as if colleges and universities have something to learn from programs such as the Bard Prison Initiative. To read further on prison education, check out this article from the NAS:
Inmates in liberal arts programs frequently invoke the language of inner freedom to describe their experience. The irony, of course, is that so many students who are on the outside attending elite four-year colleges and universities adopt the pretence that their freedom is phony and that they are victims of an oppressive society.
In light of SUNY-Albany's cuts to its foreign language programs, the New York Times asked eight higher ed experts, "Do colleges need French departments?" Heres a takeaway sentence from each one. (See also this SUNY-Albany professor's remarks on the language cuts, posted at NAS.org.) Martha Nussbaum, author of Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities: "Even if a nation’s only goal were economic prosperity, the humanities supply essential ingredients for a healthy business culture." Louis Menand, author of The Marketplace of Ideas: "The loss of any department is a loss to every department at that institution." John McWhorter, author of Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English: "I believe we should reconsider having vocational tracks like those in European educational systems." Mark Bauerlein, English professor at Emory University: "Lose [the humanities] and the college produces a half-educated graduate." Ellen Schrecker, author of The Lost Soul of Higher Education: "Languages, literature, philosophy, history – by exposing students to a wide range of new and old ideas and allowing them to articulate their own responses to those ideas – can create the reflective and self-aware citizens our nation needs." Gaye Tuchman, sociology professor at the University of Connecticut: "No one put a price tag on either the appeal or utility of Latin, of reading Racine or Confucius, or of learning the structure of a symphony." Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity: "As resources tighten and that luxury no longer is available, universities need to do what businesses routinely do – reinvent what they do to meet the changing needs of society." Anne E. McCall, professor of French at the University of Denver: "That said, the attraction of particular subjects does shift, and universities need to adjust offerings that make sense for their mission, size, geographical location, and budgets."
In the movie Up in the Air, George Clooney's character works for a company that sends him around the country to fire people. To save the company money on airfare, hotels, and rental cars, Clooney's female colleague, a young Cornell grad, suggests that they switch to firing people through videoconferencing on laptops. The method seems to work, but the viewer feels instinctively that this is even more demeaning than getting fired by a third party company. There's something so impersonal and distant about talking to a screen. Later in the movie, the girl (Cornell grad) gets dumped by her boyfriend via text message, and once again, we see the medium itself as adding to her humiliation. We've always had the sense that with any communication short of face-to-face conversation, there's something vital missing. That's been the abiding concern during the rise of online education. But an article in today's Inside Higher Ed declares that online education will lose none of the elements that make traditional education what it is:
As we look to the future of liberal education, we seem unlikely to change the fundamentals of what has made that model successful. We will enhance the curriculum with interactive smart classrooms, course and lecture capture, ubiquitous wireless connecting smaller and more capable digital devices, and other technologies not yet invented, but close faculty-student and student-student interaction will remain the core. What seems more likely to change – and to offer transformative possibilities – is the medium.
But isn't the medium the message? The author maintains, however, that "there is every reason to believe that whatever 'liberal education' is, 'it' can travel over a network." He offers some compelling reasons.