College Calculus

“To be clear, the idea is not that there will be a big financial payoff to a liberal arts degree,” Cappelli writes. “It is that there is no guarantee of a payoff from very practical, work-based degrees either, yet that is all those degrees promise. For liberal arts, the claim is different and seems more accurate, that it will enrich your life and provide lessons that extend beyond any individual job. There are centuries of experience providing support for that notion.”

What Is College Worth?

Every teacher must be a history teacher

I would propose here that every teacher must be a history teacher. To teach, for example, what we know about biology today without also teaching what we once knew, or thought we knew, is to reduce knowledge to a mere consumer product. It is to deprive students of a sense of the meaning of what we know, and of how we know. To teach about the atom without Democritus, to teach about electricity without Faraday, to teach about political science without Aristotle or Machiavelli, to teach about music without Haydn, is to refuse our students access to The Great Conversation. It is to deny them knowledge of their roots, about which no other social institution is at present concerned.

Neil Postman – Technopoly.

Laptops in class

In Why I Just Asked My Students to Put Their Laptops Away, Clay Shirky writes about banning laptops from his fall seminar class. Toward the end of the piece he writes that:

Computers are not inherent sources of distraction — they can in fact be powerful engines of focus — but latter-day versions have been designed to be, because attention is the substance which makes the whole consumer internet go.

That’s the problem in banning them, though. Productive, non-distracted, work from a computer is a cornerstone of modern work. Removing laptops from the college classroom addresses the symptom while doing nothing for the root cause.

Clay acknowledges in his post that computers can allow for a focus so deep you lose track of time. I agree that’s not inherent, though. Rather, it’s a learned skill. If we’re going to ban laptops from college classrooms because students lack that skill we have to also ask when and where that should be taught. Teaching that level of device literacy needs to happen somewhere in the education system.

The End of Higher Education’s Golden Age

The End of Higher Education’s Golden Age. Clay Shirky’s fantastic post about the costs and structural instability of our current higher education model. The last line is killer:

Arguing that we need to keep the current system going just long enough to get the subsidy the world owes us is really just a way of preserving an arrangement that works well for elites—tenured professors, rich students, endowed institutions—but increasingly badly for everyone else.