Thoughts on College

From “Live and Learn: Why We Have College” by Louis Menand in the June 6th New Yorker:

If you like the first theory, then it doesn’t matter which courses students take, or even what is taught in them, as long as they’re rigorous enough for the sorting mechanism to do its work. All that matters is the grades. If you prefer the second theory, then you might consider grades a useful instrument of positive or negative reinforcement, but the only thing that matters is what students actually learn. There is stuff that every adult ought to know, and college is the best delivery system for getting that stuff into people’s heads.

A lot of confusion is caused by the fact that since 1945 American higher education has been committed to both theories. The system is designed to be both meritocratic (Theory 1) and democratic (Theory 2). Professional schools and employers depend on colleges to sort out each cohort as it passes into the workforce, and elected officials talk about the importance of college for everyone. We want higher education to be available to all Americans, but we also want people to deserve the grades they receive.

I’m firmly in the Theory 2 camp, although my pre-medical track education was more along the Theory 1 path.  I’ve been meaning to post a link to this very interesting commentary by Menand for awhile. We don’t have to think about college much yet, but I found much in this article interesting and applicable to education at any level and in particular to homeschooling and how I go about thinking about the how and why of how we spend our days.



3 thoughts on “Thoughts on College

  1. I sent this article to our eldest niece, now a couple years out of college. She commented back that a lot of her peers say a college degree is the new high school diploma, which I took to mean she was in the Theory 1 camp, and that grad school is a must for sorting out the strata of folk, which probably means grades during high school and undergrad are going to be very important.

    Personally, I was probably Theory 1 in high school, and Theory 2 since then – which made for a much more relaxed and fulfilling overall higher ed experience.

  2. I liked this piece a lot too. And I am a Theory 2 person, as I suspect most arts-and-sciences professors would be. But some of what you have to do as a college professor is convince your students that Theory 2 is valid. Getting in to college involves so much hoop-jumping that I can understand why students enter with a Theory 1 frame of mind…

  3. Pingback: Links to make you think and smile « Supratentorial

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