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Friday, January 31, 2014

the old university system is dead -- time for a professional university


I once had lunch with a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. I asked him how it felt to be in charge of a fraudulent institution. He was shocked by the question, of course, but I continued. How many of the people who attend the University of Illinois do you think go there because they think they will get jobs upon graduation? He supposed that all of them did. I asked if they actually did job training at Illinois. He agreed that they didn't. I pointed out that most of the faculty there had never had jobs (except as professors) and might not know how to do any other jobs. He agreed.

I once suggested fixing this state of affairs while I was a professor at Yale. I discussed this with the President of Yale at the time, Bart Giammati. He replied that Yale didn't do training. But Yale does do training. Yale trains professors.

Universities were started as places for classical education for wealthy people. Typically they indeed had a large training component since they were usually religiously based and future religious leaders were expected to come out of these schools. Yale started as a divinity school and morphed into a school where the wealthy could hobnob with members of the their own class of people and then turn out to be the leaders of the country (who knew Latin and the classics.) Although most did go into business, business was never taught.

The world has changed in the sense that anyone with exceptionally good test scores and grades can get into Yale. But Yale hasn’t changed. One is still expected to study the classics and there are no programs for job training. Even the computer science department, of which I was part for 15 years, has no interest in training future programmers.

I am not criticizing Yale here actually. Most universities have copied the “training of intellectuals and professors model of education” and have disregarded the idea that future employment might be of major concern to students. Professors can do this because they are forced by no one to teach job skills. They don’t really know much about job skills in any case. The major focus of a professor at any research university is research. Teaching is low on their priority list and teaching job skills is far very from any real concern. So, economics departments teach theories of economics and not how to run a business, and law schools teach the theory of law and not how to be a lawyer, and medical schools teach the science of the human body but not how to be a doctor. Psychology focusses on how to run an experiment, when students really want to know why they are screwed up or why they can’t get along. Mathematics departments teach stuff that no one will ever use, and education departments forget to teach people how to teach.

Still we hear that everyone must go to college. Why?

It is time for a change.

I propose the creation of a Professional University. By this I mean a university that teaches only job skills. It would do this by creating simulations of the actual life of someone who works in a particular job. After a year or more living in a simulation of the life of an actual engineer, computer scientist, psychologist, business person, or health care professional, the graduate would actually be employable and would have a pretty good idea of whether they had made a good choice of profession. Creating these simulations is not that complicated. Small projects can lead  to larger projects that build upon what was learned in the earlier projects. Constant required deliverables with mentoring by faculty, not lectures. Students try to do things, and faculty are there to help.

The faculty in a professional university would be practitioners who had done it themselves. The students could come to campus or work on line. It makes no difference. Deliverables would not be given grades. If your business idea isn’t good, work harder on it. If your technological solution to something doesn’t work, keep working on it. Degrees would not be based upon an accumulation of credits and would have nothing to do with the time a student was in the program. The students would have to complete well specified tasks, and when they demonstrated they could actually do something they would move on to a more complicated task. If the students weren’t immediately employable, the programs would have to be modified until they were.

We can do this. It just takes money. Existing universities won’t help. They will be threatened by it. Yale can keep producing professors and intellectuals. But most countries in the world need way fewer professors than they need well educated functioning professionals.

Would graduates of the Professional University be able to speak, write, reason, and solve complex problems? Of course. Those skills would be built into every program.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The top ten mistakes in education. Twenty years later.


It has been 20 years since I wrote about the top ten mistakes in education. Although this list is on many places on the web, here is the original link:


The ten mistakes I listed were these (go the site to see what I said about each):

Mistake #1: Schools act as if learning can be disassociated from doing.
Mistake #2: Schools believe they have the job of assessment as part of their natural role 
Mistake #3: Schools believe they have an obligation to create standard curricula.
Mistake #4: Teachers believe they ought to tell students what they think it is important to know.
Mistake #5: Schools believe instruction can be independent of motivation for actual use.
Mistake #6: Schools believe studying is an important part of learning.
Mistake #7: Schools believe that grading according to age group is an intrinsic part of the organization of a school.
 Mistake #8: Schools believe children will accomplish things only by having grades to strive for.
 Mistake #9: Schools believe discipline is an inherent part of learning.
 Mistake #10: Schools believe students have a basic interest in learning whatever it is schools decide to teach to them.
Twenty years have passed. Surely my writing about this and other’s re-posting and writing about this have had a big effect on education. Let’s look at them one by one:

Mistake #1: Schools act as if learning can be disassociated from doing.

Yes. Things have changed. They are worse. The latest horror is MOOCs which is just more talking and insists on the idea the education means knowledge transfer and that knowledge can be acquired by listening.
Mistake #2: Schools believe they have the job of assessment as part of their natural role 
Yes. Things have really changed here. They are much worse. Before there were just lots of bad tests. Now there are tests at every grade. Tests to get ready for the test. And now -- teacher evaluations based on the tests.

Mistake #3: Schools believe they have an obligation to create standard curricula.

Wow! This one has gotten even worse than the others. Now it isn’t schools that create standard curricula it is Bill Gates, Common Core, the US Department of Education and every state Department of Education. We sure fixed that one.  
Mistake #4: Teachers believe they ought to tell students what they think it is important to know.
I am not sure about this one. I don’t think teachers think much of anything anymore other than how to survive in a system where they are not valued and teaching doesn’t matter except with respect to test scores.

Mistake #5: Schools believe instruction can be independent of motivation for actual use.
No change. Still no use for algebra, physics formulae, random knowledge about history or literature. No use for anything taught in school actually, after reading, writing, and arithmetic. 
Mistake #6: Schools believe studying is an important part of learning.
No change. 
Mistake #7: Schools believe that grading according to age group is an intrinsic part of the organization of a school.
No change. 
 Mistake #8: Schools believe children will accomplish things only by having grades to strive for.
No change.

 Mistake #9: Schools believe discipline is an inherent part of learning.
Perhaps this has changed. There seems to be a lot less discipline.

 Mistake #10: Schools believe students have a basic interest in learning whatever it is schools decide to teach to them.
Nah. No one believes that anymore.

I am not only one loudly talking into the wind. There are lots of people who agree with me and say things similar to what I say. 
Is there anyone listening?
Sure. Parents are noticing how stupid the tests are and how stupid Common Core is. The kids are noticing, now more than ever. The teachers are upset.
Is anyone listening to them? No. There is big money at stake in keeping things as they are.
Well, that's the report from 20 years on the front lines. We shall not retreat, but victory looks to be far away.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The lost art of conversation -- or-- why thinking is on it's way out


I was walking on the beach in Florida and thinking about how the young people I passed were not all on their cell phones (as seems usual when I walk down the streets of New York.) I wondered if maybe the beach was one place where people were actually just letting their minds wander and relax. But soon enough I noticed the phones and people were texting and taking pictures of themselves.

I was reminded of Wittgenstein’s 3 B’s. He said that all important thinking takes place in the Bed, in the Bath, or on The Bus. (I guess he didn’t go to the Beach.) His point was that in order to think clearly one needs to let one’s mind relax and avoid outside stimuli because it is one’s unconscious mind that does the real thinking. My question is: does anyone think any more?

One way people used to communicate was by writing letters. To me the main point of writing a letter was to find out what you yourself were thinking. Today everyone wants to text or tweet. Do they have to think in order to do that? In order to find out what everyday people are tweeting (I understand that many people, including me, tweet to get their ideas out to a community of which they are part.

Here are some tweets that came up when I typed my last name into twitter. They are from (3) teenage girls I am guessing:

There is just something really special about snow.
IU is just so cool❤
Bloomington bound

I really, really, hate when I accidentally favorite things. And most of the time, I favorite things from people I don't even know that well
I've come to the conclusion I really need to get some friends
Finally get to play my game!! 

My game better be finished downloading when I get home or ill be so upset 

Hate stupid shifts like this like 8-1 if you're gunna get me up early why cant I have a full fucking shift 

COOOOOOL ...

Leggings have made me realize how uncomfortable jeans really are

Hahahahha omg   

I guess these are conversations in a sense but they are not ones that are causing anyone to think very hard. If everyone is tweeting, checking for tweets, texting, or plugged into some sound or other, when does anyone let their mind wander and think?

One problem with not letting one’s unconscious free to muse every now and then is that real learning, real education, is about dialogue. (Aristotle certainly made this clear as does any professor who talks with students rather than lecturing at them.) No dialogue, no hard thinking. 

School is busy pressing on with “its all about testing” philosophy so even if their were teachers inclined to engage young people in dialogue they probably wouldn’t have much of a chance to do it.

So where does this leave us as a society? We stop any conversation we might be having in order to answer a text. We don’t have the opportunity to find out what we think because we never muse and talk with about our ideas. We text on the Bus. We text in the Bath (or listen to headphones). We are texting goodnight as we go to Bed.

I read recently where sharks are tweeting their location. Soon, perhaps our bodies can tweet how they are doing. Our stomachs will tweet that they are hungry. No one will have to think or talk at all.