Taking Notes: By Hand or By Laptop?

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Students who take notes by hand tend to understand the material better than those who take notes via a laptop.  I have been saying this for a long time, so I am glad that we now have a study to back up my theory.

Here is a taste of an NPR story on a study testing how note-taking by hand and computer note-taking effects learning in the college classroom:

For their first study, they took university students (the standard guinea pig of psychology) and showed them TED talks about various topics. Afterward, they found that the students who used laptops typed significantly more words than those who took notes by hand. When testing how well the students remembered information, the researchers found a key point of divergence in the type of question. For questions that asked students to simply remember facts, like dates, both groups did equally well. But for “conceptual-application” questions, such as, “How do Japan and Sweden differ in their approaches to equality within their societies?” the laptop users did “significantly worse.”

The same thing happened in the second study, even when they specifically told students using laptops to try to avoid writing things down verbatim. “Even when we told people they shouldn’t be taking these verbatim notes, they were not able to overcome that instinct,” Mueller says. The more words the students copied verbatim, the worse they performed on recall tests.

Read the entire piece here.

Mark Lilla Continues His Assault on Identity Politics in American Higher Education

LillaToday I ordered his new book, The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity PoliticsI am looking forward to read it.

Here is a taste of Lilla’s recent piece on the subject at The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Conservatives are right: Our colleges, from bottom to top, are mainly run by liberals, and teaching has a liberal tilt. But they are wrong to infer that students are therefore being turned into an effective left-wing political force. The liberal pedagogy of our time, focused as it is on identity, is actually a depoliticizing force. It has made our children more tolerant of others than certainly my generation was, which is a very good thing. But by undermining the universal democratic we on which solidarity can be built, duty instilled, and action inspired, it is unmaking rather than making citizens. In the end this approach just strengthens all the atomizing forces that dominate our age.

It’s strange: liberal academics idealize the ‘60s generation, as their weary students know. But I’ve never heard any of my colleagues ask an obvious question: What was the connection between that generation’s activism and what they learned about our country in school and in college? After all, if professors would like to see their own students follow in the footsteps of the left’s Greatest Generation, you would think they would try to reproduce the pedagogy of that period. But they don’t. Quite the contrary. The irony is that the supposedly bland, conventional colleges of the 1950s and early 1960s incubated what was perhaps the most radical generation of American citizens since the country’s founding. Young people who were eager to engage in “the less exotic but more lasting struggles for justice” for everyone in the great out there beyond the campus gates.

The universities of our time instead cultivate students so obsessed with their personal identities and campus pseudo-politics that they have much less interest in, less engagement with, and frankly less knowledge of matters that don’t touch on identity in the great out there. Neither Elizabeth Cady Stanton (who studied Greek) nor Martin Luther King Jr. (who studied Christian theology) nor Angela Davis (who studied Western philosophy) received an identity-based education. And it is difficult to imagine them becoming who they became had they been cursed with one. The fervor of their rebellion demonstrated the degree to which their education had widened their horizons and developed in them a feeling of democratic solidarity rare in America today.

Whatever you wish to say about the political wanderings of the ‘60s generation, they were, in their own way, patriots. They cared about what happened to their fellow citizens and cared when they felt America’s democratic principles had been violated. Even when the fringes of the student movement adopted a wooden, Marxist rhetoric, it always sounded more like “Yankee Doodle” than Wagner.

The fact that they received a relatively nonpartisan education in an environment that encouraged debates over ideas and that developed emotional toughness and intellectual conviction surely had a great deal to do with it. You can still find such people teaching in our universities and some are my friends. Most remain to the left of me but we enjoy disagreeing and respect arguments based on evidence. I still think they are unrealistic; they think I don’t see that dreaming is sometimes the most realistic thing one can do. (The older I get the more I think they have a point.) But we shake our heads in unison when we discuss what passes for political activity on campus.

It would not be such a terrible thing to raise another generation of citizens like them. The old model, with a few tweaks, is worth following: passion and commitment, but also knowledge and argument. Curiosity about the world outside your own head and about people unlike yourself. Care for this country and its citizens, all of them, and a willingness to sacrifice for them. And the ambition to imagine a common future for all of us.

Any professor who teaches these things is engaged in the most important political work — that of building effective, and not just right-thinking, democratic citizens. Only when we have such citizens can we hope that they will become liberal ones. And only when we have liberal ones can we hope to put the country on a better path.

Read the entire piece here.  After several conversations I have had over the past six months or so, I am more convinced than ever that identity politics and historical pedagogy do not mix very well.

Does Higher Education Have a Negative Effect on the United States?

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Most Republicans and “right-leaning independents” believe this, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center.

Clara Turnage unpacks the study in a recent piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Here is a taste:

A majority of Republicans and right-leaning independents think higher education has a negative effect on the country, according to a new study released by the Pew Research Center on Monday. The same study has found a consistent increase in distrust of colleges and universities since 2010, when negative perceptions among Republicans was measured at 32 percent. That number now stands at 58 percent.

By comparison, 72 percent of Democrats or left-leaning Independents in the study said colleges and universities have a positive impact on the United States.

In an increasingly polarized culture, the drastic shift is the latest piece of evidence that institutions of higher education — along with labor unions, banks, churches, and the news media — have been plunged headfirst into a hyperpartisan war.

That war started a long time ago, though it’s intensified lately. “The divides between folks on the left and folks on the right are getting more serious,” said Neil L. Gross, a professor of sociology at Colby College and author of the book, Why Are Professors Liberal and Why Do Conservatives Care? “I don’t think there’s any evidence that it’s going to subside anytime soon.”

Read the entire piece here.

What is the Purpose of the University?

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Writing at City Journal, Heather McDonald argues that “students would scorn free speech less if colleges honored their mission to transmit knowledge.”

Here is a taste:

Conservatives have, of late, stressed a process-oriented notion of education that shares certain similarities with the “false narratives” approach. This emphasis reflects their understandable revulsion at the silencing on campus of politically incorrect views. Education should be about reasoned debate and the airing of all opinions in the pursuit of the truth, critics of campus political correctness say. Students should take courses from professors who challenge their views and should attend lectures by visiting scholars whose ideas they find uncongenial, Princeton professor Robert George recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal. Students should not be so “deeply in love with [their] opinions” as to not listen to “others who see things differently,” George asserted.

This ideal of the Socratic academy is so reasonable that it may seem foolish to quibble with it. Of course, students should engage with ideas that they disagree with rather than silencing anything that challenges their worldview. But there is a universe of knowledge that does not belong in the realm of “opinion.” It would be as absurd for an ignorant 18-year-old to say: I have an opinion about early Mediterranean civilizations, but I am willing to “listen to others who see things differently,” as it would be to say: I have an opinion about the laws of thermodynamics, but I am willing to listen to the other side.

The free-speech model of education tends toward a focus on the present. The issues about which students are going to have the strongest opinions concern current political and policy matters: Is Donald Trump a fascist? Is immigration enforcement racist? Does the criminal-justice system discriminate against blacks? Which bathrooms should “trans” individuals use? The fact that only one answer to these questions is acceptable on college campuses is indisputably a problem. But they are not the questions that undergraduate education should focus on; there will be time enough after students graduate to debate current affairs. While defenders of the open university rightly fight for free speech, they should not lose sight of the knowledge that is the university’s core mission to transmit. If students had been more deeply immersed in acquiring that knowledge and less taken with challenging “false narratives about the marginalized,” we might not have seen the narcissistic campus meltdowns after the last presidential election.

Read the entire piece here.

I would not go as far to say that the university is only in the business of transmitting facts.  I think it is important that our students learn certain habits of the mind–ways of thinking about the world that will inevitably be linked to the virtues necessary to function in a democratic society.  But McDonald certainly makes some fair points in this piece that we all must take seriously.

Mark Cuban: Don’t Go to College to Study Business. Study the Humanities

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From Business Insider:

Billionaire investor Mark Cuban offered a perhaps bleak prediction on the future of jobs in an interview Friday with Bloomberg’s Cory Johnson at the NBA All-Star Technology Summit in New Orleans.

Discussing the swiftly evolving nature of jobs due to automation, he noted that across a broad array of industries, robots will replace human workers.

Prompted by Johnson, he then made a bold proclamation about the types of skills and majors that will dominate in his version of the future labor market.

Here’s an excerpt of their conversation (emphasis ours):

Johnson: So essentially what you’re making the case for is education and job training for grown ups.

Cuban: No, no. I think that won’t matter. What are you going to go back and learn to do?

Johnson: What it takes, right? Whether it’s finance, whether it’s software programming.

Cuban: No finance. That’s the easiest thing — you just take the data have it spit out whatever you need. I personally think there’s going to be a greater demand in 10 years for liberal arts majors than there were for programming majors and maybe even engineering, because when the data is all being spit out for you, options are being spit out for you, you need a different perspective in order to have a different view of the data. And so having someone who is more of a freer thinker.

Cuban’s forecast of the skills needed to succeed in the future echoes that of computer science and higher education experts who believe people with “soft skills,” like adaptability and communication, will have the advantage in an automated workforce.

Cuban highlighted English, philosophy, and foreign language majors as just some of the majors that will do well in the future job market.

Watch the entire interview here.

Cuban is reinforcing a narrative I and many other have been pushing for a long time.  We need the humanities more than ever in a constantly changing workplace. (Not to mention their contribution to our democracy).  Colleges and universities with traditional liberal arts programs that do not invest in their humanities-based missions are doing so at their own peril.

Having said that, I am becoming more and more convinced that not every 4-year college or university, even those who give lip-service to the liberal arts and the humanities, will be unable to commit to this kind mission and still keep the doors open.  Colleges in financial difficulties, or those who rely entirely on tuition dollars, or those with small endowments, cannot afford to take the long view in this way.  Instead, they must throw their money into professional programs just to stay alive.

Cuban takes the long view.  Liberal arts and the humanities are the future.  It think college administrators understand this, but there is nothing they can do about it.  Mission is sacrificed to market.  Give the students want they want, not what they, and all of us, need.

“Show me how to think and how to choose.”

delbancoThis quote comes from the 1850 diary of a student at Emory and Henry College in Virginia.  Andrew Delbanco writes about in his 2013 book College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be.  I highly recommend this book.

A few years ago, I came across a manuscript diary…from 1850–kept by a student at a small Methodist college, Emory and Henry, in southwest Virginia.  One spring evening, after attending a sermon by the college president that left him troubled and apprehensive, he made the following entry in his journal: “Oh that the Lord would show me how to think and how to choose.”  That sentence, poised somewhere between a wish and a plea, sounds archaic today.  For many if not most students, God is no longer the object of the plea; or if he is, they probably do not attend a college where everyone worships the same god in the same way.  Many American colleges began as denominational institutions; but today religion is so much a matter of private conscience, and the number of punishable infractions so small (even rules against the academic sin of plagiarism are only loosely enforced), that few college presidents would presume to intervene in the private lives of students for the purposes of doctrinal or moral correction.  The era of spiritual authority belonging to college is long gone.  And yet I have never encountered a better formulation–“show me how to think and how to choose”–of what a college should strive to be: an aid to reflection, a place and process whereby young people take stock of their talents and passions and begin to sort out their lives in a way that is true to themselves and responsible to others (pp.16-17).

My Daughter Will Not Be Picking a Major This Year

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As regular readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know, my oldest daughter will be starting college classes next week.  She has yet to pick a major. In fact, we advised her not to pick a major for some of the reasons discussed in a recent study conducted by the Education Advisory Board, a research and consulting firm based in Washington D.C.

Over at Inside Higher Ed, Carl Straumsheim reports:

Most students — as many as 80 percent in some surveys — will switch majors at one point during their time in college. According to the report, students who made a final decision as late as the fifth term they were enrolled did not see their time to graduation increase. Even one-quarter of the students who landed on a final major during senior year graduated in four years, the EAB found.

Neither did settling on a final major during the second through eighth terms of enrollment influence students’ graduation rates. Students who declared a new major during any of those terms posted a graduation rate of between 82 and 84 percent.

Read the entire piece here.

Peter Powers, Dean of Humanities at Messiah College (and my boss!) says it best:

I cannot overstate my belief that what we do to high school kids and college freshmen in making them believe they have to know and choose their major before they get to college is very nearly educational malpractice. In my view it increases student anxiety about education, and causes them to make poor decisions about their academics and their ultimate vocations, to say nothing of making them wary of curiosity and intellectual exploration.

It All Seems So Unnatural

eacac-fithian2bbookMy daughter left for college last week.  So did most of her friends.  A group of kids raised in a central Pennsylvania town who have spent their lives together in church, on the athletic field, in the classroom, and at weekend backyard bonfires are suddenly, in a blink of an eye, ripped from that environment and sent off to various locations around the country to pursue higher education and find themselves as “individuals.”

It all seems so unnatural.

I understand why we send our kids to college.  We want them to chart their own path, become independent, and learn things about the world that we cannot teach them. We don’t want them to be too provincial or parochial.  I get it. I am paid to initiate students into this modern way of thinking.  I also understand that much of what I am writing here is born of the sense of loss I feel right now.

This whole process–a relatively new one in the annals of human history I might add– can come with gut-wrenching pain for parents and homesickness for the child.  It might even prompt us to wonder whether such an initiation into modern life is really worth it.

The historian Gordon Wood, writing about the eighteenth-century, perhaps put it best: “local feelings were common to peasants and backwards peoples, but educated gentlemen were supposed to be at home anywhere in the world.”  To be too wedded to our local attachments is a “symptom of narrow-mindedness, and indeed of disease.”

As I said in my last post, I wrote a lot about all of this in The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America.  I know that my telling of Philip Vickers Fithian’s story was shaped by my own experience as a first-generation college student.  Now I am starting to see the story I told from the eyes of a parent.

As an eighteenth-century first-generation college student from rural southern New Jersey, Philip Vickers Fithian struggled with homesickness every day.  Even after he graduated from the College of New Jersey at Princeton in 1772 his longing for home, family, the social connections of his youth, and the very soil of the place where he was raised remained strong.  “Strong & sweet are the bands which tye us to our place of nativity,” he wrote from his bedroom on Robert Carter III’s Virginia plantation where he found post-graduate work as the family tutor.  “If it is but a beggarly Cottage,” he added, “we seem not satisfied with the most elegant entertainment if we are totally separated from it.”

During his stay in Virginia, Philip suffered acute bouts of homesickness.  He felt “uneasy,” “bewildered,” and “haunted” about his decision to leave Cohansey.  He made a habit of gazing out the window of his room and then turning to his diary to write about home. “I went to the window before I was drest….I could not help casting my Eyes with eagerness over the blue Potowmack and look homewards.”  Today kids who have such pangs of homesickness usually find their way to the college counseling center where they are told that time will heal all the wounds of homesickness brought on by the first days and weeks of their college experience.

But for Philip, living in an eighteenth-century world still on the cusp of modern life, time spent away from home did not seem to help.  For example, the longer he stayed in Virginia, the more intense his homesickness became.  One cold Sunday morning in January 1774 Philip skipped church services and wrote, “I feel very desirous of seeing Home; of hearing good Mr. Hunter Preach; of seeing my dear Brothers & Sister; Indeed the very soil itself would be precious to me!–I am shut up in my chamber; I read a while, then walk to the North window, & look over the Potowmack through Maryland towards Home.” Some would say that Fithian was sick.  He had a case of homesickness that probably needed a few more counseling sessions.  Maybe.

Philip knew he was now an educated gentleman–a Princeton graduate.  Such longings for home were irrational and not fitting with the cosmopolitan outlook he had learned in class with Princeton president John Witherspoon.  “This may seem strange,” he wrote in June 1774, “but it is true–I have but very few acquaintances [in Virginia], & they easily dispense with my Absence–I have an elegant inviting apartment for Study–I have plenty of valuable & entertaining Books–and I have business of my own that requires my attention–At home my Relations call me proud and morose if I do not visit them–My own private business often calls me off & unsettles my mind…All these put together, when they operate at once, are strong incitement to divert me from Study.  Yet I love Cohansie!  And in spite of my resolution, when I am convinced that my situation is more advantageous here, yet I wish to be there–How exceedingly capricious is fancy!  When I am Home I then seem willing to remove, for other places seem to be full as desirable–It is then Society which makes places seem agreeable or the Contrary–It can be nothing else.”

By August 1774 Philip had come to the point where he was “low Spirited” and could not “eat nor drink” because he was thinking “constantly of Home.”  He even felt, using the theological language of his Presbyterian upbringing, that “Sometimes I repent my having come into this Colony.”

If Joseph Fithian, Philip’s father, felt the pain of losing his eldest son to the modern world we do not have his thoughts in writing.  We know that we was skeptical about Philip going off to school.  He needed his son on the family farm and had to be convinced that Philip’s break with a tradition was a good thing.

But this was not the case with Philip’s mother Hannah Fithian.  As Philip tried to fit into the intimidating and foreign academic culture of the College of New Jersey he found comfort in Hannah’s letters.  She did her best to sympathize with her son.  “I suppose you are uneasy about your Gown,” she wrote (Philip did not yet have this essential part of a Princeton student’s daily wardrobe), but “this is perhaps a small Cross & you must my dear Son take your Cross Daily & follow Christ if you will be his disciple.”  Hannah had great affection for her oldest son. “I hope that the Lord hath Work for you to do in the World,” she prayed, “O that he would furnish you with every necessary Grace & Qualification for his Service.”

Hannah also maintained a constant concern for Philip’s soul–exhorting him to remain pious amid the worldly distractions of college life. “Youth is a dangerous Time,” she wrote, and “it is not possible for you to know it until Experience teaches you…flee youthful Lusts.”  She also feared that Philip’s exposure to book learning might puff him up and jeopardize his spiritual relationship with his Savior.  She urged him to recall the moment of his conversion and God’s providential care for his life. “It is easy to profess Religion,” she wrote to Philip at Princeton, “but it is hard to be a Christian.  Without holiness no Man Shall see the Lord…Remember what the Lord hath done for you & let it humble you.”  This is how one eighteenth-century parent dealt with homesickness and the pain that comes with their son’s initiation into modern life.

I should probably end this post by saying that my daughter is a bit homesick and anxious, but she is doing fine.  She is probably doing a lot better than I am.

It all seems so unnatural.

In Search of the Humanities

Calvin-College-450x300Today Inside Higher Ed is running a piece I wrote about my daughter’s college visits and her search for a school with a liberal arts and humanities ethos.

Here is a taste:

For the last several years, I have been arguing (along with a lot of other people) that humanities departments need to do a better job of showing students how the skills they learn in our courses are transferable in the marketplace. As part of their college experience, humanities and liberal arts students should know how to articulate those skills to potential employers. We want our students to get jobs in the business and nonprofit sectors not in spite of the fact that they majored in a humanities discipline, but because they did.  I have made these arguments in my book Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past and at my blog “The Way of Improvement Leads Home” through an ongoing series of posts that I call “So What CAN You Do With a History Major.”

As a history department chairperson, when I speak to potential history majors, or even curious students in my general education courses whom I am trying to “convert” to the history major, I emphasize not only the content that they will learn in history courses but also the transferable skills. I would encourage professors in liberal arts colleges to work with admissions officers about making sure students know that humanities majors can make a decent living in a variety of different professions and careers. If trained well, they should know how to think clearly, write well, communicate effectively, tell stories, empathize with others and take small bits of information and make meaning out of them.

A move in that direction may also require curriculum changes or additions. For example, at the college where I teach, we added a one-year “Introduction to History” course that contains a substantial unit devoted to careers. The students read the pertinent chapters of Why Study History? and hear from career-center staff about how to sell themselves as history majors to potential employees. Our department even added an “administrative studies” concentration to our curriculum. Students in that concentration take the full history major, but they use some of their non-history electives to take courses in business, leadership, economics and politics. 

I have worked hard at trying to transform my department along these lines, but sometimes I wonder if I have gone too far in this direction. Instead of championing transferable skills and all the things students in history can “do” with their majors, maybe I should have spent more time challenging this market-oriented approach by defending humanities learning for learning’s sake. We don’t spend as much time anymore talking about the non-marketable values of the humanities or the benefit of humanistic learning to make us better people or citizens. I know that my faculty colleagues care about this, but I’m not so sure about the majority of the students whom I encounter. I worry that the success of a particular humanities discipline is now being measured by utilitarian ends such as career outcomes.

Read the entire piece here.

Stanley Hauerwas’s Advice to Young Christians on Their Way to College

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I read this piece when it first appeared in 2010, but I read it again this morning with new eyes. (Thanks for calling it to my attention Marti Eads!) Hauerwas’s open letter to Christian young people heading to college is worth reading in light of the conversation taking place here and at The Pietist Schoolman about the relationship between humanities, Christian colleges, evangelical churches,, and American democracy.

It also hit home for me because my oldest daughter is heading off to college in August.

Hauerwas urges Christian young people to pursue an intellectual life in college.  He wants them to explore the questions that they will be exposed to in their liberal arts and humanities courses. Why? Because the Christian church needs them.

Here is a taste:

Don’t underestimate how much the Church needs your mind. Remember your Bible-study class? Christians read Isaiah’s prophecy of a suffering servant as pointing to Christ. That seems obvious, but it’s not; or at least it wasn’t obvious to the Ethiopian eunuch to whom the Lord sent Philip to explain things. Christ is written everywhere, not only in the prophecies of the Old Testament but also in the pages of history and in the book of nature. The Church has been explaining, interpreting, and illuminating ever since it began. It takes an educated mind to do the Church’s work of thinking about and interpreting the world in light of Christ. Physics, sociology, French literary theory: All these and more—in fact, everything you study in college—is bathed in the light of Christ. It takes the eyes of faith to see that light, and it takes an educated mind to understand and articulate it.

Read the entire piece here.  It is a must read.

What Should Historians Be Thinking About? Part 3

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Read the entire series and get some context for it here.

In Part 2 of this series, I tried to explain why so few undergraduates are majoring in history these days. In this installment I want to focus a bit on the purpose of college with the help of William Deresiewicz, author of Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life.

Deresiewicz argues that students who attend elite colleges are like sheep.  They go to college to pursue careers.  As a result, they tend to major in finance, business, and other professional majors that will enable them to pursue happiness as defined by the accumulation of wealth.

He writes:

The purpose of college…is to turn adolescents into adults.  You needn’t go to school for that, but if you’re going to be there anyway, then that’s the most important thing to get accomplished.  That is the true education: accept no substitutes.  The idea that we should take the first four years of young adulthood and devote them to career preparation alone, neglecting every other part of life, is nothing short of an obscenity.  If that’s what people had you do, then you were robbed.  

Deresiewicz, who spent fifteen years teaching in Ivy League institutions, laments this trend.  College is now almost entirely about career preparation.  A four-year undergraduate education no longer teaches students to:

  1. wonder about the meaning of life
  2. think
  3. learn to care about ideas and make those ideas a part of their soul.
  4. build a self
  5. take intellectual risks
  6. develop habits of reflection
  7. stand apart, and if necessary against, the claims that others make upon you
  8. pursue a calling
  9. cultivate moral courage

I would add a few more history-specific virtues to this list.  An education in history should teach students

  1. contextual thinking about the world
  2. critical analysis of an argument
  3. that things change
  4. empathy for people who are different
  5. humility in our limited to know what happened in the past
  6. to make evidence-based arguments.
  7. that human beings are complex individuals

Deresiewicz has given-up on the idea that elite colleges will produce these kinds of graduates in large numbers.  He thinks that religious colleges may be one of the only remaining places in American higher education where this vision of college still exists.  Is he correct?  We will take this up on Part 4 of this series.

Quote of the Day

The purpose of college…is to turn adolescents into adults.  You needn’t go to school for that, but if you’re going to be there anyway, then that’s the most important thing to get accomplished.  That is the true education: accept no substitutes.  The idea that we should take the first four years of young adulthood and devote them to career preparation alone, neglecting every other part of life, is nothing short of an obscenity.  If that’s what people had you do, then you were robbed.  

–William Deresiewicz, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite, p. 87.

An Astrophysicist Defends the Humanities

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Adam Frank

In a recent piece from National Public Radio, University of Rochester astrophysics professor Adam Frank makes a compelling case for an undergraduate education in the humanities.

Here is a taste:

In spite of being a scientist, I strongly believe an education that fails to place a heavy emphasis on the humanities is a missed opportunity. Without a base in humanities, both the students — and the democratic society these students must enter as informed citizens — are denied a full view of the heritage and critical habits of mind that make civilization worth the effort.

There is, of course, another way to view the question of whether a liberal arts education has value. It can be seen as posing the question as to whether college should be seen as some kind of higher vocational training, instead: a place to go to for a specific certification for a specific job.

Here, too, I would push back strongly.

For those who go to college, the four years spent there are often the sole chance we give ourselves to think deeply and broadly about our place in the world. To turn college into nothing more than job training (emphasizing only those jobs that pay well), represents another missed opportunity for students and the society that needs them.

So, these are my traditional answers to the traditional questions about the value of humanities and arts education vs. science and engineering. From my standpoint as a scholar, I’ll stand by them and defend what they represent to the last breath.

But the world has changed and, I believe, these answers are no longer enough.

It’s not just the high cost of college that alters the equation. It’s also vast changes that have swept through society with the advent of a world run on information (i.e., on data). So, with that in mind, here is my updated — beyond the traditional — response to the value of the humanities in education: The key is balance.

It is no longer enough for students to focus on either science/engineering or the humanities/arts. During the course of their lives, students today can expect to move through multiple career phases requiring a wide range of skills. A kid who wants to write screenplays may find she must learn how to build Web content for a movie-related app. That effort is likely to include getting her hands dirty with the technology of protocols and system architecture. Likewise, a kid who started out in programming may find himself working for a video game company that puts a high value on storytelling. Doing his job well may require him to understand more deeply how Norse mythologies represented the relationship between human and animal realms.

Read the rest here.

Damon Linker on How to Save Liberal Arts Education

Damon Linker thinks that the humanities and liberal arts will survive, but not with the “prestige and power they acquired in the post-war university.  The structural trends working against the humanities are just too strong.”

These structural trends include:

1.  The rise of STEM and the demand for practical skills in our capitalist economy.

2.  The cultural radicalism of the humanities as they are taught at American universities.  Linker writes: “Do you really want to take yet another class devoted to exploring the myriad ways that sexism, racism, and homophobia suffuse the literature of Western Civilization?”

Linker concludes that the liberal arts and the humanities should be studied because they teach us how to live.

Here is Linker’s podcast at The Week:

Linker references this lecture from Mark Lilla at Columbia:

Study History at Messiah College and be a "Humanities Scholar"

Boyer Hall: Home of the Messiah College History Department

Perhaps I am biased, but I think Messiah College is a wonderful place to study history.  We offer our students a rigorous curriculum taught by first-rate professors dedicated to working in a small Christian liberal arts college.  Our seven-member department is committed to teaching, and they are also some of the leading scholars in their fields.  We are committed to the career development of our students.  We stress both content and historical thinking skills and our faculty reflect on the study of the past from the perspective of our shared Christian faith.  We offer concentrations in American, European, and Non-Western history and we are one of the few institutions in the country to offer an undergraduate concentration in public history.

If this sounds good, I encourage you (as a parent or prospective student) to learn more about our program by making a campus visit or initiating an e-mail exchange with me at jfea(at)messiah(dot)edu  As department chair, I would love to tell you more about what we have to offer.

I also hope you might consider applying for a spot in our brand new Humanities Scholars Program. You can read all about it here.

Here is a taste:

The Messiah College Humanities Scholars Program strengthens student understanding of the relationship between Christian faith and learning in the humanities, and deepens students’ ability to translate knowledge and skills developed in Humanities disciplines into productive lives of leadership and service after college.


Scholarship Details


Each year, 10 Dean’s Scholarships in the Humanities are awarded to accomplished, incoming students majoring in any field associated with the School of the Humanities. These include majors in the following departments: Biblical & Religious Studies, Communication, English, History, Modern Languages, Philosophy, and Politics & International Relations.


These $2,500 scholarships are renewable for the subsequent three years that you are matriculated at Messiah College, for a possible total $10,000 scholarship.  Additionally, this scholarship may be combined with the Provost’s and Amigo Scholarships, but not with other merit scholarships at Messiah College.

Is the Success of a College Education Connected to the Success of Museums?

Or is the success of a college education linked to the success of this magazine?

Gary Gutting, a philosophy professor at Notre Dame, reflects on the goals of a college education. In the process he makes some good points about the skills needed for most white collar jobs.  Here is a taste of his recent piece at The New York Times:

College education is a proliferation of…possibilities: the beauty of mathematical discovery, the thrill of scientific understanding, the fascination of historical narrative, the mystery of theological speculation. We should judge teaching not by the amount of knowledge it passes on, but by the enduring excitement it generates. Knowledge, when it comes, is a later arrival, flaring up, when the time is right, from the sparks good teachers have implanted in their students’ souls.

The fruits of college teaching should be measured not by tests but by the popularity of museums, classical concerts, art film houses, book discussion groups, and publications like Scientific American, the New York Review of Books, The Economist, and The Atlantic, to cite just a few. These are the places where our students reap the benefits of their education.

Many will see all this as fuzzy idealism, ignorant of the essentially vocational needs that must drive even college teaching.  Students need jobs and employers need well- trained workers.  What do the alleged joys of the mind have to do with these brute facts?  It’s hard enough to just teach what people need to do their jobs.

But what do they need to do their jobs?  In professions like medicine and engineering there’s a body of technical knowledge learned in school and maintained through subsequent use.   Beyond that—at least it is often said—we need critical thinking and creativity: the ability to detect tacit but questionable assumption and to develop new ways of understanding issues—in short, to think beyond what “everyone knows.”

But it’s our intellectual culture—physicists and poets, psychologists and musicians, philosophers and visual artists—that above all generates criticism and creativity.   Those not tuned in to this culture lack the primary source for new ways of seeing and thinking….

Why the Decline in College Enrollment May Be Good News

For those of us in academia, especially those of us who teach at small private schools that are tuition-driven, the recent decline in college enrollment hurts.  Programs are cut.  Hiring freezes continue.  Staff members are let go.  Some colleges may need to close their doors.

But according to Jordan Weissman, the 2.3 percent drop in enrollment from 2012 to 2013 is actually a good thing.  First, it is a sign that the economy if getting stronger.  Second, it may force colleges to improve their dropout rates.  Third, many academics do want some colleges to shrink, especially for-profit institutions.

Read Weissman post at The Atlantic here.  What do you think?

This Week’s "Anxious Bench" Post at Patheos: "Why College?"

Leon Wieseltier is the literary editor of The New Republic.  If you do not read him regularly you should.  Sometimes Wieseltier will make you angry, but he will always make you think.

In the December 31 issue of the magazine he extolls the virtue of a college education while at the same time attacking the “uncollege” movement.  Led by author Dale J. Stephens, the leaders of this movement are telling promising young high school students to avoid college and pursue lives of entrepreneurship a’ la Jobs, Gates, and Zuckerberg.  Here is a taste of Wieseltier’s column:

Read the rest here.