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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Automatic University

I'm probably just oldfashioned but this vision of the university horrifies me. I was struck in particular by the collage of half-baked ideas gleaned (too quickly, I think) from studies of academic life. Citing that study by Mark Bauerlein about the alleged overproduction of uncited writing, which we've discussed already, Schumpeter argues that

The time wasted writing articles that will never be read cannot be spent teaching. In “Academically Adrift” Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa argue that over a third of America’s students show no improvement in critical thinking or analytical reasoning after four years in college.

But Arum and Roksa showed precisely that only those students who are enrolled in more or less traditional liberal arts programs, where writing is required, showed such improvement. Students who don't write, and teachers who don't demand it, presumably believe that the time wasted writing school assignments cannot be spent "studying"! Better to watch a lot of online lectures and then take a multiple choice exam that a machine can grade.

The automated university-as-a-business that Schumpeter desires fails to valorize the qualities of mind that follow from regular writing practices. A good writer of prose is also a good teacher, and can easily detect good ideas in well-written prose. The regular writer, then, does not need to spend as much time "teaching". The student and the teacher are prepared by their respective efforts to prose the material. A quick bit of interaction. Some simple comments. Even something as a simple as a grade. That's all it takes to move the student in the right direction.

I'm truly afraid of the conception of a university as a machine and of education as something this machine does to the minds of students. Of course, no one is really that evil. Rather, most people see the university as a machine that does something to the resumé of the students. It transforms credentials, not competences. What Schumpeter might mean then is: since students don't learn anything at school anyway, we may as well make it cheaper.

1 comment:

Vance Maverick said...

Appropriate that this should emanate from that strange magazine which runs its reactionary messages under ominous impersonal pseudonyms -- in this case the name identified with the doctrine of "creative destruction".