Stanley Fish’s column finds a rather terse description of the public expectations of higher education:
In this latter model , the mode of delivery – a disc, a computer screen, a video hook-up – doesn’t matter so long as delivery occurs. Insofar as there are real-life faculty in the picture, their credentials and publications (if they have any) are beside the point, for they are just “delivery people.”
So, if college faculty are to be reduced to the identical functional role that k12 teachers now find themselves, who will determine the curricula that they will teach? And, who will lead the discoveries of knowledge and technologies yet to come? The first question will undoubtedly be answered by corporations who define the skillsets their workforce requires. As to the second, corporations have largely abandoned the costs of basic research as a long term expense that makes no sense in a world that values assets on a short term basis.
The power of the written and spoken word has been reflected in education since the time of the Greek empire. Curiously, another article in todays NYT discusses the differences in approach to literature in language found in comparison of President Bush and President-elect Obama. To the point, the author states the impact of Obama’s literature upon the development of Obama’s political skills:
But his appreciation of the magic of language and his ardent love of reading have not only endowed him with a rare ability to communicate his ideas to millions of Americans while contextualizing complex ideas about race and religion, they have also shaped his sense of who he is and his apprehension of the world.
So, should education devolve into a means of training workers for tasks that require little appreciation for communication skills? If not, how should these skills be taught to be appreciated? Rhetoric and composition in a for-profit school are taught with different intended outcomes than similar courses in public and private non-profit colleges.
From the essay on Obama’s love of books:
The incandescent power of Lincoln’s language, its resonance and rhythmic cadences, as well as his ability to shift gears between the magisterial and the down-to-earth, has been a model for Mr. Obama — who has said he frequently rereads Lincoln for inspiration — and so, too, have been the uses to which Lincoln put his superior language skills: to goad Americans to complete the unfinished work of the founders, and to galvanize a nation reeling from hard times with a new vision of reconciliation and hope.
What do we lose if we adopt the for-profit approach to short term goals?
We may lose those who find inspiration in history, literature and art whom we, today, find attractive as leaders. Think about this — do you want to decide whom to elect based upon rhetoric and vision or based upon a stack of 30 powerpoint slides?