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What Is College For?

Two recent books -- one a study of education in Elizabethan England, the other a celebration of a great books curriculum -- challenge us to reflect on the purpose of contemporary higher education and the pedagogies we use.

Neither book has much, if anything, to say about the learning sciences. References to neuroscience or today’s educational buzzwords -- constructivism, connectivism and active, project, inquiry or competency-based education -- are noticeably absent. Both suggest that our current supposedly empirically driven approach to curriculum design and pedagogy reflect an impoverished view of what higher education ought to be and how best to teach.

These books -- along with a new book by Derek Bok, which I will review in a subsequent posting -- seek to inspire us to break free from the paradigm trap that prevents us from imagining alternative and more inspiring and effective ways to think about higher education’s purpose and pedagogy.

Zena Hitz’s Lost in Thought offers a passionate and powerful defense of pure intellectualism and the intrinsic value of the intellectual life. This book argues that higher education’s importance lies not in its utility, applicability, skills conferred or practical outcomes, but rather in the cultivation of a rich inner life: a life devoted to disinterested contemplation and the cultivation of one’s aesthetic sensibilities. This is a life dedicated to thought, wonder and curiosity infused with a passion for reading, learning and reflection.

Scott Newstok’s How to Think Like Shakespeare argues that the much-maligned 16th-century approach to education, with its regimented Latin curriculum, emphasis on rote memorization, reliance on corporal punishment and restricted student body, has a great deal to teach us. He maintains that the Elizabethan classroom was in fact a pedagogical environment that encouraged curiosity, intellectual agility and rhetorical felicity.

Read entire article at Inside Higher Ed