Abolish the University. And while we’re at it, High School too

One of the model exams in the new history curriculum being implemented in Quebec, for the grade 8 world history class, asks:

‘Discuss the impact of imperialism in the Belgian Congo.’

This, after a year of project based learning and precious little framework to hang all these disjointed factoids on. Half these kids can’t find their own province on a map; the others think Congo refers to a fruit drink.

Similarly, in Ontario, there is pressure to graduate more students by removing all obstacles: no penalities for plagiarism, no consequences to not doing homework, or missing tests. Failure is not an option.

When this is what we teach our students – that there are no consequences to failure – then there is no point in keeping them in school. Teach ’em to read and write, and punch buttons on a keyboard, then let them get to work.

We’d cause less damage that way.

(If they want to go to university, let them prove they deserve to be there by writing a standard entrance exam.)

Speaking of universities, and being much less flip, there’s an op-ed piece well worth reading at the New York Times:

GRADUATE education is the Detroit of higher learning. Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost (sometimes well over $100,000 in student loans).[more]

It is a stimulating article. My own response to these pressures has been to reinvent myself as an online specialist, with an interest in the power of games for education – a long cry from fieldwork in Italy, but we can’t always get what we want…

I particularly liked his concluding thoughts:

For many years, I have told students, “Do not do what I do; rather, take whatever I have to offer and do with it what I could never imagine doing and then come back and tell me about it.” My hope is that colleges and universities will be shaken out of their complacency and will open academia to a future we cannot conceive.

How would you reinvent the university?