Goal of Education

This semester I began my courses with discussions of education. Referencing interviews from Learning {Re}Imagined we’ve discussed how technology has been the ‘savior’ of education, and also changed little. Despite the small changes, technology is often still viewed as a salvation. Ideas such as: if we automate some school and save money everyone will learn better – continue to circulate despite repeated disagreement by teachers about learning.

For these classes I’ve tweeted a lot of education articles to supplement their work. Wednesday as I was working through a conference proposal and a tech funding proposal I referenced and tweeted this article about a tech CEO hiring and highly valuing humanities majors on his innovation teams because of their ability to think. Yesterday, a former student of mine commented on the article.

The changing of education is not a new discussion, and I’ve been having this discussion with various classes of students – and this particular student was in one of the first classes where these discussions began. He was a liberal arts major who also had a job in the tech industry (both while in college and guaranteed full time after graduation). He completed MOOCs and learned to Google programming help so he would excel at his job. He saw the huge benefits from on-demand learning, and often argued for these benefits during our discussions.

The questions boiled down to: If students could select what they needed, wouldn’t they be more engaged, wouldn’t they be better prepared for the jobs they wanted, wouldn’t they be better equipped to continue life-long education?

So when he commented on my link today I was reminded of these former conversations. While I don’t think these are easy questions, I don’t feel any closer to resolutions years later. I’ve adjusted my teaching and added problem-based learning, group exercises, focused on what student-centered learning looks like so the classroom better resembles the thinking required of innovative employees, and critical thinking of content.

What struck me about his comment is that I still feel like I’m arguing for the importance  and value of humanities. I wasn’t totally satisfied with my post yesterday, so I’m still thinking about better ways to argue for the value of humanities. In the case of this former student – he was able to look up the programming information he needed to keep and excel at his job with a tech start-up. Was that due to his experience as a humanities major, or his experience with school in general? If he’d completed MOOCs instead of ‘traditional’ education would that critical awareness of information seeking still be so strongly developed?

I really think his humanities education supported and developed his critical awareness of information seeking. But again, these are patterns of thought, behaviors, ability to excel and innovate in the real-world that develop after graduation. I have so many amazing former students who have jobs they like, internships they love, because of their ability to think. But, these numbers are no longer effective for this conversation (big data and neoliberalism are killing numbers speaking for themselves – long live critical thinking!). What would be arguable proof of the value of this thinking? Maybe then, we can begin more productive public humanities discussions on the value of humanities.

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