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MUST READS


The following is a collection of seminal books, articles, and reports on the Academy. They range from classic texts on the ideal of the University to commentaries and reports on more recent academic problems. The list does not purport to be complete, but offers a listing of works fundamental to understanding problems of the modern academy. Whether interested in education in the broad sense, or investigating a particular issue, we encourage you to consider these excellent works.
  ARTICLES

REPORTS

BOOKS

FEATURED MUST READS

FEATURED ARTICLE

Liberal Education, Then and Now
By Peter Berkowitz, Policy Review, December & January 2007

An auto repair shop in which mechanics and owners could not distinguish a wreck from a finely tuned car would soon go out of business. A hospital where doctors, nurses, and administrators were unable to recognize a healthy human being would present a grave menace to the public health. A ship whose captain and crew lacked navigation skills and were ignorant of their destination would spell doom for the cargo and passengers entrusted to their care.

Yet at universities and colleges throughout the land, parents and students pay large sums of money for - and federal and state governments contribute sizeable tax exemptions to support - liberal education, despite administrators and faculty lacking a coherent idea about what constitutes an educated human being. To be sure, American higher education, or rather a part of it, is today the envy of the world, producing and maintaining research scientists of the highest caliber. But liberal education is another matter. Indeed, many professors in the humanities and social sciences proudly
promulgate in their scholarship and courses doctrines that mock the very idea of a standard or measure defining an educated person and so legitimate the compass-less curriculum over which they preside. In these circumstances, why should we not conclude that universities are betraying their mission?

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FEATURED REPORT

The Coming Crisis in Citizenship
Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Feburary 2007

Responses from college seniors to a selection of individual questions display how little they actually know about basic historical facts, ideas, and concepts germane to meaningful participation in American civic life.

  • Seniors lack basic knowledge of America's history. More than half, 53.4 percent, could not identify the correct century when the first American colony was established at Jamestown. And 55.4 percent could not recognize Yorktown as the battle that brought the American Revolution to an end (28 percent even thought the Civil War battle at Gettysburg the correct answer).
  • College seniors are also ignorant of America's founding documents. Fewer than half, 47.9 percent, recognized that the line "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," is from the Declaration of Independence. And an overwhelming majority, 72.8 percent, could not correctly identify the source of the idea of "a wall of separation" between church and state.
  • More than half of college seniors did not know that the Bill of Rights explicitly prohibits the establishment of an official religion for the United States.

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FEATURED BOOK

The Politics of Campus Reform
An excerpt from Our Underachieving Colleges (Princeton University Press) by Derek Bok, Harvard President Emeritus. (By permission of the author)

What are the prospects for turning colleges into effective learning organizations? Not good, unfortunately. The weaknesses of undergraduate education may be real, but they serve important faculty interests. Like most human beings, professors do not relish having their work evaluated by others, especially when the evaluators ask potentially awkward questions, such as whether their students are actually making progress toward widely accepted goals. Nor do instructors who are used to lecturing welcome research on new pedagogies that may put pressure on them to change the way they teach.

Departments, too, have special interests to protect. They have a natural inclination to resist any effort by outsiders to influence the content of their concentration, even if there are indications that it is undermining other important aims of undergraduate education. They may permit their majors to fill more space in the curriculum than is truly necessary, because such a policy lets them spend more time teaching the courses closest to their professional interests. They allow writing courses and language instruction to remain substandard at any colleges, because professors in the sponsoring departments not only refuse to teach these classes themselves but also find it advantageous to use them to finance a larger cadre of graduate students.

In theory, presidents and deans are supposed to counteract self-interested behavior to make sure that the legitimate needs of students are properly addressed. In practice, however, academic leaders often fail to fulfill this responsibility. Ultimate power over instruction and curriculum rests with the faculty. While leaders have considerable leverage and influence of their own, they are often reluctant to employ these assets for fear of arousing opposition from the faculty that could attract unfavorable publicity, worry potential donors, and even threaten their jobs. After all, success in increasing student learning is seldom rewarded, and its benefits are usually hard to demonstrate, far more so than success in lifting the SAT scores of the entering class or in raising the money to build new laboratories or libraries.

The point of these remarks is not to berate professors or their academic leaders, most of whom are serious, dedicated people. But they are also human and hence are no quicker than anyone else to alter practices that serve important personal and professional interests if there are no compelling reasons to do so. Until Ph.D. programs include a serious preparation for teaching and convey a deeper understanding of the complexities of student learning, faculties will not even perceive much need to do so. Without more prodding and encouragement than they are currently receiving, president and deans are also unlikely to challenge the status quo. In the present environment, then, it would be myopic simply to wait in the hope that reform will emerge spontaneously from withinů.

In every institution, moreover, academic leaders can place their agenda before the faculty and see that it is discussed. They can bolster the chances of achieving results by backing their proposals with research that offers persuasive evidence of problems that deserve attention. Empirical studies can counter skepticism about the value of moral reasoning and civic education by demonstrating how moral awareness and citizen participation can increase through well-planned educational interventions. Careful research can make a powerful case for change by showing faculty members that the quality of student writing in particular departments declines during college, or that certain methods of instruction produce greater gains in critical thinking than others, or that conventional ways of teaching do not produce as strong a performance on exams as group study or self-paced learning.

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