Reductionism and College Education

Dr. Z

I am in the process of wrapping up a short, three-week, online class: a mini-mester.  Ideally, in less than a third of the time, students cover the same materials in three weeks that they would in a traditional 16 week semester.

Although I benefit from the overload, I have always been ambivalent about the classes–even as I have continued to teach them on a regular basis.

My reservations about the courses have been difficult to articulate.  The students are expected to meet the course outcomes. But perhaps that is part of my discomfort.

The focus on clearly defined, defining, outcomes seems to be a form of reductionism.

This reductionism seems tied to the emphasis on career preparation and testing.  Education has been reduced to interaction with tests, outcomes, and degree plans, an extended, expensive form of training.  The goal of a college degree is to obtain a job.  I am not sure that is the same as an education.

Mark Bauerlein in “What’s the Point of a Professor?” warns that it is up to the professors to challenge students, to engage them to move beyond simply evaluating assignments.  He concludes if we fail to do so we are nothing more than accreditors.  “We become not a fearsome mind or a moral light, a role model or inspiration.”

The reasoning is simple; part of the dedication to our disciplines is an attentiveness beyond the enforcement and defense of a grade.

Looking at a fresh new set of essays awaiting my comments and grades, I question my own tenacity.

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