Educated Denial

All professors– especially if you’ve been teaching for a while– love to pontificate on learning and on higher education. I certainly can’t throw stones in that glass house. I am continually amazed, though, that so many avoid the white elephant: the almost total destruction of a secure employment system in U.S. Higher Education. It makes all of the professors’ ideas seem disingenuous.

Sometimes, as with Joel Shatzky’s piece in the Huffington Post, it’s only a question of not acknowledging reality ( “Educating for Democracy: What Makes Students Want to Learn?” ). Shatzky is also incorrect when he uses Bourdieu’s terminology (it’s embodied not social capital) and I think he makes the common mistake of reducing adult motivation to economics.

It’s important to understand education in economic terms. Students should be told that they will do much better financially if they graduate; that will surely motivate them. There are other motivations that are probably more important in late adolescence. Conformity and peer pressure come to mind, for example. What we need, more than anything, is a culture in which learning is cool.

In Lynn O’Shaughnessy’s “3 Negatives About How Colleges Are Behaving” the denial of reality is more glaring. Ms. O’Shaughnessy’s ideas are good, more or less, although I doubt educational quality can be “measured” quite as easily as she suggests, but her list leaves out university employment practices. Context is king: U.S. News and World Report isn’t exactly a labor friendly rag.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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