Whe­re is the hig­her pur­po­se in hig­her lear­ning?

La Jornada (Canada) - - ENGLISH SECTION -

Alack of at­ten­tion to the minds and hearts of stu­dents ex­plains why Ca­na­dian uni­ver­si­ties are at risk of tea­ring apart Hig­her edu­ca­tion has lost its way.

For tho­se wor­king in the sys­tem, this news is old. The list of pro­blems is long - too long to de­tail in this short spa­ce.

For tho­se on the out­si­de, he­re’s the pro­blem in a sen­ten­ce: Uni­ver­si­ties ha­ve be­co­me “cen­tres of ex­ce­llen­ce,” as many brand them­sel­ves.

The pro­blem is two­fold. First, uni­ver­si­ties, li­ke car dea­lers­hips or cof­fee shops, be­lie­ve they need to ha­ve “brands.” And se­cond, they pur­sue ex­ce­llen­ce - or in­no­va­tion or wha­te­ver is cu­rrent - rat­her than truth.

Uni­ver­si­ties, among the last sur­vi­ving ins­ti­tu­tions of the Middle Ages, are showing their age. They are crum­bling.

And we won’t see a re­vi­val in the­se great ins­ti­tu­tions un­less they re­turn to pur­po­se: to gi­ve in­di­vi­duals a pla­ce to search for the truth, rat­her than a pla­ce to search for a job.

I can hear the ob­jec­tions al­ready.

The first ob­jec­tions ori­gi­na­te with peo­ple in the aca­demy who ha­ve gi­ven up on truth. For the­se peo­ple, no unif­ying or trans­cen­dent truths exist. Ad­vi­sing a per­son to seek hig­her things is now con­si­de­red in­tru­si­ve and old fas­hio­ned. Mea­ning has been pri­va­ti­zed and so­ciety, li­ke our schools, has bal­ka­ni­zed and frag­men­ted in­to ever sma­ller, ever mo­re pri­va­te in­ter­ests.

For an exam­ple of this go-now­he­re ap­proach to li­fe and lear­ning, vi­sit al­most any art school in the world. You will find young ar­tists wor­king to crea­te work that mocks art and holds the au­dien­ce in con­tempt. Not long ago, I saw an ex­hi­bi­tion by To­ron­to gra­dua­te stu­dents. One mas­ter’s stu­dent had “ins­ta­lled” a pi­le of gar­ba­ge in the middle of the ga­llery. It is the per­fect pic­tu­re of ut­ter mea­nin­gless­ness.

The ot­her ob­jec­tions to my pro­po­si­tion ari­se from the class of ad­mi­nis­tra­tors, tea­chers and pa­rents who see a ca­reer as the end­point of a uni­ver­sity de­gree. To the­se peo­ple, soul-buil­ding is a ‘va­lue-add’ - ni­ce if you chan­ce upon it, but not ne­ces­sary to ob­tain an edu­ca­tion.

One ini­tia­ti­ve exem­plif­ying ca­ree­rism blos­so­med from the Coun­cil of On­ta­rio Uni­ver­si­ties. To “spark a pro­vin­ce-wi­de con­ver­sa­tion about the fu- tu­re,” the coun­cil is sur­ve­ying pa­rents and stu­dents about what skills tee­na­gers will need in the fu­tu­re. “Is it pro­blem-sol­ving, or com­mu­ni­ca­tion?” the coun­cil asks in a press re­lea­se. “Just-in-ti­me know­led­ge, or the abi­lity to adapt to chan­ge? Lea­ders­hip qua­li­ties, or an en­tre­pre­neu­rial spi­rit?”

As­king high school stu­dents what skills they’ll need fi­ve to 10 years from now is ab­surd. And it’s pro­bably a was­te of ti­me to ask pa­rents, too, alt­hough they are pa­ying cus­to­mers.

Young minds need mo­re than de­bi­li­ta­ting skep­ti­cism and heartless ca­ree­rism. A stu­dent can earn a four-year de­gree wit­hout lear­ning how to wri­te, how to read, how to dis­tin­guish beauty from ugli­ness, let alo­ne read his­tory, phi­lo­sophy or poetry. It’s pos­si­ble for a stu­dent to sur­vi­ve uni­ver­sity wit­hout any­body as­king them im­por­tant, li­be­ra­ting ques­tions, li­ke: Who are you? What do you be­lie­ve? How does one li­ve a prin­ci­pled li­fe? What is the good li­fe?

This lack of pur­po­se in the minds and hearts of stu­dents ex­plains why uni­ver­si­ties are at risk of tea­ring apart.

Stu­dents will gra­dua­te, on ave­ra­ge, with $27,000 in debt. And with gra­de in­fla­tion now a stan­dard prac­ti­ce, they are pretty much gua­ran­teed a de­gree, as long as they pay their tui­tion. But they won’t ha­ve to think deeply to earn that cre­den­tial.

This hap­pens against a pre­ca­rious fi­nan­cial back­drop. Uni­ver­si­ties and co­lle­ges, mas­si­ve ope­ra­tions with hu­ge bu­reau­cra­cies, need cons­tant in­fu­sions of cash to keep afloat. The cash co­mes via stu­dents. And so uni­ver­si­ties com­pe­te for re­cruits, lower entry stan­dards as re­qui­red and de­li­ver what they think stu­dents want: cen­tres of ex­ce­llen­ce and skills for to­mo­rrow’s jobs.

That might be what ad­mi­nis­tra­tors and pa­rents think stu­dents want. But what do stu­dents need?

They need what the aca­demy is sup­po­sed to of­fer. The sa­me things young peo­ple ha­ve al­ways wan­ted and al­ways nee­ded: an en­coun­ter with know­led­ge that is freeing be­cau­se it is true.-TROYMEDIA

Robert Pri­ce is a com­mu­ni­ca­tions and pro­fes­sio­nal wri­ting ins­truc­tor at the Uni­ver­sity of To­ron­to. Robert is in­clu­ded in Troy Me­dia’s Un­li­mi­ted Ac­cess subs­crip­tion plan.

Newspapers in Spanish

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.