I’ve been looking more closely at the report of the Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education which I wrote about last week. Then, I tried to look more at the roots of our higher education system which had brought to such an exemplary position in America. While digging around the Department of Education website, however, I found the link to the minutes of the meeting in which the report was approved.
Most of it is rather boring reading with each member congratulating the commission and alluding to past controversies that have been so wonderfully addressed, culminating in this document which apparently needs only some formatting and the addition of visual aids to make it perfect. The entire focus of the report is on meeting the demands of the workplace and placing the responsibility for student failure on the university. We know too little about what the future market place will need to completely revamp a system to meet that need, and creating good little robots for the factory floor is not and should not be the purpose of education. Although Commissioner Vedder ultimately signed the report as well, he had the most interesting comments. He strikes at the heart of the problem with our system of higher education and if we as a nation are going to be engaged in a dialogue about the future of education, these are the issues we should be addressing.
We do not speak about the deplorable lack of intellectual diversity and the stifling of freedom of expression on some campuses. We say nothing about the hedonistic culture and the lack of high performance expectations at some universities, as is symbolized by such phenomena as grade inflation.
We do not speak of concerns raised by Harry Lewis and others about the indifference of faculty at some campuses about the broader moral, cultural, and civic development of young adults. We say nothing about the lack of coherence in our curriculum. And perhaps we overly stress in this report the vocational dimensions of higher education relative to other objectives such as the furtherance of the advancement of western civilization in its broadest dimensions.
We do not say enough about research–a point made by some other university people. And with respect to research, we say nothing about the deplorable current tendency of politicians–and I will name names, members of–well, I won’t name names, there’s too many of them–members of Congress to politically interfere in the rational allocation of research resources. Meeting Notes from the Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education [PDF]
The moral, cultural and civic development of young adults. These are the central puposes of education and our universities fail miserably. What is the solution? It certainly isn’t in increasing access to a destitute system, nor is it in federally mandated benchmarks. It may be found, instead, in returning to the foundations which brought American education to such a high standing in the world that it has been able to withstand decades of decay and remain competitive. A mostly private system for the purpose of educating the whole person and drawing unity out of diversity. A system which promoted the foundations of our society and the institutions which afford us our liberty.