Monday, June 8, 2009

Education for the Public Good - TED talk

Liz Coleman of Bennington College calls for us to reinvent liberal arts education in a recently posted TED talk. This talk documents the way "expertise" has overthrown the generalist, "with increasing emphasis on the technical and obscure." She disses postmodern deconstructionism in literature, which I find unnecessary and a bit unintellectual, but she makes a good case for something that many of us already know: that higher education institutions have no clear sense of the democratic purposes of education. She says that despite the explosion of community service programs on campuses, these remain strictly outside the curriculum, and the current civic engagement push is oversimplified and does not disturb, ultimately, the basic neutral and expert stance that characterizes the academy's curriculum. Higher education (her focus) no longer provides the capacity for deep civic engagement, she argues. We are "playing with fire in terms of our responsibilities for the health of this democracy," she states. While some of her points are a bit overstated, and "education for education's sake" seems to be utterly dismissed, I think her basic point is right on. It is exactly the stance that makes folks like Stanley Fish crazy.

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