Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Crisis of the American Intellectual (part 2)

In my last post, I introduced Walter Russell Mead’s essay about The Crisis of the American Intellectual.  I reflected on his assertion that the “learned professions – lawyers, doctors, university professors . . . and (aspirationally anyway) school teachers and journalists" operated from “guild” world views which did not meet the needs of contemporary America.

I commented that “the guild metaphor is quite valid.  Among many educators there is an attitude of “if it’s not broken why fix it” about the system they went thrived in as students and then entered as apprentices who would then move into tenured positions.  This creates a terrific amount of certainty among teachers that not only are their methods tried and true, but new ones should be viewed with a high degree of skepticism.”

Mead also discusses another factor contributing to the crisis of the American Intellectual.  He calls it “credentialism”:

We are extraordinarily rich in specialist intellectuals who have a deep knowledge of a particular subject. . . .We are much less effective at teaching and supporting people who are able to master the essentials of many complex subjects, integrate the insights from this kind of study into a coherent social or political vision . . . .

 In most of our learned professions and knowledge guilds today, promotion is linked to the needs and aspirations of the guild rather than to society at large.  Promotion in the academy is almost universally linked to the production of ever more specialized, theory-rich (and, outside the natural sciences, too often application-poor) texts, pulling the discourse in one discipline after another into increasingly self-referential black holes. . . .

Those who run our government agencies, our universities, our foundations, our mainstream media outlets and other key institutions cannot at this point look the future in the face.  The world is moving in ways so opposed to their most hallowed assumptions that they simply cannot make sense of it.  They resist blindly and uncreatively and, unable to appreciate the extraordinary prospects for human liberation that this change can bring, they are incapable of creative and innovative response.

These comments resonate with me very strongly. First, technology and social networking have allowed me to become a very uncredentialed "expert" in learning design and ed tech matters.  My credential is who I am and what I have done in the real world.  I present at state and national forums but cannot produce a degree that verifies my qualification.  I've worked very hard for three years to attain this goal, but have not been formaly trained in a traditional way.

Mead's remarks also justify where we are going with our curriculum at Mercy.  We are pursuing Tony Wagner's Seven Survival Skills

--critical thinking/problem solving
--collaboration/leading by influence
--agility and adaptability
--initiative and entrepreneurialism
--effective oral and written communication
--accessing and analyzing information
--curiosity and imagination

This sincerely believe  directly addressing these skills through new models, such Challenge Based Learning, we will prepare our students better for the real world than the traditional process offered by "the guild."

"Diploma" Flickr CC photo by .snow

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