Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Uh oh, another troubling conclusion

One of the topics I've been reading about during my sabbatical has been young adult intellectual development which, along with the topic of brains, is super, super cool stuff.  But, I'm now wandering toward conclusions about higher education that, if correct, basically mean we are doing everything wrong.  Or, rather, to the extent that we are doing anything right, it's probably accidental.

I just finished reading Kegan's In Over Our Heads and have started his (I think) first book Evolving Self and his most recent book (written with Lisa Lahey) Immunity to Change.  After finishing IOOH I emailed Kegan (I love email since it allows you to correspond with folks you'd never randomly call or write letters to and most of the time they actually respond - very exciting) and asked him what else I should be reading.  Well, happy, happy day, I've actually been reading all that he suggested as relevant. 

ANYway, onto higher education.  Basically, if what I've been reading is correct (and I don't have much reason to believe it isn't), people are more successful in life (and feel free to define, operationalize, assess, whatever 'successful' any old way you want) when they are able to think in more complex ways and that complexity of thought is a developmental issue.  That is, we go through different 'stages' of conceptualization of the world with each progressive stage allowing for more complexity than the last.

So, if complexity of thought is a crucial component (nearly sufficient, it seems) then should this be what we are aiming at in higher education (really, all education)? 

It is true that people who have college educations are at a higher level of development in all areas (even when controlled for things like class, race, gender, etc) but I'd argue that this is a happy accident and not the product of anything intentional.  What would higher education look like if we took as our primary goal moving our students through different developmental stages (in all domains)?  How would our curricula change?  Our pedagogy? 

I'm pretty sure we'd still teach courses in math, science, history, literature, but why we teach these would change.  The topics wouldn't be the ends but the vehicles.  To borrow from Buddhism, they would be the raft, not the shore.

Both this, and yesterday's thoughts have me pondering what is the purpose of institutions of higher education?  I do believe research is important but where should research be happening?  Is it just a convenience to have researchers also be teachers?  A historical happenstance that hasn't been altered?  Should it be changed?  How could it be changed in a way that lead to the best research being produced?


GTChristie said...

Oooooh. Thou hast good.

LOL ... the security word below is INTEDE. I bet that's an acronym. Or else it's a swimonym: it means a raft of complex things at once. Intercede, intend & impede. Maybe.

Or I like the way you think.

JMc said...

I'm flattered that you like the way I think. But, simultaneously, a bit frightened for you. :-)