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QOTD: Proper Objectives of Higher Education August 16, 2008

Posted by federalist in Education.

Stanley Fish‘s new book is “Save the World on Your Own Time.”  A recent essay summarizes his advice for academia:

Pick up the mission statement of almost any college or university, and you will find claims and ambitions that will lead you to think that it is the job of an institution of higher learning to cure every ill the world has ever known….

So what is it that institutions of higher learning are supposed to do? My answer is simple. College and university teachers can (legitimately) do two things: (1) introduce students to bodies of knowledge and traditions of inquiry that had not previously been part of their experience; and (2) equip those same students with the analytical skills — of argument, statistical modeling, laboratory procedure — that will enable them to move confidently within those traditions and to engage in independent research after a course is over.

He strikes the same chord as Alan Kors, warning the current crop of professors who seem more interested in converting students to their left-wing ideology:

Analyzing ethical issues is one thing; deciding them is another, and only the first is an appropriate academic activity.

Teaching is a job, and what it requires is not a superior sensibility or a purity of heart and intention — excellent teachers can be absolutely terrible human beings, and exemplary human beings can be terrible teachers — but mastery of a craft. Teachers who prefer grandiose claims and ambitions to that craft are the ones who diminish it and render it unworthy.


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