One of the first things that crossed my virtual desk this morning was this brilliantly rendered essay by Christian Smith. I quickly got a copy to a friend. And then, throughout the day, I couldn’t help but share it with others.
The awkward continuum that can exist between all levels of education, from elementary school to college, is one of the most interesting and elusive things to think about and try to capture. Some things trickle up; most things trickle down. Sometimes, schools lack the filters and frameworks necessary to combat some of the things that Smith calls out as BS. Here are some of Smith’s assertions that stand out to me:
BS is the university’s loss of capacity to grapple with life’s Big Questions, because of our crisis of faith in truth, reality, reason, evidence, argument, civility, and our common humanity.
BS is the farce of what are actually “fragmentversities” claiming to be universities, of hyperspecialization and academic disciplines unable to talk with each other about obvious shared concerns.
BS is the expectation that a good education can be provided by institutions modeled organizationally on factories, state bureaucracies, and shopping malls — that is, by enormous universities processing hordes of students as if they were livestock, numbers waiting in line, and shopping consumers.
BS is undergraduate “core” curricula that are actually not core course systems but loose sets of distribution requirements, representing uneasy truces between turf-protecting divisions and departments intent on keeping their classes full, which students typically then come to view as impositions to “get out of the way.”
That phrase “get out of the way” really stings.
It’s a worthwhile read. And even if it doesn’t look like it’s going to “go there,” Smith does a good job in the second half of the essay to handle the other end of the academic conversation that strengthens instead of weakens his observations.