I haven't updated in a few days because I've been thinking about a pretty heavy topic that is in the news these days: state legislatures wanting to curtail higher education. Which in turn leads to curtailing of humanities, which in turn leads to less creative, less flexible, even dare I say, less ethical minds. A mind trained in humanities as well as engineering is a mind willing to take some risks and be wrong some times. A mind trained under our "Teach to the Test" policies that we have in secondary education, and which are now moving to higher education in the form of "assessment" is able to see the extent of the law but not able to think about possibilities.
(I've been thinking about all this while on maternity leave, by the way, because I know that my maternity leave is great compared to most women's in America. And I think to myself, why should that be the case? Most women, most families, most children should have what I have. Instead of academics having to be defensive toward state legislatures, I think the opposite should be happening. But instead we seem to be collectively trying to take academia down the road we've taken business in the last two decades and make them into star production factories but not places where work OR quality of life are valued highly. If we thought work mattered, we'd take pride in it, rather than considering it a drudgery. Likewise, if we really thought families and friends mattered, we'd value leaves that help us be better families and friends. I'm often amazed when I'm talking to people who did factory work or construction work in the 50s, 60s and 70s. They had pride in that work and others saw it as important too. My grandfather was a plumber and also a very influential man in his community. I don't think he'd have the same kind of respect today. He also worked hard - but he had more time off then that Americans do now. Not sure the production push of the 1980s was really a benefit...)
In all the writing about why America seems to be a falling star in politics and economics, let us consider that one of the reasons might be the moral formation of our students, or lack thereof. Because teaching to the test is moral formation whether we recognize it as such or not - but I'm not sure it's morally forming the kinds of attitudes we want to see in our students. I think it DID, on the other hand, bear some of the responsibility for forming a business culture that just barely stayed to the right side of the law and saw little or no purpose in a morality that might be beyond law (And I would add, this is a culture my business ethics students all wanted to be part of and so made themselves conform to).
That kind of culture has not really failed, despite what pundits say. I think we see it all around us, in both political and economic sectors. It continues to be a problem, and we educators continue to form students in it. Until we can think of education, and humanities, in ways that go beyond showing legislators the "bottom line" and "evidence (generally via tests)" that students learn something in my classes I think it won't get better.
My reasoning is based on something Jesus said: "By their fruits you will know them." My students' fruit lately has been far less creative - and less willing to be wrong for once - than before. My business ethics students speak of wanting to make money as fast as possible so that they can get to live what they think is quality of life - buying all the latest tech gadgets and playing with them. So rather than complain that "America" seems to be losing influence, let us think in terms of the fruit we see in our students and younger business colleagues.
Anyway. I've been working on a post (not this one) these past few days about what can be learned from academia when it comes to work and state legislatures, but it's made me rather "rant-y" and incoherent kind of like what you see above. Some day when I like those drafts, maybe I'll post them. For now I'm just submitting this humble post.