3.167 education and universities, cont. (189)

Sun, 25 Jun 89 19:26:58 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 167. Sunday, 25 Jun 1989.

(1) Date: Fri, 23 Jun 89 21:42:32 EDT (93 lines)
From: amsler@flash.bellcore.com (Robert A Amsler)
Subject: Universities

(2) Date: Sat, 24 Jun 89 07:29:00 CDT (9 lines)
From: "Michael S. Hart" <HART@UIUCVME>
Subject: Re: 3.159 education and universities, cont. (35)

(3) Date: Sun, 25 Jun 89 17:25:52 EDT (62 lines)
From: "Matthew Gilmore, Special Collections GW" <LIBRSPE@GWUVM>
Subject: education and the university

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Fri, 23 Jun 89 21:42:32 EDT
From: amsler@flash.bellcore.com (Robert A Amsler)
Subject: Universities

Wade's message was of course intended to be provocative. However, I
think the position of industry is misrepresented. While industry
does engage in considerable education, it is largely education at the
high-school and undergraduate level, and largely directed at making
employees competent in fields they did not choose to, had no
opportunity to, or failed to succeed at studying while at a
university or in high school. The situation at the graduate level is
far more grim. We graduate fewer and fewer Ph.D.s in vital areas of
technology (e.g. Computer Science) and industry doesn't seem to know
much about creating Ph.D.s (they send their people back to
universities to get advanced degrees).

I've been told by representatives of one of the telephone operating
companies that they have pretty well decided that there simply will
not be enough technically trained people available in a decade
to fill the jobs they will have. The existing staff are becoming
obsolete as newer and newer technologies replace the basis for how the
telephone system operates. However, they have also concluded that
re-training won't keep up with the demand either---so they are going
to try to change the jobs such that computers can do a lot of the
work, advising the available human beings.

Some of what this seems to imply to me is that:

(1) Universities in order to survive are increasing enrollments by
propagating (or at least not denying) myths that the real world wants
to hire people with expertise in fields which the real world really
doesn't need. People will go to universities and enjoy themselves
entertaining their brains and pay for this. Society will try to
accomodate the graduates by settling on degree categories which are
prerequisites for jobs; but then have to re-train the people anyway.
Graduates in many areas find employment in completely different
areas (e.g., humanists with computer skills working in computing

and either,

(2a) We haven't properly motivated enough people to go into the
fields which a technological society needs (e.g. children not liking
math finding encouragement or tolerance from their parents that math
is unlikable);


(2b) we are actually at some edge of human mental abilities beyond
which one cannot attract more people to studying the prerequisite
technical fields needed to operate a society based on advanced
technology. That somehow we have found a limiting factor in the use
of technology by creatures genetically evolved from a natural

If (2a) we need to rethink the educational system. If (2b) we've got
a much bigger problem. Technology isn't the only way to run a
civilization, however up until now it may have been most effective
way to allow small numbers of people (1st world nations) to compete
with larger numbers of people (3rd world nations) on an equal or
superior basis. Anything they can do, our machines can do better and
faster. However now that our machines are computers, we are being
asked to think with them at their speed of work and at their level of
competence. We're pretty poor at that. We're good at interacting
with the natural environment, but relatively poor at symbolic mental
reasoning. We have invented a whole slew of things to help us think,
such as mathematics, but even with mathematics we are in need of
crutches to juggle the digits accurately. It just isn't the sort of
game we can win--but the computers can win at that.

So... where might we be heading? Of what use is a human being to
a civilization sustained by technologies so advanced that human beings
can't understand them, operate them, or design them. Certainly we
have ample evidence that we're making mistakes in introducing
technologies that are destroying the natural environment--a symptom,
if you will of our inability to comprehend the technologies since they
aren't like our natural ecosystem in their behavior. Virtually every
technology we create gives us a short-term advantage over the
natural environment, but at a longer-term disadvantage because the
technology either consumes the natural enviroment in order to operate or
destroys it as a by-product of its operation. Many times it does
both at the same time.

So... it may be that the university needs to be the meeting ground
between these two forces of our destiny, the human being really only
capable of living in a natural environment and the computer capable
of directing our technologies. Without the university where would
this meeting take place? Industry won't train people for
non-industrial tasks. A worldwide network alone would reduce
humanity to attempting to establish an equivalence between the bits
of information we have codified about the world and the world itself.
The world is infinite, the bits finite.

(2) --------------------------------------------------------------18----
Date: Sat, 24 Jun 89 07:29:00 CDT
From: "Michael S. Hart" <HART@UIUCVME>
Subject: Re: 3.159 education and universities, cont. (35)

re: Wade's comments on the University role of instilling values

Should the University instill values or expose students to them?

I would suggest a parallel to free-will versus determinism.
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------65----
Date: Sun, 25 Jun 89 17:25:52 EDT
From: "Matthew Gilmore, Special Collections GW" <LIBRSPE@GWUVM>
Subject: education and the university

Willard and other contributors to the education and the University

A contribution, borrowed from the most recent
CHE (Chronicle of Higher Ed.)

"At times in our past, the call for a shoring up of
or a return to a canonical curriculum was explicitly
elitist, was driven by a fear that the education
of the select was being compromised. Today, though,
the majority of calls are provocatively framed in the
language of democracy. They assail the mediocre and
grinding curriculum frequently found in remedial and
vocational education. They are disdainful of the
patronizing perceptions of student ability that further
restrict the already restricted academic life of
disadvantaged youngsters. They point out that the canon--
its language, conventions and allusions--is central to the
discourse of power, and to keep it from poor kids is to
assure their disenfranchisement all the more. The
books of the canon, the Great Books, claim the proposals,
are a window onto a common core of experience and
civic ideals.

"There is, then, a spiritual, civic, and cognitive heritage
here, and ALL our children should receive it.... This is
a forceful call. It promises a still center in a
turning world.

"I see great value in being challenged to think of the
curriculum of the many in the terms we have traditionally
reserved for the few; it is refreshing to have common
assumptions sbout the capabilities of the underprepared
so boldly challenged."

>From *Lives at the boundary: the struggles and
achievements of America's underprespared* (1988:The Free Press)
by Mike Rose, associate director of writing programs, UCLA.

This may be straying a little away from
the central arguments under discussion, but Rose's comment about
the canon being, in his terms, the discourse of power, is
A previous contributor suggested an emphasis on *constructedness*,
so that students could deconstruct discourse and relations.
Not a particularly helpful suggestion, I think, if it leads to
a simply relativistic anything-is-ok-because-they-have-
constructed-it-that-way attitude. There are values upon which
our educational/social system are founded. If students haven't
gotten that by the time they hit the University, then its the
University's job to inculcate those values.

That is the irony of this. Those who would have the University
teach values would probably be horrified at the values of the
"teachers", truth to tell.