Educating the Future: The End of Mediocrity

By Rob Bencini

Students facing uncertain future opportunities (but very certain debt loads) may increasingly turn away from private colleges and universities that offer little more than a diploma. Instead, they’ll seek more-affordable alternatives for higher education, both real and virtual.

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I imagine the author received a different education from mine- seeing as he zeroes in on mediocrity- as if simply stating it, confirms it- in somewhat paradoxical ways. The greater paradox, in my estimation, is the growth industry of experts whose singsong is educations of the past were all bad. The singsong has become a crescendo- and anyone, anybody who is non-faculty, now has all the answers to a very complex issue. Ironically, the drumbeat for educational excellence- maybe, mediocrity- is spawning, triggering, and re-inserting age-old prejudices and discriminations. At some institutions, educational reform means using the powers of institutions to unfairly target and mark those subjects defined as Other. In a society with an emerging multiplicity of 'racial-ethnic', ethno-national, etc., it is ironic that the Other becomes the problem. No one, as far as I know, is paying attention to the ways institutional discriminatory strategies are being deployed- by no less the experts- educated by dysfunctional systems- but now magically transformed! The inimical institutional practices ignore the fact that, the problem is essentially the product of majority-group machinations and politicking, not. Nearly every nook and cranny within any and all institutions of note are populated not by the Other; the Other has little say in any of the policies that direct and drive them.

I wonder how far one has to go to prove this dubious thesis. Of course, never mind that the naysayers/doomsayers are products of educaions they now despise, as they are making millions in profits from a disoriented public and preparing to launch the private initiative that will gut the system of public education entirely. These headline grabbing notations distract from the real problems, and only serve to push the system towards more privatized provisioning,and intellectual de-skilling. The same cacophony led to the "privatization" of the healthcare - and progressively the government/politics, and incarceral- systems. The idea that education is about careers and jobbing is moribund: it is about that and more- producing an inquisitive, open-minded, multi-versed, critique-driven, and informed and informing citizenry. The dichotomy is simply not accurate, and needs to be dispensed with without delay.

The purposes of higher education

To the Editors:

I find that there is much to agree with and disagree with in Bencini’s article. I am committed to life-long learning, and I am delighted to have access to the kind of high calibre teaching available through Coursera and other MOOCs. Such courses provide useful and valid information that can be applied to a variety of ends. No degree is needed to advance insight and wisdom. Further, as one who recently paid off the college debt accumulated by a child who graduated from a selective college, it’s clear to me that traditional higher education is expensive.

However, Bencini's dismissal of the notion that “you must have a college degree to succeed” doesn’t seem to stand up to present day facts. As mentioned on the front page of the New York Times on March 16th, repeated studies demonstrate that college graduates earn much more on average than nongraduates do. More important, he doesn’t seem to get what a great college experience is about. Higher education isn’t intended to “better serve the business community.” A good liberal arts education, in particular, is a setting in which one’s exposure to a broad range of information via a context in which one has the opportunity to learn how to concentrate prepares one to be a focused and engaged citizen of a democracy. This is especially true if one joins with other students to inquire deeply into a range of philosophical and scientific topics in a way that actually changes how a college does itself. The business community is better served by entrepreneurial self-organizers who know how to think systemically than it is by suck-ups who spent four years prepping for a job.

One doesn’t need to go to college for a vocational degree. As Bencini points out, there are lots of institutions who are more than willing to exploit the unique talents of pubescent children to achieve narrow ends, and that may be just fine for some gifted kids and their families. Further, it may be the case that the majority of people who attend college are only there seeking employment. Certification works just fine for that and it’s cheaper. But, if you want to have a well-rounded and curious mind that grows through co-inquiry with other students and teachers, that gets you through the separation from the contexts of parental oversight and the romanticism of localism into the beginning of adulthood and participation in the global community, graduating from a good college is still a good idea.

As submitted by MWMadzura

Here, here!