Saturday, October 23, 2010

Combatting terror from above

I mentioned that my audiobook of the moment is THE PROSECUTION OF GEORGE W. BUSH FOR MURDER by Vincent Bugliosi.
Bugliosi's book is perhaps at its most disturbing when he shows how the Bush administration blatantly lied to us about the existence of WMD in Iraq... the stated reason we went to war there. Why did we buy that lie?

This question causes me to wonder what people like me --- educators --- ought to be teaching our kids? What should higher ed be expected to accomplish with them? What outcomes ought we to be assessing?

I have long argued that, rather than assessing learning outcomes --- a circular process we lawyers liken to putting the rabbit in the hat, then pulling it out --- we should be doing the more difficult task of assessing our alumni's achievements. Whether they have achieved gainful employment certainly is a major piece of any such assessment, as I've said in a recent blog piece here.

However, an equally important part --- here's where this relates to the Bush Administration's Big Lie about Iraq --- is what the great Brazilian educator Paulo Friere labelled critical pedagogy. As Henry Giroux complains in the 10/22 Chronicle Review, "There is little interest in understanding the pedagogical foundation of higher education as a deeply civic and political project that provides the conditions for autonomy an takes liberation and the practices of freedom as a collective goal." He goes on, "According to Friere, critical pedagogy affords students the opportunity to read, write, and learn for themselves --- to engage in a culture of questioning that demands far ore comeptence than rote learning and the applciation of acquired skills."

Doing this is tough enough. Assessing its impact five, ten twenty years after graduation will be even more challenging. But if we aren't willing to do this, how do we justify our enterprise? Public and non-profit universities enjoy their status because they should a public trust. I fear we have largely lost sight of what that trust really is.

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