Practice-Oriented Education and Biro

In the latest Atlantic Monthly‘s "College Admissions 2004"
section, Richard Freeland, president of Northeastern University, lightly
historicizes the tensions between vocationalism and liberal arts, then, deriving
an "I pick grey" gradient, tabs a new, emergent, blended plan as
"The Third Way"–an interdisciplinary conflation of lib-intellectual
inquiry and market readiness, buttressed by off-campus practica.  

Gradually taking shape is a curricular "third way" that
systematically integrates liberal education, professional education, and
off-campus experience to produce college graduates who are both well educated
and well prepared for the workplace.

If not earth-shaking, it is at least interesting because the case for a
practical orientation doesn’t attach to any particular discipline, nor does it
reconcile itself with the methods loosely associated with critical pedagogy in
composition, particularly.  

But another response to the trends of the 1970s and 1980s, which received
much less attention, may be of greater long-term importance.  Some
educators recognized that higher education had been permanently democratized,
and that many students–including some of the most talented–had a legitimate
interest in preparing themselves for the workplace.

It does, however, pat the back of UMaryland’s "World Courses" gen-ed
core where there’s a course "focused on the damming of the Nile River […]
taught by members of the departments of civil engineering, microbiology, and
government politics."  And the article eventually suggests that
"some preliminary version[s]" of practice-oriented education have, in
various guises, already coalesced over the last thirty years, stopping just
short of formal edu-trend nomenclature. .  I agree that such a plan (if we
must formally call it a plan, rather than seeing it as a manifestation of
students’ desires to customize programs of study and to do education)
deserves our attention.  Particularly, it deserves our attention in
composition because "The Third Way," as presented here, doesn’t
mention the universal requirement.  More notably, perhaps, on the work of
teaching, it says

[I]mplementing a practice-oriented curriculum is not easy.  It
requires faculties to collaborate across lines of professional separation that
have been in place for generations.  It requires colleges and
universities to provide more than token support for off-campus programs. 
And it requires a level of attention to undergraduate learning that many
university professors will find difficult to muster.

How, then, does it reconcile with dependencies on part-time labor?  I
won’t pretend to have a clear perspective on the inner-workings of instructor
hiring and teaching assignments at any institution, but at first glance it looks
like Northeastern U. relies on part-timers to staff its FY writing course along
with several other gen-ed requirements in the School
of General Studies
.  I see 2FT:6PT writing instructors in the SGS. 
Whether or not it’s the case that adjuncts bear a considerable share of the U.’s
overall teaching labor, it undoubtedly holds true at many schools. 

That’s all I really wanted to get at here: it’s fine to have schemes for
revolutionizing education, but they often go bust when they don’t reconcile with
labor practices. 

Note: The article’s full
is available via subscription only, but that should life once the
edition ages.


For fun, I want to build one of these
[via Metafilter]


  1. I have often framed this notion this way: “The purpose of education is to make a life and make a living.”

    The idea that those two purposes can be pursued without reference to one another has never made sense to me.

    The grand task for curriculum development and program planning is finding the point of integration between the two ideas.

    Humanistic inquiry and practical problem solving inform one another.

  2. I agree, John. For me, the irony is in the irreconcilable hypocrisy of administrators who revel in labor-intensive pedagogies–sensitive to current conversations in the field, cross-disciplinary, blended with extra-curricular experiences and extra-institutional partnerships, up on technology and answerable to the intuition’s promises. When this coincides with ever-expanding contingent labor force in any particular institution, it bugs me. I wish more U. leaders would speak to the issue (and not just to other college presidents, deans, etc.). In other words, when they go public, it tends to always be on the rickety platform of higher ed’s infinite promise.

    I know this sounds like more comp swan song; I’ve been reading all the lamentations about the field early this term. Plus, Wednesdays are looong days, and I have a cold working on me–the first of many, I’m sure.

  3. I am still confused about Kerry’s plan for Iraq. He said there was a four point plan for Iraq on his website and I can’t find it .. I am also confused about how he was with Bush right after Saddam was captured, and now he isn’t. Which is it? .. Words mean things ..

  4. Shane,

    Please hold George Bush to the same standard that words mean things. In 2000, he flatly said he’s against nation-building: now he’s trying it in Afghanistan and Iraq. He presented himself as “compassionate”, but it’s hard to find any domestic policy of his that puts people first. His actions regarding jobs and the environment are corporate-friendly, not people friendly.

    In his State of the Union message, he made flat statements about Saddam trying to acquire nuclear material from Africa, a piece of intelligence the CIA had already told him was quite doubtful.

    If you read the record carefully, you’ll find that Kerry is much more consistent than Bush. Bush has benefited from large numbers of news media simply reiterating his assertions, creating an illusion of consistency.

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