The four R’s: Reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmatic and Revolution!

Posted: January 20, 2011 in Business, Education, Misleadership, Value for Value
Tags: , , ,

What does the start of a revolution look like from the inside?

Revolutions don’t have a precise starting point. It is easy to say that the American Revolution officially began on July 4, 1776 with the signing of the Declaration of Independence. But was that really the start of the revolution, or merely the official notification of a movement that had been brewing for years?  We know now that the Boston Tea Party was a clear step on the road to revolution, perhaps even one of the opening shots, but at the time, for the participants, as there was not yet a revolution to lead up to, it was “merely” a principled protest in defense of their rights (or, I guess, just a rowdy Thursday night in Boston.)

But I think we can agree on a few of the basic characteristics of the period leading up to a revolution:

  1. The pervasive, powerful and dominating institution about to be revolted against has become unresponsive to the needs of the people whom it supposedly exists to serve.
  2. Forces within the institution who recognize its failure and wish to change find themselves in conflict with forces against that change.
  3. Voices, both inside and outside of the institution, begin to address shortcomings and suggest solutions to the institution itself and to the public at large.
  4. The people most at the mercy of the institution begin to cry out for their needs to be addressed by the institution.
  5. The institutional bureaucrats and apologists fight back against their accusers, both internal and external, and frequently crack down on dissent, especially by their constituents.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. If we’re talking about governments or religions, then historically, what happens next is invariably violent, bloody, and disruptive (with one or two notable exceptions that prove the rule, such as Gandhi’s India).

But if we’re talking about economics, what happens next may be disruptive, but it’s not necessarily bloody or violent. Certainly, people will be displaced, livelihoods will be lost and fortunes will vanish. There may be riots. But any bloodshed connected to the Industrial Revolution pales in comparison to the French Revolution, the American Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Protestant Reformation, etc. etc. etc.

We live in an era of change and disruption across multiple industries: publishing, journalism, marketing and advertising, media and entertainment, manufacturing, health, finance… well, you get the point, right? Any of these sectors may be on the verge of revolution (and nearly all are impacted by even bigger global revolution of virtually simultaneous, planet-wide shared awareness, perception and discussion about which I blogged in October.)

But if we want to find a flawed, failing institution that meets the five aforementioned characteristics, there’s one that really stands out:  education.

Here’s a nice juicy statistic to get us started:

45% of the 2300 undergraduates at 24 institutions analyzed for “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning On College Campuses,” (University of Chicago Press) demonstrated “no significant improvement in a range of skills—including critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing—during their first two years of college.” Even worse, 36% didn’t “demonstrate any significant improvement in learning”  over four years of college!

According to the publisher, “As troubling as their findings are, Arum and Roksa argue that for many faculty and administrators they will come as no surprise—instead, they are the expected result of a student body distracted by socializing or working and an institutional culture that puts undergraduate learning close to the bottom of the priority list…Higher education faces crises on a number of fronts, but Arum and Roksa’s report that colleges are failing at their most basic mission will demand the attention of us all.”

Reporting yesterday on the book for Inside Higher Ed, Scott Jaschik wrote, “the book acknowledges that many college educators and students don’t yet see a crisis… The culture of college needs to evolve, particularly with regard to “perverse institutional incentives” that reward colleges for enrolling and retaining students rather than for educating them. “It’s a problem when higher education is driven by a student client model and institutions are chasing after bodies,” he (Arun) said.”

Now in case you haven’t noticed, dear reader, my posts tend to run long to begin with, and even I can see that this isn’t a bone I can finish gnawing in a single meal. I’m going to continue to address this issue in upcoming posts.

So for now, I’m going to leave you with a simple question, to which I humbly ask for your answers and opinions: can someone please explain to me how we can, in good conscience, counsel our children to mortgage their futures under a mountain of student loan debt when 45% of them won’t get much out of their first two years, and 36% won’t get much out of their entire four years of college?

Full Disclosure: My client, StraighterLine, is one of the disruptive and revolutionary forces actively engaged in changing education by offering self-paced, online college courses at ridiculously low costs. My relationship with StraighterLine is the reason I have been following developments in the field of education. While I am otherwise compensated for my marketing efforts on behalf of StraighterLine, this post is not one of those efforts. The post is mine and I am in no way being compensated for writing it.

Comments
  1. Adam says:

    Hah… Spoken like a father who is starting to panic about the finances of sending his kid to college…

    But, seriously, it seems to me that the major value of going to college is that you won’t be lying when you include it in your resume and job applications. Other than that, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”.

    • jlsimons says:

      I loved that book! And I’m not panicking: my daughter wants to be a kitty princess musketeer surfer, and other than getting the Prince to sponsor her for Musketeer school, I don’t see any difficulties in supporting her goals. Seriously, though, you’re an uber programmer. How much of that did you learn in college? I’m in advertising, and although Faulkner and Shakespeare taught me much about the human condition (with which I can mercilessly exploit the needs, desires and foibles of my fellow man), I didn’t take a single advertising course. With specialization of careers today, I think students who study tighter vocational based disciplines get more value, although according to this book, less learning. Which should college be about, and does it need to be one or the other? But at least back when we went, we did get taught to think. Even if what we learned most was how to function within and manipulate a system, college gave us an arena for learning. It seemed to me, at the time, that it was still heavily concerned with challenging me, stretching me, not just entertaining me and charging me for the privilege. I also took charge of my own learning and was very conscious of the need to do so. not trusting that the system had my best interests at heart.

  2. […] The four R’s: Reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmatic and Revolution! […]

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