Monday, August 25, 2008

Last Minute Preparation

I have been getting a lot of last minute registrations as we make the final adjustments to the event. It is great to see the local support as we get closer to the big day.

Eventhough I can visualize the final outcome, it is almost beyond imagination the good that is going to flow from here as a result of thousands of students being trained in the liberal arts.

I think that one of the things I want to accomplish with this blog is to convey very clearly what it is that we are trying to accomplish. To date, 16 years of the lives of at least 10 people and 5 or 6 years of over 40 others has gone into the creation of this dream. Almost every person that has taken the time to understand this vision has either changed their course in some significant way towards GWU or has actually taken classes or come to work for us. I think that means something.

Allow me to share then some of our philosophy and methodology with you:


“Perhaps the greatest of pedagogical fallacies is that a person learns only what he is studying at the time. Collateral learning in the way of formation of enduring attitudes … may be and often is more important than the spelling lesson or lesson in geography or history … For these attitudes are fundamentally what count in the future.”
John Dewey

The first question of any college or university is: what is our mission? The second is, “how well do we accomplish it?” Unfortunately, in our modern times a third question is needed: what is the “de facto mission” of the university, the mission that the school is actually pursuing?
Former Harvard President Derek Bok noted with concern that our universities are now chasing the market over everything else. Another former Ivy League President, Frank H. Rhodes of Cornell, wrote that given the new market realities our universities must change or become dinosaurs. James J. Duderstadt, former President of the University of Michigan, which many people consider the premiere public university in America, argued that American universities and colleges must change to match the new market or decline along with the rest of our industrial age institutions. In short, modern academia knows that significant changes are needed. But where exactly are we in the historical evolution and progress of higher education?*

The College and University in America
Roger Gieger’s book, The Ten Generations of American Higher Education, provides an excellent overview of where American education began, where it has been, and where it is headed. The first generation of American education began in 1636 and ran until the early 1740’s. During this period America’s first college’s were founded, including Harvard, William and Mary, and Yale. Harvard and Yale were established by churches to train ministers, while William and Mary was designed to help train political leaders in the
New World. All three were four year programs, with the first two years covering classical languages to prepare students to read the various classics.
In the last two years students read the great classics of world thought, guided by young faculty known as Associate Mentors. Schools typically had less than 100 students and about ten Associate Mentors, and the school was run by the head teacher or President who was chosen by a lay board of trustees.

* Much of these introductory sections were written by Oliver DeMille. Used by permission.

Generation two, from 1745-1775, saw the establishment of numerous “colonial colleges,” including King’s College, the College of Philadelphia, the College of Rhode Island, Dartmouth, Queen’s College, and the College of New Jersey (Princeton). Again, nearly all of these schools emphasized study for the ministry, and many were established specifically to increase the doctrinal purity of religious instruction. During this period schools began using Enlightenment works as part of the curriculum; many of them in modern languages.
The Republican Era, from 1776 to 1800, significantly increased the influence of the Enlightenment in American higher education as the college curriculum followed the breaking away of the new nation from the Old World. Schools during this third generation were still small. For example, Harvard had three professors and ten Associate Mentors while Yale had one professor supported by a few Associate Mentors. The quality of education their graduates exhibited was incredible.
From 1800 until the 1820s colleges put a lot of effort into fundraising and trying to find the finances needed to operate. As part of this, schools began offering professional degree programs in medicine and law. Still, the central focus of these small schools remained the preparing of ministers.
The fifth generation of American higher education from 1828 to 1860 could be called the Sectional Divide. During this period, the national split between the cultures of North and South impacted higher education. In the South, denominational colleges continued to grow and flourish in the training of ministers, while the influence of Enlightenment thinkers Hume, Locke, Turnbull and others led to a new type of Northern classical college which emphasized preparatory training for citizenship and the professions—law, medicine, teaching and the clergy. The Northern professional programs grew more rapidly than Southern colleges. For example, the average number of students in Southern colleges was fifty-six, compared to the average of one hundred seventy-four students in the Northern classical colleges.
The focus on religious learning in higher education ended with the South’s loss in the Civil War, and from 1860 to 1890 the Northern schools turned from the British and Scottish Enlightenment to the German University as the model of higher education. For three decades the American system systematically adopted the structures and traditions of the German Academy, including the following:

A Centralized University
Academic Departments
Graduate Studies
The Bachelor Degree
Professional Preparation as the Focus of Bachelor Level Studies

Three other trends during the sixth generation include the establishment and proliferation of 1) women’s colleges, 2) agricultural colleges and 3) the rise of colleges in the American West, which applied elements from Northern, Southern and European colleges.
The seventh generation marked a distinct shift from the earlier two centuries. The Industrial Age brought big changes to business, transportation, government, the military, lifestyle, and of course to the university. The quarter-century from 1890 to 1915 changed nearly everything about American higher education. Most of all, the university system standardized and then grew. The average American college or university in 1870 had ten faculty and ninety-eight students; by 1910 the average was thirty-eight faculty 374 students. Schools already had programs in ministry, law, medicine, teaching and agriculture; they now added engineering, business, dentistry, art, architecture, music and various other specialties. Administrations grew large, sometimes larger than the faculty. Universities broke into numerous colleges, and colleges divided into departments. The four year curriculum offered a classical education for the first two years followed by two years of job or career training.
This trend continued during the “nationalization” generation from 1915 to 1945. Accrediting agencies enforced the standardization of the curriculum, and many schools became interchangeable. Enrollments doubled. The number of colleges proliferated. To the old college system was added junior colleges, teacher colleges, and urban universities for the middle class. As demand grew, the older and more prestigious schools adopted a selective admissions system.
The stage was set for the huge growth of the 1950s spurred by the return of thousands of young men from war along with the GI Bill. In this ninth generation of American higher education, from 1945 to 1985, college became a possibility for almost everyone. The first two years of classical education were dropped in favor of a full four years of job training with only shallow general education courses, and graduate degrees proliferated. With the widespread system of American colleges and network of degrees, faculties and accrediting agencies, college became a norm of American life and job preparation.
The tenth generation completed the industrial age expansion. Colleges and universities had long since stopped being a check on business and government, instead choosing to become extensions of the government-industrial-corporate complex. Indeed, during this period schools decided that they were businesses like any other business, simply responding to market needs in order to survive and grow. The new mission of most American colleges and universities, regardless of their published mission statement, was “to effectively deliver whatever the market demands.” While perhaps viable as a mission statement, this left much to be desired for the institutions that once considered themselves “hallowed halls of learning” or great “promoters of freedom and knowledge.”

More tomorrow.

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