Dear Reader-Today, midway during the Seminar on General Education, I think I finally discovered what this is really all about- that the nature of the game was finally revealed. I am relieved as yesterday I came away wondering what this entire experience is really about. Today I had a better sense of purpose.
(However, in hindsight, another colleague has just reminded me of what I don’t know. Kate raises some very good foundational questions)
We are pondering the question of the role of general education but also the role of the university. This thought was touched upon by one of my colleagues on why we have universities. I hope he isn’t hopelessly skewed. Such issues also come up with another colleague who has pondered what VCU will look like in 30 years. Will we really need education or will we be favoring a different type of education experience, project that will train our brains but not our minds.
There is a puzzle here- how do we invigorate student thinking or creativity? How do we motivate the student to ask good questions. One of my colleague pondered this question as related to issues of math. For me the question of my research has often been on issues of “why” some particular political outcome happens- Why a civil war or a revolution or a terrorist event or a state collapse or… best of all.. why a state succeeds?
But that requires some critical thinking, persistence and dedication and drive. To teach that means to enhance rigor and discipline- which are unpopular ideas, as well as to encourage enthusiasm and excitement – which are popular ideas. Should we not do both? And how do our tools serve those functions?
One of the things I have been thinking about is a case for case study, a topic that was considered by one of my colleague seminarians. I can see doing case studies across a variety of issues and questions- cases of counter-terrorism or terrorist attacks, great figures or moments in the history of psychology, the use of statistics in business, or- in my case- the use of case studies to understanding the causes of state collapse and failure. But would that work for a Tier 2 course of 200-300 students?
And yet there is an economics at work. This point was raised by another colleague which begs the question of the value of Tier 2 education in economic terms . But if we are to consider economics- than we need to consider both constraints and incentives. Why do a Tier 2 class if you don’t have to? What about those who have to do Tier 2 and incorporate all these added teaching responsibilities? There are inequities in this system that will be distributed, as we might expect, inequitably. The inequities raise questions about the realities of situation and the promise of success
Institutions are the consequence of conflicts over the distribution of material and power. They are outcomes of conflicts among actors driven to enhance their share of the distribution of spoils and are structure that inherently structure bias in ways favorable to those who “win” over those who “lose.” And yet, we also know that the “losers” of such struggle are unlikely to resign themselves to defeat but will find new ways to assail or undermine the institutional structures in order to renegotiate those distributions in ways more favorable to them.
So is the institution of general education likely to become a recurring dialogue as well as a reflection of relative inequity within the University?