Wednesday, January 27, 2016

John Dewey goes to college, II

[Great comments my last post! I wrote this post earlier, before seeing them, so there's some overlap between what I've written here and some of your thoughts.]

To pick up where I left off on Monday, I am sympathetic to some of the concerns and recommendations made in the recently released "Turning the Tide" But I find others of the proposed solutions less than satisfactory.

The only sure-fire way around applicant coaching, for example, isn't to advise people not to help students with their applications, but to proctor relevant parts of the application--in particular, the essay sections.

The best way to reduce AP-related stress (and, in the process, prepare students for college), isn't to eliminate the AP, but, as I discussed earlier, to improve academic instruction starting in elementary school.

The best way to level the academic playing field isn't to eliminate the SAT or ACT, even though, as with so many other things, scores on these tests correlate with family income. The whole point of aptitude tests, after all, was to give smart students from non-elite schools--students who may not have imbibed the same quantity and quality of academic content as their prep school peers--a better shot at college admissions. Yes, make college more affordable and student loans less burdensome; yes, do more outreach and simplify the application process; but no, don't eliminate the aptitude tests.

Finally, the best way for colleges to reduce the stress of the admissions rat race isn't to pretend they don't care about test scores and leadership roles--after all, how can they help caring about those things?--but to be much more transparent about the admissions process. Perhaps then students wouldn't feel the need to apply to twelve colleges in order to be sure they'll get into at least one.

I'm also worried by the authors' preference for the social, the emotional, the ethical, and the "common good"--both in community service activities and in college admissions. What happens to applicants who are relatively unsocial or emotionally immature: shy kids; kids on the autistic spectrum? What happens to applicants whose ethics and opinions about the common good clash with those of college admissions officers: applicants, who, say, volunteer for the Donald Trump campaign or protest at abortion clinics--because they truly believe they're acting for the common good?

And what does any of this have to do with qualifications for college? Isn't college readiness, primarily, about academic aptitude and achievement? Shouldn't college diversity include, not just diversity of race, ethnicity, and socio-economic background, but also diversity of opinion/ethics, as well as what people in the autism world called neurodiversity?

The authors' views about what colleges should value and, presumably, nurture, reminds me of John Dewey's views about K12 schools. They shouldn't, he said, be focused primarily on academic instruction, but rather on preparing students to be ethical participants in society. And so here we are, nearly a century later, dealing with the ever-rippling consequences of that philosophy. And Dewey, meanwhile, is ready to go to college.

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