Things I Know 11 of 365: College should do college better

Professor: One who speaks in someone else’s sleep.

– Unknown

Art and Society: Theater of the Civil War

Text and Context: Islamic Art and Culture

Traditional and Non-Traditional Grammar

Three courses of my undergraduate studies.

The first two were ordered from the menu of Illinois State University’s General Education program. The third was selected as one of the rhetorical requirements made of an English major.

I selected them because they sounded interesting.

Though I remember scant lessons from each such as my “A” on the paper, “Nouns: More than People, Places, Things an Ideas,” I can’t say that they proved incredibly interesting. They were work, yes, but they didn’t incite my curiosity. It’s a shame, too. I’ve got a pretty wicked curiosity.

College should do college better.

As I write letters of recommendation for our exiting seniors, I want to include a note at the end – just a heads up to whomever inherits our students – “Don’t screw them up.”

After four years of inquiry-driven, project-based learning, our students are ready for the interesting. They are prepared to ask questions and look for answers. They are prepared to do real stuff. They have written grant proposals, interviewed voters, written the histories of their neighborhoods and documented their families’ dearest memories.

Don’t worry about building your new sports complex, your shinier student union, your rec center, your re-sodded quad. Instead, look in your syllabi and ask if, at 18, you’d want to sit and listen to what you have to say.

Don’t mistake me, I’m not going all Mary Poppins here. It doesn’t have to be fun.

It should be, and by God, please make at least a little effort here, interesting.

Some of the best times and biggest mistakes I made in college happened in the offices of the campus paper, The Daily Vidette. What’s more, I didn’t pay tuition to write there. They paid me. It turns out writing for a real audience to inform them and to keep those in power honest drove me to understand the importance of sourcing your information and getting the quotes just right.

It was interesting, and it was important.

If “Don’t screw them up” is too vague, let me be more specific.

Colleges, universities, you don’t own the information anymore.

We’re teaching out students to access it, to analyze it, to ask what they can do with it and then to create with it.
I understand that used to be your job. Well, the first two anyway. You’ve been outsourced.

They’re coming to you hungry, curious and capable. If you assume otherwise, you will lose them. They will see through your undervaluing of their potential and they will lose interest.

We’ll still be down here pushing them up to you, but you’ve got to keep them there.

In order to do that, I think it’s going to take more than promoting your 24-hour Taco Bell.

One thought on “Things I Know 11 of 365: College should do college better

  1. I've been stuck feeling like college will be an expensive purgatory where I'll end up like an indoctrinated drone, and I've only completed one semester. I agree with you, they'll have to change something. But in the meantime, I'll be beating Temple's art school admissions door down with my portfolio in hand.

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