Teaching & Learning

Is the American Education System Really Broken?

Leading scholars of education reform will debate the state of the American higher education system in a three-part discussion series at Utah State University beginning March 24 at the Merrill-Cazier Library.

The events feature a guest talk by Pulitzer-Prize winning author and New Yorker columnist Louis Menand whose latest book, The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance of the American University challenges colleges to rethink how and what they teach.

But is the American higher education system really broken? What do students actually want from a college education today?

These are some of the questions addressed during the discussion series led by educators in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, USU students and Menand.

“He [Louis Menand] raises some interesting questions about the history of general education — why we do what we do, and whether we have to do what we do,” said professor Norm Jones, chair of USU’s history department, chair of the general education committee at USU and head of the Utah Regent’s Task Force on General Education.

Jones will participate in the first event, a faculty panel discussion March 24 centered on the issues raised in the “Marketplace of Ideas.”

“I will address the history of general education here [at USU] and where we are going,” said Jones who also co-leads the College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ curriculum reform committee with philosophy professor and associate dean Charlie Huenemann. “We in curriculum reform do it because we teach these courses and we care about these courses and what students are learning.”

After reading Menand’s book, Huenemann invited the author to campus to help bring issues plaguing the modern higher education system to the forefront. For instance, the seemingly simple choice of determining what students should learn in college. The debate whether colleges are teaching students what they need to know and the skills they need to learn to be successful continues to permeate the media. Discussions recently ignited after two sociologists published Academically Adrift, a book highlighting how little students develop over the course of their undergraduate years.

Presentations continue March 31, when Menand, the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of English and American Literature and Language at Harvard University, will deliver a talk “General Education and its Discontents” with Alison Simmons, the Samuel H. Wolcott Professor of Philosophy at Harvard. The two recently co-chaired Harvard’s taskforce on general education and will highlight some institutional and philosophical problems in higher education today.

“Education is not just job training,” Huenemann said. “Menand’s book is provocative and causing people to reflect on higher education and whether we can be doing better.”

The final event April 7 is a panel discussion between USU undergraduates who spent the past semester studying student perceptions of the university’s general education system. University administrators are eager to hear their findings.

“We are all waiting with baited breath,” Jones said. “We are hopeful that they suggest some changes that will make it easier for students to graduate more easily and efficiently. What I hope comes out of this is creating change that reflects the state of modern knowledge and needs — a curriculum for the 21st century. As a state institution we have an obligation to our citizenry to do the best job that we can. From its very beginning, USU has been charged with teaching the liberal arts, but how we do it and why we do it are questions we need to always ask.”

An overview of events includes:

  • Thursday, March 24 (noon-1:15 p.m., Merrill-Cazier Library 154), USU faculty members Christy Glass, Norm Jones and Jeff Smitten will discuss some of the issues raised in “The Marketplace of Ideas.”
  • Thursday, March 31 (noon-1:15 p.m., Merrill-Cazier Library 101), Louis Menand and Alison Simmons will deliver a lecture “General Education and its Discontents.”
  • Thursday, April 7 (noon-1:15 p.m., Merrill-Cazier Library 101), undergraduates who study students’ perceptions of the general education system at USU will participate in a panel discussion.

Related link:

USU College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Writer: Kristen Munson, College of Humanities and Social Sciences (435) 797-0267, kristen.munson@usu.edu

Contact: Charlie Huenemann, (435) 797-0254, charlie.huenemann@usu.edu

author, columnist Louis Menand speaks at USU

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and New Yorker columnist Louis Menand challenges colleges to rethink how and what they teach. He speaks at Utah State University March 31, noon, Merril-Cazier Library, Room 101.


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