Focusing Teaching Correctly
Back in February, InsideHigherEd reported on efforts underway at the American Historical Association (working with th
e Lumina Foundation) to “define what an associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree in history should mean.” As reporter Scott Jaschik noted at the time, this was the first time a disciplinary association has sought to implement Lumina’s idea for defining specific and targeted outcomes for students. While I’m by no means qualified to comment upon the propriety (or for that matter the efficacy) from an academic perspective on the particular standards the Association focused on, I did think James Grossman, executive director of the Association, was right on the money when he said that “[w]e need to ask what we want our students to learn. It’s not what do we want to teach.”
This is very much the attitude academia needs to begin with. Otherwise, professors can too readilty lose focus (if some haven’t already) of their mission as teachers; teachers not just in general but teachers of their own specific students. Without an embracing of the proper attitudes, faculty could fall into the error of just teaching their own very narrow (though perhaps somewhat interesting) academic interest with only a passing consideration of its usefulness to the world as a whole or falling into the trap of neglecting to account for what Arnold Kling terms the “disconnect between the academic talents of the professors and the more ordinary abilities of the students.” I wonder if it’s actually a failure to recognize the existence of this disconnect that is at the heart of some of the current ills in higher education.