5.4 21st century education

In a position paper of the Association of American Colleges and Universities College Learning for the New Global Century, 2009 about the (renewed) importance of a liberal education for all (future) Americans the Association of American Colleges and Universities remark the following when they describe 20tth century education:

With college education more important than ever before, both to individual opportunity and to American prosperity, policy attention has turned to a new set of priorities: the expansion of access, the reduction of costs, and accountability for student success. These issues are important, but something equally important has been left off the table. Across all the discussion of access, affordability, and even accountability, there has been a near-total public and policy silence about what contemporary college graduates need to know and be able to do. This report fills that void. It builds from the recognition, already widely shared, that in a demanding economic and international environment, Americans will need further learning beyond high school.
The National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America’s Promise believes that the policy commitment to expanded college access must be anchored in an equally strong commitment to educational excellence. Student success in college cannot be documented—as it usually is—only in terms of enrollment, persistence, and degree attainment. These widely used metrics, while important, miss entirely the question of whether students who have placed their hopes for the future in higher education are actually achieving the kind of learning they need for a complex and volatile world.
(AACUNational Leadership Council (U.S.), 2007) (page 1)

This report, endorsed by, interestingly enough, the Rockefeller and the Carnegy Foundations and partially paid for by the Mellon Foundation, addresses the question “what contemporary college graduates need to know and be able to do” and what “they need for a complex and volatile world” to play particular roles in their multi-generational plans. The position paper takes “the wholesale dedication of education to a social purpose”, which Dodd (1954) reported on, still literally because it is explicitly aimed for a particular kind of global citizenship. In fact the report is quite explicit in that it aims to create Americans as the de facto leaders of the 21^th^ —century, who are comfortably able to deal with the diversity of a multi-cultural world. This of course entails that American students are still considered as pawns to be manipulated and that the rest of the world is treated as something to rule over. Not much is new in this respect.

However US-education is not quite at this stage. In fact the position paper is quite alarming when it reports that only six percent of college seniors are “proficient” in critical thinking, 77 percent are “not proficient”. Probably something similar holds for their teachers. In addition it concludes that the silence about what matter in education is dangerous because:

To students, it can send the self-defeating message that the diploma itself—rather than the quality of learning it represents—is the key to the future. Many students, in fact, speak of college in just that way, and they view the degree as a ticket to be stamped before they can move forward. “It’s just a piece of paper. But that piece of paper will

Whether you get the job is another matter because many jobs are outsourced to low-cost countries. In addition the costs of college education have risen so much that many face a life of debt-servitude: even have they obtained the degree [ref]. Nevertheless when stripped of its US-particulars the position paper is interesting and a useful inspiration for improved academic education elsewhere. For example the position paper is precise about what kind of attitude they would like to foster:

“Liberally educated students are curious about new intellectual questions, open to alternative ways of viewing a situation or problem, disciplined to follow intellectual methods to conclusions, capable of accepting criticism from others, tolerant of ambiguity, and respectful of others with different views. They understand and accept the imperative of academic honesty. Personal development is a very real part of intellectual development.”
- AAC&U Board of Directors’ statement on Academic Freedom and Educational Responsibility (p 23).