Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More.
Derek Bok succeeds the controversial Laurence Summers as interim president of Harvard University when President Summers' resignation takes effect on June 30th. At a recent meeting of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Mr. Bok explains his educational philosophy and his ideas about how college students should be learning more. He compares the US educational system with other countries such as China. He identifies ways of improving American students skills and performances in critical thinking, writing, and foreign languages.
Derek Bok has been a lawyer and professor of law, dean of Harvard Law School and 25th president of Harvard
University. Currently, he is the 300th Anniversary University Research Professor in the John F. Kennedy School
of Government at Harvard, where his research focuses on the state of higher education and the adequacy of the
U.S. government in coping with the nation's domestic problems. His three books on this subject are The State
of the Nation, The Trouble with Government, and, most recently, The Politics of Happiness.
Bok has written six books on higher education: Beyond the Ivory Tower, Higher Learning, Universities and the
Future of America, The Shape of the River, Universities in the Marketplace, and Our Underachieving Colleges.
He serves as chair of the board of the Spencer Foundation and was formerly chair of Common Cause.
After receiving a bachelor's degree from Stanford University, Bok earned his law degree from Harvard Law School
and a master's degree in economics from George Washington University. Following law school, he was named a Fulbright
Scholar and studied at the University of Paris' Institute of Political Science.
Dr.Christina Maslach is Professor of Psychology and Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education at the University of California at Berkeley. She has conducted research in a number of areas within social and health psychology. However, she is best known as one of the pioneering researchers on job burnout, and the author of the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), the most widely used research measure in the burnout field.
As a graduate of a public university, Derek Bok confirms my suspicion that higher ed's mediocrity is formidable. We seem to have excellent universities at the top. Or at least the students are excellent.
In the middle, however, the skills kids graduate with are abysmal. Why? The system is not accountable to the parents in any meaningful way. It's that taxpayer dependent business model again.
Higher ed is too well insulated from society's real needs (and parents) for productive citizens to respond to that need. The institution is too intent on producing kids that view the world as professors do, not on producing kids that can view the world as it is. In many instances, the two appear to be widely divergent.
I think there needs to be an examination of how education today differs from past generations. Also, how does our current social and cultural climate contribute to our requirements in higher education. While foreign language indisputably needs to be further developed, so do the studies that we already consider to be an integral component of education such as basic writing and reading skills. In addition, how has the economics of education played a role, if any, in the disintegration of learning?
Glad to see someone with this perspective coming in at Harvard. It's going to require the kind of leverage and visible platform that very few institutions (Harvard being one) can provide in order to bring about any meaningful changes in our educational culture.
Is America--are we--afraid to come to terms with the dumbing down of our education? Do we worry that we'll compromise equality by allowing for or asking for excellence? That by raising the bar too high too many will be left behind? If we are we'd better get over it fast.
This is a timely commentary. The mediocrity of American education is embarrassing. It is, I think, both institutional and cultural.... would like to see this work generate some buzz and some motion. The need for systematic elevation of our foreign language learning and teaching is especially obvious.