What Should College Teach?

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)

Too many choices [kodama / Flickr]

Last week, Harvard University published a new plan to revamp its “core” general education requirements. Harvard’s long been looked to as a kind of leader in defining what colleges should be teaching — and so it made us wonder: What should students be learning today, in 2006? What do they need to know these days in order to function as happy, engaged adults?

As the Harvard report puts it, today’s college students live in a world that is

dramatically different from the world in which most [current] faculty grew up. The world today is interconnected in ways almost inconceivable thirty or forty years ago.

Harvard’s Task Force on General Education Preliminary Report

Does this mean that we need to teach the iPod-internet-videogames generation in new ways that incorporate innovative technologies? Or does it reinforce the value of old-fashioned face-to-face seminars? How do you teach students to think and work and live in a world that’s increasingly complex and fast-paced? Does it mean they should be learning more history and world affairs? Or does it reinforce the value of certain traditional academic canons? Or does it point to classes in postmodernism and multiculturalism?

There’s so much more to know now — especially in science and technology — than there was 50 years ago that it’s increasingly hard to envision a well-rounded college graduate. Does the secret lie in distribution requirements? Or in teaching analytical and critical thinking that can be applied to any discipline? Or, as Harvard is proposing, in teaching general education classes in ways that explicitly give them real-world context?

And then there’s the age-old but very real question of how to teach students who arrive at college with dramatically different high-school preparations…

If you’re a college student, or if you’re the parent of a college student, or if you think back on your college days and regret everything you didn’t learn, let us know what and how you’d teach the rising generation.

Susan Gallagher

Professor of political science, University of Massachusetts Lowell

Martha Nussbaum

Professor of law and ethics, University of Chicago Law School

David Shaffer

Professor of learning science, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Madison-Wisconsin

Game scientist, Academic Advanced Distributed Learning CoLaboratory

Author, How Computer Games Help Children Learn (forthcoming, December 2006)

Amardeep Singh

Professor of English, Lehigh University

Blogger, Amardeep Singh

Razib Khan

Blogger, Gene Expression and Science Blogs — Gene Expression

Longtime Open Source commenter

Related Content