I have been left perplexed recently by some of the comments by colleagues in higher education. It leaves me wondering about the thinking abilities of some in higher education. This morning, I read a comment that blew me away – it went something like this, “Learning is much more than just scientific principles because there has to be imagination…” I don’t get it. That is akin to saying that music should never be explained in terms of mathematics because it ruins the enjoyment. Or someone else recently who asked the question, “What possible use would any higher order thinking skills be in a business?” How do you even begin to respond to that kind of a question. Another one about creativity being a higher order thinking skill said, “The number of students opting to study engineering and science is nose-diving because the present system could not train them to be meaningfully employable.” In my articles about conformity, I have been amazed at the number of higher education professionals who have jumped to the defense of conformity being a core value of education.
What do these people think higher order thinking skills are? What kind of thinking would spark that kind of response? What kind of classes are these colleagues running? Is it any wonder that higher education is in trouble?
Add to that the fact that almost 90% of learning in higher education is done with lectures being the core activity. About 20% of those who have lectures as a core activity do something else to help with the learning – although with no solid rationale for doing it other than they heard about it and thought it would be a good idea. Even more depressing is Bok’s findings that only about 5% of professors etc. would engage in any activity in a given year that focussed on teaching. That means that those of you in higher education who are engaging in these kinds of conversations represent a very small fraction of higher education professionals.
Where is our higher education system going? What hope do we have for our students being able to come out trained to think? We are ending up with a smaller and smaller number of people who can think (see the above comments for example) with larger and larger problems that need solving. The bigger problem, in my view, is that there are more and more people who think that they can think and are marginalizing those who have been trained to think until those who could actually do something about the problems are engaged in an endless game of trivial pursuit for career advancement (research), being constrained by endless bureaucracy exerting greater and greater control over how teaching is done, or glorifying the past as a utopian paradise lost to innovations that have destroyed everything good about higher education.
Is a wake-up call even possible? Are there enough out there who care to make any difference? I hope so.