Getting above the line

Most of everyone inside higher ed oscillates between a Bad and Better Place. For example, after a boring class, a student may experience an exhilarating walk across campus or an enlivening conversation with a friend before entering the next boring class. A faculty member may get some time to further a favorite research interest before returning to grading submittals. There are only temporary escapes from the Bad Place, no lasting changes. This helps us understand why there are such chronic problems with motivation, acting out, dropping out, soaring tuition and more. Getting these chronic problems to vanish requires getting above the horizontal line. There's no solution below the line that could endure longer than a Spring Break.

When we're in a Good or Great Place, we're inner directed. What we're doing is self motivated and intrinsically rewarding. We are living a mystery with loads of questions which gives our lives the flavor of captivating adventure stories. We self-structure our further investigations, experiments and testing of hypotheses. We naturally collaborate with others on similar quests and find guides to help us along the way. We experience our progress and outcomes as personally meaningful and aligned with some deeper purpose. We pursue passions we find within according to our own priorities and purposes. We realize a wonderful combination of our rational and irrational sides. What we do is good for our brains, our collegiality, our work and the value we extract from our experiences.

Below that line in a Bad or Better Place, all that is different. We're outer directed and entangled in others' expectations. We're dependent on others to provide us with structure for our activities and evaluations for our outputs. We don't trust our judgment or rely on ourselves successfully. We get too busy to be concerned with the meaning our efforts could have for us personally. We do things for show to impress others and to compensate for our insecurities. We're tormented by opposing inclinations from our rational and irrational sides. All this is bad for our brains, our collegiality, our work and the value we extract from our experiences.

As you may suspect, it takes big bucks to provide educations below the line. The students need tons of imposed structure which the extrinsically-rewarded faculty provide against their own heartfelt wishes. Little academic learning happens without stiff requirements and formal evaluations. Everyone learns to cope with the Bad and somewhat Better Places that persist relentlessly. There's nothing in the ways that learning and teaching happen that could significantly lower costs or improve quality below the line.

There are huge differences between a Bad Place and Better Place below the line. I'm lumping them together here because they have a lot in common compared getting above the line. Getting to a Better Place falls far short of getting to a Good Place. The kind of change involved in getting above the line transcends the oscillation between Bad and Better Places. In a Good or Great Place, it does not take much money to make learning or teaching happen. There's much less need for structure, schedules, or evaluations. The quality of learning and instructing can soar, instead of the tuition and fees.

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