Replacing weak foundations

Colleges have always provided a solid foundation for bureaucratic employment. Students prepare for showing up on time and sitting though boring meetings at work by attending classes in college. They prepare for sending memos, writing reports and answering correspondence by completing homework assignments. They learn to deal with inept attempts at delegation by supervisors though coping with vague class assignments and evaluation schema. Students get practiced at serving on committees dominated by a few egomaniacs by working in groups on class projects. They get acclimated to managing up effectively in hierarchical authority structures by submitting to the command and control of each course's instructor. They adapt to the seemingly arbitrary changes in performance reviews, pay raises and promotions by receiving subjective grades on submittals and some tests. The learn to deal with voluminous policy manuals and penalties for non-compliance within bureaucracies by navigating their way through the tangle of syllabi, prerequisites, and degree requirements. Most importantly, students prove to themselves that they can commit to a goal, overcome adversity from countless departments and complete what they set out to accomplish.

For the past century, colleges have also provided a solid foundation for particular college majors. Students can learn how to practice a profession, fulfill the sophisticated responsibilities of a highly technical position or join the ranks of research scientists. While these majors neglect a broad exposure to the liberal arts, they set up students for subsequent apprenticeships in their chosen fields. Whether they will work in film, oceanography, law, archeology, counseling or many other fields, college prepares them more than adequately to get jobs and outgrow those entry level positions. The content of these majors get updated constantly as practitioners make new discoveries, adopt new approaches and utilize new technologies.

It's becoming increasingly evident that colleges have stopped providing a solid foundation for the students who had difficulty choosing a major and then get jobs completely unrelated to what they studied in college. Those graduates labeled as "failure to launch" also expose how they've been given a weak foundation. The high percentage of college dropouts also suggests that the foundation being offered is either already obsolete, weakly constructed or too costly for the amount of benefit.

As I've pondered how the foundation for future careers may be structurally unsound, here's the flaws I'm currently seeing:

  1. Learning to "talk the talk" and sound impressive does not result in "walking the talk" or doing as they say 
  2. Troublesome authority issues in college persist as problems with self-confidence, thinking for oneself and initiative in later years
  3. Adaptation to playing "stupid games" in college courses spawns strong desires to play genuinely rewarding games online with others
  4. Getting gamed by the grading/matriculation system teaches students how to cheat, exploit and deceive others, rather than how to create authentic value with others
  5. Learning to maneuver around the academic space prepares for careers in college teaching, but not for spaces that play by different rules
  6. Getting regarded as a problem, threat or enemy of the college system results in seeing oneself as deviant, defective or deficient
  7. Being told one's unusual ambitions are unrealistic makes for feeling cynical, defeated, ambivalent or lost
  8. Getting exposed to useless academic experiences rubs off on students in ways where nothing seems worthwhile or intrinsically valuable to them
  9. Being graded according to normative standards spawns perfectionism in students who can never be satisfied with their own efforts 
  10. Getting held accountable to regurgitate one right answer stifles the growth of complex reasoning, alternative frames of reference and acceptable paradoxes. 

All this suggests that weak foundations need to be replaced under all, but the most up-to-date, college majors. Students need to prepare for non-bureaucratic employment. They need to become self-starters, to function as knowledge workers, to learn from teacher-less experiences and to get practiced at co-creating results within diverse communities.

Note: This post addresses issue: 10. Building a different foundation
of the 15 Issues in the reform of higher ed.

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