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Monday, January 13, 2014
Does College Produce Engaged Citizens?
Probably not, says Robert J. Sternberg, in his book "Successful Intelligence". Sternberg was a Yale professor for three decades before becoming a Dean, Provost and then President at three subsequent universities. So he has some perspective on the subject.
Sternberg's question is not necessarily unique. In a merit-based system which relies heavily on objective, quantitative data like grades and test scores, how is it possible to get the best student? More importantly, how do we define "best"?
Affluent children tend to be taught to focus on analytical and critical thinking skills. Children from lower socioeconomic classes tend to be raised with greater emphasis on resilience and problem-solving. Standardized tests like the SAT and ACT favor the wealthy, largely because they test analytical thinking.
But in the real world, resilience, creative thinking, problem-solving and confidence are the markers of success. The gap between street-smart and book-learned is often far and wide, but both skills are necessary to real life.
So how can we make the ivory towers a place where students can be taught to think as well as cope? What good is a university education if graduates fail to invest their knowledge adequately in the society around them? Is it possible to do so in a structure that still allows student performance to be adequately measured?
Sternberg says yes to this one, but notes that colleges first need to change their standards and curriculum. Some universities are edging in that direction-accepting videos and self-made websites as part of the admissions process, and embracing social media as a form of self-expression. But change is a slow traveler. Only time will tell if we as a society can redefine academic success.
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