Where shall we start?
I’ve read quite a few summaries of the new study about the ways that colleges are failing to challenge our students enough, thus our students are not making much progress. In other words, they are not learning as much as they need to learn.
And we’re not talking about the simple difference/gap between the better students and the poor students. We’re talking about the demands made on all students. And those demands are simply not.very.demanding.
The source for this current discussion is a provocative University of Chicago Press book ($70.00 retail) by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. Summaries are popping up all over the place. Here are a few paragraphs from the summary published on The Huffington Post, 45% Of Students Don’t Learn Much In College:
The research of more than 2,300 undergraduates found 45 percent of students show no significant improvement in the key measures of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing by the end of their sophomore years.
One problem is that students just aren’t asked to do much, according to findings in a new book, “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses.” Half of students did not take a single course requiring 20 pages of writing during their prior semester, and one-third did not take a single course requiring even 40 pages of reading per week.
That kind of light load sounded familiar to University of Missouri freshman Julia Rheinecker, who said her first semester of college largely duplicated the work she completed back home in southern Illinois.
“I’m not going to lie,” she said. “Most of what I learned this year I already had in high school. It was almost easier my first semester (in college).”
I teach (as an adjunct member of the faculty) at one of the local Community Colleges, and I have the sense that this is true for many classes on our campus. And I think that these findings will definitely lead me to assign more specific reading and writing assignments in my Speech classes.
I am also convinced that this has serious business effects. The best leaders, the most “successful people,” read constantly. There are studies indicating that the very best leaders read books of all kinds – that their interests are truly varied and diverse. In fact, many of the best business leaders read few business books, but they read numerous volumes from an array of fields and disciplines.
Here’s an excerpt from the terrific article: C.E.O. Libraries Reveal Keys to Success by Harriet Rubin. It is a little lengthy for an excerpt, but it is definitely worth a careful read, and a little pondering:
Serious leaders who are serious readers build personal libraries dedicated to how to think, not how to compete. Ken Lopez, a bookseller in Hadley, Mass., says it is impossible to put together a serious library on almost any subject for less than several hundred thousand dollars.
Perhaps that is why — more than their sex lives or bank accounts — chief executives keep their libraries private. Few Nike colleagues, for example, ever saw the personal library of the founder, Phil Knight, a room behind his formal office. To enter, one had to remove one’s shoes and bow: the ceilings were low, the space intimate, the degree of reverence demanded for these volumes on Asian history, art and poetry greater than any the self-effacing Mr. Knight, who is no longer chief executive, demanded for himself.
The Knight collection remains in the Nike headquarters. “Of course the library still exists,” Mr. Knight said in an interview. “I’m always learning.”
Until recently when Steven P. Jobs of Apple sold his collection, he reportedly had an “inexhaustible interest” in the books of William Blake — the mad visionary 18th-century mystic poet and artist. Perhaps future historians will track down Mr. Jobs’s Blake library to trace the inspiration for Pixar and the grail-like appeal of the iPhone.
If there is a C.E.O. canon, its rule is this: “Don’t follow your mentors, follow your mentors’ mentors,” suggests David Leach, chief executive of the American Medical Association’s accreditation division. Mr. Leach has stocked his cabin in the woods of North Carolina with the collected works of Aristotle.
Forget finding the business best-seller list in these libraries. “I try to vary my reading diet and ensure that I read more fiction than nonfiction,” Mr. Moritz said. “I rarely read business books, except for Andy Grove’s ‘Swimming Across,’ which has nothing to do with business but describes the emotional foundation of a remarkable man. I re-read from time to time T. E. Lawrence’s ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom,’ an exquisite lyric of derring-do, the navigation of strange places and the imaginative ruses of a peculiar character. It has to be the best book ever written about leading people from atop a camel.” Students of power should take note that C.E.O.’s are starting to collect books on climate change and global warming, not Al Gore’s tomes but books from the 15th century about the weather, Egyptian droughts, even replicas of Sumerian tablets recording extraordinary changes in climate, according to John Windle, the owner of John Windle Antiquarian Booksellers in San Francisco.
(re. Shelly Lazarus, the chairwoman and chief executive of Ogilvy & Mather): Once I’ve read a book I keep it. It becomes a part of me.
“As head of a global company, everything attracts me as a reader, books about different cultures, countries, problems. I read for pleasure and to find other perspectives on how to think or solve a problem, like Jerome Groopman’s ‘How Doctors Think’; John Cornwall’s autobiography, ‘Seminary Boy’; ‘The Wife,’ a novel by Meg Wolitzer; and before that, ‘Team of Rivals.’
“David Ogilvy said advertising is a great field, anything prepares you for it,” she said. “That gives me license to read everything.”
But, alas, many, many people, including college graduates, read very few books. (One study – my apology, I read it a while back, and do not remember the source) found that a huge percentage of male college graduates read less than one full book a year after graduation.
In Dallas, we have hosted the First Friday Book Synopsis for nearly thirteen years. We provide synopses of two books every month. For some, that is “enough.’ But for many others, they buy the book, and keep learning and reading on their own. That is the best possible outcome. The more you read, the more you learn, the more you know…
So, even as we think about upping the challenge and demand level on our college and university campuses, maybe all of us need to up the challenge and demand level in our own lives.
What are you reading? What are you learning?
I have read, and presented my synopsis of the Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Sir Ken Robinson. I have blogged about him here. I have watched the videos from his presentations at TED, Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity and Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution! He’s a real champion of creativity, with lots of freedom, in education.
Here is a terrific RSA Animate (white board illustrated) of Changing Education Paradigms, a presentation he made at The Royal Society of the Arts. It is just over 11½ minutes, and has had over 800,000 views. It is worth the time. (I learned about this from an exceptional financial adviser at an event this week).
Take a look.
This past Friday, I preseented a synopsis of the wonderful book the Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson, Ph.D. I have a few comments on the book, and a reflection on the morning at the First Friday Book Synopsis.
First, the book. It is a really good read! This book is a “feel good” book, that challenges one deeply. You feel good because Robinson tells story after story of a person who had been overlooked, unfulfilled, a little “lost,” until he or she found just the right path. The stories were numerous: Richard Branson, Paul McCartney (Robinson is British, and probably a little partial to other Brits), the billiards great Ewa Lawrence, and many others. In many cases, our “normal” educational system had failed to see and feed a student’s potential. In fact, far too often, potential had been practically squashed. The book is challenging because it calls into questions our basic assumptions about just what we should be “teaching” in our schools. He argues passionately for a new understanding regarding what is truly important (with “creativity” at the top of his list). It is a provocative and useful set of questions to ponder. By the way, you can watch the video of his terrific presentation from the TED conference, Do Schools Kill Creativity? at the TED video site here.
Now, here is my favorite line in the book. Elvis Presley was rejected for his school’s glee club. Here is what Robinson wrote: “they said his voice would ruin their sound… We all know the tremendous heights the glee club scaled once they managed to keep Elvis out.” This man is a witty writer!
Second, the event. We are in our 12th year of the First Friday Book Synopsis. Karl Krayer and I have presented synopses of well over 250 books in the 11+ years we have been meeting. On May 1, we had our largest number of participants ever — 128 people. I asked one person why he thought it had grown to such a number, and he said: “everyone is looking for a job.” That may be true, and networking is certainly a critical factor — never more so than in this challenging time in our economy.
But another participant said this (this is a slight paraphrase — I did not record her comments): “I’m not usually a morning person. But I come to this, and I really feel like I learn important information from two good books. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I attend.” I think that may be a key part of the secret of this event. It really does provide a lot of really helpful and useful material in a very short, compact time frame. Yes, people feel like they have accomplished something important by attending the First Friday Book Synopsis.
So – to all who make this a success, thank you. I hope we provide you with that important sense of accomplishment.