An argument for why higher education requires radical change to prepare students for an unpredictable future.
Distinguished educator Davidson (Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn, 2011, etc.), who directs the Futures Initiative at the City University of New York Graduate Center, believes that colleges are mired in 19th-century pedagogy. In an engaging, anecdotal, wide-ranging look at educational innovation, she argues that students “need new ways of integrating knowledge, including through reflection on why and what they are learning.” They must become active learners, not merely passive absorbers of lectures and rote memorizers. Davidson advocates dramatic pedagogical revisions, much like those instituted by Harvard’s president Charles Eliot in the 1880s, when he proposed a university that would prepare students for careers in an industrial age. Today’s students, writes the author, need skills to ready them for “intellectual space travel.” Davidson praises the nimbleness and flexibility of community colleges, which pioneer learning methods and institute support services (Metro cards, attentive advisers) for nontraditional students. She criticizes both technophobes who bemoan the internet and technophiles who believe computers will transform teaching. Students need digital skills and web literacy, she reasonably contends, but in the context of awareness about how technology connects to “every aspect of our political, personal, and economic lives.” Davidson cites Arizona State University as exemplary in curricular reform, where studies are connected “to community, to the cultural, physical, and socioeconomic conditions of Phoenix, Arizona, and the Southwest more generally.” Among the many educators whose ideas the author highlights is Christine Ortiz, an MIT professor and graduate school dean engaged in creating a nonprofit residential research university featuring project-based learning. Davidson sees current emphasis on STEM fields to be too focused on testing rather than real-life applications. “Youth,” she writes, “are still being graded into passivity and a state of fear by standardized classes.”
Advice for students and teachers rounds out a persuasive plea for creative learning.