Revolution now: What are you doing with your education?

Today’s entry brings our engagement with revolutionary values into the real world. Hey students (past and present), Wake up!

(News reporting, past and present… and future?)

Re: New York Times “EducationLife” section (January 3, 2010) articles: “Embracing the Marketplace” by Patricia Cohen, Kate Zernike (“Career U.”), and Stephanie Strom (“Does Service Learning Really Help?”)

I am irate with Cohen’s article in the Jan. 3 New York Times “EducationLife” section, which reiterates the tired old dialectic positing market-driven values (the gritty, dynamic “real world”) against the complacent Academy. As articles by Zernike and Strom in that section eloquently note, today’s universities are actively trying to build partnerships with local business and nonprofit organizations to open students’ minds, serve the disadvantaged, support local K12 teachers, and celebrate the arts where we live. But we need past and present students (that is, all of us) to stay engaged with this work as adults.
Today’s students benefit from state-of-the-art educational techniques in two areas that should launch our dialogue far beyond the narrow confines of Cohen’s stereotype: international studies and second language acquisition. From my experience (as Assistant Provost for International Studies, 2003-09), participants in study abroad usually return to the US as better people–people with passionate interests, impatience for racism and religious bigotry, and the financial determination to stay involved with what they’ve learned on-site. A stellar example includes the “Road to Fondwa” film, and the UNIF USA Foundation created to support the University of Fondwa in Haiti, made by three students whose study abroad experiences changed their lives.
Second language acquisition is another field trying to thaw out the American brain-freeze. Opportunities for intercultural partnership exist in numerous schools, thanks to programs such as the CULTURA project initiated at MIT whereby students in the United States connect with students in France to exchange meaningful computer mediated communication. Via a common web site, students react to a variety of topics and facts (which have been chosen beforehand by the language teachers in both countries) and post their responses on an online forum, thus forging “real-life” dialogue with their counterparts abroad.
Community learning (often targeting Spanish or French-speaking micro-communities), innovative M.A. programs (including ethical business), and creative efforts at bridging left and right-brain learning in the classroom, are other efforts afoot in America’s universities affording unprecedented opportunities for today’s students. But how do they sustain that engagement after graduation? There’s the rub.
Instead of blasting higher education, we should put blame where blame is due: on our intellectually lazy citizenry. Why do we as a people allow our airwaves (let alone our brainwaves) to be assaulted by hate-mongers on corporate TV and radio, instead of demanding the investigative reporting that was the norm under Walter Kronkite? We must all remember to “walk the talk” like the three young men who went to Fondwa… to remember what we have learned about human rights, ethics, and equality for all, demand the truth from the purveyors of news, and to use our buying power to support ethically-run, sustainable local businesses right here where we live. In other words, let us ask not what our education has done for us, but what we are doing with our education.

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