“The academy is no longer an investment of time worth making,” Oliver Lee declares. Why not? While claiming “there’s no one single problem,” his essay pivots around a pair of central concerns. His school didn’t invest adequately in his students’ learning. Neither did his students. Lee’s best friend sat in on one of Lee’s lectures only to be distracted by a student watching Breaking Bad in class. Afterward, the friend asked, “Why aren’t you doing something meaningful with your life?” When Lee couldn’t convince himself of an answer, he quit teaching.
Although his essay has its problems—in pedagogy and public policy—Lee asks and has found his own answer to a question all teachers should ask: Are we doing something meaningful with our lives by teaching? If not, we can find some other work to do. If so, we can remind ourselves of why.
Michael K. Potter argues that the very “foundations” of modern higher education are set against meaningful learning. For instance, while learning requires slowing down, graduating requires hurrying up. Such contradictions shadow everything teachers and students do.
I find Potter’s analysis almost as bleak as Lee’s, yet far more helpful. While Lee and Potter would both like to dismantle the foundations of higher education, only Potter envisions building new ones. But Potter leads me to ask the same thing as Lee. In a short essay I wrote a few years back in the International Journal for Scholarship on Teaching and Learning—which I am writing this post to share with you—I respond to Potter by posing the following questions:
- Does Potter describe contemporary higher education accurately?
- What can we do to bring about the depth and breadth of reform Potter calls for?
- Can such reform even be accomplished?
- Can we do meaningful work in teaching and learning without reform?
- Weighing the obstacles against the possibilities, does it make sense to spend one’s life teaching and working for reform?
Perhaps you will enjoy reading the full essay. Whether you read it or not, perhaps you will find these questions worth pondering. Perhaps you will share your own answers.
Photo of exit photo by Freaktography (CC BY-NC-ND, 2014).