Readings on the Learning Crisis

Research suggest that students are not learning nearly as well as they should or could. Three books on the learning crisis stand out: Derek Bok’s Our Underachieving Colleges (2007), Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s Academically Adrift (2010), and Rebekah Nathan’s My Freshman Year (2005).

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Students Don’t Go to College to Learn

Teachers may romanticize or villainize students based on conjecture, personal experience, and anecdotal observations. But for the most part we remain in the dark about what students actually do and want. In My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2005), Rebekah Nathan moves us beyond speculation and gives us a useful portrait of college students’ lives, reporting on her observations during a year-long “undercover” anthropological study of college culture. This portrait includes bad news, good news, and an overall more complex and informed way of understanding students.

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If We Rethink Our Purpose and Pedagogy, Students Will Learn More

In Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2007), Derek Bok, former president of Harvard and namesake of the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, argues that the current learning crisis is at least in part an identity crisis. We need to think long and hard about the purposes of college, he argues. While many people focus primarily on one or two aims for a college education, such as “critical thinking” or job preparation, Bok asks us to envision the aims of higher learning broadly and deeply. 

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