Friday, May 25, 2012

Educational Quality is the Next Great Frontier

Bill Henderson writes the following on the Legal WhiteBoard in an article on high student debt:

"My own belief is that educational quality is the next great frontier. If we can put a man on the moon in the 1960s, surely with four years and $120K we can turn a reasonably able and motivated 22 year old into a critical thinker who can reliably communicate, collaborate, gather facts, assess data, lead, follow, and approach problems with both empathy and objectivity.  Further, improving quality changes the debate from "how much does higher education cost?" to "how much is higher education worth?"  And if the worth is sufficiently high, both public and private employers would be willing to subsidize it in exchange for preferred access to graduates.  

The only barrier is institutional focus.  To make this happen, a university has to take an "Apollo Project" approach that focuses purely on education.  After figuring out the "how high" and "how fast" possibilities, an institution could then focus on controlling costs through process improvements and building modules.  First quality (worth), then cost.  This is not trade school education; this is about fully exploring human potential.

The first university to break into this space will have a profoundly disruptive effect [on] the rest of higher education. The future of higher education is education."

I hope Professor Henderson is right.  Those of us who have taught first-year law students over the last twenty years know that students are very unprepared for law school.  They have not been taught to think; they have been taught to regurgitate.  Knowledge is important, but to survive in the modern world one must be able to apply knowledge.

In the Middle Ages, the first universities were centers of knowledge.  Their function was to preserve knowledge, not to prepare students to live in the real world.  Colleges and universities have, in many ways, retained their original function.  It is now time for universities to turn out critical thinkers.  The same, of course, is true of law schools.

(Scott Fruehwald)

P.S.  I am reminded of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.   In Bradbury's futuristic vision, books are banned, and, whenever a book is found, it is burned.  A group of people memorize books so that they can preserve them for the future when books while come back into vogue.  In Bradbury's vision this memorization was necessary to preserve civilization.  In our own time, we need to do much more.

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Scott, I 100% agree law students are not critical thinkers when they arrive. And that transformation is not easy. bh.

Posted by: Bill Henderson | May 26, 2012 1:08:18 PM

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