All posts by Michael Brown

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Social Class and Critical Education

Postsecondary education occurs across a variety of different settings, and obviously some of those settings are designed to train people for specific skills, possibly for jobs or credentials. In a way, these settings substitute for an older system of apprenticeship. But there is an important difference.

The older system provided predictable rewards for those who were able to pass their apprenticeship. A plumber’s apprentice would eventually enter the field as a licensed plumber, with a reasona…

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Teaching and Criticism: A Defense of the Human Sciences

I want to defend the humanities, social sciences, and liberal arts as crucial to what we can mean by “education.” However, there are conventional definitions of those “human sciences” that are not consistent with the value of education that I believe those fields embody.

The way I think about the value of education is radically different from the utilitarian values associated with goal-oriented, strictly instrumental reasoning; from the idea of “excellence” associated with the old imperialis…

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Determining the Values of Education

Written with Mary Churchill

Mike: I think that we need to talk about what we mean when we discuss “education.” We began this blog by making the distinction between the institutional setting of education and educational values and associated practices (teaching, for example). I want to return to the questions surrounding values and the practices related to those values.

By “education” we are ordinarily referring to a set of values tied to self-development and citizenship. This is a fairly con…

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Are We Giving Students Decent Value?

Written with Mary Churchill

Mike: There has been a lot of discussion about whether or not students are getting a fair deal when they pay for classes that are apparently neither substantive and rigorous enough nor geared to learning something new.

In that discussion, here’s a key question that people don’t talk about much: Are students paying for a semester that happens to be divided into separate classes, or are they paying for each class that happens to be included in a list defined as a semest…

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When Students Don’t Read

Written with Mary Churchill

Mike: I am about to go to my first undergraduate seminar of the semester. In this class, we will be doing a close reading and discussion of the first volume of Marx’s Capital. So, the students will need to read each section prior to class. Will they do it? What will we do if they don’t? I am of two minds here, and each leads me to a different answer to those questions.

On the one hand, it seems important for students to develop some command of the material in order to…

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Innovate, but Don’t Rock the Boat

Written with Mary Churchill

Mike: Education departments have been denigrated for a long time, often based on the claim that they make a fetish of process and do not adequately take substance into account. But there is a different reason for the defensiveness that often accompanies that judgment: It is primarily in education departments and rarely in other disciplines that faculty are most likely to discuss the relationship between teaching and learning.

Mary: This is related to the fact that …

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Should We Teach for Depth, or Breadth?

Written with Mary Churchill

Mike: I was struck by one comment about our last post, that it might be a good idea to teach less material in order to teach some significant part of it in depth. What would students gain from more depth rather than a survey approach?

It seems to me that standardization, grading, and product- or outcomes-orientation are more compatible with a survey approach than with an emphasis on how a student arrives at the intellectual force of an idea. At best, a survey of a …

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How Grades Make Students Want to Cheat

Written with Mary Churchill

Mike: Continuing our discussion from earlier this week, teachers like Cathy Davidson who try to innovate in grading may suffer the same disappointment as reformists have always suffered. The “externalities” are not simply there, like a hill that is familiar in a landscape; they proliferate and expand as management increasingly turns inward and finds reasons to incorporate extra-educational values to determine grades. That makes it difficult for any teacher to use …

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A Call on Faculty to “Push Back” on Administration

Written with Mary Churchill

Mike: Our last discussion left an awful lot on the table, especially in regard to the relationship between what I called the “extra-academic” concerns of administration and the academic concerns of faculty. Administrators are constrained by institutional contexts, and this leads to policies that don’t sufficiently support the most important aspects of teaching and research.

As a faculty member, I have little choice but to view the administration as the distributor of…

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The Politics of Creating New Programs and Defending Old Ones

Written with Mary Churchill

Mary: Mike, why is it so difficult to get a new course approved? If professors are unable to negotiate the resources necessary to support a new course, then perhaps the support isn’t there, perhaps it has not passed the departmental “peer review” process. I view the creation of a single course to be the purview of departments and programs. Many of our practices assume that academics are objective, but this is clearly not the case. A department has its own self-interes…