Saturday, September 23, 2006

Where is the "Research" in Reading, Riting, and Rithmatic?

With the start of classes, there's a lot happening on campuses this Fall, from teach-ins on the war to litigation on behalf of the fair use rights of students and teachers. As a university writing program administrator, who has helped designed curricula for thousands of students, I'd like to add a few choice words about the execrable "A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education," otherwise known as the "Spellings Commission Report," which applies the Bush administration's doctrine of standardized testing from the No Child Left Behind Act to college learning environments and praises "for profit" institutions and distance learning.

It's an obviously punitive document, intended to scold the supposed bastions of liberalism in the academy for allegedly sloppy standards in educating young people. The American Association of Colleges and Universities has already posted an eloquent rebuttal that targets the report's emphasis on quantity not quality, "disdain for faculty," and incoherent "cafeteria plan" for curricular reform. As a rhetorician, I have to say how much I hate the way that the word "leadership," which is featured in the report's title, now functions as a code word for private sector hierarchies of arbitrary authority. I also thought the opening sentence in praise of my undergraduate alma mater, as a place founded "to train Puritan ministers" might say a lot about how vocational education and conservative values are emphasized in the rest of the document as well.

Even more important, given Siva Vaidhyanathan's manifesto on Critical Information Studies, is the total absence of "information literacy" in the Spellings Report, either in word or deed, as an objective for effective college curricula. Although the word "research" appears fifty-one times, it never has anything to do with the intellectual activities of undergraduates. "Research" is only something to be done on students; it is never anything that students themselves might actually do, according to the commission. "Technology" is a big buzzword in the document, but it only appears as a tool -- like a blackboard -- never more fully represented in its wide range of materials, beliefs, and practices about which there might be policy debates, interpretive disagreements, or competing histories.

For better ideas for reform in higher education than the Spellings plan for corporate downsizing, check out the still relevant Boyer Commission Report on "Reinventing Undergraduate Education" for a call to make "research-based learning" the standard or the upcoming Modern Language Association volume on first-year courses, which will feature a bomb-throwing essay that I wrote with UC Irvine Associate Executive Vice Chancellor Professor Michael Clark about how even college freshmen can capitalize on the current information and communication revolution.

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Blogger Julia Lupton said...

Also, the Greater Expectations report published by the Association of American Colleges and Universities. They want more research BY (not just ON) undergraduates, as well as hands-on learning in applied situations (like service-learning). I don't remember how information literacy fared.

5:22 PM  

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