According to a new report entitled “Academically Adrift…”, college students seem to be learning less than what their predecessors did. According to this report:
•35% of students report spending five or fewer hours per week studying alone. Yet, despite an “ever-growing emphasis” on study groups and collaborative projects, students who study in groups tend to have lower gains in learning.
•50% said they never took a class in a typical semester where they wrote more than 20 pages;
•32% never took a course in a typical semester where they read more than 40 pages per week.
Needless to say, these numbers are jarring for parents who thought that their student was going through the same academic rigors that they went through when they were in school.
But what is this really telling us? There are two possible ways of looking it.
First of all, you could take into account what Sir Ken Robinson has to say about the state of our academics (Click here for video). In this paradigm, it would appear that college may simply be taking a natural turn towards a new kind of learning - one that focuses on socialization and cooperation more than it focuses on base memorization and rote academics.
Why would that be the case? Well, essentially, most college students today are fed up with the idea that they have to memorize certain things that they can just as easily look up on their web-browser enabled phone. Nobody memorized multiplication tables after 1985 it seems, and we seem to have done ok (well, maybe not, you do have that whole national debt thing). Perhaps we don’t need to memorize encyclopedia information in the same way that we don’t need to memorize multiplication tables.
Or you could choose the second, more negative view. This view basically proposes that college education has been debased because of the number of people that are now expecting to be enrolled in college. College degrees have become the equivalent of a high school degree only a few years ago - good to have for employability, but certainly no guarantee of employability.
In this view, you accept that college students today are being taught less so that more people can get into college and unemployment rates stay as low as what we can make them. The problem is that, even if this is true about the motivation of lowering standards, it doesn’t work. But “not working” certainly doesn’t keep anything from being reality - there are plenty of things in my life that are real that don’t work (which is what makes them so frustrating).
So what does this mean for the Body of Christ? Essentially, it shows us that no matter the reason - that academic learning is no longer considered a high value among our college students. That goes for academic learning about faith as well as academic learning about Economics. Recently, statistics were released by the Barna group that today’s Christians don’t know their Bible or their theology that well. It’s not surprising, given what we’re learning about the approach to academics in our institutions of higher learning.
This leaves the Body of Christ with choices:
1. We can follow suit with the high priority given to group work and cooperation in our institutions of higher learning, even at the risk of losing some of our theological and Biblical knowledge. It’s a risk, but it actually may not come true. Part of the reason that we don’t have theological and Biblical knowledge right now is because it’s being taught as a personal quest for knowledge, which doesn’t have much traction among people born after 1985.
2. We can attempt to be countercultural and continue to focus on personal and private learning and spiritual formation. This might work, simply because it’s not supposed to - or because it will require pastors and church workers to be more individually focused in a world where the norm is that the teacher only pays attention to the group.
3. We can try to ignore the fact that for good or bad, our educational system is changing and that it will affect the culture and philosophy of American Christians who are growing up today.
So what do you think? What does this seeming change in our educational system mean for the church? Or is this change not actually a change in what is happening in schools, but rather a change in our perspective? What do you think?
Your thoughts, as always, are appreciated.
Image: GOOD Education