The American Educational System Is Built on the Idealization of the Student

The American Educational System Is Built on the Idealization of the Student

GUTFELD: Colleges are brain-free zones

The following editorial appeared in the Oct. 9 edition of The New York Times; it was authored by two college professors who have published a series of articles on the subject, “Universities as Brain Zones.” There is only one problem with it: Professors James Gilligan and Michael Baucom make some rather bizarre and inaccurate assumptions about the way academic institutions function. Gilligan and Baucom, two University College Dublin professors, made the following two comments on the nature of the minds of college students:

Many students are engaged in very intense, very difficult tasks in their classes…. You can be thinking of how to structure a complicated argument as you are listening. They are thinking far more deeply and creatively than is possible for most of us…. One problem is that the culture of most colleges and universities is one of passive receptiveness rather than active participation.

The idea that students spend a lot of time thinking deeply and creatively — rather than, say, passively — is a rather odd one. It would not occur to Gilligan and Baucom that colleges’ passive reception of courses, students, and professors is a result of many factors, such as colleges’ limited financial resources and a general reluctance to interfere in the educational process. The “problem” with what Gilligan and Baucom say is that the mere fact that students are engaged in “intense, very difficult tasks,” is not a good reason to dismiss the activity that colleges and professors are engaged in.

Gilligan and Baucom then went on to complain:

The American educational system is built on the notion that the student, at the end of 10 or 15 years, is an adult, that he or she is capable of taking responsibility for himself and is capable of thinking about his own life and about his own education. This is a profoundly naïve idealization and an idealization I would have thought would be rejected by the vast majority of the public.

They then point to the number of students who drop out before completing their degrees. That number has gone up considerably since the 1970s when a student’s average time to graduation, on a four-year course load, was approximately 8.1 years.

It is true that in the 1970s, at least in some of the more prestigious colleges, students typically completed their degrees in 6.7 – 6.9 years. At the University of Illinois, for example, it was

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