There seems to be a deficit in this nation – and I am not talking about the federal deficit. Rather, and depressingly, I am talking about the deficit of great teachers who push students to transform. We lack teachers like Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society” who push students to discover whom they might become.
In the era of corporate universities, it is rare to find professors who care more about teaching than their research. Fault, however, does not lie solely with professors. Students and their families are now consumers of the highest wants, administrators are rushing to provide the full array of student amenities, and faculty scramble into their esoteric research and leave students stranded with overwhelmed assistants. If education foreshadows the future direction of America, someone needs to ring an alarm of concern.
This is exactly what a bipartisan group of legislators rang this summer in a 61-page manifesto titled “The Heart of the Matter.” The report acts as a searing indictment of the current state of education and proposes for a renewed regrowth of the humanities. Commissioned by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and sent to every legislator in Congress, the report is an accumulation of two years of meetings and findings.
Essentially, the report advances three goals: educate Americans to be successful in the 21st century, foster an innovative, competitive and strong society, and prepare the nation for leadership in an interconnected world. The fact that America needs an alarm to focus on these three goals is nothing short of embarrassing and concerning.
A good education for all citizens used to be the backbone of success in America. Now, we lack the great teachers who transform students, the broad education of the 20th century, and the desire to be great once again. That used to be us: a country of opportunity for all because our education allowed us to succeed on a worldwide scale. And now we sit back and watch as other countries surpass us by copying our old system of a broad education. The report aptly states, “we are instead narrowing our focus and abandoning our sense of what education has been and should continue to be – our sense of what makes America great.”
We can no longer wait for Superman to save the day; we cannot act like Congress and kick this problem like a can down the road. This is our generation’s greatest problem and we must confront it. If we do not succeed at changing education, we will no longer be able to hold our already-slipping claim as “the greatest country on Earth.”
So, where to begin? The war begins in the peaceful classroom with a violent professor who assaults your mind with questions and not answers. Go out and find the hard professor because that hard professor is probably a great teacher. Do not slack on assigned readings and do not keep quiet when questions are asked.
If we are to change education, we need to be educated in more than STEM fields and business areas. Humanities are a wonderful starting point because they help us understand what it means to be human and connect us with the world. They provide the broad education needed to succeed in this world.
I once had a statistics professor tell me, “An education is about learning how to learn.” This quietly powerful statement changed me and forced me to realize what an education actually is. He was also an extremely hard professor. Go find those hard professors and let’s start fighting this war.
Patrick Crowley is a junior majoring in mathematics and finance. His column runs biweekly on Mondays.