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Education: The Heart of the Matter
It is a measure of the superficiality of most dialogue about the College that when someone writes a significant column for The D, the Editors place it in the last paper of the year, and it receives no comments.
This space has noted Government Professor Jim Murphy’s unstinting work to launch his Daniel Webster Project — an effort to offer freshmen the option of first-year, dedicated Great Books curriculum. His recent column in The D, The Grass is Always Greener, merits careful reading.
Murphy’s thesis is that while Dartmouth’s professors should certainly be doing high-end research, and there is value in encouraging undergraduate participation in their scholarship, the faculty should not ignore the fact that students need an honest grounding in any discipline. Allowing course materials to focus excessively on a professor’s immediate interests shortchanges students.
The old proverb turns out to be true to the psychology of expertise: “Teach the oldest things to the youngest people.” Undergraduate students should focus their learning on foundational theories and texts so that they can acquire the deep reservoir of knowledge that we professors possess. But because our own foundational knowledge is invisible to us, it becomes invisible to our students as well…
A great college should have some highly specialized, transient or boutique courses that reflect the ever-changing interests of our faculty. But only some. As things stand, the ideals and aims of graduate training are increasingly colonizing our undergraduate curriculum. Cutting-edge research can be exciting, but the path to “new” knowledge runs through “old” knowledge. The job of a great college is to give students the enduring foundation of basic theory and classic texts, so that they can develop the judgment, understanding and intuition that they will later use for discovery and innovation.
In my experience auditing 30+ undergraduate courses over the past two decades, most Dartmouth professors do a good job in this area, but some do not. Academic freedom may be a sacrosanct value, but the President and the Provost should nonetheless give public and direct guidance here. Just as professors are compensated for publications, participation in professional conferences, and popular teaching, the College should also reward faculty members who strive to give their students a solid foundation in their discipline. Such a policy is not interference; it is good management to assure the high quality of a Dartmouth education. You might even choose another name for setting such a standard: leadership
October 18, 2009
When Love Beckoned in 52nd Street
We were at San Francisco’s BIX last evening, enjoying prosecco, cheese, and a bit of music. A full year of inhabitation in Northern California has unraveled to me no decent venue for proper lounging, but…
October 9, 2009
D Afraid of a Little Competish
So our colleague and Dartblog writer Joe Asch informed me that the D has rejected our cunning advertising campaign. Uh-oh. The Dartmouth is widely known as a breeding ground for instant New York Times successes,…
September 4, 2009
How Regents Should Reign
As Dartmouth alumni proceed through the legal hoops necessary to defuse a Board-packing plan—which put in unhappy desuetude an historic 1891 Agreement between alumni and the College guaranteeing a half-democratically-elected Board of Trustees—it strikes one…
August 29, 2009
Election Reform Study Committee
If you are an alum of the College on the Hill, you may have received a number of e-mails of late beseeching your input for a new arm of the College’s Alumni Control Apparatus called…
August 23, 2009
Fare Thee Well, Tom Crady
And now Dean Tom Crady has precipitously announced his departure from the College after only 20 months on the job. How to read this? By way of background, prior to coming to Dartmouth, Crady had…
May 31, 2009
Kangaroo Court, Indeed
In an interview with The Dartmouth, alumni-elected trustee T.J. Rodgers ‘70 explained his reasons for declining to participate in future evaluations of trustees up for “re-election,” namely the “kangaroo court” nature of such discussion in…