The good news is that Academically Adrift offers a way forward along with its dire diagnosis. When colleges set high expectations for students, assign them a lot of books to read, and give them a lot of papers to write, students respond. This is true across a range of liberal arts and science majors. Whether students prefer a traditional curriculum focused on the classics or want to explore the outer reaches of new thinking is less the issue -- the most important thing is that they have the chance to attend a college staffed with well-trained teachers who are committed to helping their students work, engage, struggle, and improve.Carnegie-Mellon's Stephen Brockmann, president of the German Studies Association, isn't reacting to Academically Adrift, but he acknowledges the possibility that casting loose from the Canon and the Core sets learners, well, adrift.
We humanists inherited a tradition more or less intact, with all its strengths and weaknesses, but it appears highly likely that we will not be able or willing to pass it on to them. That is a signal failure, and it is one for which we will pay dearly. No doubt there is lots of blame to go around, but instead of looking around for people to blame, it would be more constructive to save what we can and pass it along to the next generation. They are waiting, and we have a responsibility.During an era of budgetary stringency accompanied by increased doubt about the utility of degrees, a restoration of the essentials might be the only cost-effective response available.
During our beginning-of-semester faculty assembly, the president of the university announced [a call for serious retrenchment]. The chair of the math department then asked, "Why don't we cut the bottom students?" The president didn't know what to say.
As the math chair said to me later, "We get over 200 students taking remedial math every semester. They're costly. Why don't we just raise admissions standards, and not take them?" If anyone objects that it isn't fair, is it as unfair as penalizing the student who can do math at college level?That last question refers to cutting expenses by eliminating sections in calculus, statistics, or analysis, otherwise known as college-level mathematics, rather than by eliminating sections in Junior High Arithmetic for Young Adults. There's an extension: what right do the innumerates have to drag down the curriculum for everybody else?