College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be by Andrew DelbancoAs the commercialization of American higher education accelerates, more and more students are coming to college with the narrow aim of obtaining a preprofessional credential. The traditional four-year college experience--an exploratory time for students to discover their passions and test ideas and values with the help of teachers and peers--is in danger of becoming a thing of the past.
In College, prominent cultural critic Andrew Delbanco offers a trenchant defense of such an education, and warns that it is becoming a privilege reserved for the relatively rich. In arguing for what a true college education should be, he demonstrates why making it available to as many young people as possible remains central to Americas democratic promise.
In a brisk and vivid historical narrative, Delbanco explains how the idea of college arose in the colonial period from the Puritan idea of the gathered church, how it struggled to survive in the nineteenth century in the shadow of the new research universities, and how, in the twentieth century, it slowly opened its doors to women, minorities, and students from low-income families. He describes the unique strengths of Americas colleges in our era of globalization and, while recognizing the growing centrality of science, technology, and vocational subjects in the curriculum, he mounts a vigorous defense of a broadly humanistic education for all. Acknowledging the serious financial, intellectual, and ethical challenges that all colleges face today, Delbanco considers what is at stake in the urgent effort to protect these venerable institutions for future generations.
College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be
Looking at the history of American institutions, as noted by Delbanco, colleges at one time focused on helping students self-discover: "an aid to reflection, a place and process whereby young people take stock of their talents and passions and begin to sort out their lives in a way that is true to themselves and responsible to others. In the landscape of higher education, academic advisors could potentially offer the space that once existed to allow students these opportunities for reflection. While focusing on smaller colleges, Delbanco's work allows all higher education professionals, including academic advisors, to pause and consider the larger context of their institutions and the overall purposes of "college" both then and now with an eye to the future. Rather than taking one through a series of research articles, Delbanco's book is more of a personal treatise based on his analysis of and experience in higher education where he asks the reader to think critically about the purpose of college and what it means to be an undergraduate student. Although somewhat skeptical of current trends in education, he traces the roots of higher education to help the reader see the possibilities and limitations of its trajectory. His reflections fit well in the field of academic advising's current discussions centering on the purposes of academic advising and contribute additional perspectives on the context in which advisors guide and mentor. As academic advisors often have the 30, foot view of the experiences with which students engage in higher education, academic advisors can assist in opening the life of the mind that Delbanco discusses.
This is a very American book, but one that will give a lot of pleasure to anyone who cares about undergraduate education. It offers a fascinating history of the creation and growth of US colleges and universities, some sombre reflections on the tension between the desire of many universities to be known as great research institutions and the needs of their undergraduates, and some angry thoughts about the way in which elite education reinforces economic inequality. However, anger is not the dominant note.
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O ne of the peculiarities of the teachin g life is that every year the teacher gets older while the students stay the same age. Each fall when classes resume, I am reminded of the ancient Greek story of a kindly old couple who invite two strangers into their modest home for a meal. No matter how much the hosts drink, by some mysterious trick their goblets remain full even though no one pours more wine. Eventually, the guests reveal themselves as gods who have performed a little miracle to express their thanks. So it goes in college: every fall the teacher has aged by a year, but the class is replenished with students who stay forever young.
This article was originally published in the Fall edition of the Continuing Higher Education Review. Andrew Delbanco has written a small book that deserves to be widely read. Education policymakers, as well as many students and parents, may scratch their heads at that one. Or getting into the best graduate and professional schools? Or, on a larger scale, about national competitiveness? Much of the ensuing book consists of a practical demonstration of what the past, as presented and interpreted by a mind possessing such qualities, can teach us. Delbanco is a distinguished scholar of American literature and history who has worked and taught at Columbia University since , where he is both the Mendelson Family Chair in American Studies, and director of the American Studies program, as well as Julian Clarence Levi Professor in the Humanities, and where he has won major awards for both teaching and scholarship.
Andrew Delbanco's new book, College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be, is among the newest contributions to ongoing discussions of the problems and potentialities of higher education in the United States. While it is a very crowded field these days, there is always room for more, especially when coming from an erudite, witty, and engaging voice—and from someone who has studied and experienced the subject from the inside: Delbanco is a longtime, award winning professor of English at Columbia and a specialist in American literature. Interestingly, Delbanco tackles the subject of American higher education as a kind of American literature itself—at least as a uniquely American institution and one that can be studied as a text that is both a product of and producer of many important aspects of American culture. And, as any text, American higher education has a long history, which requires study if one hopes to make any sense of it—Delbanco's goal in this short book; in spite of some shortcomings, he goes a long way toward accomplishing it. Treatments of higher education and its problems come in many genres, as Delbanco himself discusses though not until his last chapter. Most common these days are jeremiads, followed by elegies, and finally "calls to arms. Delbanco's choice, instead, is to write what he calls "a messy mixture," a combination of all of the above