David Brooks on the Practical University – NYTimes.com

April 15, 2013 at 1:30 am 2 comments

David Brooks considers the role of the university in today’s society in the United States, and how those responsibilities might be shared across online and face-to-face education.  A more reasonable response than the MOOCopalypse.  Recommended.

Are universities mostly sorting devices to separate smart and hard-working high school students from their less-able fellows so that employers can more easily identify them? Are universities factories for the dissemination of job skills? Are universities mostly boot camps for adulthood, where young people learn how to drink moderately, fornicate meaningfully and hand things in on time?My own stab at an answer would be that universities are places where young people acquire two sorts of knowledge, what the philosopher Michael Oakeshott called technical knowledge and practical knowledge.

via The Practical University – NYTimes.com.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alanone1  |  April 15, 2013 at 9:52 am

    My reply to this in the NYTimes reminded David Brooks that he is smart enough to know (yet still omitted) that a large truly important part of universities is to impart much more than technical and practical information/knowledge. A prime reason for their existence is to help students move to a multiple perspective way of contemplating and “knowing”, and most especially to go beyond mere knowledge to revealing, considering, and designing the often invisible *contexts* that are the holders of various kinds of knowledge and thought.

    In other words he quite missed what “real education” is actually about.

    A weak op-ed piece from a person who usually does better in presenting and defending his positions.



    • 2. Mark Miller  |  May 1, 2013 at 5:26 pm

      Hi Alan.

      Having observed Brooks off and on over the years, one of his primary concerns is, in his own mind, helping as many people as possible to “live well,” to have a high standard of living. Apparently he believes that an education at an elite university is a means for achieving that goal.

      One of his efforts has been to understand, “What makes a successful person, and what doesn’t?” He’s often referred to psychological studies as his primary source on this, focusing in on emotional responses, habits, and their effects. He attempts to marry this with economic data. In one of his recent speeches I heard him say that he’s been coming around to the view that rationality is not very strong in people’s lives, in determining how they live, that their emotional lives have a much greater effect on their outcomes. Hence his focus on psychology. He may believe that developing one’s rational faculty is of limited utility, that it’s only of value to a small cadre. His view could also be an effect of C.P. Snow’s “two cultures.”

      Listening to how he talks about psychology and its relevance to what’s going on in society at large, I think he’s too quick to come to conclusions from limited evidence, and I find his inferences questionable. It comes off as mere “pop mass psychology.” Reading this article, it looked to be of a piece; the focus on “successful habits.” It seems to me this subject is not his forte, though it is a favorite of his.


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