Book Review: The New Education by Cathy Davidson
“Redesigning higher education demands institutional restructuring, a revolution in every classroom, curriculum, and assessment system. It means refocusing away from the passive student to the whole person learning new ways of thinking through problems with no easy solution. It shifts the goals of college from fulfilling course and graduation requirements to learning for success in the world after college. It means testing learning in serious and thoughtful ways, so that students take charge of what and how they know, how they collaborate, how they respond to feedback, and how they grow. It teaches them how to understand and lead productively in the changing world in which they live.” (8-9)
If you read my previous post about responding to change over maintaining the status quo in higher education, you can pretty easily imagine how I feel about Davidson’s 2017 book, The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux. My underlines are plentiful, and my annotations peppered with “hell yes!”, “finally,” “it’s about time.” While many likely know Davidson from her work with HASTAC, which has moved from a site for scholars to discuss how to integrate technology into learning into a full-blown hub for innovation in higher ed. This new book is a direct outgrowth of that evolution. Davidson wants us to actually rethink education as a whole, not just tiny pieces within our immediate control in one context:
“The new education isn’t simply a change in curriculum or implementation of a new kind of pedagogy. It’s not just a course or a program. It’s all of the above, undergirded by a new epistemology, a theory of knowledge that is deep, synthetic, active, and meaningful, with real impact in the world. In the end, the new education is also a verb, one that empowers our students with better ways to live and thrive in a complicated world.” (161)
Davidson leaves no stone unturned in her well-documented assessment of higher education. The first chapter reviews the history of American higher education to explain – and de-naturalize – many of our trenchant systems in the academy. Other chapters cover the crucial role community colleges can and should play in the higher ed landscape, the role of technology in the future of education and what educational practices should remain offline (MOOCs can’t solve everything), and ways higher ed should prepare students (regardless of major or status) to make an impact on the world. She also doesn’t shy away from issues of cost and assessment, the rank-and-sort function inherent in the current system. In the end, she calls on us all to collaborate in this new vision:
“We need educators and administrators themselves committed to redesigning an ethical, democratic, pragmatic, forward-looking education, one that not only uses technology wisely and creatively but also understands its limits and its impacts and addresses its failing. We need individuals and institutions to work together to rejuvenate an antiquated system for our accelerating times and to ensure that the solutions we craft address the real problems rather than just generating new ones…[our] students are all asking for the same thing: a new education designed to prepare them to lead a meaningful like in the years after college.” (248, 254)
And each and every one of our students deserves that. Highly recommended!