10 February, 2010


I've become a fan of Dean Dad's musings on higher education in his blog at insidehighered.com. Here is link to a recent posting about two ways to consider "productivity" in higher education:


A quote from the posting:

"From the standpoint of an individual instructor, the controllable variable (at least to some degree) is the quality of instruction. That's also what you care the most about, what you pride yourself on, and at a really basic level, why you're there.

From the standpoint of trying to make payroll, though, the opposite is true. A thrilled student doesn't pay any more than does a barely-contented student. (There's presumably a minimal level at which attrition becomes an issue, but I'm assuming at least basic competence.) Students pay by the credit, the course, or the year; they don't pay by the breakthrough. The 'extras' that a great class can generate don't show up in the budget. Worse, some students actually prefer classes that don't ask very much of them. (If you doubt the truth of this, spend a day at in-person registration, just listening.) The mutual non-aggression pact between an instructor who doesn't ask very much and students who'd rather not be bothered is one of the open secrets of American higher ed, and it fits short-term institutional needs disturbingly well. There's a reason that Rocks for Jocks and Physics for Poets still exist."

While Dean Dad is certainly speaking about the interplay of these forces in a secular environment, the pressures he describes impact contemporary manifestations of Lutheran higher education. Of course, our ethos should inspire us to provide students with a rigorous synthesis of the best that our Lutheran faith and the Western tradition has to offer. But that's the supply side. I think one of the great challenges Lutheran higher education faces today is working with various constituencies, the demand side: students, obviously. Their families, of course. But, we also know we must never tire of taking every available opportunity to educate the synodical officials, the pastors, the lay leadership, in short the good people of various Lutheran stripes that this kind of instruction enriches young people's lives and prepares them to live faithfully here, in time, and hereafter, in eternity. So, I'll ask our sage readers: How can we best work to influence and educate our fellow Lutherans about the benefits of this kind of education?


Rev. Sean L. Rippy said...

I've done some thinking about this and I can't get around the idea that the best way to influence the pastors and teachers in our Synod or other synods for that matter, is to get out on the ground and make ourselves a nuisance offering to speak at churches, winkles, and conferences of all sizes and stripes (including pastor and teacher conferences at District and Synodical levels) etc. The more the merrier. Let us offer to speak at district teachers conferences, pastors conferences, High Things conferences, Synodical Youth Gatherings as well as local church conferences etc.

For example, I'm starting a class on classical Christian lit. at the church I attend, wherein I am planning on doing the rounds in our surrounding winkles and churches to promote not just the class, but also the idea of Classical education in general. I am even in the process of researching and writing a speech for such conferences that would winsomely help promote the necessity of classical Lutheran education while not allienating current teachers and parents.

Also, I think it behooves us to get the DP's on board, then the head of Ed. guy in your district. For example a few years ago, the head of education in the Wyoming district was converted to Classical Lutheran ed. and this led him to encourage the spread of classical Lutheran ed throughout Wyoming. Currently, the Wyoming district is the only district I'm aware of that is in the process of trying to convert all of their schools to a Classical Lutheran ed. model.

And while we would be emphasizing the need for college level classical ed. it behooves us, I think, to support all Lutheran classical education as these may well be our future students.

Let us get out there and spread the word!

Rev. Sean L. Rippy

Steve Gehrke said...

I do joke from time to time that education is the only thing people want less of for their money.

However, I have a much less cynical view than Dean Dad. On the very short term (week to week) students may be happy not to be challenged by the instructor. Semester by semester this is absolutely not true. The professors most admired by students are the ones who ask the most and do the most for them. Very good teaching is necessary for an institution of higher education to thrive. I do agree that the extra effort to improve a course from very good to excellent may be hard to justify. As a former academic administrator in a state university, and long time P&T committee member and chair, students don't tolerate poor teaching or ineffective courses for long.

So whatever is planned for a new approach to Lutheran higher ed will need first and foremost offer high quality classroom instruction. The challenge will be the course load required of the faculty. Will they have enough time to prepare to be excellent in the classroom or will they have a course load so heavy that they'll have to settle for adequate? Will students pay for extra for excellence? Will they tolerate adequate?

Peter H said...

Perhaps a promising starting point to answer this question would be those institutions that, although not seeking to synthesize our Lutheran faith and the Western tradition, seek to reinvigorate/recover the rigor that once defined the pursuit of knowledge in the university by both student and professor. To put it another way, those institution that take their "Liberal Arts" title seriously. In many ways the battle these institutions face is the same that we are talking about here, even if it is not specifically "Lutherans" that they seek to influence and educate.