Compelling Critique of the Contemporary University
May 13, 2012
Review by realg
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Well founded clearly written analysis of the problems of specialization and professionalization in the university.
Cons:The book is a bit outdated. The problems he identifies have gotten worse.
The Bottom Line: An excellent book for anyone interested in the reform of Higher Education.
Philosopher Bruce Wilshire has written a lucid analysis of the problems of the contemporary university. The educational aims of the university have become subordinated to the aims of research and instrumental knowledge. Specialized knowledge tend to become insular and self-justifying and thus loses contact with the concerns of ordinary life. It lacks the power to integrate knowledge. Thus those who practice interdisciplinary inquiry or who just don't fit in tend to be left out in rituals of disciplinary purification.
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Wilshire locates these structures historically and conceptually. The older idea of higher education in early America was largely religious. They provided a classical education for a small upper class of professionals. It provided training for law medicine or the clergy. The idea of the university that began to emerge in the 19th century is simultaneously more democratic, since it believes that knowledge is both the key to human development and accessible in principle to all, and more specialized as the university becomes the vehicle for the technical and commercial advancement of society,
Wilshire's analysis of professionalization and specialization are clear and well written. He illustrate the how exclusion can be hidden in the very language that academics use to justify their actions.
In contrast to education seen as instruction which imparts information, Wilshire presents a model of education as that which leads us to question and become responsible and inquisitive learners. He suggests that colleges stress liberal arts education and remain small enough to have individualized instruction. Yet they must be large enough to encompass a critical mass of diverse scholars.
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