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Fundamentalists U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education
Date Reviewed: February 6, 2019
The aim of Fundamentalist U is to “offer a more complete history of fundamentalist and conservative evangelical higher education” including the daily functioning of evangelicalism. The schools studied include Wheaton University, Gordon College, Biola University, Moody Bible Institute, Bob Jones University, and Liberty University.
The task at all these schools is to balance academic legitimacy while maintaining reputations for religious purity. Laats defines the (evolving) distinctives of Christian fundamentalism and evangelicalism; outlines what it has meant for these schools to be “real” colleges or universities; demonstrates how the schools function as centers for both evangelicalism and fundamentalism; and examines the methods, models, and tools they have used to teach new generations of students.
The distinctive realm of Christian fundamentalism includes an interdenominational religious network of K-12 schools, colleges, universities, and Bible institutes dedicated to the promulgation of orthodox Christianity and to “remaining true to the supernatural truths of real religion as revealed once and for all in the pages of an inerrant Bible” (5). It means maintaining a belligerent stance against modernism, high levels of authority vested in personalities and charismatic leaders, a defense of Whiteness, and rigid positions on race which are elevated into tests of loyalty.
The distinctives of Christian fundamentalism (for example, conservatism) include a policing of all sexual behavior including homosexuality (which is framed as the ultimate sexual sin); traditional cultural attitudes around gender, family structure, and sexuality; and a constant monitoring of faculty and students regarding orthodox belief and action, in order, in part, to maintain their donor base, please fundamentalist parents, and ensure a regular flow of new students.
Laats examines evangelicalism’s evolution into neo-evangelicalism, characterized by a willingness to critically examine beliefs, preparing students for missionary work, and the grafting of small government, free-market ideologies onto theology. Changing ideas about civil rights and racial equality forced schools to admit that racial segregation was an important part of evangelical character, that racial integration was “anti-Christian perversion” and that, in the 1970s, a fear of miscegenation and opposition to school desegregation orders fueled the formation of thousands of new K-12 Christian schools. Laats also outlines how the six schools studied became important intellectual centers for religious and political conservatism.
The first unfortunate aspect of the book is that moderate black, brown, and white believers who are part of the evangelical tableau are not characterized. Second, a short section on what racism, anti-blackness, and white supremacy meant and still mean for African Americans is a much needed addition. That is, an acknowledgment that the toxic mix of equating whiteness with true Americanism, unqualified support of war, and the easy inclusion of conservative political orthodoxy with theology would have provided some ballast that most students and teachers would find useful pedagogically. Still, this is an excellent introductory text on (white) Christian fundamentalism and evangelicalism. It is well-researched, well-written, and a pleasure to read.
A Leader's Guide to Competency-Based Education: From Inception to Implementation
Date Reviewed: January 18, 2019
Recognizing the growing interest in competency-based education (CBE) in U.S. higher education, but also the lack of shared standards or practices around it, three experts produced this guide for other educators who are contemplating a move to (or revision of) this type of instructional program. The authors help those who are enthusiastic about CBE avoid pitfalls by offering practical guidance. They strike a cautionary tone throughout, beginning their Introduction with the sobering reality that “there are relatively few schools that have been able to move from interest to implementation” (1).
One of the reasons for caution may be that even a definition of CBE is hard to come by. The authors joke that “if you were to ask ten people to define CBE, you would likely hear ten different answers” (2). Instead they offer five “hallmarks” of CBE: (1) “time is variable, and learning is fixed”; (2) there is “required demonstration of mastery or proficiency” which is (3) “determined by rigorous assessments”; CBE is (4) “focused on the student learning journey” and is (5) “offered in a flexible, self-paced approach” (3-4). Many educational programs would claim one or more of these hallmarks, but taken together, they represent a distinct departure from traditional education. CBE’s most famous feature may be the way it changes the relationship between learning and time by replacing the credit hour with continuous direct assessment. As the authors demonstrate, however, this change complicates everything from the transcript to faculty workload to accreditation. CBE’s intense focus on individualized student learning paths and assessment (“assessment on steroids,” as I once heard) is also significant because it changes what learners actually do to learn and what teachers do to teach. Traditional faculty roles are likely to be unbundled, “reassembled” (89), and redefined – or replaced – by roles like coach, tutor, and psychometrician.
Given the challenge of defining CBE and the guide’s relative brevity, it would benefit from some case studies, at least for readers who are still trying to gain a clear picture of what a CBE program looks like and why an institution might adopt one in the first place. Cases would presumably also help CBE adopters appreciate why other institutions made the choices they did. The book reads instead like an insider’s guide.
The book’s best feature, accordingly, is its soup-to-nuts review of issues that educators must consider when designing competency-based education. Chapters address institutional culture, program design, assessment strategies, staffing and business models, and approval seeking. Readers come away fully aware that CBE is not just a different teaching approach but a potentially radical disruption to education delivery.
Optimizing Open and Distance Learning in Higher Education Institutions
Date Reviewed: January 18, 2019
What impact does education have upon a nation’s economy? Can education be used as a global instrument to overcome obstacles and foster change? These are just a few of the pivotal questions discussed throughout this resource that targets researchers and educators alike by introducing them to new theories and research concepts. This resource’s scholarly references and figures provide a broad perspective on trends and standards in higher education. The collection examines developing areas across the globe, the impact of initiatives on nations’ standings, and the connection between knowledge, economy, and technological capabilities in society. More importantly, this publication provides solutions for optimizing open and distance learning in higher education. It explores various developing nation’s policies regarding distance and open learning programs, obstacles and opportunities in higher education, as well as technological sustainability.
Optimizing Open and Distance Learning in Higher Education Institutions discusses how the “United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) creates policies for leadership skills, partnerships, and sustainable development” in developing areas (UNESCO, 2015). The research recognizes education as a global tool for tackling challenges and achieving change based on policies. It describes how development policies encourage higher education institutions to uniquely customize open and distance learning to suit individual growth needs and explains how customization then allows flexibility that combats cultural and socio-economic barriers. In developing nations, where continual changes in education and training rely upon such adaptability in education, open and distance learning can help to stabilize the economy and create a solid infrastructure.
Global cooperation creates a new dimension of challenges and opportunities in higher education. Learners are exposed to new techniques to improve skills and gain knowledge through open and distance learning by shifting toward learner-centered education and self-directed learning. Various contributors from around the globe form a fluid collection of writing grounded in research specific to open learning, distance learning, and e-learning.
This reference is highly recommended for researchers, educators, and students who seek to advance technology and education globally. This work explores gaps in theory and practice and offers recommendations for improvement. The different chapters analyze: e-learning, open and distance learning and education, higher education, quality assurance, trends, sustainability, and integration. Subtopics identify the services provided, access to education, management and capacity, technology equality, knowledge-based development, and sustainable growth in education. Further themes stress limitations, acquisition of “on the job” training components needed for employment, skills and technical proficiencies, and policy and research for technology integration. The collection not only details open and distance learning in higher education institutions in developing nations and efforts to overcome certain restrictions, but also creates polices for an educational path forward to reach goals of equality and sustainability.
Teaching with Sociological Imagination in Higher and Further Education
Date Reviewed: November 29, 2018
With a laudable personal openness and deep dedication to both their field of sociology and the practice of teaching, editors Christopher R. Matthews, Ursula Edgington, and Alex Channon premise their volume Teaching with Sociological Imagination in Higher and Further Education on the idea that the skills of reflexivity and critical thinking are not only skills they stress in their courses to train and develop students, but also skills that can and should inform their own teaching practice. This reflective nature is the guiding purpose of their essay collection, and the contributors therein address that same principle from a variety of angles.
Such a reflexive approach, the editors write in their own section of the volume, “Introduction: Teaching in Turbulent Times,” is emphasized as “an exploration of the importance of teaching with sociological imagination, derived from a critical, reflexive engagement with our own situated practices, theorizations, and professional identities” (xvii). This openness regarding the positionality of the researcher and of the teacher is in large part what sets this volume apart. Briscoe (2005, Educational Studies 38, 23-41) noted that ideological positioning grants that while ideologies derive from one’s experiences and are influenced by one’s demographic positionality, the researcher (and in this case, the teacher) can have experiences that allow him or her to develop empathy with the other (33). The fact that Matthews, Edgington, and Channon foreground this idea sets the tone for the rest if the volume.
For instance, James Arkwright’s essay focuses on education equality as seen through the lens of inclusion and accessibility. The case studies Arkwright includes illustrate the issues and themes of students confronted with short- and long-term illnesses, as well as disabilities, and their experiences in institutions of higher or further education. These cases are built upon by his own story of being an educator who uses a wheelchair, through which he even more strongly makes his case for why the current state of inclusivity may seem positive, while the reality of those inclusive policies in practice could be improved to achieve a greater degree of equity.
Another demonstration of the efficacy of the volume’s premise is Pam Lowe’s entry on the role emotions may play in the learning experience. This topic is timely, as debates on trigger warnings and how or whether to address sensitive issues in class is ongoing. Lowe explores the complexity of educators’ attempts at balancing emotional and sensitive issues with academic objectivity.
Teaching with Sociological Imagination in Higher and Further Education is a valuable collection of topics from a variety of professional angles, all focused on how educators teach reflexivity and critical thinking, while practicing those same principles as educators. In doing so, Matthews, Edgington, and Channon have provided a strong and diverse contribution to the fields of sociology and education, as well as a demonstration of the value inherent in exploring, understanding, and practicing how these fields are interlinked.
The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World In Flux
Date Reviewed: August 7, 2018
Cathy N. Davidson’s The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux is an engaging, enlightening, and empowering call to action. Though its focus is on why and how to transform higher education to meet the needs of today’s students and society, it offers commentary on innovative and effective pedagogy that will be of special interest to Wabash Center readers.
If you only have time for a condensed version of Davidson’s recommendations for improving college teaching, read the “Ten Tips for Transforming Any Classroom for Active Student-Centered Learning” (263-67). Davidson lauds 10 techniques: Think-Pair-Share, Question Stacking, Everybody Raise Your Hand, Interview, Class Constitution, Collective Syllabus Design, Collaborative Note Taking, Collaborative Projects with Peer Assessment, Exit Tickets, and Public Contribution to Knowledge. In keeping with Davidson’s central thesis, these techniques serve to invigorate learning in college courses, but their ultimate value is that they best prepare students for life beyond the college gates.
Indeed, it is the demands of modern life that prompts Davidson to argue for radically revising the university. America’s system of higher education has reified, she argues, the vision of Charles Eliot, president of Harvard in the late 1800s. Eliot sought (most notably in his essay entitled “The New Education” from which Davidson takes her title) to transform America’s colleges from seminary systems to institutions designed “to train farmers and shopkeepers to be factory workers and office managers” (3). In pursuit of this goal, Eliot, and fellow educational reformers, established the university as we know it:
- majors, minors, divisions (humanities, social sciences, natural and biological sciences), credit hours, degree requirements, grades, the bell curve . . . class rankings, certification, general education, upper-division electives, . . . professionalization (credentials, accreditation), graduate schools . . . financial aid, college entrance exams . . . tenure . . . school rankings . . . (35-36)
and more. By 1925, Eliot’s vision (shaped by his study of German and French models) dominated the landscape of American higher education.
Not much has changed, Davidson laments. These features continue to define the college experience for most Americans. But now, they come with anemic “teaching to the test” at all levels of education, crushing student debt, and graduates narrowly trained for specialties that are fast disappearing in the technology-laden world in which we live.
Against the current state of affairs, Davidson argues for pedagogy and universities to center on students and aim at preparation for life, not just careers. Davidson documents how the shift from the Industrial Age to our current age (which she dates at 1993 with the dawn of the Internet) has yet to be taken seriously by academics. Doing so, she insists, demands radical rethinking of the college experience.
To illustrate the types of changes she advocates as proper responses to the technological age, Davidson points to community colleges and initiatives at universities. LaGuardia Community College in NYC, Arizona State University, and The Red House at Georgetown University receive the lion’s share of her attention. And for good reason. Education at these schools is being rethought and retooled to serve the student and his/her future needs. Actually, as Davidson notes, community colleges have been doing this all along. Founded to serve non-elite students, community colleges succeed by proceeding “from a pedagogy of acceptance. Any growth constitutes success. The student is at the center” (57).
Although active learning and student-centered pedagogy benefit students, it is not risk-free. Fear of “losing status” causes many professors and institutions to shy away from adopting the mindset and support systems community colleges embrace. To illustrate the risks, Davidson recounts the story of Alexander Coward, formerly of Berkeley . . . formerly because allegedly his student-centered pedagogy did not sit well with his colleagues (208-210).
In addition to the aforementioned “Ten Tips,” those primarily interested in pedagogical issues should read Chapter 3, “Against Technophobia,” and Chapter 4, “Against Technophilia.” Within these two chapters, Davidson offers many, many helpful hints for how to use technology imaginatively and effectively in the classroom.