Friday, October 16, 2009

Climate change and higher ed--a clarification

Lionofzion made an excellent point in response to yesterday's post about the possible implications of climate change on higher ed. LoZ wrote:

Maybe there are good reasons schools don't change with immediate social concerns. If all schooling had been reformed entirely by the Cold War, adjusting to a post-Cold War world would have been even more difficult than it already is. The fact that our institutions maintain a core of stability while adopting some changes for the times is a strengh, not a weakness.

Why try and build a school around every new thing? Climate change is a large and important issue, it will no doubt impact people for a long time to come. But it's not the only thing out there, and we shouldn't focus everything around it. That would be a way to guarantee failure in many of our worthy endeavors.

My short response would be "you're right." That is, it would be a mistake if every college (or even many colleges) re-worked themselves in response to issues arising outside of higher ed.

My slightly longer response would go like this: It is true that it would be a mistake for many colleges to re-work themselves in response to climate change. But as a sector, higher ed is pretty unresponsive to change, and particularly change that improves student learning. The schools that have earned a reputation for innovation and quality in learning (setting aside the wealthies...Harvard, Yale, etc.) have done it by re-creating themselves in response to a major crisis.

Re-invention might be particularly useful for some private institutions, who could be priced out of existence in the future unless they become more distinctive. So, can climate change and the things we are learning through it, be a catalyst for an institution to remake itself, become distinctive, and create great learning for students?

There is sort of a case study out there in Sterling College. Sterling's curriculum is built around sustainability. That has led to some very interesting learning opportunities for students there. For example, all of them spend much of the first semester in a cohort tending an organic farm.

Sterling is also a very small college, and seems destined to always be one. So perhaps climate change isn't something around which a college could remake itself. But I would argue that some schools would be well-served to search for a metaphor or an issue that can be the basis of thorough-going change.

1 comment:

lionofzion said...

Could you offer a few more examples of schools that have made serious changes in response to crises? (The success stories of educational reform, so to speak?) I think that would help us a great deal in seeing what sorts of changes most benefit student learning.