Whenever I teach older students, whether they’re undergraduates, graduate students or junior faculty, I find a vivid, pressing sense of how much they need the skill they didn’t acquire earlier in life. They don’t call that skill the humanities. They don’t call it literature. They call it writing — the ability to distribute their thinking in the kinds of sentences that have a merit, even a literary merit, of their own.
This distinction, between complex thinking and right-answer thinking, increasingly defines the difference between elite educational opportunity and the education of the rest. Standardized test-based curricula are easier to implement on a large scale, while the apprehension of complexity is not. It seems that one of the pivotal challenges American education faces today inheres in how the middle classes manage to demand educational equality. When we talk about democratizing access, it seems to me, it isn’t about designing “fair” tests that measure rote right-answer abilities. It is about insisting on curricula that matter, about providing the education we want all students to experience, not just the already-entitled.
The Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and the Office of Technology for Education strive to enhance the quality of education at Carnegie Mellon. We collaborate with our colleagues to improve courses and learning environments by broadening their understanding of the science of learning and how new pedagogical approaches and technologies can enhance student performance.
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