The Role Of Higher Education In A ‘Post-Truth’ Era

from Education Dive

From the Ancient Greeks to educational reformer John Dewey, and from the suffrage and civil rights movements to modern issues of inequality, educated citizens have played a key role in participatory democracy.

And universities have advanced this role by preparing students to critically engage with the issues that affect their lives. At institutions of higher learning, students gain the tools to discover and evaluate facts, test theories and deepen their understanding of themselves and the world.

But our current cultural moment has raised an urgent question: What is the role of higher education at a time when the very ideas of truth, facts and core principles of justice seem up for grabs? At a time like this, I would argue that liberal arts education is more urgently needed than ever before.

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7 Responses to The Role Of Higher Education In A ‘Post-Truth’ Era

  1. Victor Prieto October 10, 2018 at 11:51 am #

    When I was younger, I was told by many people, “If you do not go to college, you will not get a job and end up working harder than your parents did!” Hearing this over and over engraved in my head that the whole point of attending college is to find a job. While this is the ultimate goal, there are many important phases of college that students experience if done right: Students are given tools to help better understand themselves and figure out the world on their own.
    I agree with author Grant Cornwell when he addresses today’s political culture as “A threat to democracy.” It seems as though a request for the truth is consistent, and instead of the truths being addressed, they are simply dismissed. Here is where college does more than just get you a job: With the opportunity to educate students while exercising everybody’s freedom to express themselves, students can become educated and draw their own conclusions from what is happening. While also applying the critical thinking skills taught to students, they can form their own unbiased opinion.
    Of course, students can only draw educated opinions if they are being taught facts rather than opinions. Global citizens and responsible leaders of society have to know the truth. Throughout the article, Cornwell states that students should know the facts about climate change, the global distribution of wealth, the history of democracy and capitalism, etc. If I am being honest here, I am a senior in college and I do know about all of these areas: However, I know if it struck in conversation, I would struggle to clearly and concisely communicate my knowledge in these areas. Overall, that shows that I, a successful senior in college, still cannot get my point across over some important topics. This further proves his point that instead of pursuing the truth, classes are taught in a shy manner which separates us from what we should be taught. Rather than just being at school with the purpose of finding a job, we must have a desire to grow and learn about the world around us. This includes discovering our own beliefs and ethics through what we’re taught. This is not only a challenge to faculty, but also a challenge to students for a more meaning life (not just professional career) after college.

  2. Chris Vena October 11, 2018 at 7:34 pm #

    In today’s world there is a lot of pressure to attend college. Everyone wants to go to college and get it over with, hoping the end result is a full time job offer. Even students who are truly interested in specific fields and their own major, still only care about their field and the job that will hopefully come by graduation. Everyone is guilty of this because it makes sense, someone needs a secure job to support themselves and to also pay back student loans. Although this is important, so is a liberal arts education. Many students today complain about the different electives they must take and wonder why they can not just take classes in their major. These students do no realize that the point of college is to obtain knowledge, not just in one subject. I believe this is what Grant Cornwell is talking about. Students must be taught facts in many different areas. Despite all of this, it makes sense why students do not want to take classes in other areas. So many classes today are not taught well, and combined with a student’s lack of interest, these students will never learn what they are supposed to. To take Cornwell’s point further, there are other areas of college that are also important outside of someone’s major classes. One good example is networking. One point of going to college is to meet new people. Some colleges also do not do a good job in this area. Student’s need help from faculty to point them into the right direction before they can start making professional connections. Overall, I think Cornwell is right and students need to leave college more prepared for the real world.

  3. Michael Robins October 12, 2018 at 5:12 pm #

    Cornwell brings up great points about having a fact-based worldview. In theory, he is absolutely right that if everyone was knowledgeable in their fields and had facts to base their opinions off of, the world would be able to better diagnose problems and find solutions for them. In reality, most college students go to college to get a degree so that they could find a job. This is the main role of higher education in the modern day. However, there are other roles for higher education including networking. It is great that college students have many different opinions on a variety of topics. However, it seems as though more and more people base their beliefs off unsubstantiated “facts” as Cornwell alludes to. I believe the role of college is to put students in a position after graduating to make decisions that benefit themselves and individuals around them in their life. This differs from Cornwell’s role in that I do not think it is really possible to teach concrete facts outside of a few subjects including math and science. With technology and the internet, people’s minds open to many different things. This can influence them more than anything taught in college today in a positive or negative way.
    Truth is something that is hard to define nowadays. Cornwell says it perfectly when he states that a person’s ideology means more to that person than the facts they know. This goes for any field and any belief. College is good for teaching critical thinking based on a set of facts. When it is difficult to distinguish facts from opinions and twisted data, what is there to go off of? A professor that I recently had said something that struck my mind and stayed with me since. He said that there are two facts in life that everyone can agree on. These facts are that we are born and that we die. Everything in between can vary from person to person. In this “post-truth” era, it feels as though this statement is enlarged. One individual’s truth is another individual’s false. It will be very interesting to see how the role of college evolves in this “post-truth” era.

  4. Alexis Job October 12, 2018 at 8:28 pm #

    Being engaged in higher education is so important, now more than ever. In order to get certain jobs, people must have certain academic credentials. As for living daily life, many people are uninformed. Life is more than just knowing information, but how to look for information, take it in and understand the information, and then use the information to make a proper judgement of the situation. Thinking objectively in a time of were false information is presented in the masses, is mandatory. Teaching students what sorts of information to look out for, whether it be political or social, would help propel generations forward. People may not always have similar opinions, but a major part of the problem is the fact that people do not have the correct information to even asses what the true problem is, let alone have some form of bias on it. Now, information is often given from a biased standpoint, mostly because that is usually the information people have the easiest access to. The truth is fact, regardless of bias. People have to be taught the importance of finding factual information first, before creating opinions or reading other people’s opinions.

  5. Lauren F October 12, 2018 at 10:34 pm #

    I truly believe that the author makes a good point about how the general public takes everything at face value. We believe things to be true because they are presented to us as facts. Being critical thinkers and looking more into things would definitely make us as people and as a society much better off and more well rounded. Throughout elementary school and into high school we are only presented with what is known as facts. We are not taught to look at things from different angles or to question authority. College however, works a little bit differently. Professors try to expand your mind and get you to think about things in different ways. I agree with the author in saying that if we want to educate the general public on how to think critically college is probably the best place to get that accomplished. The only problem is that most people in college have no interest in that.

    Before people went to college if they wanted to continue in their education or to reach higher levels in their career. Nowadays it seems as if you can’t get any real job without some sort of degree. Because of that going to college is no longer a noble quest or privilege. It’s now something that is simply expected of everybody. Most people go to college not necessarily because they want to but because they feel as if they have no other choice. Because these people are going to college more out of necessity and are spending an obscene amount of money to do so, they aren’t interested in learning anything that isn’t going to help them make money. As a personal example I started out as a liberal arts major but then I switched to business. I remember sitting in some of my classes learning about culture and philosophy. The only thing on my mind was “how is this going to help me?” I cared more about managing money than discovering the meaning of life. Now that I’m a little bit older I do truly believe that critical thinking will absolutely benefit me in my life. After the 2016 election I have learned to question the information that is given to me. It’s taken me a while and a lot of research to truly understand how the truth works and how it is manipulated by the media. If everyone was able to take the information given to them and dissect it properly we would live in a much better world. I agree with the author in that respect but I’m just not sure if college is the right place to teach the public how to do that.

  6. Adam C. October 14, 2018 at 11:55 pm #

    The article’s revolves around answering the central question of: “What is the role of higher education at a time when the very ideas of truth, facts and core principles of justice seem up for grabs?” From there, the author argues that liberal arts education is more important than ever. This claim is supported through the exploration of our democracy and our minds.

    In such politically heated times, the importance and role of a liberal arts education is often brought into question. In many cases, it is often dismissed as being useless compared to the value of a trade school education. While that argument in itself has some merits, this article addresses one of the central flaws to a current liberal arts education. The flaw being that “academics are quite good at being able to talk about the architecture of the liberally educated mind, but [academics] are too shy in talking about the content knowledge, the furniture, of a liberally educated mind.” However, I believe that this idea can expand to the entirety of our education system, especially liberal arts.

    In the current college education system, the system of picking a “major” eliminates the idea behind having knowledge in “the facts about climate change, about the global distribution of wealth, about the history of democracy and capitalism and the tension between the two, about the variety of human meaning-making in the form of religions, arts, literatures and philosophies.” Our education is extremely restricted towards getting a specific job in a specific field. This restriction does not allow the crossing of ideas between fields and does not create an environment that encourages students to do it themselves. While specification towards certain occupations are not necessarily bad, it does not truly achieve the goal of becoming global citizen through “fact-based worldview.” Instead, it creates a restrictive worldview that is based solely in the specific field of our “major.”

    While the solution to this problem would be to simply encourage students to have knowledge in multiple subjects, employers are often looking for a specific set of skills that often cannot be achieved if students spend so much time studying a multitude of other subjects.

  7. RyanL October 18, 2018 at 1:22 pm #

    As a current college student, I firmly believe and support the values of pursuing a degree in higher education, which has benefited me significantly in regards to my personal growth, intellectual curiosity, and journey to adulthood. I agree with Grant Cornwell’s concerns and his overall message in the article pertaining to the importance of liberal arts; it is beneficial to not only focus on career building and networking with peers/alumni while enrolled at a university, but it is also advantageous to develop relevant capabilities such as being able to critical think, problem solve, and collaborate effectively in a team environment. In my core curriculum, I have taken business courses alongside with liberal arts electives relating to humanities, sciences, and creative arts. With the writing and public speech courses, I was able to expand/improve upon my writing and communication skills, which have helped me structure my professional resume, perform effectively in group presentations, and engage appropriately at job interviews. Additionally, my economics and political science classes have helped me understand implications of proposed regulations and political ideologies cultivated in the last election by the 2016 presidential candidates. Holistically, what I’m trying to gather in these specific examples is the applicability of the skill sets and framework acquired from my liberal arts education to a variety of real life/personal situations. I am thankful for the educational diversity I have received as an undergraduate student because not only was each class interesting, but it also positively impacted the way I evaluate and analyze information, as well as developed my specific approaches to complex issues.

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