The mystification of the university

University is difficult. That’s something that’s true for most students, institutions and classes. Whether it’s the coursework, the examinations, the social responsibility of actively involving one’s self in a university climate, or otherwise, this difficulty has become emblematic of the university experience.

Besides this seemingly natural association, universities, somewhat problematically, embrace this difficulty. In past years, during exam time, Brock has posted photos of the Ian Beddis gym from above, looking down at the prison-like arrangement of desks to their social media accounts with the school motto, which is of course, “Surgite!”. The translation of this motto from its Latin? “Push on”: the iconic encouragement that Sir Isaac Brock himself, gave to his soldiers in a battle in the War of 1812. The implication here, is that facing the “adversity” of examinations will make students stronger, with a calloused, war-time conception of strength. But, is that what universities should really want from their students?

The world of education today is moving away from the particulars of content and curricula, and moving towards education as training for 21st-century skills. What are these skills? They’re the type of abilities and skill sets that have pragmatic use outside of the classroom, in workplaces, in academic settings, in citizenship and in everyday life. For example, learning about the War of 1812 is content (dates, names, battles, etc.), whereas teaching students how to effectively evaluate a written source on the War of 1812 is a transferable skillset that adopts higher-level thinking.

Lecture Hall (10)

Our university is very proud of the seminar system it has established. But is that enough? How often do seminars devolve into a simple question and answer period about a reading that most students didn’t have time to do? In this situation, there is no higher-level thinking skills produced, there are no 21st century skillsets being developed, all that is being taught is the way to “bullshit” one’s way through a formal, academic system.

Ironically, the aforementioned difficulty of university might be one of the most largely contributing factors to the university’s systematic ineffectiveness (not just Brock, but the post-secondary system in general). While the perhaps stereotypical image of a professor on sabbatical sitting in a leather arm-chair pondering the meaning of life with a glass of whisky in his hand might be too pompous for some of us to stomach, it does point to the importance of “time” in living a critical and thoughtful life.

The time that some professors, academics and philosophers have, allow them to research and look deeper into society as well as themselves. This time is a luxury that the undergraduate, and even graduate, student does not have. Assignments may be excuses for students to and write think critically, write critically and develop higher level thinking skills, but dealing with over-sized projects from five different classes, each with ambitious syllabi, detracts from a student’s ability to put much thought or effort into anything.

You might say that the ‘difficulty’ of getting a degree is the only reason it has value, and I might be inclined to agree, especially with the growing amount of over-qualification in today’s workforce. However, aren’t there enough barriers to a post-secondary education already in place? Why is it, therefore, that an interested student is pushed away at every possible moment from true inquiry, from true breakthrough, simply to perform their role in “serious academia”.

- Steve Nadon

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