so the head of an organization responsible
for measuring the quality of higher education
believes that we require more measuring (“In
my opinion,” by Harvey Weingarten, president
of the Higher Education Quality Council of
Ontario, November issue). Of course, he is quite
correct in wanting the best for today’s undergraduates, who have been left out of the equation
for so long in the swift expansion of universities. The correct question, however, is whether
“rigorous measurement” is the best way to
To give a concrete example: whereas seven
years ago an evaluation of an undergraduate program might be 35 to 40 pages in length, it is now
likely to be well over 100 pages. Many of the
categories assessed are inappropriate for certain
subjects. While some of this data is relevant and
valuable, the huge amount of time that qualified
teachers and researchers spend in preparing
these assessments may not be a sensible use of
their years of training. Naturally, this work also
comes at the expense of time that might be
devoted to teaching – the very thing that Dr.
Weingarten is trying to improve.
To be sure, accountability and transparency
are important. Students must make informed
choices. But there seem to be some disturbing
premises underlying Dr. Weingarten’s view: universities need to shape up in order to reassure
anxious employers who wonder what is being
done to produce suitable graduates – as though
this were the prime objective of universities. As
Martha Nussbaum has argued (in Not For Profit,
2010), universities should aim to make good
global citizens and to encourage thought, not
simply to produce “good” employees.
I would submit that while some sort of
assessment is desirable, what is being introduced goes far beyond what is necessary or useful.
Rather, it promotes a culture of distrust, where
people are assumed to be not doing what they
should. It also harms students’ education by eating
up large amounts of their professors’ time and
diverting considerable resources into the hiring
of armies of evaluators, assessors and so forth.
Homeschooling vs. unschooling
it sounds like the unschoolers mentioned in
the article “Unschooling: Legitimate pedagogy
or foolish fad?” (December 2011) are also learning self-directed academic discipline, and so they
will do just fine in college and beyond.
As a family where my spouse and I are well
educated (postgraduate education in the Canadian system) and are now homeschooling our
children in Michigan, we see hundreds of different family school situations. Some families
take the unschooling approach, but most build
the same curriculum you might find in any public school. In our world, we define “unschooling”
a bit differently: as a complete rejection of typical schooling. That includes dumping things like
regular tests, deadlines and any form of organizational structure. In this article, unschooling
seems to refer to a flexible curriculum design.
Yet, with academic discipline, many different
designs can serve a student well.
Those we see in the unschool track tend to
let their kids play more than practice, substituting lots of museum visits for a science education,
and they fail to teach their kids about meeting
real deadlines. These kids will have a big shock
once they enter college, and many will learn academic discipline rather late. That said, there are
many more kids coming out of public schools
who are just as ill-prepared.
With a schedule, most homeschooled children can complete their core weekly lessons in
math, English, a second language, history, writing and sciences in the hours before lunch! Even
then, they tend to pull ahead in one or more of
these core subjects compared to their public
school counterparts. They usually have no problem getting good scores on SAT and ACT exams
by the time they are 15 years old.
Every university should have admissions
staff, and many do, that know how to engage and
recruit homeschoolers. They can evaluate the
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Dr. Greatrex is a professor in the department of classics and
religious studies at the University of Ottawa.