What is distinctive, Derek Bok asks, about the American system of higher education, and how well does it perform? In particular, just how good is the education our universities offer? Are they doing all they can to educate their students, or do teaching and learning get lost in the pressure for ever more prestigious research and publication? Bok concludes that the competition characteristic of American higher education—competition for the best students, the most advanced scholarship, the most successful scientific research, the best facilities—has helped to produce venturesome, adaptable, and varied universities. But because the process of learning itself is imperfectly understood, it is difficult to achieve sustained progress in the quality of education or even to determine which educational innovations actually enhance learning.
Despite these problems, the last fifteen years have produced many promising developments, such as experimental curricula, computer-assisted learning, much-expanded offerings for nontraditional students, clinical legal education, schools of public policy to prepare students for public service careers, and many more. Such initiatives need a more secure and central place within the regular curriculum. In addition to the traditional focus on program and curriculum, Bok stresses the need to pay greater attention to improving the effectiveness of teaching and learning. He calls for a number of steps, including a sustained program of research directed toward evaluating educational programs and methods of teaching. Only through careful experimentation and evaluation of its own efforts, through many small improvements and occasional inspired advances, can each university move toward the goal of giving its students the best possible preparation for life in an increasingly complex world.
This book is extraordinary… Bok reveals himself as anything but an academic elitist. He shows a deep interest in the education of not only undergraduates and traditional graduate and professional students, but also ‘non-traditional’ students… He has obviously read much empirical research on teaching and learning… Higher Learning is a highly readable, often entertaining, and important book.
I recommend this book to all who are interested in an informative analysis of American higher education.
The book is full of wisdom, based on broad experience and also upon substantial knowledge of research literature… Higher Learning was written well before the widely publicized criticism of Harvard and of higher education by the Secretary of Education. But it provides a comprehensive and thoughtful reply to those criticisms… [Bok] lays out a balanced assessment of the problems and achievements of American higher education… His is a strong case for the present excellence of American higher education and a challenge to strive for an ideal well beyond our present state.
In this readable assessment of contemporary American higher education, the president of Harvard comments on what is right and wrong with the teaching and learning processes at the major research universities. With refreshing frankness Bok raises a number of provocative topics, such as the double-edged sword of colleges’ competition for everything from athletics to government grants, and professional schools’ neglect of the teaching of ethics. Weighing the pros and cons of new trends such as life-long professional education and the computer revolution, Bok considers their long-range impact on tradition-bound institutions of higher learning. He is realistic about the many problems facing higher education, and optimistic about its future.
- 206 pages
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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