Academic journal article College English

Liberal Learning, Professional Training, and Disciplinarity in the Age of Educational "Reform": Remodeling General Education

Academic journal article College English

Liberal Learning, Professional Training, and Disciplinarity in the Age of Educational "Reform": Remodeling General Education

Article excerpt

Policy leaders seem to think that they need to eviscerate the liberal arts in order to grow the economy. But what do employers themselves actually say about their own priorities for the kinds of learning that college students need to succeed in today's innovation-fueled economy? Do em- ployers share policy makers' disdain for the liberal arts? Are they calling on higher education to focus more narrowly on workforce development and eliminate the liberal arts dimensions of college learning? [. . .] [T]he worrisome disconnect is not between study in the liberal arts and preparation for success in today's economy, but rather between leading policy makers' views of the kind of preparation students need and the overlapping views of educators and employers.

-Carol Geary Schneider

This excerpt, from a recent column by Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) president Carol Geary Schneider, captures an issue underscoring some of the most powerful education reform efforts currently underway: the differing perceptions inside and outside of the academy of liberal learning and education for what has come to be called "college and career readiness." Current reforms extending from the college- and career-ready agenda have thus far largely been focused on K-12 schooling. However, as Schneider's column suggests, postsecondary education is also becoming a target for change as connections between college learning and professional training come under scrutiny.1

General education (GE) courses intended to impart strategies associated with liberal education are highlighted in discussions of college and career readiness; be- cause writing courses are associated with "skills" or "competencies" directly linked with career success, they are often more explicitly addressed. Writing (sometimes included under the heading of "communication") is rightly seen as a strategy that is critical for this success. For this reason, policy efforts undertaken in the name of the college- and career-readiness agenda hold the potential to significantly affect the shape of college writing instruction (see, for example, "Lumina Foundation Strategic Plan"; King). A central goal of the agenda, for instance, is to eliminate the need for "remedial" writing courses, which (in policy discourse) are seen as expensive and time-consuming, slowing students' progress to degree (see Complete College America). Occasionally some of these reform efforts also extend beyond remedial writing, suggesting that if students demonstrate proficiency with standards (via per- formance at a particular level on their assessments), there will be little or no need for first-year writing courses, either. For instance, a recent report from Achieve, a primary driver of the college- and career-readiness agenda, posited that as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were implemented, "English composition" might "be a developmental course for those students who still need to learn how to write research papers" (Connecting 5).

There is no doubting the power of the college- and career-readiness agenda. Backed by millions of dollars from foundations such as Lumina and Gates,2 wound through initiatives at the local, regional, state, and national level, the notion that education is intended to do anything but prepare students for college and career readiness is virtually anathema. In this sense, college and career readiness is an excel- lent example of a strong frame, dominating discussions about students and learning through language that is coming to be seen as "commonsense" (see Adler-Kassner and O'Neill). Because of this increased attention to strategies (or "skills") developed in general education-especially and explicitly, writing courses-reform efforts undertaken in the name of college and career readiness should be of immediate concern to college writing instructors and, more broadly, instructors involved with general education. Indeed, many postsecondary educators, especially those in the humanities, have attempted to contribute to discussions of the relevance of general education broadly (for example, AAC&U), and of writing courses more specifically (for example, Council of Writing Program Administrators) in the midst of these dis- cussions. …

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