6 ways to make higher education more development friendly
Applied to education, the word “developmental” has deeply negative connotations. It is synonymous with remediation and implies that a particular student is unprepared, suffers from deficits and is at risk.
But shouldn’t all education be developmental? Shouldn’t the goal of every educator be to promote student growth in all dimensions, cognitive, of course, but also emotional, social and ethical?
In his classic 1969 study of the psychosocial maturation of students, Education and Identity, Arthur W. Chickering, who passed away last year, identified seven vectors for development: developing competence, purpose, integrity and mature interpersonal relationships, forging an adult identity, managing emotions and moving on from life. autonomy to interdependence.
All worthy goals. But I don’t know of any college or university that consistently or intentionally cultivates these developmental traits.
There are several reasons for this omission. After all, doesn’t interpersonal, intrapersonal, and ethical development lie outside the expertise of faculty members. Would it not be presumptuous for colleges to interfere with the private or emotional lives of students? And isn’t it true that while colleges and universities can create conditions for student maturation, non-cognitive development inevitably takes place outside of the classroom, in the social interactions that take place in schools? dorms, cafeterias and parties?
Promoting the psychosocial development of students inevitably seems patronizing and paternalistic.
True, many institutions now require students to take training in sexual consent. A few colleges require courses in intercultural interaction and communication.
But by avoiding systematic efforts to foster holistic student development, higher education, in my opinion, misses a great opportunity and a crucial task. More than that, our inability to conceive of higher education as a restricted development and distorts the way we think about our curriculum, our demands, our pedagogy and our learning goals.
If we were to make holistic student development our primary educational goal, many of our individual courses and pathways would be designed differently.
What steps could we take to make a college education more developmental?
1. We would devote part of a student’s first year to developmental issues.
Study skills, mindset training, major selection, and academic success strategies shouldn’t be limited to new student orientation or one-on-one counseling sessions. Rather than relegating these questions to an uncredited College 101 course, we need to incorporate these topics into the freshman academic experience.
2. We would treat writing, public speaking and arithmetic as part of a development process.
The unique requirements send a powerful message: that writing, math, and oral presentation skills are, for most students, just checking exercises. The alternative is to implement these skills in a much wider range of classes.
3. We would integrate career development into the curriculum.
We need to open windows to careers, discuss labor market trends, provide more opportunities for students to acquire marketable skills, and give many more students the opportunity to build their resumes through internships. , research experiences and learning activities by project or individually. or within a team. One strategy might be to offer a career development certificate; another, to encourage teachers to integrate career identification and preparation into their existing courses.
4. We would organize many more courses around hot topics.
Instead of relegating core topics involving gender, sexuality, racism and other forms of prejudice and discrimination to training, workshops or elective courses, we need to develop credit courses designed to attract a very large audience. range of students who explicitly address topics such as sexual consent, implicit bias, and structural racism.
5. We would encourage appreciation of the arts through new types of learning experiences.
As student interest in the arts and humanities wanes, especially in public institutions with wide access where many students anxiously pursue professional, technical and pre-professional specializations, so does their ability to respond. to masterpieces of architecture, art, literature and a sophisticated way. Institutions might consider courses like Hunter College’s Humanities 20100, which combines participation in on- and off-campus museum exhibits and dance, music, opera and theater performances with a signature seminar in which students share their personal reactions and examine the historical contexts and the aesthetic, cultural and philosophical significance of the works they see and hear.
6. We would increase access to physical activity of all kinds.
Campuses can encourage physical activity not only through a recreation center or campus swimming pools or intramural athletics, but by offering certificates or even credits for participation in aerobics, dance, yoga and other health and fitness activities.
A melancholy aspect of aging is seeing revolutionary ideas flourish only to be forgotten and thrown in the dustbin of history. Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development have prompted many of us to recognize that human growth extends throughout life and to understand that far from being a linear process, human development is beset by tensions, conflicts, contradictions and reversals.
Erikson’s influence has certainly waned, and I myself have tried to formulate a historically inflected post-Eriksonian approach to human development. But Erikson’s core ideas, upon which Arthur W. Chickering relied, remain as illuminating, penetrating, and provocative today as they were decades ago.
Every college teacher should recognize that the college years are – or should be – a critical opportunity for students to address a host of critical developmental issues involving identity, intimacy, sociability, autonomy, and generativity. . We ignore this psychological reality at our peril.
It is very much in our power to help students solve these problems. But it forces us to accept our true responsibility as teachers and mentors: to recognize that education, especially in the arts, humanities and social sciences, is not about us or our narrow interests; it is ultimately about transforming uneducated, unpolished, often naive and unsophisticated beings into worldly, thoughtful and knowledgeable adults.
This is our greatest responsibility, and we are remiss if we fail to meet this obligation.
Steven Mintz is professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin