General Education's Remake

Paul Fain, Ignatia Webs, Jan 23, 2014
Commentary by Stephen Downes

To be clear, I don't think competency-based education is bad, per se, and I think it is certainly a better approach than what might be called curricular or subject-based edducation. I do have my doubts about the utility of breaking a larger piece of education into bite-sized competency nuggets, partially because it's pretty easy to lose the plot when negotiating these morsels, and partially because it doesn't actually make the learning (and especially the assessment) or the overall skill easier or more efficient. The other issue I have surrounds the remapping of the curriculum, especially when the objectives become to "develop the whole student for personal growth, economic productivity, and responsible citizenship." I do like the idea of "prepar[ing] students to tackle complex and unscripted problems – to apply evidence-based reasoning, judgment and ethical responsibility to questions where the answer is not known and the consequences matter." But this is only a small part of the 'integrative liberal learning' remapping. And I distrust the intentions of the Gates Foundation grant that is behind all this (check out these slides, for example). Related: the association’s Liberal Education and America’s Promise(LEAP), which promotes these essential learning outcomes. Maybe I'm too sceptical. I don't know.

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