Redesigning Education: Rethinking College Admissions
(All of Garreth’s writing represent a view from the crossroads of education and design. See more of Garreth’s posts here.)
THE BEAUTIFUL DANGER OF COFFEE AFTER 2PM
Saturday night, somewhere around 12:20 AM, I was searching my twitter feed and came across a post from Grant Lichtman. The tweet linked to a report from the Harvard Graduate School of Education entitled, Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions.” (Yes, I was up at 12:20 AM. That warning about coffee after 2PM? It’s true.)
I fell asleep looking at the report, but had the presence to mark it so I could check it when I woke up. I’m glad I did because it represents work that has the potential to create a sea change in education at all levels.
RETHINKING COLLEGE ADMISSIONS
The gist of the post from Harvard is that they, along with numerous other colleges (Grant Lichtman reported 170 schools had signed on as of 7/9/17), have engaged in a movement through Harvard’s Making Caring Common initiative, to reimagine college admissions. The impetus for this fundamental shift is the realization that current societal pressures for academic achievement are actually detrimental to students’ physical and mental health as well as to the very future of an equitable and fair society.
The report is lengthy, though not unduly so (click the link then click “Read the full report” at the bottom), but the section titles do a fine job of highlighting just why this report holds so much potential. Here are the section headers:
- RECOMMENDATIONS FOR COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AND SERVICE
- RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ASSESSING ETHICAL ENGAGEMENT AND CONTRIBUTIONS TO OTHERS ACROSS RACE, CULTURE AND CLASS
- RECOMMENDATIONS FOR REDUCING UNDUE ACHIEVEMENT PRESSURE, REDEFINING ACHIEVEMENT, AND LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD FOR ECONOMICALLY DIVERSE STUDENTS
HUMAN CENTERED ADMISSIONS
Turning the Tide represents a targeted development of the more humanist drive at the heart of design. In essence, because designers seek to “make things better” and human centered design extends this drive to a concern for the human impact of all products, systems, graphics, experiences, etc., Turning the Tide is clearly an attempt to design and improve the system of college admissions as we know it. In that, the report engages with design at the ethical level. (See point #3 “Design Embodies Ethics” at my other blog.)
As I noted in a previous post, PlusUs’s belief in the power of design to reinvigorate the tradition of liberal education in our public and private institutions is foundational to our existence. Underlying all the posts in this series is a seminal text, “Only Connect: The Goals of a Liberal Education” by Prof. William Cronon. In this text Cronon outlines 10 goals that the pursuit of a liberal education seeks, one of which is that a liberal education helps us “understand how to get things done in the world.” As Prof. Cronon notes,
Learning how to get things done in the world in order to leave it a better place is surely one of the most practical and important lessons we can take from our education. It is fraught with peril because the power to act in the world can so easily be abused—but we fool ourselves if we think we can avoid acting, avoid exercising power, avoid joining the world’s fight. And so we study power and struggle to use it wisely and well.
I applaud the initiative outlined in Turning the Tide. It represents a truly human-centered attempt to redesign a system that for too long has turned away bright students and which for too long has robbed students of the joy and wonder associated with learning as a human-centered endeavor.
I know the proof will be in the pudding. Turning the Tide is only a series of recommendations for what could/should be done. Moving this initiative forward is itself a design problem. Problems like this drive the work of PlusUs, and we will continue to keep all such problems in our focus, for we seek nothing less through our work in design and design-based learning than what a liberal education seeks: “to nurture human freedom in the service of human community.”