Figuring Out What to Do Next

Following on the heels of my last post, where I described the emergent consensus that higher education needs to change, I chanced upon a [post][1] — through one of those weird link tunnels — that offers some practical advice. Its narrative hinges in part on recapitulating a story from the text it is discussing:

> The first section of this chapter was entitled, “Learning from others.” It began with a great story about “a city fellow who bought a thriving farm that had a new brood of baby chicks. A week later all the chicks were dead.” At this point the city fellow went to the neighboring farmer to find out what had happened and if there was anything he could do to prevent this from happening again when he bought some new chicks. The neighbor in all innocence asked the city fellow, “What did you feed them?” The city fellow was shocked and he stammered, “Feed them. I thought the old hen nursed them.”

The book in question, by the way, is _Rural Development and Higher Education: the Linking of Community and Method_, published by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Given my own current research, and the book’s discussion of the effect of the Morrill Acts, I need to find a copy.

But back to the topic at hand, the author

> The conclusion of this story is obvious. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it can be very dangerous to make faulty assumptions. In the setting of this book, the authors continued by suggesting that university faculty can’t hope to deal successfully with rural development if they presuppose full knowledge of the local needs, wants, and conditions of any given location and any given group of people. This led to the standard operating procedure within all Kellogg funded projects of forming a citizens’ advisory committee at the very beginning of the project. Everyone was constantly reminded that “Teamwork is critical.”

> In higher education this is not only true when we are working on projects outside the institution, such as rural, urban, or industrial development. It is also true when we are working on a project inside the institution with our own students. How easy is it to assume we know what people need and what they already know? We can save a lot of time by just plowing in and developing assistance programs for them. Why should we ask students what they need? How absurd, they are only students! How many colleges and universities have set up student assistance programs to help students and find these programs don’t address the needs of their students?

I think we are better off, as we move into any kind of reform, talking with our students and other folks who surround us, and really do wish us well (since they depend on us), than we are listening to national consultants or adhering to every national trend we discern.


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