My colleague Andrew Delbanco has an extremely interesting essay in the current NYRB on the scandals of higher education. Here's what he concludes about the group of books under review:
None of these books—whether by outside critics or inside administrators—has much to say about the interior lives of young people eager for intellectual and aesthetic excitement, learning to examine old ideas in light of new imperatives. If—as Bowen, Golden, and Michaels variously insist—it is a scandal that so few disadvantaged students are able to attend our most advantageous colleges, it is also urgent, in the words (the italics are his) of Donald Levine, former dean of the college at the University of Chicago, to notice that
the scandal of higher education in our time is that so little attention gets paid, in institutions that claim to provide an education, to what it is that college educators claim to be providing.
In Powers of the Mind: The Reinvention of Liberal Learning in America, Levine has written a fascinating history of curricular debates at the University of Chicago, reaching back to its founding more than a century ago. It is a story of serious teachers responding to continuous change in the world and in their particular academic disciplines while always keeping in view the enduring goal of liberal education, which Levine succinctly calls "the cultivation of human powers." To reach this end requires first of all the recognition that it is unending, in the sense that "the purpose of school education," as John Dewey put it, "is to insure the continuance of education by organizing the powers that insure growth." It requires the student to become informed about past and present—to learn, that is, something substantial about history, science, and contemporary societies in order to bring that knowledge to bear on unforeseeable challenges of the future.
Better get that one and read it, I think...