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University studies

I have listened to many confused conversations about the meaning and value of university while raising our children. And now that our oldest is approaching this threshhold, it hasn't gotten any easier. I grew up in an American urban environment in which it was taken for granted that anyone who graduated from high school would go on to study at some sort of college, either community college (two years), or regular college (four years). Which one depended on grades,

Science and humanities

by Colin Blakemore

"Neuroscience, my own field, is eagerly flirting with psychology, economics, philosophy, aesthetics, educational studies. I study vision, and I learn much from the work of artists. … The ideal university (the word is from the Latin for 'whole') should be devoted to the totality of scholarship. It should be a place of intellectual freedom, tempered by intellectual criticism. Most of all, it should be a powerhouse of discovery - about ourselves and the world around us." go to Oxford Today

personal preference, location and parents' ability to pay the tuition fees. More money often meant college far away; less money certainly dictated college nearby.  In fact, much of the last year in my high school was devoted to filling out applications, taking SATs (general college entrance exam) and worrying about interviews and where we would get accepted.

This is completely foreign to most of our German friends. It is foreign to pay for schooling at all. It is foreign to encourage a liberal arts education at the university level. It is foreign to go through a rigorous application process.

the Humanities at University Level

by Jonathan Bate

"What price the advanced study of the humanities in a time when the world economy crumbles and our cities are looted? Some might say that to teach and research papyrus fragments of ancient Greek drama or the reading habits of sixteenth-century gentlewomen at such a time is to fiddle while Rome burns. We must be firm in our response to such claims: the humanities are there to teach us what it is to be human and what is to be valued in civil society." go to Oxford Today

Instead, pupils after Abitur identify exactly what they want to study and the universities where that is offered. They sign up bureaucratically for a spot or perhaps take a year off (this was, until last year, institutionalized as part of the mandatory military vs. civil service choice), and if that particular subject is already full then they wait until their name arises on the waiting list -- highest scores on the Abitur exams being first on the list. This process can take years, during which time they work or perhaps they travel or study in an 'open' specialization that never fills up, such as theology. University life in Germany does not connote the community it does in England or the United States. Once they start studying, they dive right into their specialization but they usually never bond with their particular university. A physics student does not take literature or history or language. A medical student studies only science. The general atmosphere does not encourage community, rather it encourages utilitarian checking-off of which exams and classes one has fulfilled on the way to an employment qualification. While this might be good for some students not given to critical thinking, the idea that education is primarily a tool for economic growth and profit is unpleasant to those who hold that curiosity-driven enquiry in all fields has great social (and economic) consequences.

wall street journal
The Escalating Arms Race for Top Colleges

It is no secret that the children of certain families (and we all know who we are) are primed to take a disproportionate share of the places at the best—or at least the most prestigious—colleges. That's because we're already sending our kids to the kinds of excellent schools that help prepare them for admission to such colleges.

go to the Wall Street Journal

The term 'college' is understood by most Germans to refer to some sort of high school, not to a university. Partly this can be attributed to the fact that 'Hochschule" means university in German but is translated literally into English as "high school".  And then there is the next confusion, which is that some of the most prestigious US universities refer to themselves as 'colleges' rather than universities. And that studies at Oxford or Cambridge always consist of references to colleges such as Christ Church College before references to the university. So, college as a term is difficult. Added to this is the ambiguous attitude towards higher education

"The humanities and the arts are being cut away, in both primary/secondary and college/university education, in virtually every nation of the world. Seen by policy-makers as useless frills, at a time when nations must cut away all useless things in order to stay competitive in the global market, they are rapidly losing their place in curricula, and also in the hearts and minds of parents and children."

"The very basis of the US liberal arts tradition is the four-year degree, and until the halfway point all students are required to maintain a broad focus and several 'minor' subjects. This forces mathematicians to appreciate poetry, poets to maintain an interest in science, and everyone to keep learning a foreign language." go to Oxford Today

in Germany. The German school system divides its pupils into 'university', 'middle-class' and 'trades'-oriented starting in 5th grade (age 10 or 11). Yet there is a truly baffling network of back-door solutions to this early parting of the 'bookish' from the 'non-bookish' and certainly the German school systems are being bombarded with criticism right now. Public debate has revolved around dismantling the 'elitist' approach to an education vs. opening the doors to one and all and the resulting overfilling of and frustration in the universities. Add to all this the fact that the German 'gymnasial - university-oriented' schooling ends in a diploma called the Abitur after 12 years (it used to be 13 years until the politicians decided to squeeze the 13 into 12 years a couple of years ago). This Abitur is actually acknowleged in the US as fulfilling at least one year of US college education, thus undermining the reputation of a four-year American university education even more than the embarrassing inability of many American politicians on the news to put three sentences together coherently. 

The Ivy Delusion: the real reason the good Mothers are so rattled by Amy Chua

"And all of this brings us to the reason the good mothers are so furious at Amy Chua. ... Chua has accepted, in a way that the good mothers will not, that most children today can't have it both ways: they can't have a fun, low-stress childhood and also an Ivy League education. She understood early on -- as the good mothers are about to learn, when the heartbreaking e-mails and letters from the top colleges go out this month -- that life is a series of choices, each with its own rewards and consequences. In a sense, that is the most unpalatable message of her book, the one that has caused all the anguish: it's an unwelcome reminder (how can we keep forgetting this?) that the world really doesn't lie before us like a land of dreams. At best -- at the very best -- it can only offer us choices between two good things, and as we grasp at one, we lose the other forever." go to the Atlantic

Interesting insights on studying in the United States from an Indian perspective Happy Schools Blog

Anthropology on using Google

Anthropologists looked at the ways Illinois college students used Google. Most had not been taught an efficient use of Google's research methods. "Of 30 students that Asher observed at work at Illinois Wesleyan University, for instance, 27 failed to narrow their search criteria at all when doing so would have helped the database return more relevant results.

“I don’t really know what there is to use,” said one first year accounting major who participated in the study. “I know there are books but I don’t really know how to find them. Really the only thing I know how to do is go to Google and type in what I’m looking for."" go to Mashable

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