- Series: The William G. Bowen Series (Book 46)
- Paperback: 440 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press; Revised ed. edition (January 15, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691136181
- ISBN-13: 978-0691136189
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 18 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #986,213 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More - New Edition (The William G. Bowen Series) Revised ed. Edition
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"Winner of the 2008 Frederic W. Ness Book Award"
"In the Bok view, American colleges and universities are victims of their own success: they answer to so many constituencies and are expected to serve so many ends that no one can agree on even a few common goals, and in the meantime they have grown complacent."---Charles McGrath, The New York Times
"Derek Bok paints a picture of colleges that, if not dysfunctional, are operating far below capacity. He questions the coherence and purpose of departmental majors, describes programs of study abroad as little more than recreational excursions, criticizes lecturers for their indifference to whether students learn anything, and, in general, hold faculty accountable for ignoring research about which teaching methods are most effective."---Andrew Delbanco, New York Review of Books
"Derek Bok makes a unique contribution by skillfully weaving his critique of campus and curriculum with an extensive review of the literature on student in a number of key areas, including writing instruction, critical thinking instruction, civic education, and diversity education. Rather than identify a narrowly defined culprit in the supposed decline of higher education, such as political correctness or neglect of the literary canon, Bok writes persuasively about the multiple aims of higher education and retains focus throughout on the question of how attention to each of these aims contributes to measurable increases in student learning. . . . This thoughtful critique of higher education will be accessible to a wide audience." (Publishers Weekly)
"In Our Underachieving Colleges, Derek Bok argues forcefully that those of us within the academy can do a much better job of educating our undergraduates, widening their vistas, and preparing them to succeed in life."---Charles M. Vest, Boston Globe
"Bok in this book criticizes the state of undergraduate education. . . . His research suggests that common problems in education extend beyond K-12." (Education Week)
"Derek Bok . . . points out in his recent book . . . that civic responsibility must be learned, that it is neither natural nor effortless."---Michael M. Spear, Editor & Publisher
"It's hard to think of anything more central to a university than teaching. . . . The cause of improving teaching quality--and of perhaps imparting practical knowledge to students--now has a well-placed champion: Derek Bok. . . . As the highest profile academic in the world, he'll have a chance to change the way academics think about the interaction between the professor and the student. But as Bok may know better than anyone else, he has his work cut out for him."---James Beale, Washington Monthly
"Derek Bok's most recent book, Our Underachieving Colleges, is worth scrutinizing. . . . Bok is . . . on solid ground in pointing out that our colleges underachieve in preparing students for citizenship."---George Leef, The American Enterprise Online
"In Our Underachieving Colleges, [Derek] Bok acts as both diagnostician and healer, wielding social-science statistics and professional studies to trace the etiology of today's illnesses and to recommend palliative treatments for what he has discovered."---Donald Kagan, Commentary
From the Back Cover
"Derek Bok's Our Underachieving Colleges is readable, balanced, often wry, and wise. This book should be required reading for every curriculum committee and academic dean. As someone who has lived his whole life in the academy, Bok knows how to bring institutional practice in line with research on how students learn best. In a period when many other countries are working hard at improving undergraduate education, this book should serve as a spur to overcome the complacency that attends most discussions of American undergraduate education, especially in our leading institutions."--Mary Patterson McPherson, President Emeritus of Bryn Mawr College and Vice President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
"A bookcase-worth of jeremiads, long on invective but short on evidence, decries the supposedly sorry state of undergraduate instruction. The Closing of the American Mind, Illiberal Education, The University in Ruins: the titles give the game away. In Our Underachieving Colleges, Derek Bok argues persuasively that, far from pinpointing a real crisis, these accounts are exercises in nostalgia, laments for an Edenic era that never existed. In jargon-free prose he makes accessible hitherto obscure studies on topics that range from students' satisfaction with their college experience to the efficacy of ethics courses. What's even more important, he draws on this research to advance useful and usable prescriptions for colleges that, while not doing badly, could do much better. For anyone with an open mind about the state of American higher education, Our Underachieving Colleges is indispensable reading."--David L. Kirp, Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley, author of Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education
"Radical and conservative critics of undergraduate education have met their match in Derek Bok's new book. After carefully spelling out what the core purposes of undergraduate education should be--learning to communicate, learning to think critically, building good character, preparing for citizenship, living with diversity, preparing for a global society, developing breadth of interests, and preparing for a career--Our Underachieving Colleges explains why undergraduate education in America is not as good as it could be and offers suggestions for improvement. Trustees, academic administrators, and faculty across the nation should all read Our Underachieving Colleges because Bok holds them all responsible for the deficiencies of our undergraduate programs and assigns each an important role in the quest for improvement. Perhaps his most important message is that undergraduate education is more than what goes on in the classroom; every aspect of life and decision making in academia is involved."--Ronald G. Ehrenberg, Irving M. Ives Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and Economics and Director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute (CHERI)
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We have a problem in higher education. Everyone seems to agree on that. What is the problem? Well, that’s the problem. No one can really pinpoint the problem. Former Harvard president, Derek Bok does his best to answer this question in his comprehensive work Our Underachieving Colleges.
To sum up his work as simply as possible: colleges do not know their purpose, they do not know how to assess themselves, and they do not know how to implement change.
What is the purpose of college? To prepare students for jobs. To create critical thinkers. To explore the brilliant minds of the past. All of the above? Each administrator, faculty member, and their respective departments could answer this question carefully and methodically and their answers would be scattered all over the map. Once you throw in legislation and accrediting bodies, the purpose of college gets even messier. With no true direction for colleges and students, it is no surprise that higher education appears fractured.
How do colleges evaluate their own programs and students? Standardized testing. Internal assessment. External assessment. All of the above? We have seen the dangers of evaluating education across the board; soon you simply get teachers teaching for the test and developing critical thought.
How do you implement change? This is an epic question. Faculty will, rightfully so, fight for academic freedom. Administrators are fighting for efficiency and effectiveness. Who should get the final say? Who should get any say?
Bok knows his stuff and understands that fixing higher education is not simple. This is a decent book that addresses the academic imperfections of higher education. Basically, it’s everyone’s fault.
Suggesting that American undergraduate education produces a global affect that results in stiff foreign competition, Bok challenges U.S. colleges to reorganize, with candid faculty reappraisal, in order "to lift the performance of our institutions of higher learning to new and higher levels" (page 6). He says that American education may no longer take teaching and learning for granted. He frets that college students are learning less now that in the 1960s and 1970s (history's most anti-education era). Bok presents this book to show how students learn and how colleges effect student development.
The author proposes that college faculty should be prepared to change its teaching methods (principally lecturing) for the benefit of students. Bok correctly believes that the college's tasks involve teaching undergraduates to think critically (chapter 5), actively communicate (chapter 4), build moral character (chapter 6), and prepare for good citizenship (chapter 7). He questionably believes that teaching diversity, multiculturalism, and specializing in career preparation should be important in American education.
The best part of this book is Bok's presentation of Eric Mazur's quantitative teaching application (pages 132-34). I plan to implement Mazur's process in my next teaching forum. The book is least helpful in suggesting that group learning is better than lecturing (pages 118-123). Although lecture teaching does present certain challenges in assessing learning, group work (where student discussion takes over from professorial guidance) is vastly inferior to most other teaching methods. It is almost impossible to gauge individual learning form group exercises. (Group work relieves teacher responsibility while promoting aggressive students. Because teachers guide classes, give tests and award grades, student group work should be kept to an extreme minimum.)
"Our Underachieving Colleges" is a responsible presentation about how American colleges may reform themselves to lead 21st century worldwide and teaching learning. Bok's argument is persuasive and his wisdom is profound. This book is recommended to all concerned with U.S. higher education, teaching reform, and looking for new teaching methods. Order your copy soon.