Mission Possible!

Many of us always want to know how the best becomes the best! Searching for different universities’ mission statements, I focused on two top universities in the United States:

Harvard University

Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, established in 1636, whose history, influence, and wealth have made it one of the world’s most prestigious universities.

Mission Statement

“Harvard University (comprising the undergraduate college, the graduate schools, other academic bodies, research centers and affiliated institutions) does not have a formal mission statementThe mission of Harvard College is to educate the citizens and citizen-leaders for our society. We do this through our commitment to the transformative power of a liberal arts and sciences education.”

“Beginning in the classroom with exposure to new ideas, new ways of understanding, and new ways of knowing, students embark on a journey of intellectual transformation.  Through a diverse living environment, where students live with people who are studying different topics, who come from different walks of life and have evolving identities, intellectual transformation is deepened and conditions for social transformation are created.  From this we hope that students will begin to fashion their lives by gaining a sense of what they want to do with their gifts and talents, assessing their values and interests, and learning how they can best serve the world.”

My Thoughts

What first astonished me was that they mentioned they do not have a formal mission statement! and then they continued with a mission statement! So is this a mission statement which is not formal? a casual mission statement?  I liked the way they took it easy. But more importantly, in their simple semi-short statement, they emphasized the role of liberal arts as a transformative power which in my opinion was brilliant.

Moreover, in the second paragraph, this mission emphasizes the diversity and its role on educational experience and transformation of individuals. Believing in different approaches of knowing and provisioning the impact of the students at a global level, Harvard’s mission statement tries to demonstrate the role and importance of this academic institution in shaping future world leaders instead of relying solely on its academic vigor.

What I found a little bit vague (and to some extent disappointing) is in the first paragraph where they talk about “citizen-leaders for our society”, I could not totally understand whose society they are referring to (Harvard’s? United States’? “our” global society?). Given the diverse population of Harvard’s students I think this is a legitimate question to be answered.

Yale University

Yale University is an American private Ivy League research university in New Haven, Connecticut. Founded in 1701, it is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and one of the nine Colonial Colleges chartered before the American Revolution.

Yale is committed to improving the world today and for future generations through outstanding research and scholarship, education, preservation, and practice. Yale educates aspiring leaders worldwide who serve all sectors of society. We carry out this mission through the free exchange of ideas in an ethical, interdependent, and diverse community of faculty, staff, students, and alumni.

My Thoughts

What I like the most about Yale’s mission statement is its concise tone! It does not brag about the college which is not a common habit among academic institutions! Again like Harvard’s, here we see that Yale defines a global responsibility for training scholars who can lead and serve the global society. What sounds a bit different about Yale, is the valorizing of preservation and practice. While research, scholarship and education are  inseparable parts of  higher education, “preservation” and “practice”, in my view, need more attention when it comes to defining academic institutions’ mission.

And the last but not least, by considering the faculty, students, alumni and staff as interdependent elements which can carry out the university mission through their free exchange of ideas, Yale dignifies all the people involved in this process and not only the front actors!

Laptops And Phones In The Classroom: YAAAAYYY!

In her article, Anya Kamenetz explores different attitudes towards using electronic devices in the classroom. While some teachers find this habit as “distracting”, “unhealthy”, and useless others see positive points in using laptops and cellphones during classes. After reading this article, I really could not decide whether I am happy with using of laptops or cellphones in the classrooms or not. To be more precise, I am skeptical about the approaches to control how and to what extent students should use these kind of devices.

My concern is about the students’ ability to choose what they want to learn. I believe there is a different between a primary school pupil and a college student. The former does not have the control over the content he/she is going to learn. For the good or bad, all of us have to learn some level of math, literature and sciences by a certain age. This makes me think, if we do not “choose” what to learn then we allow ourselves more freely to be distracted as soon as we lose our interest in the topic/teacher/and etc.

Photo from: https://modernpsykologi.files.wordpress.com/2017/10/istock-175408082.jpg

Therefore, in my view in K-12 education, to the point that students are forced to take and learn a course, “self-governing” sort of policy for using laptops and cellphones not only is not fair but also does not make sense! We have not given them the primary freedom to choose what they want to learn and then we expect to have all their attention in a democratic way!

However, when it comes to college because of the freedom to choose the courses, asking students to use laptops and cellphones upon their will, makes sense and is fair. Although, there might be many other incentives to take a course (getting a certificate, and etc.) rather than pure interest, yet due to the inherent optional characteristics of the university courses, students feel more internal obligation to focus on the course material. In this case, self-governing over technology is in line with the values of higher education!

Of Tools and Goals

Drawing on Kuh’s work, Gardner Campbell in his paper “Networked Learning as Experiential Learning” differentiates between learning as a “tool” versus  learning as an “objective” itself. He mentions that even though student-centered learning is the new mantra in the pedagogy arena, yet in most cases “learning” is considered as a tool to achieve certain quantifiable goals and objectives.

Built on Amartya Sen’s human development theory, one can explain Campbell’s perspective regarding education as a tool or as a goal. Sen’s believes that in human development, humans are the final goals of development projects. That means if a person gets educated, although she/he can serve her/his society better (human capital), however, that education will not be considered as a step towards human development, unless it creates new “freedoms”. Sen defines freedom as the capability to choose from different choices, so one can live a dignified life as he/she wishes. This said, the question is what constitute a transformative educational experience which can develop one’s choices and capacities in life.