Higher Ed & Democracy

My final post in my class, EDHE 6700: The Role of Higher Education in a Democracy:

The course readings over the semester have caused me to see how higher education is intricately woven into many aspects of our American culture, particularly in the formation of the original colonies into an independent government and also in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the spirit of which continues today for other ethnic groups and for GLBT individuals. The conversation we’ve shared and my personal reflections on the readings have caused me to both see new purpose and benefit from higher education, as well as to increase my awareness that individuals can have rich, full lives outside of higher education.

I was most impressed by Dewey’s thought that education is a public good because of the calling to public service that he believes educated individuals possess. (I do think Dewey does take a bit too much of a “poor them” attitude about “uneducated” society, but I’m sure a lot of that was the time in which he lived.) This has made me newly appreciative of how I am assessed as an academic librarian with faculty status; like faculty, I am judged on my performance in my primary assignment (for mot faculty, this is teaching–for me, it is reference assistance and digital preservation), my research, and last but most relevant here: service. Of course, much of my service is directly related to UNT as the institution I work at–I am on library committees, univerity-wide committees, etc. But I also receive credit for work I do at other institutions, or even in the community (if it is related to my role as a librarian). For instance, I’ll be giving talks this summer to a ministry my church hosts in the community that helps individuals find jobs; I’ll be speaking about how to use free library resources in the job search, and how to find jobs at universities and government agencies. And the more aware I am of this call to service in my position, the more I see serving on those committees as a way to give back–instead of a painful way to spend a few hours a day in meetings.

I think as a whole, higher educational institutions need to do a better job at emphasizing this service role to students, to preparing them to give back to their communities. I know there are many things we’ve assigned institutions to “do better at” in this class and others, but this does strike at the heart of our very purpose as educators, as higher ed. institutions, as human beings.

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