Higher Education Teaches Students to Contribute to Society
ByDale Schlundt, M.A.

When pondering the purpose of our profession as post secondary educators, the reality that many times students will only retain the framework of what is being taught in courses unrelated to their degree, reveals itself. This becomes an excellent motivator to ensure that we are teaching something more than only content, such as fundamental skills that will lend themselves to a multitude of professions, not limited to specific area of study.

I was humbled to be asked to co-chair and speak at the Texas Regional Alignment Network’s first symposium for college and career readiness here in San Antonio this summer. Our goal as a whole was to begin a discussion with high school instructors on how to better prepare their students for the transition to college level curriculum. One of the aspects my co-chair and I focused on was the need for preparing those students for college level writing as well as research. My goal in the talk was present potential ways one could answer the question of why individuals conduct research as well as how those skills transcend the particular course in which they learn it.

Why do all fields of study conduct research and convey the findings through the written word? The answer is surprisingly simple, that is to better our world by not accepting the status quo. By making an argument corroborated by evidence, one is essentially stating that our previous understanding, methodologies, science, or practices as it relates to any industry no longer suffice.

Therefore, we are not just teaching students to simply regurgitate content. Rather we should be promoting a mindset in students that encourages them to differentiate themselves through moving society forward by using the content to make new inferences that improves upon such.

For instance, in 2012 the first archaeological evidence of cannibalism during the “starving time” was found at Jamestown, making national headlines. While it at least partially corroborated the multiple written accounts from the early 17th century, sensationalized reporting led those to believe this was widespread during the winter of 1609-1610. However, a study of historiography reveals evidence that suggests multiple occurrences took place is lacking in credibility at this point. Thus one sees the need for research skills in this context.

Alisa Marie Wankier’s dissertation took an in depth look at the five most prominent and often cited writings on the topic in the early 1600s. Despite the similarities in the narratives that one should not discount, the author noted that only two were first-hand accounts, astounding self-interest motivated all of the writings, and there was a lack of specificity in terms of the number of alleged instances of cannibalism. This all led Wankier to argue that regardless of the new archaeological findings, the accounts are still very “questionable”. While more evidence of cannibalism may arise, as the author concedes, Wankier’s research challenges the perpetuation of a potentially impulsive fallacy based on the evidence at this point. 1

Examples such as this lend themselves to the message we should convey to students. That being that the fundamental skill sets that enable such research, including composing new evidence-based concepts, acquiring sources, or critically analyzing them for their credibility, are all largely similar regardless of which course they are learned. This makes research required in any course relevant, regardless of the student’s degree.

Once earning their degree, students will have to prove to their employer that they can add to their profession, as opposed to only follow the perhaps outdated practices or beliefs of the past. As what we teach within post-secondary institutions is based on research and is therefore always evolving, both the methodologies to achieve these new concepts as well as the initiative to do so is at the core of our pedagogical purpose. Therefore, let us remember to convey that pragmatic mindset and knowledge that transcends the course specific content being taught.

Dale Schlundt holds a Master’s Degree in Adult Education with a concentration in American History from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Dale has taught at Northwest Vista College, Our Lady of the Lake University, and is currently a faculty member at Palo Alto College. He is co-founder of Palo Alto College’s new program for individuals with intellectual disabilities, Project Access, and a co-chair for the Texas Regional Alignment Network. He can be contacted at daleschlundt@gmail.com

1. Alisa Marie Wankier, “Consuming Narratives: Food and Cannibalism in Early Modern British Imperialism”, eScholarship, University of California, 2016. http://escholarship.org/uc/item/4ws0p8n5#page-121

photo credit: Jeremy Wilburn Students around campus at UIS 10-11-10 via photopin (license)

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