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Radical Reforms in Higher Education

By Lawrence J.   Fedewa (July 9, 2018)

This is the story of my 1970s experimental college.  The design and experience seem to be once again relevant and may contribute to to the current debate. In a word, I developed a college based on an individual curriculum for each student.

Even though I was the second youngest member of the faculty, I was appointed Dean of the College at a small private school near Kansas City, Missouri., which was starved for money, students and ideas. In an attempt to bolster our enrollment and our finances, I took a week away from the office to write a proposal for a federal grant.

The proposal turned out to be a design for a college radically different than any of us were used to. That was challenge enough, but the real challenges began when our proposal was funded with $1.2 million a year for three years!

We began by convincing a large local company, Hallmark Cards, to donate some space for a branch campus in their new downtown office buildings, which I then took over as President of the new campus. I started out alone in a big room with a fancy title, and a big budget. I had to find furniture, equipment, some staff, and some walls, But first came the real challenge namely, the curriculum itself.

First, I threw out the “Higher Education Owners’ Manual”, i.e. the rules and customs surrounding traditional higher education. In my proposal, I had specified that the new college be aimed at older students, preferably over 25 years of age. As Dean, I had watched so many students drop out of college that I wanted college to be available for them to come back to when they were ready.

There appeared to be two vital considerations which had been overlooked in the traditional college:

1.       Learning is a personal activity and should be student-centered, not structured for the convenience of the institution.

2.      Learning is not divided into pricing units, i.e. credits, and learning experiences cannot be properly measured or evaluated with such tools.

What is a college degree?

In order to build a new curriculum model, some definitions had to be refined. First, what is a college degree? The answer was that a college degree is a public declaration by a qualified faculty that a recognizable body of knowledge and skills has been attained by an individual. It is therefore essential that the faculty have sufficient experience of the person’s capabilities to enable a considered evaluation. A corollary is that every student must be enrolled for some period of observation in the same institution which is to grant the degree – no quickies.

What is meant by “student-centered?”

The next question was, What is meant by “student-centered?” I am a great believer in the value of motivation in the learning process. Thus, my logical question to the student was, “What would you like to know that you don’t know already? Since you have to be enrolled here anyway, why not use the time profitably?” This question was the first step toward the student’s academic plan, that is his or her personal curriculum. The academic plan consisted of three elements:

1.       “What is your learning goal?”

2.      “How much do you know now?” and

3.      “How can you make up the difference?”

The Portfolio Plan

Typically, each student needed some guidance in designing the academic plan. So, we assigned each to an academic counselor, or coach. We found that a good beginning was what we called the “Portfolio Plan.” The student was encouraged to construct a portfolio showing every formal learning experience he or she had had to that date. The student was required to include proof of anything that has ever been learned – including college transcripts, military courses, professional training, awards, jobs which demonstrated expertise, publications – everything. Some of the portfolios were enormous; we had to find extra storage while they were being evaluated. I am aware that “credit for experience” has become almost routine; but we were among the first to introduce this methodology. Our approach differed fundamentally from later programs in that we did not attempt to convert experience into college credits. The value of the experience was simply to validate the student’s answer to the question, “How much do you know now?” All inclusions had to be accepted by the Academic Counselor, and later by the Major Professor. In case of a dispute, the Academic Counsellor would act as the student advocate.

During the course of this exercise, many students began to discover their academic goals. They were encouraged to consider real life ambitions, and the results were unorthodox, but valid. Examples were: oral history, dance therapy, strategic (business) planning, and many others.

Academic Plans

The next step was the design of the curriculum to achieve the academic goal. At this point, a specialist in the general field of the proposed academic goal, whom we called the “Major Professor,” was introduced to the student. This was a member of the College faculty, typically a Ph.D. in the field. However, volunteers from the community were frequently necessary because of the unusual nature of the student’s chosen field of study. The Academic Advisor then took on additional duties as coordinator of the interactions between the student, the major professor and the expert mentor. Our experience was that these experts were all willing and excited to participate. As President of the new college, I personally recruited and briefed these distinguished individuals. I was never refused. Interestingly, even though we offered stipends, we never had to pay for their services. They universally found that they too were learning through this assignment.

The academic plans that evolved were very interesting. The oral historian was mentored by the Director of Oral History at the Truman Presidential Library in nearby Independence, Missouri. Dance therapy was co-invented by the student and the Chief of Psychiatry at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. The strategic planner was tutored by the top executive for research and planning at Hallmark Cards. These are only a few of the community experts who were enlisted to help our students.

The Thesis and Graduation

In order to ensure academic validity, the Major Professor met regularly with the student and occasionally with the outside mentor. The final product of the academic plan had to be written and documented in the manner of a thesis, based on the new expertise which had been gained through this experience. Finally, borrowing from a doctoral program, the student was required to present the thesis to a panel of senior professors, who read the thesis, and then discussed the work in open forum with the candidate. If the thesis and the interview (to ensure authorship) were satisfactory, the student was graduated with an appropriate degree. All of the graduates walked into new jobs or promotions based on their academic work.

This system was wildly successful. The very first seminar meeting for the program was designed for about 15 students. More than 100 showed up the first night. We decided to charge a flat annual fee for the program – at a rather high figure for the times. We quickly discovered that employers were happy to subsidize their employees, although I had to make a few calls in the beginning to familiarize the personnel directors with the program. After the first year or so, the question never again arose.

Air Force Pilots

There was another dimension to the program as well. The home campus had a longstanding Degree Completion Program for U.S. military personnel. In conjunction with nearby Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base, where I had been privileged to serve as an adviser to the Community College of the Air Force, we offered the Portfolio Plan to Air Force personnel as well as civilian students.
Because of scheduling and other constraints, it was necessary to invent an early form of distance learning for these airmen. Computers were not available in those days, but we made extensive use of telephone, mail and after-hours conferences to maintain close communication with the Air Force students.

The most dramatic example of this new “distance learning” was the Air Force pilots, who were allowed to use their training flights to come to Richards-Gebaur and also to the college offices to have conferences with their counselors and professors. They came for all over – Alaska, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Texas and all points of the compass. Never have I seen more enthusiasm for academic work than I saw with these guys – unless it was the excitement that pervaded the entire student body. This reaction was certainly proof that motivation is a primary ingredient of successful learning.

Accreditation

After the program had graduated its first students, I arranged for the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, the regional accreditation authority, to visit and evaluate the program. This was a two-step process. First, I paid three highly respected North Central evaluators to conduct their own investigation and to author a report. There were a couple of suggestions for minor adjustments, which we instituted immediately.

Then I invited the North Central to send an official team for an accreditation evaluation. Upon their arrival, we provided them with the report of the distinguished professors. In the end, our experiment passed accreditation with flying colors – much to the surprise even of a couple of the examiners.

After three years, circumstances drew me away from the new college. The program was relocated to the main campus and, I was told, eventually assimilated into the traditional curriculum.

But it was a heady experience for us all while it lasted!

 

© Richfield Press, Ltd. 2018 All Rights Reserved

 

 

US Politics: Alternative Realities

by Lawrence J. Fedewa (June 23,2018) 

The most striking feature of American politics today may well be the completely different perceptions held by various groups of what “facts” each considers to be truth. It’s like they are living in different worlds. While there are some cynical “realists” who knowingly fashion “fake news”,  many partisans sincerely believe their views to be correct. So much so that they feel moral indignation and outrage at the other side.

At the root of these reactions is fear. All are afraid, in varying degrees, that their way of life is threatened by the other actors on the political stage. It is fear which drives people to irrational conclusions and closes their ears and minds to dialog with those who disagree with them. When logic is thrown out the window, all that remains is instinct. Imagination can be formed  by logic, but fear obscures all but the  most dangerous fantasies.                                  Keep Reading

DOJ Mess: Connecting the Dots

With the publication of the Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General’s long-awaited report on Thursday, June 14, 2018 the complicated tale of FBI involvement in the 2016-17 presidential election got even more confusing.  Considering all the public information available, the following is a likely scenario of the events.

The Beginnings

Apparently,  the FBI involvement in this entire episode was originally triggered by the obvious questions about Hillary Clinton’s use of private emails. Obama’s FBI Director James Comey realized that the situation posed a potentially fatal threat to her eligibility to run for president. He believed it was his responsibility to neutralize that threat, possibly on orders from President Obama, perhaps through Attorney General Loretta Lunch. Accordingly, he initiated an FBI investigation, but kept control in his own office, using a hand-picked group of investigators, who were known to Comey as sympathetic to Clinton/Obama. Keep Reading

Race in America: 2018

                                                                                       

by Lawrence J. Fedewa (May 26, 2018)

Just when white America reckoned that the election of a black President had finally signaled that racial equality in America had been achieved, it has become obvious that the distance between the races may be greater than ever, at least for large groups of both races.  There have always been two different channels of communication between the races, the “business” channel and the “personal” channel.

The business channel is used when there are people of all races present, e.g., in business settings, or in public, media, or written communications. This channel for whites traditionally ignored black sensibilities entirely. It seems justified to say that there has been improvement in this channel. As black concerns have become better known to whites, these conversations have become more “politically correct”. Certain terms, such as, “nigger”, and “whitey”, and many others are now rarely used in polite society.     Keep Reading

POPE FRANCIS I’s “REJOICE AND BE GLAD” — an American Catholic Response

 

By Lawrence J. Fedewa, May 12, 2018

Pope Francis I released his third papal letter on April 9, 2018. (dated March 19, 2018). Its cheerful title in English means “Rejoice and be glad”. American reactions have been mixed, more or less along predictable lines. That is, his conservative critics found his view of contemporary holiness too flexible and too elastic; and the “official” Catholics thought it was just great. This reader found it to be too long, too confusing, and, unfortunately, largely irrelevant.

This is unfortunate because religion in general and Christianity as an institution sorely needs an interpretation of its beliefs and its morality which demonstrates not only its relevance but its importance to modern life and to the unavoidable decisions we all must make.

During the early days of his papacy, Francis I appeared to many as the messenger sent from God to help us through these troubled times. His personal charisma, his humble demeanor and his wit and charm were much on display during his historic visit to the United States in 2015 and he gained a great following.

Luckily, few of those millions of admirers will read this 12,000-word exhortation, and the images he created during that visit will remain their view of him. Among the more curious followers of his papacy, however, he has become very controversial. The basis for these reactions tends to be his writings rather than his actions, such as his visits to Israel, Palestine, and many other lands. This document illustrates some of the common objections to his teachings.            Keep Reading

WAS THE CIVIL WAR A MISTAKE?

Could diplomacy have worked?

By Lawrence J. Fedewa, May 4, 2018 — The 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. celebrated his life, his death, and his legacy.  The occasion also brought to mind the strategy he embodied in his quest for equal rights, namely, non-violent civil disobedience. He became the conscience of the nation, a beacon of righteousness in the darkness of an evil stain on America’s dogma of “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. And finally, a martyr to the cause of non-violent conflict. Yet, even in death, he accomplished a volcanic shift in America’s understanding of our failings and our need to change.

The civil rights era of the 1960’s occurred 100 years after the last major civil rights conflict, the Civil War. The contrast between the two events could hardly be more profound. The most obvious difference is in the cost of the violent confrontation. It is estimated that there were 650,000 casualties between 1861 and 1865. Between 1960 and 1968 the most notable casualty was Dr. King himself.

What was accomplished?

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SUBURBAN COWBOY, Chapter Two: The Summer of ’95

The summer of 1995 started at Christmas, 1993. That was when my grown  daughter, Kirsten, announced she was going to learn to ride a horse, and that I was going to teach her. I learned a long time ago to do what women tell me, so I agreed to the project, thinking that it probably would never happen. But she persisted and changed my life.

I had not taught anyone how to ride since I was Riding Master at a boy’s camp during the summers I was in college. My brothers and I had been taught how to ride and how to train young horses by Jim Rooker, at that time a veterinary student at Michigan State College (East Lansing, Michigan). Jim went on to become one of the best-known Arabian breeders and trainers in the country. My Dad had, on the advice of Professor Byron Goode of Michigan State’s School of Veterinary Medicine, bought two Arabian yearlings and an older gelding named Don, who had been used to teach college students how to ride. He also set us up with Jim Rooker.

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Democratic socialism versus democratic capitalism in America

Bernie Sanders, the socialist senator from Vermont, entered the Democratic primaries in 2016 as an advocate of “democratic socialism”. Since then, “democratic socialism” has come to describe what is known as the left wing of the Democratic Party.

So, what is democratic socialism?

The classic definition of socialism is “a system of government in which the means of production and distribution of goods are owned, controlled or regulated by the government.”

The most radical form of socialism is communism, where all property is owned and distributed by the government. Less radical forms of socialism are seen in the governments of Western Europe, where private property is recognized but government has the responsibility of acquiring (through taxes) enough wealth to provide for physical well-being of all its citizens, however that may be interpreted at any given time.

As the demands of the population grow, so does the amount of tax revenue needed to provide for these demands. At some point, especially when unemployment is high, the taxes on the companies producing the country’s wealth get so great that those companies cannot keep up, and the entire system fails. If not stopped, people will start to go hungry, and riots will follow – as is happening in Venezuela right now. American examples of this situation are Detroit and Puerto Rico, which have taxed themselves into bankruptcy.  Keep Reading

What is Democratic Capitalism?

By Lawrence J. Fedewa

The first thing to understand is that “democracy’ is a system of governance, and “capitalism” is an economic system. The genius of America has been to unite these two elements into a synergistic whole with the goal of providing every American “the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

The foundation of capitalism is “profits.” A profit occurs when you sell something for more than you paid for it. All taxes depend on profits – no profits, no taxes; no taxes, no government. So, if governments (combining local, state and national) take too much of the profits generated by businesses, there will not be any profits, and the economy will fail – and people will go hungry.

Thus, there will always be a tension between government and business over the amount of profits government takes and the amount kept by businesses. Since there is no accepted “balance,” there is always a tug of war between advocates of “big government” and “limited government,” generally represented these days by the Democrats and the Republicans.
There are some basic issues at stake. First of all, governments generally have the guns, meaning the resources to enforce whatever they want to enforce, whether through confiscation (taxes), incarceration (prison), or militarization (martial law). Keep Reading

SOMEWHERE (a poem by Lawrence J. Fedewa)

[A few days ago, a Red State’s Larry Friis  opened a radio interview by asking. “Where is God?” He was quoting an atheist who thought he was proving there is no God. I did answer the question, but this is a better answer:] 

Somewhere, through all the mist and clouds
Somewhere in the darkness you are there.
The beauty of the sunset and the ocean’s power,
and the horror of tsunamis, tornados, and volcanoes —
all say that you must be there.
Somewhere.

Why all things are alive and strive then die,
why crippled bodies and torn souls hurt and cry;
why men can learn all but “Why”?
and cannot love the shame and sadness and pain we see
as much as the power and grandeur of the earth and sky —
all these things I do not understand
all say that you must be there
Somewhere.

But they do not tell me who you are,
or what you are, or what you want,
or why you have made all this.
So how can I know you know me
care for me, try to save me?
Only the bleeding hands of Jesus,
touching, healing, and changing me
telling me you want me happy
make me think you know I’m here.
Through all the mists and clouds,
Right here.

 

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