Mar 242002
 
Authors: Donald A. Klein

In the modern electronically-connected age, a Web homepage is usually just something to click past to get to more specific information. On the Web page for CSU, however, the new CSU Web site motto “knowledge to go places,” (also used on new CSU stationary) caught my eye. A bit farther down on the page, it is noted that, “We’ll give you knowledge to go places.”

This seemingly innocuous and well-intentioned motto, even inadvertently, tells a great deal about this “university”: (1) knowledge is the most important part of the CSU experience, (2) this knowledge is “given” to the student(s), and (3), this given knowledge then allows one to “go places.”

An important part of this motto is the word “knowledge.” Knowledge, as I understand the word in this context, is primarily information. The most important thing a student should recognize is that most available knowledge is not worth internalizing; one must discriminate (definitely not a PC word at a place like CSU) and only assimilate the “nuggets” of intellectual gold mired in the almost unending chaff. In addition, the value of much of this acquirable knowledge is not constant; its value diminishes with time.

It also is noted in this Web page motto that this “knowledge” will be “given.” This implies that the student is a passive recipient who takes no active role in the process of knowledge acquisition and certainly is not involved in synthesis, analysis or integration.

To simply have knowledge shoveled into one’s head for four (or more) years is of little value in the long term (or even in the short term). This also leaves the implication that a student is dependent solely on the external environment that is “given” by the university.

A totally different strategy should be used. The goal should be to become an independent thinker regardless of, and also (if needed), in spite of the particular environment where one finds oneself. Tough, but doable if one has the vision.

The most critical part of this motto is that of being able to “go places.” This, as I read it, implies, at least in part, that this “given knowledge” will prepare one for employment, advancement and success in the workplace.

The term “going places” also smacks of pandering to the Lumpenproletariat; it really is a bit dated. Are employment and vocation, suggested by the term “going places,” emphasized at CSU? Take a quick look at the university catalog – I’d guess that well over half of the listed majors have something to do with a specific job, an overarching emphasis on vocational training better suited for a trade school.

In my view, this motto, so proudly touted by CSU, has very little to do with the central purpose of a university, which should be to allow students to strive to become rigorously disciplined, independent thinkers, or to become what also might be described quite aptly as “autodidacts.” If the major goal of completing a university education is to learn how to think, one might wonder how “giving knowledge to go places” ever became the Leitmotiv of this institution.

If students might have concerns about this Web page motto, it might be of value to consider the most important attribute you should develop while here at CSU: your ability to think and use logic in a rigorous intellectual framework. Why don’t they include the concept of “learning how to think” in the CSU motto?

Therein lies an even more interesting tale you should think about.

Donald A. Klein is a professor in the Department of Microbiology. He can be reached via e-mail at dakspk@lamar.colostate.edu.

 Posted by at 6:00 pm

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