What You (Really) Need to Know, By Dr. Lawrence H. Summers, The New York Times
Dr. Lawrence H. Summers has served as president of Harvard University from July 2001 to June 2006. In addition he has served as Secretary of the Treasury of The United States. In the following article he discusses the possibilities universities could offer students if the curriculums were adjusted to reflect our changing society.
“A paradox of American higher education is this: The expectations of leading universities do much to define what secondary schools teach, and much to establish a template for what it means to be an educated man or woman. College campuses are seen as the source for the newest thinking and for the generation of new ideas, as society’s cutting edge.
It may be that inertia is appropriate. Part of universities’ function is to keep alive man’s greatest creations, passing them from generation to generation. Certainly anyone urging reform does well to remember that in higher education the United States remains an example to the world, and that American universities compete for foreign students more successfully than almost any other American industry competes for foreign customers.
Nonetheless, it is interesting to speculate: Suppose the educational system is drastically altered to reflect the structure of society and what we now understand about how people learn. How will what universities teach be different? Here are some guesses and hopes.
1. Education will be more about how to process and use information and less about imparting it…
2. An inevitable consequence of the knowledge explosion is that tasks will be carried out with far more collaboration…
3. New technologies will profoundly alter the way knowledge is conveyed…
4. As articulated by the Nobel Prize-winner Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow, we understand the processes of human thought much better than we once did…
5. The world is much more open, and events abroad affect the lives of Americans more than ever before…
6. Courses of study will place much more emphasis on the analysis of data…
…A good rule of thumb for many things in life holds that things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then happen faster than you thought they could. Think, for example, of the widespread use of the e-book, or the coming home to roost of debt problems around the industrialized world…”
Read this enlightening article in its entirety.
Level: Intermediate -Advanced
Language Skills: reading, writing, speaking and listening.
Time: approximately 2 hours.
Materials: student handouts (from this lesson) access to news article, and video.
Objective: Students will examine the 6 possible changes in the curriculums of American universities proposed by Lawrence Summers. . They will decide whether these changes would help the current college student. Students will also practice reading, speaking, writing and listening skills
I. Pre-Reading Tasks
1. Analyze headings and photos.
Directions: Have students read the title of the post, and of the article. Next have them analyze the photos to see if they can predict what information the article will discuss. Then based on this information, direct students to make a list of ideas, words and phrases they might find in this article.
B. Stimulating Background Knowledge:
Directions: Using the brainstorming technique, have students build a list of the words and ideas connected to the following terms:
university, curriculum, secondary schools, campus, education.
2. Pre-reading Discussion Questions: Directions: Have students discuss the following questions regarding the universities in their countries, or if they attend a university in this country.
1. Are you content with your current classes?
2. Are technology based materials used in any of the classes you take, (e.g., computers, e-books, video-lectures) if so describe them. If not, would you be interested in having them in a particular class?
3. Describe one of your classrooms. Does the instructor stand in front of the classroom and lecture to the students? Or is it more of a group exchange?
4. Are there many collaborative projects in your classes, or are students evaluated on individual effort?
II. While Reading Tasks
1. Word Inference
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold (taken from the article) and use a dictionary or thesaurus for assistance.
- A paradox of American higher education is this…
- The expectations of leading universities do much to define what secondary schools teach, and much to establish a template…
- Students are evaluated on the basis of examination essays handwritten in blue books and relatively short research papers.
- A vast majority of students still major in one or two disciplines centered on a particular department.
- It may be that inertia is appropriate.
- Nonetheless, it is interesting to speculate…
- This is a consequence of both the proliferation of knowledge — and how much of it any student can truly absorb…
- Before the printing press, scholars might have had to memorize “The Canterbury Tales”…
- This seems a bit ludicrous to us today.
- But in a world where the entire Library of Congress will soon be accessible on a mobile device…
- …factual mastery will become less and less important.
- An inevitable consequence of the knowledge explosion…
- …tasks will be carried out with far more collaboration.
- Yet the great preponderance of work a student does is done alone at every level…
- We are not rational calculating machines… each programmed to be adroit at a particular set of tasks.
- This makes it essential that the educational experience breed cosmopolitanism...
- English’s emergence as the global language, along with the rapid progress in machine translation
- As the “Moneyball” story aptly displays in the world of baseball…
- …to test presumptions and locate paths to success…
Directions: Students are to circle or underline the correct word or phrases from the article. Have them skim the article to check their responses.
- A paradox/ paradigm of American higher education is this…
- The expectations of leading universities do much to defend / define what secondary schools teach…
- Think social networking, guy / gay marriage, stem cells or the rise of China.
- My predecessor / processor as Harvard president, Derek Bok, famously compared the difficulty of reforming a curriculum with the difficulty of moving a cemetery.
- It may be that inertia is appropriate / apposite. Part of universities’ function is to keep alive man’s greatest creations…
- Education will be more about how to process/proceed and use information and less about imparting it.
- For most people, school is the last time they will be elevated/evaluated on individual effort.
- New technologies will profusely/profoundly alter the way knowledge is conveyed.
- Similarly, it makes sense for students to watch video of the clearest/cleverest calculus teacher or the most lucid analyst of the Revolutionary War…
- Not everyone learns/leans most effectively in the same way.
- The world is much more open, and events abroad effect/affect the lives of Americans more than ever before.
- English’s emergency/emergence as the global language, along with the rapid progress in machine translation and the fragmentation of languages spoken around the world…
- … the widespread use of the e-book, or the coming home to roost/rooster of debt problems around the industrialized world…
B. Reading Comprehension
Directions: Students are to complete the sentences from the article with the words or phrases provided in the list.
- The expectations of leading ___do much to ___what secondary schools teach…
- College campuses are seen as the source for ___and for the generation of new ideas, as society’s cutting edge.
- It may be that___is appropriate.
- Education will be more about how to ___and use information and less about ___it.
- Before the___, scholars might have had to memorize ___to have continuing access to them.
- Not GMAT scores or___, but the ability to work with others.
- As articulated by the ___winner Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow…
- This makes it essential that the educational experience breed ___that students have___experiences…
- It seems logical, too, that more in the way of___ be expected of students.
- Courses of study will place much more emphasis on the ___of data.
- As the___ story aptly displays in the world of baseball…
- A good ___for many things in life…
cosmopolitanism, process,printing press, inertia, Nobel Prize, international, language study, analysis, “Moneyball”, rule of thumb, The Canterbury Tales, universities, college transcripts, define, imparting, the newest thinking,
III. Post Reading Tasks
A. Reading Comprehension Check
Directions: Have students use a graphic organizer to assist them with discussing or writing about the main points from the article.
B. Questions for Reflection and Discussion
Place students in groups or as a class, and have them answer the following questions based on the article.
- Think about the curriculum in the university or college that you attend. After reading this article, are there improvements you’d like to see? If yes, describe how they would improve the current curriculum. For example, in number three it states, “New technologies will profoundly alter the way knowledge is conveyed… Think of a music text in which you can hear pieces of music as you read, or a history text in which you can see film clips about what you are reading.”
- Professor Summers makes the following statement, “My predecessor as Harvard president, Derek Bok, famously compared the difficulty of reforming a curriculum with the difficulty of moving a cemetery.” What does this mean? Do you agree with this idea? Explain why or why not.
- With your group members, create a list that reflects your ideal university.
C. Essay Writing
Directions: Have students choose a topic from one of the following and write an essay.
1. Write an essay in which you describe 4 ways American universities can improve their curriculums.
2. Dr. Summers mentioned Nobel Prize-winner Daniel Kahneman, write an essay describing who he is and why he won a Nobel Prize.
3. At the end of the article Dr. Summers states “ A good rule of thumb for many things in life holds that things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then happen faster than you thought they could.” Write an essay in which you explain what this expression means and give examples (other than the one already provided).
IV. Listening Activity
Title of Video Clip: Dr. Lawrence Summers at Schools of Tomorrow Conference
A. Pre-listening Tasks (Vocabulary)
1. Directions: Have students look up the meanings, then listen for these words:
“…maintain the position of pre-eminence?”
“… one could proliferate statistics of that kind.”
2. Have students create a list of words and phrases they think they will hear in the video.
B. While Listening Tasks (Comprehension)
True / /False statements
Directions: Listen to the video and if the statement is true mark it T if it is false mark it F and provide the correct answer.
- Dr. summers begins his talk with a joke about Leonard Bernstein
- According to Dr. Summers people think that economists are good at figures but they don’t have the personality to be accountants.
- People in Mosalsk did not get this joke.
- Dr. Summers stated that he wanted to speak less as an economist and more as an educator and someone who thinks about the future.
- One observation he made was that the battle for American future will be won or lost in American public educational institutions.
- Dr. Summers stated that students should be trained and prepared in is the Science.
- He also stated that American students cannot lag behind other students in the rest of world.
- Twenty years ago Americans were leaders in the number of college graduates.
- Dr. Summers was going to use his iphone to demonstrate a point.
Dr. Summers’ Address at the Herzliya Conference
“Professor Lawrence Summers’ optimistic address of the US and the future of the global economic system at the Herzliya Conference included three main factors which highlighted his prediction that the “American economy will grow by 3.5% this coming year”; the change in where the economy grows from, emerging nations and their effect on the United States as a global leader, and the reason why the US prevails.”
Please come back again.