A.C. Grayling with beverage,
by bowbrick via Flickr
[Updated 5 June 2011: A.C. Grayling involved in establishing new College of the Humanities in London.]
The English philosopher A.C. Grayling seems to produce a book or two every year, about things I can't comprehend. For example, is philosophical realism more epistemological than metaphysical, as a construct for understanding the relationship between one's mind and the world? Uh, let me get back to you on that, Dr. Grayling.
But every once in a while, Grayling produces something that many people can understand. In his 2010 book, Ideas That Matter: The Concepts That Shape the 21st Century, Grayling has compiled "a personal dictionary of ideas" that he finds worth examining, and suggests themes that will dominate political, economic and intellectual debate in the coming decades.
Last year, The American Scholar featured a dozen critical themes proposed by Grayling (not all of which are in his book), and among them I found five themes with direct, and potentially monumental, implications for higher education. Note: One of Grayling's constructs is education itself, which he covers in about nine pages, but it seemed a bit too meta to state here that education has long term implications for education.
I've listed the other five below with my own brief comment on their relevance. This is obviously a too-brief treatment of critical topics, but I'm curious how others see these topics in the context of higher education in the coming decades.
1. The Internet
Grayling calls the web "the largest graffiti-scrawled toilet wall in the universe," but its potential to transform education is vast. In fact, it has already done so. One remarkable thing about digital and electronic developments is that they are so new, in historical terms. We're at the absolute beginning of digital technology's influence over education (and everything else). Not all technical achievements are desirable, obviously, but they can open the door to more effective ways of doing things we've long tried to do (such as educating each other and ourselves).
Grayling's prescription for dealing with China's lack of democratic instruments and questionable human rights record is weak: "the rest of the world should continue encouraging it to practice good statehood." OK, sure. But consider China's economic and population growth, the public Westernization of certain aspects of its society, and its increasing (but so far, tenuous) links with Western institutions. These mean that many or most global education brands will try to place China securely in the forefront of their international strategy.
[Many global education brands will try to place China in the forefront of their international strategy.]
Grayling focuses on the social outcomes of large-scale African and Middle Eastern migration to Europe. The international flow of students is recasting institutional definitions of what it means to be a "global" university. In fact, nobody yet knows what it means, and the moment that someone figures it out, the definition will change. Either way, increased international student mobility has implications for marketing and recruiting, fundraising and alumni relations, and competition across national borders and regions.
Grayling points out that print news media are "struggling to survive" as the written word shifts to digital form. He doesn't say why we need printed media – did people say that the horse-drawn wagon was "struggling to survive" 90 years ago? Or was it obviously obsolete?
[Did people say that the horse-drawn wagon was "struggling to survive" 90 years ago? Or was it obviously obsolete?]
Either way, digital storage and transmission of information (and its accessibility and portability) are wreaking havoc on traditional models of educational publishing and, yes, on retailing too. Campus bookstores house fewer and fewer printed books, and more and more gadgets for reading the books in their new incarnation: the digital volume.
On the heels of describing the downfall of printed news, Grayling points out that "the fashion for all things retro is already growing, and that is not a bad trend." Is "not bad" the same thing as "good"? Grayling doesn't say. But one thing seems likely: the past will be romanticized by anyone suffering from "retromania," just as people seem to think that "information overload" is a product of the digital age (it isn't). Who knows, maybe printed books will come back into style briefly, as an affectation of youth – like the cigar, the martini, the ironic fedora, and swing dancing.
Are Grayling's trends important to education?
What aspects of their importance have I neglected?
Leave a comment.
(And for more of Grayling's opinions about education and how the Internet affects it, see his book Thinking of Answers: Questions in the Philosophy of Everyday Life. See links below.)