Summary of The New Education

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  • Visionary
  • Eye Opening
  • Concrete Examples


Cathy N. Davidson believes that higher education must overcome its 19th-century roots to prepare students for the digital and global workplace. Today’s students won’t be entering factories as workers or managers, and so they require a different set of skills and training. Davidson, a distinguished professor at the City University of New York (CUNY), offers background information on why today’s systems have their roots in an industrial age. She details a shocking legacy of racism and eugenics at the root of many of today’s standardization practices, including IQ tests. Davidson presents examples of new educational models that American community colleges and elite universities are exploring. She concludes with a list of simple techniques colleges can use to shift classrooms toward a more active learning model. She presents a separate list telling students how to get the most out of their education. Her overview provides a useful perspective for any parent of college students or college-bound teens and for those in the business of education who want to make changes but don’t know where to start.

About the Author

Cathy N. Davidson is the founding director of the Futures Initiative and a distinguished professor at the Graduate Center, CUNY. She is the author or editor of 18 books.



Charles Eliot

Charles Eliot established the format for American college education, but students today don’t need the same skills they needed at the end of the 19th century. He studied European universities to learn what might help American colleges flourish as a training ground for future industrial corporate leaders. Eliot visited the University of Berlin, which provided an education in the humanities and the sciences. The university encouraged students to make their own choices of courses and professors to cultivate their independent interests. Its concept of “academic freedom” allowed faculty members to pursue research without concern for the political preferences of administrators or politicians. 

Eliot also studied the French system, which standardized “curriculum, requirements and admissions procedures.” He accepted a job at MIT and in 1869, published an important essay, “The New Education.” In it, Eliot described problems in higher education and presented alternatives that followed his findings. It received enormous attention and led to his job as president of Harvard...

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