Lighthouses or Ivory Towers

We often hear critics of higher education describing college life as an out of touch ivory tower. Even students and some faculty and staff describe life after college as the “real world.” This gives the impression that the decisions in college somehow don’t have real consequences. This has consequences.

If institutions of higher education treat students like children, then we will graduate children, and that is a failure of our responsibility – to the students, to their families, and to society. Instead, we should expect students to behave as adults and when they don’t measure up we should hold them accountable and help them learn from those experiences.

Years ago my mother, Carol Edwards, wrote an article about how children’s book shouldn’t shy away from tough topics like neglect, abuse, racism, and more. She argued that children books shouldn’t be an ivory tower that protects them from the harsh realities of the world, because those same children live the harsh realities. Instead, books should be like lighthouses where children can be safe and explore the realities of the world beyond them.

I’ve often thought of this analogy for higher education. We should not protect students from the harsh realities of the world and save them from possible failure at every step of the way. That may be what they are looking for but it is not how we help them learn. Instead, colleges and universities should be places where students can explore and examine the tough decisions they will be making for the rest of their lives. Perhaps we should provide additional support to help them learn and not be overwhelmed by the challenges. Much like a lighthouse, but not an ivory tower.

And…we should all listen to our moms.

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