The Return of Practice to Higher Education: Resolution of a Paradox

Joseph A. Raelin
  • The Journal of General Education, January 2007, Johns Hopkins University Press
  • DOI: 10.1353/jge.2007.0014

What is it about?

We are witness to a growing paradox in higher education ever since the recognition that one of its primary purposes has become the advancement of professional education. Perhaps the most unrecognized trend in college education in the United States has been the decline in the liberal arts, which purportedly prepare students for moral and civic participation in society. The apprehensiveness of liberal arts exponents notwithstanding, by the start of the 21st century, some two-thirds of college undergraduates had voted with their feet to enroll in professional fields (Brint, 2002). The paradox is that in spite of this rampant professionalization throughout higher education, the provision of professional education has been orchestrated through standard classroom delivery mechanisms that are based on methods associated with liberal arts provision. This methodology has been retained, while in other fields of endeavor, such as social theory, organizational studies, and technology and society, there has been a “practice turn” that has elevated the value of experience as a basis for knowledge. In this article, I shall attempt to elaborate on the history behind this paradox and attempt to resolve it by demonstrating the opportunity now available to higher and general education teachers and administrators in adopting a more practice-oriented approach.

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