In his op-ed “What Does It Mean to be the Best?” (Sept. 20, 2017), David Kane ’88 is right to wonder about how to make the College the best that it can be. But his account of what we mean by “best,” and the changes he recommends to achieve that – such as reducing the pursuit of under-represented minority and low-income students – are based on a dangerously abstract notion of how learning actually takes place.
For instance: I’ve taught Moby-Dick a dozen times as part of a 300-level English course. For the last three years, I’ve also taught the book in the Summer Humanities and Social Sciences (SHSS) program. Without question, the SHSS classes have been better – in fact, they have been some of the most serious and electric courses that I’ve had the privilege to teach. My pre-frosh brought unusual guts and heart, as well as brains, to their work – at times challenging my assumptions, at others finding unexpected resonances between their personal histories and Melville’s. Their diversity of experience was a fundamental resource for what we learned.
I don’t know whether my students had SAT scores of 600, 700 or 800. I never had reason to look. I do know that, for myself and many of my colleagues, SHSS has reaffirmed our sense of why teaching matters.
Kane would do well to pause before prescribing further aggressive changes to admissions policies. I welcome him to sit in on any of my courses, and to see for himself whether those changes would damage or improve the college that we both love.