15 December 2010


CELL IMAGE LIBRARY. From the cosmic (yesterday's post) to the microscopic (today's entry) -- MSNBC's John roach announces the presence of an online image library of cells, available to academic and scientific researchers, to medical practitioners, and to the inquisitive public. The database "will make it possible for scientists to compare different cell types online and understand the nature of specific cells and cell processes, both normal and abnormal." It will also "serve as a tool to teach the basics of disease," and also "serve as a publicly accessible educational resource for anyone interested in the wonders of cell biology .... a science class without the stress of a pending exam." Here is the link to the cell image library.

As an undergraduate in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, one of my core curriculum classes was indeed Cell Biology, lecture and lab. I thought I was reasonably well informed at the outset, but soon realized that there are entire microworlds of which I'd been unaware. It is a fascinating area of biology, and one which any lay person can grasp. (NOTE -- the image above shows mitochondria, the source of chemical energy within a cell. The image below shows the fine structure of a neuron, or nerve cell. Click on any image to enlarge.)

DEVALUING HIGHER EDUCATION. Stanley Fish writes on education, law and society in the NYTimes. In The Value of Higher Education Made Literal, he brilliantly brings to our attention a developing trend in Britain and the U.S. -- choosing or eliminating course of study based not on their cultural worth to our society, but rather on their financial worth for the individual student. The inevitable result will be the dumbing-down of a broad, liberal education, and I stand foursquare against it. To water down or eliminate the humanities (ancient and modern languages, literature, law, history, philosophy, religion, visual arts, performing arts, anthropology, cultural studies) is to water down or eliminate both our past and our future. As Fish describes it, "The logic is the logic of privatization. Higher education is no longer seen as a public good -- as a good the effects of which permeate society -- but is rather a private benefit .... There is no recognition of the value of learning; quality is a measure nowhere referenced; civilization, as far as one can see, will have to take care of itself."

Such a view of a university education, in which future income is seen as the prime measure of a course's value, replacing the broadening and deepening of the individual mind, strikes me as being not merely shallow and crass, but verging on post-apolcalyptic. Have we truly devalued the liberalism of The Age of Enlightenment (described as "a philosophy of education that empowers individuals with broad knowledge and transferable skills, and a stronger sense of values, ethics, and social engagement .... characterized by challenging encounters with important issues, and more a way of studying than a specific course or field of study") -- only to replace such Rennaisance thinking with the almighty profit motive?

If we have, it is a sad day for the human race.

1 comment:

  1. Dear RYS -

    I'd like to obtain permission to use one of the photos you have in this article (the picture of the neuron). Can you contact me? David.Davin@gmail.com Thank you.