AMERICAN HIGHER EDUCATION IS FAILING, A Polymath Answer For A 21st Century Renaissance
It is already known that American K-12 education is failing in the global theatre. What most people do not realize, however, is that our university-level institutions are also in a state of free-fall. Findings from national tests in a recent study by the Commission on the Future of Higher Education demonstrate that among recent graduates of four-year colleges, merely 34, 38, and 40 percent were proficient in prose, document, and quantitative literacy, respectively. These numbers reflect the inability of American college and university graduates to compete on the global frontier. Why does America seem to be trending toward academic and innovative failure? Dr. Robert D. Atkinson has recently written, “Colleges are focused on teaching kids content, not on teaching them skills, and too many students are focused on passing the multitude of tests in the multitude of classes they take, rather than really learning.” Essentially, universities are turning out capped and gowned graduates that know a lot of information (at least right before being tested on it) but are clueless about how to apply their knowledge outside of a classroom setting.
America’s failing collegiate educational systems have a potential remedy appearing on the horizon. An exciting development has started taking shape with Project Polymath, a plan for a future university whose goal is to not only usher in a twenty-first century renaissance but to train the new da Vincis to lead it. Dr. Michael Barnathan, Project Polymath founder and noted technology education speaker, makes a strong case for why the United States is the place to launch such a paradigm-shifting endeavor, citing his conviction that “America is the country with the most developed startup and research infrastructure, where polymath graduates can find the greatest amount of support for turning their inventions and projects into world-changing businesses and research.”
Polymath Foundation is a non-profit 501(c)(3) educational charity. Driven by the passion and vision of a group of professionals across diverse backgrounds and fields of study, it currently has a virtual presence as well as physical presence in New York City; Providence, Rhode Island; and Cleveland, Ohio. Project Polymath boasts strong numbers despite its fairly young incubation period: they currently have 1034 registered students, with 68% of those students being from the United States. Clearly, American students value the vision that Project Polymath seeks to advance. Project Polymath’s chief desire, as expressed in their mission statement, is “to promote a second Renaissance in the arts, sciences, and humanities and to unlock and reaffirm the full creative and intellectual potential of the individual by providing capable students with an advanced interdisciplinary education, training an unprecedented number of polymaths.” In short, Polymath’s goal is to graduate a perpetually increasing number of students who are capable of creative problem solving, sophisticated practical application of their knowledge, and integration of concepts across a broad range of subjects. A look at past course offerings helps clarify this mission further. Courses offered have included “Data Structures and Algorithms,” “Introduction to the Creative Economy,” “Code Like a Rock Star,” and “Functional Neuroimaging and Digital Diagnosis.” Future courses planned are “Illusions of Control,” “Interdisciplinary Critical Thinking,” and “Human Factors and Functional Aesthetics.” For those who are interested in testing their own “polymathic waters,” talks have also been offered, the most popular being “How to Learn Everything: Learning Skills for Becoming a 21st Century Renaissance Person.”
Project Polymath has garnered support from a variety of sources. The Brain Sciences Foundation has partnered with Project Polymath to launch a multidisciplinary gathering of the world’s leading neuroscientists, psychologists, computational biologists, and artificial intelligence researchers with a focus on curing intractable neurological diseases. A reputable charity organization has also joined forces with Project Polymath and offered a large amount of classroom space as well as access to their partner institutions of Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Clinic, and Harman-Kardon, Inc., from which industry collaborations could be launched and provide a source of faculty and students. The Polymath Foundation has also been awarded a Google Grant from the popular search engine, which provides $10,000 a month in free AdWords advertising.
The future of education will be a hard-fought battle as Americans are forced to ask what types of thinkers and problem solvers are necessary to sustain the level and expectations of innovation in the emerging creative economy. American industry leaders and research facilities will need to make crucial choices as they begin to deeply contemplate what will make the country not only sustainable but competitive in the global economy. Will America turn out post-secondary graduates that know not only what to think, but also how to think? Is now perhaps when the time is most ripe, and America is most ready, for a massive paradigm shift as it nurtures and trains the future renaissance men and women of our world?
If you would like more information about this topic, or to schedule an interview with Michael Barnathan please call 732-328-8268 or email Dr. Barnathan at: email@example.com