“Bildung” – The Cultural Underpinnings of the Modern Research University

The debate about the future of the university has traditionally been formulated as a dichotomous battle between “idealists”,  or self-protecting groups of “research freedom”-loving academics, who fight under the flag of Humboldtian values, and the “market”-oriented policy makers and reform minded people, who fight with entrepreneurial spirit and Schumpeterian wit.  And of course there are the disruptive innovators, say a Khan Academy, or MOOCs, who provide new ideas, new prospects, but also raise the overall entropy of the already chaotic educational system. In all, never has been the educational scene more turbulent and more diverse. It is both an exciting and a daunting time for those who are at the helm of universities.

I have always loved the middle ground though. I am an ally of innovation and market-oriented participation, yet I think it worth some time to slow down from time to time and explore some of the underlying values and cultural underpinnings.

I have been reading this interesting book on the concept of self-cultivation or ‘bildung’ which can be said to be one of the foundational concepts of the German University, and thus the modern research university (though there are some contending voices whether the ‘role model’ assumption holds).

 

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