Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Education (MEd)



First Advisor

Robert Nash

Second Advisor

Katharine Shepherd


Introduction and Purpose

Institutions of higher learning have been a bulwark against regression for centuries and have safeguarded the knowledge of our past so that we may learn from it, and are not doomed to repeat it. These remarkable establishments at once serve to broaden our scope of worldly perception, as well as specializing us so that we may find our particular niches in an ever complexifying society.

Attending a college or university has often become expected. An undergraduate degree is increasingly being seen as an essential ingredient in the mixture needed for success. This is due to many factors. To the realm of business, a college degree is just another statistic that companies can use to further insulate themselves from risk. Our culture’s perpetual desire for status may be another factor; if everyone else seems to be attaining this new plateau, how can I allow myself to be left out? Humans want to expand the way they see the world. It is this notion of going to the academy to learn how to think, rather than simply to imbibe new information, that is imperiled. Within institutions of higher learning, there is a reverence placed upon the great minds of the past. It is Isaac Newton who said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” It is for this reason students are encouraged to look backward and reflect before they set their eyes on the path ahead. The question we must ask is, have we gone too far?

Overview and Mechanics of the Current Academic Paradigm

What does it mean to go ‘too far’? Many would argue: How can we overstate the importance that these remarkable people and ideas have had on education? The problem is not that we encourage students to reflect upon the past before moving forward, but that the academy as a whole stifles the creativity and unique expression of those students by indirectly telling them they can never hope to measure up to that gilded past. This stifling is all too easy to miss. The issue arises when an institution dogmatically requires students to rely on the knowledge and great thinkers of the past, as opposed to leveraging them.

Impact of the Current Academic Paradigm

Were these moments interspersed sparingly throughout an academic career, there would be no issue. But because of the constant inundation of these messages, an undercurrent forms. You're not good enough on your own. Your ideas don't matter. You’ll never be as accomplished as those who came before you. This is the message we are sending to our students when we force them to constantly rely on and prioritize the works of those who have come before them. We are telling them that they are not enough by themselves, and that their own ideas, even if they may be influenced by reflecting on the past’s great minds, are still vastly inferior by default. In doing so, we are failing our young knowledge seekers.

Proposed Changes

We must shift the current paradigm of the academy to place the focus on the ideas and thoughts of the students themselves. The classroom must move towards experiential learning, and further from an almost absolute focus on the past. This will give students essential confidence in their own ideas and minds. We have to remember to tell students that they one day can become giants themselves.

Research Methodology

The research for this thesis consisted of: interviews with various members of the academy, and my observations as a facilitator of a discussion group among students, faculty, and staff. I examined these experiences to determine: if this phenomenon presents itself, what shapes it takes, its impacts on the academy, and what can be done to mediate those impacts. This forms the body of my research.


The audience for this thesis is the current professoriate of the academy.



Number of Pages

61 p.

Included in

Education Commons