Educating for ‘competence’

“Competency-based” education is hot, but what does it really mean? The Christian Science Monitor looks at New Hampshire, a leader in the competency movement.

At Sanborn Regional High in Kingston, N.H, students must be proficient in four “competencies” — concepts and skills — to pass each class. They show their competence through quizzes and tests, projects, portfolios of their work and class performances.

If they fall behind, they’re expected to keep working during flex-periods, where teachers reteach key concepts. Students reflect on and revise their work until they meet expectations. “They take ownership of it,” says Aaron Wiles, an English teacher.

In a freshman Global Studies classes, competencies include understanding the role of conflict and cooperation among individuals and governments and applying knowledge of geography.

For the unit on World War I, teachers divide students into teams representing six fictional Balkan countries. Students create flags and anthems for their countries — and seek alliances covering nonaggression, right of passage, mutual defense, or mutual support.

. . . “I didn’t really know what caused wars,” Brianna (DeRosier) says. “I knew it was conflict, but I didn’t really understand why – I was like, why can’t everybody just get along? But now I understand that there are other parts to it, with the allies, and sneaking around each other’s back.”

The simulation takes several class periods and drives home lessons on nationalism, geography, economics, military strategy, and culture, so when the teachers incorporate the facts of World War I, students can take away more than just a string of events.

Playing Risk in school sounds like fun. Is it worth the time? And how does the teacher judge whether Brianna has achieved competency in understanding conflict and cooperation?

ROTC plus global studies

Columbia University’s faculty senate passed a pro-ROTC resolution Friday. The Army is interested in restoring ties with Columbia. A Navy unit also is a possibility.

Navy ROTC is returning to Harvard.

Stanford’s faculty is reviewing the issue. A student group is rallying opposition to bringing ROTC back on campus on grounds the military discriminates against transgendered people.

Dickinson College in Pennsylvania may expand its ROTC curriculum, if the Army agrees, to include four years of foreign language, cultural immersion, a semester or year’s worth of study abroad and a concentration in global security studies, reports Inside Higher Ed.

The move was inspired by an e-mail from a Dickinson ROTC graduate who majored in Middle Eastern history and now leads an infantry platoon in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan. Talking with village elders, he recited the first chapter of the Koran, which he’d learned in a class.

Soon after, one of the men handed over five small papers which appeared to be “night letters,” or notes left by the Taliban on local mosques or the doors of homes. Typically, such letters urge resistance or threaten violence to those who cooperate with American forces. These, however, were asking for help. “The three letters this man gave to me thus signaled a major shift in Taliban morale in our area of operations, and at the end of the day became very valuable intelligence information,” the unnamed lieutenant wrote.

University president William Durden, a 1971 graduate of Dickinson’s ROTC program,  believes officers need more than training in operations and tactics. “We have young lieutenants running cities.”

The Mellon Foundation is funding partnerships between liberal arts colleges and military institutions of higher education. Dickinson will collaborate with the nearby U.S. Army War College, Bard, Union and Vassar colleges with the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, St. John’s College with the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, and Colorado College with the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Bard and West Point have shared an “odd-couple relationship” for years, said Jonathan Becker, Bard’s vice president for international affairs and civic engagement.

. . . students sometimes attend classes at each other’s institutions, faculty travel to deliver guest lectures, and students and professors from both colleges mix sides to debate political issues.

West Pointers and Bard students have no trouble getting along, Becker said. “Twenty-year-olds enjoy meeting and learning with other 20-year-olds.”