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College of Arts and Sciences

Dean's Blog

Point and Counterpoint

June 6, 2013

By: Mary Anne Fitzpatrick

I received some interesting feedback on my recent blog post on the conference I attended at the University of Michigan about the future of the liberal arts.

At issue is some research conducted at the University of Chicago.  One of my senior scholars in the humanities, a noted professor of film and media arts, disagreed with the point made about the attenuation of the abstract cognitive processing abilities of this generation of students because of their reliance on media and not texts

 Here is the argument of my colleague, Mark Garrett Cooper 


I agree that adolescents need to develop their analytical abilities to read and understand complicated texts. I disagree with the implication that their underdevelopment in this particular can be laid at the doorstep of media that are not textual.

Throughout the twentieth century, both K-12 and postsecondary curricula typically equated learning with the ability to manipulate textual information. Meanwhile, media developed ever more sophisticated, complex, and pervasive ways to deliver audio-visual information. Educators often saw opportunities to engage and collaborate with media industries, but more often they justified their mission by opposing it to that of "media."   Rather than conceiving the problem as one of remediating reading skills, I think we should be looking at this larger picture. Improving student's analytical abilities might better begin with asking them to think through the media they daily encounter than with demonizing it.


And I am happy to report that Professor Mark Cooper is writing a book on this topic with co-author, John Marx. They blog on their research in progress, the humanities and higher education in general at

Read Previous Posts By Dean Fitzpatrick.