CUNYPie returned today after a too-long hiatus with its first trip to Staten Island, where we visited Denino’s. This was a two campus affair, as me and my homeboys from Baruch joined our sisters from City Tech for pies and pitchers, which I’ll get to in a moment. The occasion of our trip to Shaolin was the 8th Annual CUNY Coordinated Undergraduate Education Conference, at which we all presented. There’s lots going on with undergraduate education at CUNY these days, only some of which made it onto the docket at the conference. The controversy around Pathways was a subtext in each of the panels I attended, but was curiously absent in the day’s opening remarks. The general feeling I got from folks was one of resignation that Pathways was probably going to happen, we’ll just wait and see, and then we’ll make the most of it.
The keynote was delivered by Mark Taylor, who presents himself as an expert on “Generation NeXt,” and visits schools and other organizations to help them think about improving student engagement. The pedagogy he espouses consists of familiar stuff: flipped classrooms, active/engaged learning, future orientation, embracing technology (though as an information more than a connective tool), etc. The rationale he offers for this pedagogy is grounded in an analysis of generational difference, supported, as far as I can tell, by his synthesis of a range of secondary sources. Not sure if he does original research, as the papers presented on his site refer entirely to the research of others. We heard a good 30-40 minutes of talk about differences between the Baby Boomers and the generation just behind me, drawn significantly from Jean Twenge, whose work I’m not a fan of. Taylor doesn’t come down as hard as Twenge or Mark Bauerlein on “kids these days,” but rather sees in the generation’s broad characteristics learning styles that need to be adjusted to.
Taylor’s rationale was pretty Domino’s, which is to say, weak sauce. There was a lot of charm and playfulness and “I’m a southern yokel and you’re all New Yorkers” before he got to what he was trying to say. But you don’t have to be a professional historian to know that identifying the broad differences between generations is only the very beginning step towards understanding how higher education needs to evolve in the coming years. And you don’t have to be a CUNY lifer to know that our university serves a particular set of populations, only small segments of which look like the learners Taylor theorizes about. At one point Taylor argued that colleges and universities better adapt or they’ll face disruption from some unidentified, external force. I don’t necessarily disagree with this notion or find it problematic (except for when he likened students to customers). But many of us know this already, and are determined to be that disruption ourselves rather than simply to head it off. In that spirit, Mikhail and Tom and I left Taylor’s talk fifteen minutes early to go get set for our panel. In short, the keynote was a significant step down from Pedro Noguera’s rousing talk at this same event last year. Noguera knew well who we were and who we serve, and used that knowledge to speak directly to our challenges.
But all of this was prelude, prelude to pizza. Denino’s makes a damn good pie, thin but not saggy, with a cornicione that was a bit blistered, chewy, and crispy. We had four pies: a sausage (my fave), a margherita (good, not great), a half olive/half mushrooms (heavy on the olives, and quite strong), and an anchovy (to which I can only say this). The restaurant is a sizable, friendly family joint, and we were very lucky to get a table for ten just before the Friday dinner rush. If I lived on Staten Island, I would definitely be a regular. And it only cost us $13 each!
Big ups to Jody Rosen, who grew up on Staten Island, for picking the spot and then bullying me into writing this post. Only you, Jody. Thanks for organizing the outing and giving me that specific kind of CUNY Pie full and happy feeling again.