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I'm a first-year student at a private university in America. One of my classes for my first semester is essentially our English General Education requirement - it's called "Rhetoric & Composition". However, the class completely surpassed my expectations of the depth of discussion that would be had - we are learning a lot about research, academic integrity, academic "conversations" and professional mediums like academic journals and papers.

In our first unit we wrote rhetorical summaries of a few articles, our second unit had us researching different areas of health in refugee camps - a specific research area. Now, in our third unit, we're really delving into research - focused on the subject of cosmopolitanism vs. patriotism.

Our professor started today with a presentation on research in general - showing us the process of discovery, how researchers commit their lives to just a few academic ideas and submit their new perspectives on the world for ruthless critique by their peers... It was a very eye-opening discussion on how the real world works, where our cultural and scientific ideas come from, and why I'm even here, at college.

My question is... why did it take me eighteen years to receive this discussion? Why did our education system wait until adulthood to tell me these things: how ideas are discovered, why people go to graduate school...

Frankly I think education on "academia" should be a big part of your primary schooling. Ask an elementary schooler what they want to be when they grow up, and you'll probably get an answer of "firefighter" or "astronaut" or "doctor". Ask any high-schooler and most won't be able to tell you, because they know those easy answers aren't what they want but they don't know how most other professions work: as many as 75% of college students enter undecided on a major or change their major at least once. If we educate students on how academia works, where new knowledge comes from, they can start developing a well-informed decision on their career - whether it be in research or applying knowledge to a profession.

Our present high school english classes largely educate us on classic and modern literature - both fictional and non-fiction narratives or other types of creative works. Why not provide a better balance with academic english? Showing youth how degree-professions really work could inspire more to pursue higher education as opposed to stopping after high school because "why should I continue learning this boring literature and math and history when I could just go get a job and pursue my hobbies?" (Which is not a bad way to lead a life - but if someone has academic potential, we shouldn't be discouraging them like this.)

My aim with this question is primarily to open discussion about it, but I still think it's suitable for the stack exchange format. An accepted answer would look like an actual discussion/debate/set of arguments from political bodies or researchers or really anything that's established, but I like the idea of opening the discussion because all insights are valuable.

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    I cannot come up with anything that will fully encompass the questions you raise, but I have some comments. Firstly, changing major is not bad. It provides a broad vision otherwise unattainable, and allows you to use the methods you learned in major X in your new quest to the lands of major Y. Secondly, telling people, including high school students and undergraduates, about how research is made is no doubt valuable, but this knowledge is usually conveyed through public lectures (what we call a science popularization), not through school subjects. – svavil Oct 29 '15 at 21:14
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    This might sound a bit disappointing, and I am not claiming that providing no information about academia is the optimal solution, but I can imagine that many people outside of academia would agree with something like the following reasoning: Only a part of all students in secondary education proceed to a type of college, and only a part of those to a research-oriented type of college such as a university. Among those, only a fraction intend or decide to get anything but the not-so-research-related degrees of Bachelor and Master. As such, overall, the inner workings of academia are directly ... – O. R. Mapper Oct 29 '15 at 21:26
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    ... relevant only to a niche group, while most students will be better served by learning about a whole bunch of other professions (for which various opportunities for having a preliminary taste are provided during secondary education, at least in some countries). While I regularly regret that people who acquired only an industry-oriented degree like a Master often have little to no idea how research or academia works, I am aware the idea of providing more information about the specifics of academia might be unpopular with so many other professions wanting to tell about themselves, too. – O. R. Mapper Oct 29 '15 at 21:26
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    You might be disappointed to learn this, but you are receiving far more education about how academia works than the vast majority of undergrads. The closest I had was a "how to write a paper and give an academic talk in one specific subject" class with none of the background about academia in general, and this was the best that could be mustered from a school dedicated to nothing but research (half of alums went to grad school). – user4512 Oct 30 '15 at 0:18
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    Further to what @O.R.Mapper writes: I am in industry, my wife is in academia. Sometimes our discussions are eye-opening for both of us. I by now (think I) have a pretty good idea about academia, but there are vast swaths of how business & industry operates that she has little idea about. All of this could usefully have been covered in secondary education. However, there simply is a limit to how much knowledge you can impart to the average high schooler in twelve years, and the educational consensus is not to go into details for either business or academia. – S. Kolassa - Reinstate Monica Oct 30 '15 at 7:40
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In terms of work:

Because the world is gigantic and varied and for all its intriguing features, academia is only a small part of it.

Think about your high school cohort and where they ended up. Some of them are seeking a baccalaureate degree. Many aren't. Some of the latter group are in trades, others working retail or food-service, others health or other personal service, others finance, and so on. The number that will even so much as consider a career in academia is tiny; the number that will actually achieve one even smaller. Why, then, privilege academic work?

In terms of information sources:

I do think it would be worthwhile for more high-school-age students to be taught a little epistemology ("how we know what we know") with specific reference to academic research. This happens to some extent with science fairs and National History Day and so on, but more would be welcome!

Again, though, academic research is only one information source among many... and given how much of it is paywalled away from everyone who isn't a career academic, what's the point of making a big deal out of it to people who mostly won't ever have access to it?

  • While I cannot assess how far "science fairs" or "National History Day" provide information on academic research (being familiar with these terms exclusively from American tv shows), +1 for the rest of your answer and especially for thinking of how most people do not even have passive access to many publications, at least not the easy way. – O. R. Mapper Oct 29 '15 at 21:49
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    Epistemology ("what can we know", not "how do we know what we know") is a central and obligatory subject in the International Baccalaureate system (international high school system). Though it's called 'Theory of Knowledge' rather than epistemology itself. – David Mulder Oct 29 '15 at 23:50
  • Upvoted for the very relevant reference to epistemology, a significant part of any good education system. – Ng Oon-Ee Mar 5 '18 at 2:37
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Sometimes we do teach these concepts to younger students. In my opinion, it works. "Early college" is a growing trend. Simon's Rock College is an example that offers what you describe, under the name of "Freshman Seminar", to younger students.

To rephrase your question, why are these opportunities not available to all students? The answer is underinvestment of prestige and money in education. Few primary and secondary institutions possess expertise in academia. And some students from tertiary institutions may never learn where ideas come from.

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