Thursday, May 15, 2008

In the Basement of the Ivory Tower

Remember that guy, Professor X, Kevin Carey was pissed off at? well here is the article that set him off, along with an excerpt.

In the Basement of the Ivory Tower

I wonder, sometimes, at the conclusion of a course, when I fail nine out of 15 students, whether the college will send me a note either (1) informing me of a serious bottleneck in the march toward commencement and demanding that I pass more students, or (2) commending me on my fiscal ingenuity—my high failure rate forces students to pay for classes two or three times over.

What actually happens is that nothing happens. I feel no pressure from the colleges in either direction. My department chairpersons, on those rare occasions when I see them, are friendly, even warm. They don’t mention all those students who have failed my courses, and I don’t bring them up. There seems, as is often the case in colleges, to be a huge gulf between academia and reality. No one is thinking about the larger implications, let alone the morality, of admitting so many students to classes they cannot possibly pass. The colleges and the students and I are bobbing up and down in a great wave of societal forces—social optimism on a large scale, the sense of college as both a universal right and a need, financial necessity on the part of the colleges and the students alike, the desire to maintain high academic standards while admitting marginal students—that have coalesced into a mini-tsunami of difficulty.
I really don't like the guy, but he tells the truth. Some people simply don't have the capability to do college level work, but do have the capability to imagine themselves as some sort of "feel-good segment on Oprah."

Needless to say, the paper she turned in was a discussion of the pros and cons of gun control. At least, I think that was the subject. There was no real thesis. The paper often lapsed into incoherence. Sentences broke off in the middle of a line and resumed on the next one, with the first word inappropriately capitalized. There was some wavering between single- and double-spacing. She did quote articles, but cited only databases—where were the journals themselves? The paper was also too short: a bad job, and such small portions.

“I can’t believe it,” she said when she received her F. “I was so proud of myself for having written a college paper.
I am not sure how I am meant to feel after I read the article. Unlike Kevin Carey, I don't get pissed off at the state of the K-12 education system. I do feel sorry for Mrs L., the poor middle aged woman in the article who has never operated a computer and can't string together even a decent paragraph. It's heartbreaking when she receives her "F", but at least she had a chance... and if she had a chance, so did the 37 year old enlisted guy who works full time, raises 5 kids, blogs semi-regularly, and just completed 18 credit hours with a 3.83 GPA.


rightwingprof said...

None of these problems can be solved easily, because the university is a great big, bloated bureaucracy, and the issue of underprepared students being admitted is only addressable by the university and the state legislature. One person can't do anything, nor can a department, or even a school or college.

I'm a big fan of voc ed, and I don't understand why it has a bad rep. We need good mechanics, and it's an honorable profession. So why do we as a society think of guys that want to be mechanics as failures? Why does everybody have to go to college?

NYC Educator said...

There was a great op-ed piece in the Daily News about how we've neglected and abused voc. ed. If you haven't seen it, it's worth a look.