Friday, May 13, 2011

We want you to be happy.....and write checks!

Well, the craven venality, even of our most prestigious universities, has hit a new low, we suggest. We've heard tell that at Stanford, an instructor was called onto the dean's carpet for being too critical of students' essays in an English class.  Bad grades are discouraging, and Stanford wants its graduates to carry fond memories (the poor delicate things!).....presumably so they'll want to open their wallets in response to the relentless bleating of their alma mater in the future.

This is paired with two other issues that probably can be called scandalous:
First, our student debt is already higher than our national credit card debts.  Here's a BBC program that documents this problem, asking how often the debt is worth the calling card with degrees after the debtors' names.  Most people go to college because they'll get better jobs (at nice offices where the work isn't very hard), but increased lifetime income (not to mention job satisfaction) need to be weighed against the debt cost.

Second, recent studies have shown what students are doing and learning through their studies.....they're not.  They don't study much, don't read their textbooks, and classes are so entertainment-based (see our opening paragraph) that learning has been shown to be minimal.  We are graduating people who are better at tweeting and texting than putting articulate sentences together.  Grade inflation and degree collecting have become baubles of status jewelry in our society, regardless of whether the jewels are made of paste.

Third, at our prestigious 'research 1' universities, faculty are teaching less, teaching small graduate seminars more, with non-tenured instructors given the thankless task of entertaining the undergraduates (who aren't given a reduction in the tuition we continue to charge relative to the time when faculty actually taught).   Faculty members have become prima donas, like star athletes, highly paid, with all summer off, and little formal responsibility, because their--our--research is so vitally important to human existence (you've noticed how much better our society is than, say, a generation ago, yes?)

There are exceptions of course.  Some faculty actually do try to teach, and challenge their students.  Some students are just plain terrific.  What a pleasure to teach them!

The issues are not naive nostalgia.  It has always been true that most people would rather play than study, that most don't really want to be in class, and most of us are about average (the meaning of the word).  We're not all geniuses or scholars.  The problem is that most don't need a college degree as currently constructed, and flooding universities with students who (in between drinking bouts, all-night encounters, and football games) demand passing grades -- or even A's instead of A-'s -- and in-class entertainment, enlarges classes, waters them down and thus cheats those really talented ones who want to  learn and who can make the most of it.  That's where the problem is most serious in terms of our national future. 

But we're on a path, like lemmings, to the cliff.  Smiling as spectators to this dash to mediocrity, are the Chinese, Indians, and others who seem to still to have some actual educational standards.

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