Tuesday, January 31, 2012

From InsideHigherEd.com.

The Admiring Ignorant
January 31, 2012 - 3:00am
When I first began teaching — as a master’s student, with one section of English composition capped at around 20 students — I was as optimistic and idealistic as you’d probably expect. I was going into the noblest profession, and I was going to make a difference in the lives of young people who might not otherwise learn to appreciate literature or express themselves through writing. Although I was nervous on that first day of classes — sweating in my suit and tie on an unseasonably hot late August day — I was excited nonetheless.  I promised myself that I would inspire my students the way the professors at my beloved alma mater — St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York — had inspired me.
Of course, by then I knew some professors who weren’t so inspiring. I had overheard complaints about student apathy, about administrators who just didn’t get it, about being overworked and underappreciated. One senior professor tried to caution me against academe, telling me that he actually regretted how he’d spent his life. Each year, he warned, the students seemed lazier, the job of teaching them harder. And much less rewarding.
I thought, "Clearly, this is someone who needs to retire to make way for some new, more enthusiastic blood." Specifically, my blood.

7 comments:

  1. There's a bit of the Yaro in William Bradley...

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  2. I have often thought that faculty should be required to take a course in a subject about which they know little or nothing. Chemistry professors should be required to take a course in French, and English faculty a course in statistics.

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  3. I asked the moderator to post this article--so thanks, Moderator!

    One of the themes of CM is that students today behave more poorly, and in lots of different ways, than they did at sometime in the past. Bradley's article provides a valuable corrective.

    I know that CM is a place to vent and that exaggeration is part of the fun, but a little perspective is a good thing, too. Some of us seem to have forgotten what we were like when we were 18 or 19, but Bradley hasn't.

    Of course, not all of us were flakey freshmen, but some--including me--were. One of the things that keeps me sane when I have to deal with some pretty idiotic student behavior is remembering how I was when I was 18.

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    1. Undergraduates certainly were flaky enough when I was one in the '70s. Still, at most universities since then, they have become much worse. This has been documented at book length. See:

      Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa.

      See also Jean Twenge's books.

      If I were to require my students to read more than 40 pages per week, or to write more than 20 pages during the semester, the students would organize and complain. Furthermore, just about any university administration would cave in immediately.

      Did you know that, in college courses on the average in 1969, only 7% of grades were grades of "A," and that 25% were grades of "C"? Any instructor doing that now can, at the very least, expect to be savaged in their end-of-term anonymous evaluations by students, which didn't exist before 1964. Have no doubts: the quality of undergraduate education has suffered greatly since the 1960s, largely because the quality of undergraduates has.

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    2. "ANY instructor [who's an easy grader] can . . . expect to be savaged" [my emphasis].

      I agree that student evaluations don't mean a whole lot. At my school, the campus-wide average (5=excellent) is 4.5. The last time I was officially evaluated in a once-every-three year tenure review process, I got 4.6. My grade distribution pattern has been pretty consistent over the years. I give 'way more Cs and Ds (and a few Fs) than As or Bs.

      While this probably doesn't happen in many colleges, it is true of grades vs. student evaluations in my cc English department--and not just for me, but for most of my colleagues.

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  4. I have often thought that faculty should be required to take a course in a subject about which they know little or nothing. Chemistry professors should be required to take a course in French, and English faculty a course in statistics.

    I think this is an excellent idea. I recently took a course in a subject I knew nothing about, and it was a good eye-opener. Even though I came in already equipped with good study skills and work habits, it was still quite stressful and difficult. It helped me gain empathy for the students I teach, many of whom come to college without any idea of how to learn.

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