Saturday, April 4, 2015

Academic Madame Librarian With a Weekend Thirsty On Learned Helplessness.

Can I tell you about A? She showed up in my Wombat style guide workshop with an older woman who turned out to be her mother. I thought, based on this fact, that she was one of our many dual enrolled high school students.

But she is not. She is 20, with a host of learning disabilities, and a whopping hunk of helplessness. Her mother told me this, in an impassioned whisper, after I suggested that Mom should let A, who was sitting back, not taking notes, and not asking questions, do the work on her own.

I thought that this was an overzealous helicopter mom, and that A would learn the stuff on her own. I... think I was wrong.

She's been into the library every day this week, and we work together for at least 20 minutes. Last night, she spent two hours bouncing back and forth from the reference desk to the table where she was working, and managed to write about two paragraphs.

She can't seem to get past copying out of the book. The information she copies is only vaguely related to the topic. She can't seem to retain information. She seems, despite some really SOLID scaffolding on my part, unable to analyze information. She can't hold the research question we came up with together (ok, I walked her through this part, by asking leading questions that would get me thrown out of a courtroom) in her head for the time it takes to write a paragraph.

She wants to be a social worker, but she hates school (with justification! She can't do the work!). She was working at a store in the local mall, and seemed to do well enough at it, before her mom made her quit. Her dad wants her to get a college degree.

Part of me really wants to find a way to call her parents, and tell them to stop pushing her to do college. Unless something changes, or she can find a way to work around her learning issues, college is a waste of everyone's time.

I've only had this happen once before, and that woman was a grown adult, living on her own. Just...

Q: What now?

16 comments:

  1. I had a high school student a few years ago with a neurological disorder that made it impossible for her to process information aurally. If she couldn't see words, she couldn't retain the info. The college-preparatory private school told me that I had to "provide subtitles for my lessons" in order to accommodate her learning "difference". I teach in the humanities. Seminar-style, mostly. There was no way to accommodate her without turning the class into a scripted lecture (though today, there may be some speech-to-text tech solutions that would probably help).

    Anyway, she was a great kid, being pushed by all the adults around her into a college track that was doomed to be a painful disaster. She was, though, a wiz at anything mechanical or electronic. If she could see it and work on it, she could diagnose and fix it quick as a wink.

    I remember sitting in a meeting with the administration and learning specialists about her and mentioning her mechanical skill and suggesting that we at least help her see and maybe pursue some educational and career options more appropriate and rewarding for her than the traditional college path. Every single adult in the room was stunned. They acted like I'd just cracked the Enigma code, coming up with this amazing insight about the kid's abilities. She was in tenth grade and had been at the school since kindergarten and it hadn't occurred to anyone that there were options other than college for her. I don't know what she ended up doing, because I left that job after a year on account of the higher-than-average amount of administrative dumbassery.

    Your student will flunk out and it will be awful and she'll feel like a failure. There's nothing you can do other than helping her to see that there are other places where she can thrive. And we can all help by calming the fuck down about college being some magic bullet that's going to make everything ok for everyone.

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    1. If any student would benefit from online learning, Surly, yours would.

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    2. Yes, luckily, we have an assortment of good technical programs. The councilor did promise to try and direct her towards another option.

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  2. Wow! I think, all you can do is try to get some of the disability services people involved in some way and tell them what you have told us. But if her parents are dead set on a college degree and they support her (financially) I am not sure that they can do anything. So very sad!

    I tell people all the time that not everyone needs to go to college, but everyone needs a skill of some sort. Not everyone is "made" for college...

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    1. Well, matters are complicated because we are a very small college, but I did touch base with the councilor who hands both disabilities and this particular student. She didn't have a ton of ideas, but was glad (happy is the wrong word) that I was telling her what I was seeing. A further complication is that she has done all the remedial classes, passed, and so on paper looks able to do college work. But she is not. and I'm starting to think that the family has been ghost writing the work for her, because on her own, I can't imagine she would have passed.

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  3. I often disagree with much of what Marty Nemko says, but he has some good insights on this issue. Have a look a his web page.

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    1. I took a look, but was having trouble wading through the archives. Any specific recommendations?

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    1. The scary thing to me is that she got this far. And the things she is having trouble with are so far out of my area of expertise...

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  5. What everybody else said. Some people just don't belong in college, and, although it may sometimes be possible for a parent to shepherd them through the degree somehow, it really isn't doing the prospective student/graduate any favors. It sounds like this young woman has had some success at one job, which suggests she has some of the soft skills (showing up, exercising basic judgment/emotional control/interpersonal skills, etc.) necessary to do so. She also has an ambition -- to be a social worker -- which probably isn't reasonable given her deficits (social workers do need to be able to read and write quite well, I'm pretty sure), but which suggests she may have some idea of what she would like her work life to involve (helping people? working with a particular age group?). For better or for worse, there is plenty of helping/caregiving type work available to people without college degrees. It's generally not well-paid, but it is crucial, and if she's able to be reliable and responsible in a non-school setting, she might make a very good day care worker or health aide or something along those lines. If she's truly responsible and able to make good decisions on her own, she might even be able to make somewhat more decent money by contracting directly with employers for doing such work in-home. If she needs more structure, then she's probably going to be a low-wage worker in a facility of some sort. That's not a lucrative career, but it can still be a satisfying one.

    It's also possible that, now or later later in life, she might be able to get something out of at least some college classes that speak directly to her interests. If so, I hope that opportunity could be made available to her (even on a no-credit/audit basis). But that still doesn't mean that she should try to get a college degree, or that anybody, including her, should waste a great deal of time trying to help her meet that unrealistic goal.

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    1. These are some good ideas, and if she stops by again this week, maybe I can work those into the conversation.

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  6. So many parents believe the only path is college that students not suited for the task get blown through our doors. And the entire industry has adapted, trying to make everyone fit whether they do or not.

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  7. Enter Mike Rowe* and John Ratzenberger,** two smart guys using their celebrity to revive the skilled crafts as respectable and satisfying careers.

    *http://profoundlydisconnected.com/foundation/
    **http://www.thisiscarpentry.com/2011/11/04/interview-john-ratzenberger/

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    1. I agree that the lack of respect for skilled trades is a major problem, and one I try to counteract as much as I can.

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  8. I'm actually facing similar situations with a few students -- similar in the sense that they are not cut out for my program at their current level of preparation and/or accommodation. Experience has taught me that it's typically the former, but in case it's the latter I'm equally covered by always recommending that they visit the director of student services. The SS office includes academic and psychological support, the disability coordinator, and career counseling.

    When I meet with them, I give my students tips for how to up their game in my program, and emphasize that it's OK if whilst in the program they change their minds about what they'll do when they finish. But I stop short of outright telling them they won’t make it in a particular career path. I can hear it now: "Proctor Hep is a bad person cuz he told me that I’m never going to be a tire inflation specialist and I should be an exhaust gas analyst instead, but I have dreamed of being a TIS since I was a kid and he made me so upset that I went and failed the final and now I'll never be a TIS and it's all his fault!" Never mind that they also bombed all the midterms and needed a 99% on the final to even pass the course, and let’s not even get into the national qualifier exam that they will also fail. But back to the point, I typically lack enough information about their other skills and passions to competently suggest alternatives, thus I feel it's best for all that they have those kinds of conversations with the nice folks at career counseling who can ask certain probing questions without the conflict of interest that could be ascribed to me.

    I do bluntly tell them what competencies they'll need to demonstrate to complete my program and to gain entry into the next level, if their chosen path happens to continue directly from my program. In that case, I'm just the messenger, and I know they'll get the same message anywhere else they look for it. I also ask them to be honest with themselves as to where on the range of mastery to marginal competency their transcript says they are. Among the soft skills needed in the field are the abilities to self-assess, to recognize when the current approach isn't working and readjust if possible, and to cut bait and fish elsewhere when appropriate. There comes a point when persistence in the face of adversity is viewed from outside as inability to accept the inevitable.

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