In the Basement of the Ivory Tower. #College #Unschooling #Education (via uberlearner)

The adjunct professor here tells us what happens when he flunks a majority of his students. –

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. No one has drawn up the flowchart and seen that, although more-widespread college admission is a bonanza for the colleges and nice for the students and makes the entire United States of America feel rather pleased with itself, there is one point of irreconcilable conflict in the system, and that is the moment when the adjunct instructor, who by the nature of his job teaches the worst students, must ink the F on that first writing assignment.

I share some of these concerns. My persistent gripes about the “necessity” of policemen and firemen having to master college algebra is probably well known locally. A college education is appropriate in many fields but surely we can find a variety of mechanisms(of which a college education is a major choice but not the only choice) by which policemen and other municipal employees can be promoted.

James Pilant

In the Basement of the Ivory Tower. #College #Unschooling #Education The idea that a university education is for everyone is a destructive myth. An instructor at a “college of last resort” explains why.By Professor XJune 2008 Atlantic Magazine     I work part-time in the evenings as an adjunct instructor of English. I teach two courses, Introduction to College Writing (English 101) and Introduction to College Literature (English 102), at a small private college and at a community college. The … Read More

via uberlearner

One-Third of Students Don’t Learn Much in College!! (Part 3-Our Society, Business and the Liberal Arts)

Part 3 of my series on American Higher Education. (Part 1 is here.) (Part 2 is here.)

For those of you who are new to these postings, I include the brief recap below.

From CBS Money Watch –

A new study suggests more than one third of parents aren’t necessarily getting a great return on their investment in their kids’ college education. Two college professors tracked more than 2,300 college students at 24 colleges and universities from their freshman year in 2005 through senior year, testing them along the way to gauge their critical and analytical thinking. According to the authors of a new book based on the study, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, 36 percent of college students did not learn much in the way of those cognitive skills.

But at least that was an improvement over the learning curve through sophomore year: In the first two years of school, 45 percent of college students had no significant improvement in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing.

Part 3 –

We live in a time where thinking “from the gut” is popular. Where the President of the United States (President Bush) can brag about his low grades and get laughs rather than looks of disapproval. This is a country where a likely presidential candidate’s favored means of communicating with her followers are twitter postings seldom more than one sentence long. Does this encourage students to believe that there success is based on the skills acquired in college? Or does it clearly indicate to them that success is based on personality and a fast quip?

There is no more obvious place to find the American contempt for education than the field of science. We live in an era where the government has been censoring scientific data and findings from public web sites and official documents. What’s the message here? If you are learned and you say the wrong things, your writings disappear. What message does that sent to young people entering college? Don’t disagree. Don’t think.

If you want to be on the front lines of the culture wars, indicate a belief in global warming or evolution.  One of the most disgusting public spectacles I have to endure is some person telling another “Look at all the global warming.” whenever it gets cold. If there is anything more indicative of sloppy mindless thinking, there it is. By the time, you can feel global warming in the temperate zones, most of human life has perished. If the most plebian mundane mindless joke preempts years of careful research, does that inspire students to rigorous study?

But the business world wants critical thinkers, don’t they?

Don’t be silly. They want people with a “practical” education. That means business school. Business schools have several functions as far as the business world is concerned. The first is an education in the philosophical doctrines friendly to business operations and profit. The second is what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior in the world of financial endeavor. The third is critical thinking into carefully designated zones: markets, government regulations, banking practices etc.

And we’re not talking about a lot of critical thinking. This is critical thinking in specified areas. Businesses do not encourage thinking outside these areas. It is troublesome to them.

Let me give you an example. I teach business ethics. I was given a variety of business ethics text books to examine for possible use in my class. I went through them, tossed them and wrote my own class. Why? The books offered a pathway to ethical thinking carefully designed to limit choices. There was only a very limited discussion of ethical systems. By avoiding this, the textbooks avoided giving the students ethical choices outside of a few limited ones acceptable to the business world. My introduction of Christian and other moral systems as subjects of discussion in the realm of business ethics was almost revolutionary but long needed.

How do you get critical thinking?

We know how. It’s been embedded in Western culture for six hundred years. It is the kind of education that the founding fathers had. It is the kind of education that has inspired and ennobled human development. It is the kind of education that is the basis of the idea that humans are not limited in station to that of their fathers and that kings do not rule based on authority given by God.

That type of education is called the liberal arts.

There are seven liberal arts, the quadrivium: arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy and the trivium: grammar, logic and rhetoric.

Over time, these have evolved into the study of a separate subjects, philosophy, literature, art, music, English, etc.

These “impractical” subjects are the basis of learning critical thinking skills and living life as a whole human being capable of fulfilling the duties of citizen.

My son’s school gives students money awards for success in early college classes just as long as the classes are in practical subjects not the liberal arts.

I think that illustration sums up business thinking about education in the United States.

So there you have it. Critical thinking. Society despises it. Businesses don’t want it save in small inoffensive pieces and we are no longer interested in teaching the subjects that develop it.

This society wants uneducated, highly emotional bloviators to dominate television commentary. This society wants science as long as it is producing an amusing new game. Once science says something about the beginnings of humanity or the dangers of our country’s addiction to fossil fuels, the Attorney General of Virginia is talking law suit. Business want smooth operations unhindered by dissent and are willing to finance college success only in areas not inclined toward critical thinking.

And what are many of those commenting on these findings saying, “These students are lazy.”

We live in a time and place of such blatant hypocrisy the we can blame the students for the failures of No Child Left Behind, the way undergraduates are taught in universities and colleges, the business community’s preference for vocational teaching and our society’s disdain for learning.

James Pilant

One-Third of Students Don’t Learn Much in College!! (Part 2-The Colleges and Universities)

Part 2 of my series on American Higher Education. (Part 1 is here.)

For those of you who are new to these postings, I include the brief recap below.

From CBS Money Watch –

A new study suggests more than one third of parents aren’t necessarily getting a great return on their investment in their kids’ college education. Two college professors tracked more than 2,300 college students at 24 colleges and universities from their freshman year in 2005 through senior year, testing them along the way to gauge their critical and analytical thinking. According to the authors of a new book based on the study, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, 36 percent of college students did not learn much in the way of those cognitive skills.

But at least that was an improvement over the learning curve through sophomore year: In the first two years of school, 45 percent of college students had no significant improvement in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing.

Let us continue our search for answers. In part one we discussed why students have little experience in critical thinking. Now we take up the question of the colleges and universities.

A simple questions – How can we expect students to learn critical thinking skills in an environment where teaching undergraduates is often little more than an annoyance?

The contempt that universities have for undergraduates is legendary.

For universities, undergraduate students are unimportant. They are cash cows to be milked until due to lack of advisement or any other concern they flunk out or just get bored with being treated like a semi-useful farm animal. The comedic touch of repeatedly telling these students that they pay only a proportion of their college cost is one I particularly enjoy, that university administrators can say it with a straight face suggests thespian training.

To have a brilliant career in a university setting, a professor must evade teaching if at all possible. The university expects research, publications and grants. The professor gives the students who fall into his area of concern to his grad students, masters degree students who in almost all cases have no training in teaching whatever. There are many fine grad student teachers. I have done it myself. But some grad students are not that good.

I have sat with other professors while we exchanged our stories of worst grad student teachers. The stories usually revolved around those grad students inability to speak English, understand their subject or to act normally. The stories always ended the same way. We discuss what they said, how bad the grades were and how many complaints were made. Then the straight man of the group says, “What happened to the grad student after that teaching fiasco?” The story teller pauses for effect and then says, “He was back teaching the next semester.”

But if a professor should teach, industrial techniques are applied. If you can watch the spectacle of one professor teaching an auditorium of 600 to 1,000 students and then believe for one moment that the university has any concern for the teaching of undergraduates, you have a faith that I do not.  Do I have to bring up the cattle analogy?

Then we have the colleges. Intent on maximizing profit, colleges have embarked on out sourcing teaching away from full time instructors to part timers. This is very similar to the use of grad students and once again there are many, many fine adjunct instructors but the statistics are clear, full time professors do a better job of teaching.  (Confession – I am an adjunct instructor.)  This is another piece of evidence that teaching is not considered to be important.

And then there is online teaching. This kind of teaching is a blessing for those who cannot attend regular classes but there is a powerful temptation to use it instead of regular teaching. Why? No classroom, no facilities use, etc., it saves bundles of money. You almost don’t have to have a college.

What are the standards by which a class is determined to be necessary to be taught online? Obviously if you advertise that as many distance learning colleges do, you should expect online teaching. But where is the line when a class is being taught out of a facility with classrooms and facilities? When does online teaching move from necessity to cash cow? Once again, you have to wonder where the importance of teaching is in the calculations.

Universities insist on removing the best of their faculty from teaching. Colleges substitute part time instructors instead of full time. Online teaching is used not out of necessity but to save money. Everyone of these phenomenon makes student learning more problematic. It makes learning the skills of critical thinking and writing more difficult.

If teaching is not important in universities and is done only as much as necessary in colleges, it is inevitable that our students will not do as well as they might.

Next in Part 3: I will explain why our society is uninterested in critical thinking.

James Pilant