Saturday, May 17, 2008

Last Resort Colleges: The Basement of the Ivory Tower

I'm not exactly sure what the Atlantic editors were hoping to accomplish with their story from the June edition, "In the Basement of the Ivory Tower."

The story's about students at "small private" and community colleges, where most of those in attendance are of the second chance variety - and the third, fourth, and beyond. I was expecting some shocking expose, seeing as the article's written by "Professor X," an instructor who apparently wants to speak out about the "dark side" of college instruction without placing her teaching position at risk. But this piece is not only tame in its expository promise, it's a retread of a well-told story.

Here's a little from
the article:

I work at colleges of last resort. For many of my students, college was not a goal they spent years preparing for, but a place they landed in. Those I teach don’t come up in the debates about adolescent overachievers and cutthroat college admissions. Mine are the students whose applications show indifferent grades and have blank spaces where the extracurricular activities would go. They chose their college based not on the U.S. News & World Report rankings but on MapQuest; in their ideal academic geometry, college is located at a convenient spot between work and home....

The goal of English 101 is to instruct students in the sort of expository writing that theoretically will be required across the curriculum....

Remarkably few of my students can do well in these classes. Students routinely fail; some fail multiple times, and some will never pass, because they cannot write a coherent sentence.
These passages are probable the most important in the essay, but the notion that students are barely able to write is no surprise to teachers at community college, where I teach, and certainly around most schools everywhere else in the United States.

Recall the other day
I wrote about Professor Steven Aird at Norfolk State University, who was fired for failing too many students. The university would not comment on his case (see the article, from Inside Higher Ed), but the spokeswoman did say this:

Something is wrong when you cannot impart your knowledge onto students. We are a university of opportunity, so we take students who are underprepared, but we have a history of whipping them into shape.
Norfolk State University's a "historically black college," and it turns out that just 20 percent of the student body is capable of performing university-level academic work.

In California community colleges, the overwhelming majority of students need remedial education, but with open enrollment many of the most demanding classes in history, political science, psychology, and so forth, are open for all to enroll. I'm often pleased to have students who would be just fine at Berkeley or UCLA, but the range of abilities is astounding, and it's not an understatement to say a great bulk of my charges just can't read, and thus they can't possibly do all the "higher order" thinking that's the rage with assessment-driven administrators and outside accreditation agencies.

In any case, as far as "Professor X" is concerned, perhaps the Atlantic editors are surrounded by so many Harvard graduates (like Ross Douthat and Matthew Yglesias) that they haven't really thought too much about the real trenches of education. Or if they do (Sandra Tsing Loh did write
an awesome article for the magazine on California's public schools a couple of months back), it's all theoretical, removed from everyday experience. To offer feature stories on the "basement of the ivory tower" is to assuage the guilty sensibilities of their elite liberal readership (I'm left to wonder so much, at least).

All is not lost, though. The story's online version has some cool links to older Atlantic education articles, for example, James Byrant Conant's, "
Education for a Classless Society," from May 1940!

That's pretty cool. There's a couple of other good ones as well.

But still, Allen Bundy, an emeritus professor of English from my college, has argued that community college instructors should not consider themselves professors at all (see "
Basic Skills Problems at Community Colleges"). They're remedial coaches, for the most part, and the job of the two-year college faculty should be to teach basic skills instruction for the lumpen students who enroll in our classes.

Here's Bundy in another article, "
California's Exit Exam: An "F" for Education":
Almost 47,000 California high school students will not receive diplomas this year because they failed an exit test designed in 2004 designed to measure standards that would insure graduates' diplomas had substance. Of that number almost 21,000 are non-native speakers and about 28,000 are poor.

Although the issue is incredibly complicated, what the test failure demonstrates is the magnitude of the problem in states like California that are faced with educating non-native and dialect English speakers....

Problems with language in our students is not a surprise for me As a community college English teacher in California, I have witnessed, over the past 35 years, changes in the speaking and writing skills of almost all high school graduates who came to me for "college" instruction.

In fact, one of the reasons I retired so soon (at fifty-eight-years-old after thirty-five years as a full-time instructor at the college) was that my students did not have the ability to read, write, or think at a level expected of a two-year college student, and I found that I could make only a limited contribution to their success.
It's not just community colleges, or "private" institutions.

The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a piece recently entitled, "
America's Most Overrated Product: the Bachelor's Degree." The basic point? College education is has been devalued by the democratization of the halls of higher learning:

Today, amazingly, a majority of the students whom colleges admit are grossly underprepared. Only 23 percent of the 1.3 million high-school graduates of 2007 who took the ACT examination were ready for college-level work in the core subjects of English, math, reading, and science.
So readers can see why I question the editorial judgment of the powers that be at the Atlantic.

But perhaps all is not lost.

Fareed Zakaria, in his recent piece, "
The Future of American Power," praised higher education in the U.S. as "the country's best industry." He's right, in the aggregate, but his point about "deep regional, racial, and socioeconomic variation" across the nation's educational system is probably a more daunting problem than the those evincing elite-level optimism can possibly understand.


Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

徵信,徵信網,徵信社,徵信社,感情挽回,婚姻挽回,挽回婚姻,挽回感情,徵信,徵信社,徵信,徵信,捉姦,徵信公司,通姦,通姦罪,抓姦,抓猴,捉猴,捉姦,監聽,調查跟蹤,反跟蹤,外遇問題,徵信,捉姦,女人徵信,女子徵信,外遇問題,女子徵信, 外遇,徵信公司,徵信網,外遇蒐證,抓姦,抓猴,捉猴, 調查跟蹤,反跟蹤,感情挽回,挽回感情,婚姻挽回,挽回婚姻,外遇沖開,抓姦, 女子徵信,外遇蒐證,外遇,通姦,通姦罪,贍養費,徵信,徵信社,抓姦,徵信,徵信公司,徵信社,徵信公司,徵信社,徵信公司,女人徵信,
徵信,徵信網,徵信社, 徵信網,外遇,徵信,徵信社,抓姦,徵信,女人徵信,徵信社,女人徵信社,外遇,抓姦,徵信公司,徵信社,徵信社,徵信社,徵信社,徵信社,女人徵信社,徵信社,徵信,徵信社,徵信,女子徵信社,女子徵信社,女子徵信社,女子徵信社, 徵信,徵信社, 徵信,徵信社, 徵信社,
徵信,徵信社,徵信,徵信社,徵信,徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信,徵信社,徵信, 徵信社,徵信,徵信社,徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 外遇, 抓姦, 離婚, 外遇,離婚,
徵信社,徵信,徵信社,徵信,徵信社,徵信,徵信社,徵信社,徵信,外遇, 抓姦, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信社,徵信,徵信, 徵信,外遇, 抓姦徵信外遇抓姦離婚婚前徵信工商徵信尋人大陸抓姦法律諮詢家暴婚前徵信工商徵信外遇抓姦尋人離婚家暴大陸抓姦感情挽回婚姻挽回大陸抓姦尋人大陸抓姦,徵信,徵信社