Thomas Bertonneau discusses the reasons why course syllabi have been mushrooming over the years: students are less and less accustomed to academic work, more inclined to complain if things aren't spelled out for them in minute detail, and apt to engage in plagiarism if written assignments are not carefully crafted to militate against it.
A reader who commented on my recent assertion that college doesn’t necessarily teach students good traits like responsibility and perseverance brought to my attention a study released in 2008 finding that “college-bound youth report lower levels of criminal activity and substance abuse during adolescence compared to non-college-bound youth. However, levels of drinking, property theft, and unstructured socializing with friends increase among the college-bound after enrollment at a four-year university, and they surpass the ratesof less-educated peers.” Here’s a link to the study entitled “Juvenile Delinquency, College Attendance and the Paradoxical Role of Higher Education in Crime and Substance Use." The upshot seems to be that while many students learn little or nothing of value during their college experience, a fair number of them acquire some bad traits. Put a lot of academically disengaged, fun-seeking kids together and that outcome seems more than believable; almost inevitable, I’d say.
There's an interesting review over at NRO of Ross Perlin's Intern Nation, a book that examines the growing and almost wholly invisible number of unpaid intern positions that are eagerly staffed by college students or recent college graduates. Many of them are in higher education or are referrals by academic work/study programs. All of them are uncompensated, a sizable number are illegal, and in many instances the interns actually pay to play.
The reviewer, herself a graduate student at Harvard, surveys the landscape of this strange workforce and ponders the social implications of its continued growth. The author, she reports, seems to think there's a revoultion brewing.
I posted this as a comment on Richard Kahlenberg's Innovations blog post, "The College-for-All Debate"
Peter Wood and I debated Education Sector's Kevin Carey last week in a four-day online debate through Minnesota Public Radio. The assertion was: The drive to increase college enrollment threatens to lower academic standards.
The current issue of The Chronicle has an illuminating piece by Elayne Clift, an adjunct professor who has taught at several colleges in New England. She writes about the sense of entitlement she finds among her students, leading to complaints about her for demanding too much and outright rudeness from some. "A sense of entitlement now pervades the academy, excellence be damned," she writes. Thinking back on my own experience, she's right. Depressingly right. If you have the paper version, just below Prof. Clift's piece is a letter from Robert Neuman, formerly associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Marquette University. He writes about the sorry decline of educational standards in K-12, commenting, "Instead of trying to increase their knowledge and refine their learning skills year to year, they simply 'glide' from one year to the next without effort." Right again. That's the logical result of having turned education over to government bureaucracy. Without any rewards for excellence, most teachers take the path of least resistance and students gladly go along.
There's a piece in today's Inside Higher Education raising the question of whether more could have been done to prevent the recent shooting rampage in Arizona, that left six dead. In my experience, not untypical of community colleges, I've seen a fair number of students who come because they don't know what else to do, others from dysfunctional family backgrounds, as well as those with drug problems, debt problems, antisocial problems, etc., along with a very tiny few who were a little scary. But I've never seen any potential homicidal psychotics, and haven't figured out how I'd spot one before he actually opened fire.
NAS contributing author Jason Fertig rejoiced when he read a student's essay on the meaning of diversity and how it contributes to organizations' success. She wrote that diversity should require "a variety of minds" - regardless of skin color. An excerpt from her paper:
People have become too sensitive in today’s society when it comes to diversity. Just because there are more white men with the same color of light skin in one office building does not mean that they do their job better or worse than a diverse office with a mix of races, genders, and skin colors. Diverse organizations should be made up of a variety of minds. Race, color, sex, nationality, and religion should not be the sole determining factors of whether an organization is diverse or not. Different thoughts and opinions are what make organizations work and thrive. Different people coming together and putting their ideas together is how we transform and grow our organizations. Once society begins to understand this, our organizations will not have to worry about discrimination or affirmative action; diversity will come naturally.
Steven Rhoads, NAS member and Political Science professor at the University of Virginia, writes [along with co-authors Laura Webber and Diana Van Fleet]at the Chronicle of Higher Education about the "hook-up" sexual culture now so widespread on many college campuses (and high schools as well, according to what one informed local counselor tells me). The subject has been examined here before, when we published Wendy Shalit's call for the recovery of some minimum standard of modesty in the dorms. Good luck with that, since I doubt that there is much on campus these days that hasn't been exposed, practiced, discussed or attempted. Most undergraduates, their sap rising, have long been accustomed to inhabiting the same buildings , the same floors, using the same common bathrooms and, more recently, the same dorm rooms. Beyond that, many undergraduate newspapers feature a regular "sex columnist," who usually doesn't devote a lot of space to modesty. Not much then, seems to stand in the way of the "hookup" culture, and, as Shalit discovered, the burden is on those uneasy with it to remove themselves by choice: there are few institutional props that even encourage, much less accomodate them. We're certainly not in Kansas anymore. Rhoads and his co-authors share Shalit's negative take on casual, random sexual encounters, but offer some intriguing empirical research results rather than simply subjective disapproval. On the basis of extensive survey questionaires, they find that young college women in particular, perhaps to their surprise, are increasingly unedified and troubled when they reflect on their "hookup" experiences. Not quite what they expected, it seems. It's worth reading, especially for the lively comments thread which follows.
A new essay on campus feminism is now available online at NAS.org. Authored by Karin Agness, founder and president of the Network of enlightened Women (new friends of NAS), the article will appear in the forthcoming "Student Culture" issue of Academic Questions (vol. 23, no. 2). Agness documents the rise of feminism in higher education and recounts her own encounter with feminism as an undergrad at UVA:
At the end of the tour, I asked her, “Would the Women’s Center consider cosponsoring a group for conservative women?” She looked at me as if I were crazy, chuckled, and said, “Not here.” I thanked her and decided to start a club for conservative women on my own.
For 30 years, I have used Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now in conjunction with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to illustrate allusion, ambiguity, irony, anxiety of influence, medium imperatives, and narrative architectonics. Oddly, the last few times I showed the film, many students were left speechless by the intensity of the experience. I was puzzled at first but then realized that their distress might stem from something that Apocalypse Now lacks: CGI. Today’s students are accustomed to computer-generated images and special effects, but CGI and full-motion capture/performance produce weightless pictorials with no substance. Avatar and 300 are forgettable eye candy, impalpable as a mirage. But in Apocalypse Now, when the script called for Col. Kilgore to order an airstrike and blow up a jungle with napalm, director Coppola blew up a jungle with napalm. Coppola also blew up a physical Do Long Bridge and expended many hundredweight of black powder, phosphorous, and fuse on a physical village of Vin Drin Dop. When a carabao is slaughtered, a real, luckless carabao was slaughtered. This gravity of actuality is shocking to today’s students for whom simulation, simulacra, and virtuality are the “natural” landscape. Film critic John Podhoretz decries CGI because
the extreme artificiality of the form creates distance between the viewer and the work. The secret about the movies is the way they trick you into believing you are seeing something realistic when you are actually watching something entirely artificial. The key is the recognizable human face and the interaction of the human body with recognizable real-world objects. Remove those from the picture and you are in the entirely stylized realm of kabuki theater.
Cyberpunk legend William Gibson contends that soon most people will live in a “blended-reality state.” The “entirely stylized” apparitions of CGI convince me that my students already live there with profound emotional and educational consequences.
Teaching Introduction to Literature, I see a curious new phenomenon: more and more students complain, bitterly, about how dark the readings are. I’m not sure what this new critical term means; I employ a canonical set of works including Hawthorne, Melville, Conrad, Kafka, Sophocles, and newer works by Phillip Larkin, Tobias Wolff, and J.G. Ballard. If such authors do anything, they force us to face existential questions. Once, students went to college to experience just this sort of perennial questioning. Today, questioning is a nonstarter having been replaced by what Phillip Rieff called “the triumph of the therapeutic” and, as he predicted, by students preoccupied only with themselves and with attaining a “durable sense of well-being.” This ends any interest in reading about what Victor Davis Hanson calls “the tragic limitations of human existence and how to meet them and endure them with dignity.” When Larkin observes that
At death you break up: the bits that were you Start speeding away from each other for ever With no one to see
it does not sit well with the Facebook and Twitter crowd, many of whom are now convinced that advancements in regenerative medicine will indefinitely postpone their senescence. With death no longer inevitable, they find that a literature based on the tragedy of mortality is both archaic and irrelevant. In insulated, technological isolation, with electronic “friends” and avatars, Comedy Central and Family Guy, they are more concerned with distraction and are irritated that plot and character create inevitabilities and moral consequences. That’s just so...dark.
Our friends at the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) asked us to let our members and readers know about the scholarships (up to $12K!) they award to graduate students through their Humane Studies Fellowship. The deadline to apply is December 31. Here is the announcement from the IHS website:
Humane Studies Fellowships are awarded by the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) to students interested in exploring the principles, practices, and institutions necessary for a free society through their academic work. IHS began the program in 1983 as the Claude R. Lambe Fellowships and in 2009 awarded more than 165 fellowships ranging from $2,000 to $12,000. IHS considers applications from those who will be full-time graduate students, including law and journalism students, or undergraduate juniors or seniors during the 2010-11 academic year and who have a clearly demonstrated research interest in the intellectual and institutional foundations of a free society. Previous award winners have come from a range of fields such as economics, philosophy, law, political science, anthropology and literature. Their research focused on a variety of topics:
Select winners are invited to present and discuss their research at the annual Humane Studies Research Colloquium and to attend other colloquia throughout the year. Fellows also join a network of more than 10,000 IHS academics committed to the ideas of liberty and intellectual freedom.
- market-based approaches to environmental policy
- the legal development of privacy and property rights in 18th-century England
- the role of patient autonomy in bioethics
- impediments to economic growth in developing countries
- the relationship between U.S. presidential politics, fiscal policies, and economic performance
"The Humane Studies Fellowship award is a precious gift of time that will enable me to continue with my research projects at a more rapid and effective pace. It makes a great difference."
- Susan Hamilton, Harvard University, HSF WinnerIf you have any questions, please visit the frequently asked questions page and read about the application process. If you need assistance after reading the FAQs, please submit a question via our contact form.
Please pass the word on to any graduate students you know who may be interested in this.
AOL provides vivid and heartrending coverage of this week's vicious government suppression of the protest of tens of thousands of courageous students. We can but applaud and echo the following sentiments of a leading Iranian opposition leader -- even though the students by far outshine him in bravery :
The most senior opposition supporter in the clerical leadership made a rare public show of backing for the students in comments over the weekend. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who usually works behind the scenes, warned that “suppression is not the way to run a country.” “Most students are protesting the existing situation,” he said. “My heart breaks when I see that students are suppressed.”
Via Campus Reform, I read an interesting post today on a blog called Hugo Schwyzer. The author, an anonymous "community college history and gender studies professor, animal rights activist and Episcopal youth minister with a passion for Christ, chinchillas, trail running, poetry, gender justice, country music, and reconciling contradictions," writes about his realization that some of the most engaging and articulate students he has taught have been politically conservative. Of course, his admission is tempered with lots of qualifying remarks to his liberal colleagues ("Not for one second will I concede the intellectual superiority of conservative ideas or values"), but he sees conservative students as the ones filling the good role of "counter-cultural rebelliousness" on campus today. Even through his bless-your-heart condescension, the professor clearly enjoys his repartees with such students. He views conservative students who "come from turbulent and impoverished backgrounds," and "'ought' to be reliable Democrats," but "become infatuated with the Republican gospel of stern self-reliance and the 'up by your bootstraps' mentality" as misguided and ultimately arrogant. But he still loves having them in class.