Tag Archives: learn

Three Things Colleges Don’t Want Us to Know

professor2.jpg

Universities are in the knowledge business, and the creation and
dissemination of it is at the very core of what colleges do. Yet some forms of
knowledge about higher education itself are either unknown, or hidden from the
public. Why? Release of the information would prove embarrassing and possibly
even costly to the school.

1. What Are the Teaching Loads?

This is prompted by an email I received from Bill Armstrong, President
of Colorado Christian College and former two-term U.S. Senator. He is looking
for data on faculty teaching loads and cannot find it. Going to the latest Digest of Education Statistics, I learn
that there were 7,500 faculty members teaching agricultural or home economics
courses in 2003 between the ages of 35 and 39, or that there were 1,959
full-time equivalent faculty teaching in Delaware in 2009. But in over 20
tables on staffing, there is not a word on teaching loads.

Why? I suspect the reason is simple: faculty don’t teach very much, and
far less than they used to. I have been around higher education for over 50
years, and my recollection is that at middling quality state schools in the
early 1960s, most faculty taught around 12 hours a week. At those same schools
today, the average load is almost certainly not more than 9 hours. At
top-flight universities, faculty taught about six hours a week in the 1960s,
and often 3 hours or 4.5 hours (one semester, one course, the second semester,
two courses) now.  On average, we have
seen at least a 25 percent reduction in loads.

Why? We are told it is because of the need to expand research output.
And surely the number of academic journals and other outlets has exploded.  But what percent of the research gets
seriously read or cited? Mark Bauerlein of Emory, a regular contributor to
Minding the Campus, has demonstrated that vast amounts of research are seldom
even cited, and that the number of articles written in the last 25 years or so
about, say, Shakespeare, reaches into the tens of thousands. Do not diminishing
returns set in regarding academic research like it does everything else in
life?

Continue reading Three Things Colleges Don’t Want Us to Know

Simone Weil and the Condition of Schooling Today

simone_weil.jpg“We can only lean on what offers resistance.” So writes the historian Oswald Spengler in The Hour of Decision (1934). Seven years later, Simone Weil incorporated this principle in her declaration that the key to academic studies is an undivided focus on each particular subject at hand, with no concessions to the student’s aptitude or preferences.

Weil’s term for this effort of mind is attention, which she refers to no less than thirty-eight times in her brief but remarkable essay, “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God.”  Comparable repetitions fill the pages of our education establishment, with the crucial difference that it traffics in catch-words that are deployed with all the insistence of a propaganda campaign, such as “self-esteem,” “progressive,” and “multicultural,” whereas “attention” speaks to the actual process of intellectual discipline and throughout Weil’s essay remains a real tool of perception.

No such grounding in the life of the mind is possible in what Heather Mac Donald calls academic “Theorese,” which serves to inhibit thought through a smokescreen of abstractions and stilted, sterile prose, behind which the big guns of “Theory” take aim at time-tested principles of knowledge and learning and seek to deconstruct, “problematize,” or otherwise subvert standard norms of thought and education. For three decades or more, the very concepts of objectivity, correctness, coherence, and logic have been the object of “radical critique,” particularly in the field of college composition, which has been targeted for special abuse, since it is the gateway to the entire curriculum, science included.

Continue reading Simone Weil and the Condition of Schooling Today

Student Apathy – Public Enemy Number One

sleepy-students.jpg15 hours per week are justified with noting how involved these students are with other extracurricular activities. I have heard a student with a 3.7 GPA state that “my professor expects three hours per class period of outside studying – I barely spend five hours a week total on all of my classes.” I have also had a student with a young child tell me that her essay she submitted was of such poor quality because she only had 30 minutes to work on it for the whole week, and this was the best that she could do.

Continue reading Student Apathy – Public Enemy Number One

Two More Reasons Why College Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be

George Leef so thoroughly dismantled Help Wanted Thursday and Friday that there’s not much for me to do but poke around the rubble.
Let me take up two collateral points that are too little discussed. First, the assumption that a college degree means that the student has learned much of anything, let alone how to deal with complexity and adapt to changing job requirements, is a joke. I exempt those who major in math, engineering, and the hard sciences. But otherwise, I think the stereotype of the hard-partying, class-skipping, unmotivated undergraduate applies far more widely than most people realize. Hundreds of thousands of the children of upper-middle class parents are in college because their parents are paying for it and it’s expected of them. They treat college as a four-year vacation before they have to think about dealing with the real world. I cannot be more precise because it is one of those topics that hasn’t received as much systematic scrutiny as it deserves. But a recent report on trends in studying among college students concludes that study time for full-time students at four-year colleges fell from 24 hours per week in 1960 to 14 hours per week in 2003. That’s a very big drop to a very low level. And I know that the reaction I got from college professors and administrators—and students too—after I criticized today’s college education in Real Education was overwhelmingly of the “You don’t know the half of it” variety.
My second under-discussed point is that many young people who could profit from a college education are more likely to do so if they don’t go straight to college from high school. My wife, who formerly taught English literature at Rutgers, was just the first of many college faculty to bring this to my attention. The students who have come to college after a hitch in the military or working for a few years know why they are in college, why they are taking a particular course, and what they want out of it, in ways that kids fresh out of high school seldom do. Apart from that, quoting my wife, “Henry James wasn’t writing for nineteen-year-olds.” Neither were Aristotle, Milton, or Adam Smith. One of the best things we could do to improve the college experience for students and faculty alike is to persuade a new generation of high school graduates that they ought to get the hell out of the educational system for a few years and thereby learn something about themselves.