Warning: my diatribe below consists of mostly rant, with excerpts of real-world writing samples from previous students. I will also indict most of Kindergarten through High School Education. I say most as the factors with the least blame, in my opinion, are the teachers themselves. However, my attitude towards K-12 teachers is changing, too. I hold teachers blameless for the most part because they are simply following orders, directives, and policies set forth by government agencies. Former teachers who now hold positions of authority who are spineless against parents, and are spineless against superiors I hold at fault. I hold administrators and policy-makers at fault, too, for impairing the fundamental building-block of U.S. society: Education. By pandering to parents and to children who know no better, you are responsible for the decline of U.S. ethics. The hob-goblin of Standardized Testing, of punishing schools, and teachers will haunt the U.S. for years. The absurdity of abandoning classrooms to hide in state or Federal offices, to hide miles away, either literally or metaphorically, from the issues and dilemmas of today’s classroom is abhorrent.
But, dear Bureaucrats, you are not alone in the blame. To every parent who argues against their child’s education, who fights against a teacher, who fights against homework, who does not encourage their child to do their best, who stands behind their misbehaving child, you are a pox upon U.S. society. Your antipathy towards your family’s success is a curse upon every other person’s future. A tax, a penalty all others pay in some form or fashion because you choose to perpetuate the ignorance and feckless nature of your own ancestry. You cannot call yourself a “patriotic American” in one breath and in the next breath castigate a person and a discipline whose sole goal is to help your child succeed, to make your child better tomorrow, than he or she was today. You, dear parents, are lot of things, but a patriot you are not.
Going against past performance, I introduced a large number of writing assignments in my online World Geography course. As many of you are aware, evaluating writing assignments can be tiresome, challenging, frustrating, and discouraging. Evaluating writing is one of the best activities an instructor can engage in, as this is a primary means of providing feedback the student should use to improve. Feedback helps the student evolve as both Writer and Thinker.
Coming from another perspective, how can a student improve, adapt, or evolve without appropriate feedback?
I wrote the above sentence, re-read the sentence, and thought, what utter nonsense. Shouldn’t a student fresh from high school, or transferring from another college or university, know how to construct a substantive response to a writing topic, especially when all I require is for them to think about the content of the reading assignment?
Thirty years ago, when I was in high school, I was introduced to the Dangers of Assuming, i.e. “when you assume, you run the risk of making an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me.'” No, today, in today’s educational climate, instructors cannot assume students at any level of college attainment can write well, or even write, period.
To address my immediate comment, faculty are increasingly encouraged not to making writing assignments the only graded assignments. Faculty are encouraged to develop a variety of tasks and exercises, of which writing assignments should comprise 20-25% of the coursework. For some disciplines, such as Math, Chemistry, of Physics, the proportion may mean introducing writing assignments. For other disciplines, such as Sociology, Criminology, or Marketing, the ratio of writing assignments to other activities is generally already met.
Two conditions arise. First, in disciplines where writing assignments have not traditionally been part of the course activities, the writing assignments are given what amounts to “completion” grades, i.e. did the student submit the assignment according to my directions? Check the box, yes/no, give the student credit, and move on. The second condition occurs do the shear number of assignments. Unable to give each assignment due scrutiny do the number of students, size, and detail of the writing assignment, faculty assess writing “qualitatively” and without giving substantive feedback on gross grammatical errors. Students then receive grades like “C” with no quantitative score and only the merest of comments on why their paper was mediocre.
To some extent, the plague of horrible writing is perpetuated within higher education. Universities, by their nature, have higher expectations for students and expect students to use their abilities, develop more skills, and be able to adapt, attune, and evolve their knowledge during their university experience.
Those expectations mentioned above are not necessarily within the domain of Community Colleges. Community colleges are designed to prepare or retrain people for the immediate rigors of today’s workforce. Another expression of this might be to say, Community Colleges prepare people to “do,” while Universities prepare people to “think.”
I began my higher education career at a Community College. For 2-1/2 years, I worked on a pre-Engineering curriculum in preparation for transferring to a state school which specialized in aerospace engineering. But, my life didn’t go that way. However, for the last 12 years I have worked for three different Community Colleges and one University. I know a little about what I write.
Community Colleges prepare students for “doing” jobs, health aides and technicians, automobile repair, culinary arts, nursing, computer technicians. Parallel to these fields students can opt to follow a university preparatory track in order to knock-out a couple years of university credit before moving to a more expensive University.
Universities prepare students for “thinking” jobs, market analysts, sociologists, engineers, nurses, physical therapists, doctors, historians, etc., disciplines where the processing and synthesis of data is fundamental. Data synthesis is not the end; Critical Thinking is crucial for the understanding the downstream economics of choice. Choice may involve the application of rules, theories, and methods of other disciplines. The holistic nature of University teaching separates the domains of University and Community Colleges.
Before students arrive at either Community College or University, they generally must pass through Secondary Education, grades 9 through 12. The reality, though, is the root of the problem begins near the 7th grade, and perhaps even further back. I’m going to focus primarily on grades 9-12 as the issues can and should be addressed in high school.
Let me begin with a grievous example of writing. I will present my question, typically derived from the textbook. All students are made aware of the question at the beginning of the Unit of Study. I want them to know the question before the reading assignment and be thinking about a reasonable response in advance of putting pen to paper (or, fingers to keyboard). In my syllabus, I provide a detailed discussion of what makes for a good answer, going so far as to include directions on how to write a paragraph. After the question, I provide the answer given by the student – a University student. All responses are present “as-is.”
Do you think East Asia will emerge as the center of the world economy in the next century? What evidence supports your comments?
“I think it could East Asia has shown good economic growth over the years.”
That is the response, in its entirety, written after reading an entire chapter concerning East Asia.
Describe three different regions of geopolitics and ethnic tension within South Asia.
In Kashmir, wars fought between India and Pakistan over control of Kashmir. the Northeastern Fringe indians had a problem with people from other provinces of india moving into their lightly populated area. Sri Lanka the two communities there had tension after they got their independence.
At least in this offering, we see two countries and one region mentioned. However, the mechanics of the response are an abomination.
Describe three different regions of geopolitical or ethnic tension within South Asia.
In Bangladesh people are transforming swamp lands into rice fields. The people are trying to grow crops on the land that is very prone to natural rains and flooding. Providing problems for them. They loose their crops and homes when the disasters occur. In India people are working to build the population of tigers, lions and elephants. They keep them on animals reserves or National Park. Many are keep there because if they are in the wild people or their preditors are more prone to kill them. In that case they can become extinct. Crop growing is a problem in most parts of South Asia. Most farmers raise rice, wheat, and also they have cocnut groves and tea plantations. Most farmers are trying to raise as much of the crops as possilbe for export and to keep in their country. When they don’t have a good year and the yields are not high.They have problems. They have tried Green Revolution with some success, but not much because that is just making the farmers need more money to grow the crops with the cost of Green Revolution.
The above answer is longer. I’m not sure its better. It’s like my review of recent short story I got my hands on.
“What do you think?”
“Well,” I said. “The author made the page length requirement of 8 pages. The only good thing I can think of to say about this story is, I’m glad it wasn’t 10 pages. This is horrible.
To administrators and parents, I say these students should have never been allowed out of high school. I don’t hold teachers to blame. Oftentimes, teachers want these students held back, but parents and administrators balk.
“I don’t want my boy/girl stigmatized because they failed the 8th/9th/10th grade.”
“I don’t want to hurt my child’s self-esteem!
“I can’t afford to have my child held back. I’ll lose my welfare benefits too soon.”
“Our school cannot afford to hold students back. We will lose state or federal funding. Our test scores will fall and our funding will fall with it. We will look bad and then we will dry scrutiny from auditors. It’s better for us if the child would simply drop-out when they turn 16.”
Most of my readers I consider to be The Choir. Nothing I have presented here will strike anyone as outrageous or shocking. All of my acquaintances are educated, highly educated, or in Education, and none of this will come as any surprise to them. They know the problem is far above them in the Education Hierarchy, or sitting out in the car, waiting for their over-indulged, over-patronized offspring to run inside to face yet another round of canned lessons geared towards successfully completing some general exam which is then used to make local people feel good about U.S. education, and so administrators can put plastic letters on the monument signs declaring “3rd in State in Math & Science,” giving parents who live in-town bragging rights over parents of children who live in the county.
Whatever. When I get college or university students, 80% of them can’t figure out 10% of 500, calculate their course grade, or figure out their G.P.A.
Somebody is fudging.
I respect almost all teachers. Who else volunteers to spend 8 hours a day in a muggy classroom with a bunch of knuckleheads for a few mere dollars per hour? Teachers work ALL THE TIME – good ones do. They get up early, stay late, work on lesson plans in their own time, over summers, grade in evenings, volunteer time in other areas. Teachers are obligated to continue their own education upon graduation if they want to earn more, or move up through the ranks.
Parents, teachers are charged with coaching your child to learn IN SPITE OF YOUR EFFORTS TO FOIL THEM, and provide discipline, and provide a kind ear when life at home sucks.
Unless you are a teacher, you have no idea, unless you have been one. And, that is the primary reason over 50% of people graduating with degrees in Education abandon their degree within 5 years.
“I had so much fun in high school. I loved it! Squeal! I want to go back and teach, and hangout with my friends, and coach cheerleading, and go to football games, and sell candy bars! Yay!”
The reality typically sets in during student teaching – which comes far too late in my opinion. Students who think they want to teach need to be tossed into a classroom upon declaring Education as a major. Let them observe, volunteer, and help for 16 hours or so. Then, see if they want to remain in Education. Most Education majors won’t last two years. I’ve know so many students waste time in Education only to realize during student teaching being in the classroom is not for them.
I say “almost all teachers.” I can’t respect the student-teachers who say, “I only need to know what a 4th-grader knows because that’s the highest grade I’m going to teach.” I’ve heard that too many times. How are you going to inspire a young person to learn more if the knowledge you contain is only slightly greater than a 4th-graders? How can you engage their imagination and motivate them to be better tomorrow than they are today? They could look at you and think, “Ms. Teacher only knows what a 4th-grader knows and she has a job. Why should I need to do more than that?”
I cannot respect Education majors who cheat. I’ve had numerous plagiarists in my courses who were declared Education majors. One student this semester admitted to me I was the first faculty to catch her cheating throughout her +2-year University career.
A friend of mine, an Education major herself, was told by a fellow Education student, “I haven’t written an honest paper my entire university career. I either buy them online or I pay someone to write them for me.” The fellow goes on to student-teach in the spring.
And, just because I should, I include this well-publicized article detailing cheating among teacher-wannabes who paid Charles Mumford to find people to take teacher exams for them.
Teachers are not simply attendants to the Textbook. They play many roles throughout a single day to serve the many and diverse needs of our youth – who are our future. The Future Leaders of Our Planet. If we coddle them, and protect them from all evil, and all concerns, and bad words, and make them feel all warm and fuzzy, they will develop a false sense of Self, false self-esteem, and be unable to interact with the global changes occurring with greater rapidity.
I see this happening already. High school AP students, valedictorians and salutatorians, email me and tell me how hard University is, and “Is this really what University is like?” I reply and say, “No, its not like my course. It’s harder than my course. But, if you make it through my course, you will have some bumps and bruises and also prepared to meet the demands and expectations of later courses.”
To parents and Education Administrators, I say to you, you do yourself, me, and our future no favors by stroking the ego of an 11-year old, or a 16-year old. I am not advocating being mean, coarse, or uncaring. Quite the contrary. Be open, be honest, be frank. Show them failure is OK. Prove to youth failure is fine, as long as a lesson is learned and knowledge is acquired, and we can take our lesson, make improvements, and perhaps do a better job next time. Give them examples of people who have failed. Here is a list to get you started. If that one doesn’t work, here is another list. Everyone who does something good, fails. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Tim Berners-Lee – everyone successful has failed. If you protect youth from failure, I can predict two events. First, you have failed them. And, they will fail absolutely.
PS: To my recent readers, Lateral Love Australia, C. Mihai, P. Latter, iGameMom, gpicone, I thank you for taking the time to read my efforts. I wish you a safe Winter Break/Holiday Season.