Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Turkey Shoot

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Actually, the only turkey I was referring to here yesterday was the one in my refrigerator, which is very large and requires mushrooms, onions, celery, chestnuts, butter and breadcrumbs to get stuffed for Thanksgiving. 

I didn’t think Robert was complaining I didn’t write enough.  I thought he was worried I was sick again–which I don’t seem to be, thank God–but it freaked me a little, because I thought I’d been posting a lot.

The manuscript, however, did get off, so there’s that done.  And today is my last day of teaching before the week-end. 

I had a momentary thrill there for a few moments, because it looked like our last week of class was going to be next week–and then, of course, it turned out I’d read the schedule wrong.

Although you never know, at our place.  I can never figure out what they use to determine what our schedules are.

For the moment, though, I just want to point out one thing.

A couple of days ago–might be nearly a week now–I posted a link to an article I found on Arts and Letters Daily about people who buy research and other papers–buy the services of somebody who writes those papers from scratch.

I don’t know how many people followed that link and read the article, but it was thoroughly depressing on a lot of levels.

And there was one thing I could take some comfort in–most of the students in my classes, and most of the ones taking courses where I teach (even non-remedial ones) don’t use services like this, because they can’t afford them and because they don’t know they exist.

When my kids cheat, they do it by going on the Internet and copying and pasting wholesale.

That said, one thing in the article rang true–the colleges this guy’s clients attend are not interested in education, only in evaluation.

Actually, the word these days is “assessment.”

But it comes down to the same thing.

Unless you’re attending something in the first tier–and sometimes even then–nobody is going to bother you with what Robert calls “the required reading list.”  Nobody is going to care if you’ve read Aristotle or Shakespeare or Kant.  

All they’re going to care about is whether you managed to follow directions and do what you were told. 

The issue is not to mold your taste, or to introduce you to the Great Conversation, or to introduce you to your academic field, or to teach you how to think.

Nobody cares if you’re right wing, left wing, or anything in between.

Nobody cares if you can actually read, write or think.

All that matters is the credentialing.

And the guy who wrote that article is right.  Teachers know when students are teaching.  They by and large no longer care.  Bringing a charge of plagarism has gotten to be so complicated–in one place in this area, it triggers an automatic appeal and a full faculty board hearing–that it isn’t worth it, and teachers are very aware that the administration doesn’t give a damn either.

All the issues we talk about here, all the articles about speech codes and indoctrination in the classroom and wild charges of offense brought against speakers with the “wrong” ideas–all those things are restricted to a very small subsection of institutions who get the very best students.

It’s the top twenty and the flagship state universities where you have those problems.

Everywhere else, it’s just a matter of processing bodies through the system, certifying them “educated” and then passing them into the world of work. 

Our third and fourth tier colleges and universities–the places where people go to get nursing degrees and “degrees” in things like “computer assisted design” and “sports management” and “automotive science”–have become what our high schools were a generation ago.  They’re place holders with a fancy piece of paper at the end of them, certifying competence where none exists.

And I think that we can’t avoid the racial aspect here, because there is one.  It’s true, as Cathy, I think, said, that educators assume stupidity in poor whites from Appalachia just as much as they do in poor blacks from the inner city.

The difference is that every college and university receiving federal funds has to keep records on race, and those records are made available to the EOC, and the EOC is more than willing to go to court on charges of racial discrimination if those records show too much of a “disparate impact” in assessment policies.

So if you’re university has a large population from the inner city, and the schools in the inner city are rat crap that teach virtually nothing, then you’re stuck with a problem–any honest assessment program will end with your having a record that shows that black kids are failing at far higher rates than white kids.

This is not because the black kids are stupid, because they’re not.  This is because the black kids went to school where math ended at pre-Algebra and nobody ever assigned a paper longer than a single page and “history” consisted of some old guy with tenure showing movies while he sat at his desk and picked his fingernails.

In the meantime, even your poor white kids most likely went to one of the surrounding suburban schools where the standards for even the worst of students were considerably higher than that, and where they were surrounded by kids who did take education seriously.  Or at least semi-seriously.

So there you are–do your assessment tests show three quarters of black kids being shoved into remedial programs and only one quarter of white kids?  Racism!  And racism you can take to court, too.

And if none of the kids or parents is willing to sue, the EOC will do it on its own sometimes. 

There is only one possible safe haven in this mess, and that is to make sure your numbers fit what the bureaucracies expect to see. 

So, that’s what everybody does.

We’re in the middle of a big project to send everybody to “college,” but barely 10% of our kids are going to “college” as we understood it in the Sixties and Seventies.

The rest of those kids are doing what I’m talking about here.

At Dartmouth, you worry about political correctness.

At places like mine, you worry about whether, when they graduate, the kids will be able to read the directions on the back of a packet of jello. 

And it’s not going to get fixed any time soon, because there’s no incentive to fix it.

And on that note, off I go.

Written by janeh

November 23rd, 2010 at 7:12 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'Turkey Shoot'

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  1. They’re not going to get jobs if the local businesses discover that Acme Technical College graduates can’t fix cars or take blood pressure, so there’s motivation to fix SOMETHING. I suspect that the human resources departments (what a horrible term!) of the local hospitals and chains of garages don’t care much if their workers can do research.

    A friend of mine in a college system (Canadian meaning of ‘college’; what used to be called a Trades School and later a Community College, and which doesn’t have any academic pretensions at all) reports that cheating is endemic there, too, partly due to teacher apathy. Really, it’s a matter of such a lack of basic honesty among some of the students that they don’t even understand that cheating IS dishonest. And they don’t seem to have any qualms about not having the preparation for the job that they are supposed to have gotten.

    I’m reading too much junk lately – I moaned to John about a historical knowledge with no historical psychology in the characters, and that reminds me of another book (a fantasy) in which, with reference to someone’s sense of honour (in the sense of keeping one’s word) the protagonist says well, she’s not saying modern men don’t have honour because they don’t have this, they just have a different kind of honour.

    In exactly that way, some of these students have a different kind of honesty which strongly resembles a lack of honesty.

    Our cheats aren’t hidden by any kind of administrative desire to defraud the federal government and avoid lawsuits though, and not just because we file fewer lawsuits and have different federal laws. Almost all the students are white, so race plays no part at all.

    There may well be more going on in both the US and Canada than either teacher apathy or administrative manipulation – a cultural change resulting from a lack of moral education.

    A student once reacted with admiring amusement to the story of a medical researcher who had profited mightily from faked research. He had it explained to him in no uncertain terms that he might feel differently if he had had a family member suffering from the disease in question and discovered that money painfully raised for research had been wasted on this man’s lifestyle – and worse, used to mislead and waste the time and money of honest researchers.

    Many – maybe all – people don’t think about moral issues like honesty in that way unless they’re taught to.

    Good luck with the turkey. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a chestnut, much less stuffed some in a turkey, but I’m sure the dinner will be great.


    23 Nov 10 at 10:30 am

  2. What can be really fun is when you teach in a graduate program that takes learning seriously and you have an administration that is used to the undergrad “show up and hand in some shit copied from the internet” credentialing. And so someone who is not qualified asks for a letter from the state board of psychology indicating that they are qualified to sit for licensure, and we say no, and the administration is utterly baffled. All I can say is that I hope the medical campus is baffling them too!



    23 Nov 10 at 11:03 am

  3. I just want to provide a link to an article about speech codes and book burning


    All I can say to that article and what Jane wrote is that I’m glad I went to university in the 50s!


    23 Nov 10 at 2:04 pm

  4. Hmmm. I agree. From the schools’ point of view, the money keeps rolling in, the government gets votes out of the EOC charade, and fixing the system would really inconvenience the National Education Association and various school boards. The only people inconvenienced by the present system are students and parents, especially from poor neighborhoods, and who cares about them?

    But wasn’t the system about to collapse and be replaced with testing what the students have learned? Seemed to me I read that somewhere.

    About moral loss, I agree completely. Schools have gone from promoting a moral code–remember in loco parentis?–to promoting an immoral code.

    Something worth noting, though: our confusion of professional training with serious academics adds to the problem. The kid is told, effectively, he can’t get a job as a mechanic, an electrical engineer or whatever without a four year degree. Then he’s told he has to take maybe a quarter maybe half of his courses–for which he is paying, mind you–in fields chosen not to teach him what he needs for his future career, but to provide bodies for various departments. These are called “distribution requirements” or “extortion” depending on whether one is receiving or writing the check.

    Now the kid has to pass Course X, but has no need of the knowledge Course X is supposed to impart. And the teacher and the school know this as well. It’s a system in which the student has every incentive to cheat, and the school and the teacher every incentive not to call him on it.

    I think it’s notable that often when people are serious about making sure the student learned something–law, say, or jet engine repair–the academic credentials just qualify you to take the test. (Same in academia: cheat on a graduate-level term paper if you will, but thesis, dissertation and orals still lie ahead, and those you can’t readily contract out.) It would be interesting to compare percentages of students cheating in distribution requirements with percentages cheating in courses covering things they’ll have to know to pass the qualifying exam or do the work.

    As for political correctness–the absence is a sign that the students aren’t taken seriously. It seems to be rigidly enforced in the schools whose graduates are expected to be or to influence politicians. And weren’t only 10% supposed to be up to following the Great Conversation anyway?


    23 Nov 10 at 5:18 pm

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