My colleague posted this article, by “Professor X,” a private and community college professor: “An Anti-College Backlash?” (The Atlantic, Mar. 31, 2011)
Oh, there’s so much going on here. I can’t address all of it right now, but here’s a start:
[F]our-year college is perhaps not for everyone. Rather, for a growing proportion of students, the report contends, internships, apprenticeships, and vocational training would be far more beneficial.” And then later, “[F]inancial columnist Michelle Singletary writes, ‘I’ll be honest. I think if college students and their parents have a harder time getting loans, that’s a good thing. Perhaps now more people will stop and consider the long-term implications of taking on so much of this so-called good debt.”
So for whom would internships and vocational training be more beneficial? People who can’t afford college. The truly brilliant would often still be able to get scholarships, but the merely above-average without money would likely go the vocational route, whereas the wealthy with the same intellectual caliber would go to college. I haven’t seen anyone explain how to get high-level white-collar careers to result from vocational tracks (with the possible exception of computer programming, which at least ten years ago was a new enough field to make a career without a degree; not sure about now). That’s pretty elitist. The solution can’t just be to tell people “avoid debt”; we have to give people without financial means a fair shot at any career they’re capable of. That is the American Dream.
[A] new book by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids, makes the case that students at elite colleges are being left to fend for themselves while their impressively credentialed professors take constant sabbaticals and leave the actual teaching to inexperienced assistants.
Yes! Let’s blame those fat-cat teachers some more. Those “impressively credentialed professors” are impressively credentialed because they spend their time on what higher education values: research and publishing. Research and teaching are different jobs with different skill sets, but “elite colleges” tend to make one the condition of the other. Don’t hate the players, hate the game.
I was expected to coax critically reasoned research papers from students who possessed no life of the mind at all: young and not-so-young men and women who didn’t read and thought not a whit about ideas.
This is a problem. But it goes back to the elitism issue — do these kids simply lack some sort of “intellectual gene,” or is it more that they haven’t been raised to exercise those parts of their brains? Is it possible that — gasp! — an education system based on high-stakes testing and one-size-fits-all standards might not encourage intellectual rigor and curiosity? Is it possible that kids whose parents work long hours to make ends meet, who come from dangerous home environments, who attended poorly funded schools, might be less well prepared for college than those who avoided those challenges?
It’s not higher ed’s responsibility to take unprepared kids and turn them into academics. But we’re all part of one education system, and we need to be working together. If the goal is to “leave no child behind,” we need to have a national conversation about what that means. We can’t have secondary schools just shooting for basic reading and math proficiency, university academics who want to turn out more professors, university business offices that want to enroll as many students as possible, and a President who talks about “winning the future” but doesn’t seem to get that that involves something more systemic than sending scientists in to inspire students at the occasional assembly. And we absolutely can’t go back to the days when higher education was a “solipsistic” “four years of intellectual crunches and sets and reps” for the wealthy elite.