Monday, May 19, 2008

"No Excuses" . . . Except for College Professors

Finally, the post everybody's been waiting for (Make sure you read this first) . . .

Earlier today, I posted a bunch of random quotes from a commentary written by a teacher (see above). So, what prompted this?

The much-discussed Atlantic piece by "Professor X" is finally available online. Since I'd already mentioned it in a previous post, I decided I should read it and see what all the fuss is about.

Most of the discussion has centered around the theme of the article -- that "The idea that a university education is for everyone is a destructive myth" -- but I was struck by something else.

If a K-12 teacher said half the stuff that Professor X did, they would be crucified . . . and by many of the same people who've been agreeing with him.

The article, in essence, says that although he is a very talented and hard-working professor, that he simply cannot teach many of his students to succeed because they're too far behind and have too many obstacles to success.

Imagine a K-12 teaching saying the same thing, with the conclusion being that the students simply didn't belong in school b/c they were incapable of passing. They would be branded as subscribing to the "myth of helplessness" and blamed for all the problems of our schools. They would be told that they're either not qualified to be teaching or need to work harder. They would be told not to make excuses and that every child can succeed. And there might be a grain of truth in some of these statements.

But, somehow, Professor X's essay is proof not that he's a miserable teacher but that the students aren't qualified to be taking his course -- and that we should stop pushing so many students to take similar courses.

I continue to find it odd that K-12 and higher education are so similar but are treated so differently.


skoolboy said...

Do you think that the fact that K-12 schooling is compulsory and postsecondary education is not might be a relevant distinction here?

Corey Bunje Bower said...

Yes and no. It's obviously part of the reason why it's societally acceptable for Prof. X to say the things he did, but it's not the whole story.

Once one reaches the age of 16 in most places schooling is no longer compulsory . . . but if a teacher were to say that he couldn't educate certain 16, 17, and 18 year-olds and that they would never pass it wouldn't go over too well.

Roger Sweeny said...

but if a teacher were to say that he couldn't educate certain 16, 17, and 18 year-olds and that they would never pass it wouldn't go over too well.

It would go over as poorly as an employee of Jenny Craig saying that a lot of his clients would just gain back the weight they lost.

The idea that we can educate everyone is part of the advertising for our business. Alas, it as untrue as the idea that Jenny Craig can cause lasting weight gain in everyone.

We may consider it a noble lie, one not to be challenged in public, but eny teacher with any experience knows it is a lie.

Anonymous said...

One thing that Professor X fails to recognize, though he hints at it, is that teaching English 101 and 102 is very different from teaching other subjects (he envies professors of sciences).

I was briefly in a Master's in Rhetoric and Composition program, and one of the first courses involved debating whether composition could be taught at all.

Many people, in fact, believe that it cannot be taught. You either get it, or you don't.

It is my opinion that teaching writing means teaching someone to think on paper. And first and foremost the student needs to recognize this.

My other problem with Professor X's article is that he fails to mention the fact that the quality of "traditional" students' writing has also worsened over the last decade. Just look at how many top universities have opened up writing centers to help their "traditional" students.

To me, this suggests that the problem is not specific to older, non-traditional students. It concerns ALL college students.