Alarming News: I like Morgan Freeberg. A lot.
Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler: We were following a trackback and thinking "hmmm... this is a bloody excellent post!", and then we realized that it was just part III of, well, three...Damn. I wish I'd written those.
Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler: ...I just remembered that I found a new blog a short while ago, House of Eratosthenes, that I really like. I like his common sense approach and his curiosity when it comes to why people believe what they believe rather than just what they believe.
Brutally Honest: Morgan Freeberg is an intriguing guy...[he] asks great questions and answers others with style, flair, reason and wit. On the blogroll he goes. Make him a part of your regular blogospheric reading. I certainly will.
Brutally Honest: Morgan Freeberg is brilliant.
Common Sense Junction: Misha @ Anti-Idiotarian never ceases to amaze me. He keeps finding other good blogs. I went over to A.I. this morning for my daily Misha fix and he had found this guy named Morgan Freeberg in Fair Oaks, California, that has a blog, House of Eratosthenes. Freeberg says its "The Blog That Nobody Reads" but it may now become the blog that everybody reads.
Jaded Haven: Good God, Morgan, you cover a topic from front to back with a screwy thoroughness I find mind boggling. I'm in awe of your thought proccesses, my friend, you're an exceptional talent. You start by throwing in the kitchen sink, tie in someone's syphilitic uncle, bend around a rip tide of brilliance and bring it all home in a neat, diamond dripping package of an exceptionally readable moment of damn fine wordsmithing. I love reading you.
Mein Blogovault: Make "the Blog that No One Reads" one of your daily reads.
Philmon: When Morgan meanders, stick with him - he's got a point and it'll be worth it in the end. He's not a hit-and-run snarky quip kind of guy. The pieces all fall into place like tumblers in a lock and bang! He's opened a cognative door for you.
Rightlinx: Morgan at House of Eratosthenes is one of the best writers out there. I read him nearly every day because he manages to provide an interesting perspective, even though I don't always agree.
Poetic Justice: Cletus! Ah gots a laiv one fer yew...
Two great items about one of my favorite subjects, diploma inflation. It’s one of my favorite subjects because 1) there’s so much denial in the air about it, 2) it’s had a great effect on my professional life over the last few years (interestingly, not too much before then), and 3) it has more potential to rock your world than any other current event taking place right now…or just about. And that includes the swindle-us bill that just passed. Diploma inflation is a stink in the air that will get in your furniture, hair and clothes and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it. Over the short term, anyway.
It has to do with degrees, licenses, certificates; any piece of paper that acts as a symbol for having gotten some work done, and/or having learned a few things. And the problem is that not everyone agrees that is what they are for. Quite to the contrary. It is amazing how much energy and effort, at all walks of life, is cranked into the mission of keeping these pieces of paper from actually meaning anything.
I first started teaching at this “business” school where the “campus” was a rented out, brown, 1970’s style office building located in the inner suburbs of St. Paul/Minneapolis. The school didn’t even rent out the entire building, but let that be a lesson to you kids, highly ranked schools lease out their HQ in suburbanite strip malls.
I intuitively knew this wasn’t going to be Harvard, but it was a nice part time job and I got to teach my passion; economics – so I didn’t much care.
However troubles immediately started to occur.
The first sign of trouble came when I issued the first quiz, of which 85% of the students failed. It wasn’t an issue of the quiz being difficult or hard. It wasn’t an issue of me being a mean teacher. The quiz was of an average difficulty and any student paying attention would have passed it. However, upon grading the quizzes I realized just what a low caliber of students I was dealing with and made the egregious error of deciding not to LOWER the standards to them, but to have them RISE to my standards and thereby teach them something.
Complaints flooded into my boss about the test being too difficult, they didn’t have enough time to study, “by god I have two children and can’t study this much” etc. etc. And sure enough, at the age of 27, I was called into the office.
My boss explained to me that we are here to challenge the students, but not too much. That my test was unfair and I should consider tailoring it more to their skill level. Of course with hindsight I now see what the charlatan of a dean was telling me; “Dumb it down because we’re fleecing these kids for their money for a worthless degree and if you rock the boat we’ll lose some of them.” But he couldn’t come outright and say that, ergo why he was feeding me a line of bull.
The next quiz I dumbed down, and this time a whopping 30% of the students passed. Naturally there was the same cacophony of complaints which resulted me landing in the dean’s office once again. This process continued until I had more or less realized that not only were the students dead set against learning or trying to feign some semblance of being a scholar as well as the complete lack of back up from management to hold some level of standards to these kids. And so, choosing the path of least resistance, I decided I would not only make the quizzes and tests insanely easier, but skew the grading curve so greatly it would put affirmative action to shame.
To avoid any more criticism that I didn’t test the students on what we studied I made them make their own “study guide” for the tests. This consistent of each student writing a multiple choice question on a piece of paper, me taking all those questions and photocopying them into a guide for each student. We would review the questions and the correct answers, and then I would take the EXACT SAME PHOTOCOPIED questions, photocopy them again, insert 4-5 questions of my own and then give it back to the students as the official test.
Even then, with no more than 4-5 question of my own to give those who deserved an A and A, I would still get students to flunk the test. So idiotic and genuinely stupid, or perhaps galactically lazy, were these students, they couldn’t pass a test where they had the answers the day before.
Regardless, the majority of the students did pass, but with less than 40% of them earning A’s.
It gets much better. Go read it all, every single word.
Inspired by a story from the New York Times about some “real” colleges and the problems encountered there with diploma- and grade-inflation, James Taranto in Opinion Journal’s Best of the Web contributes some worthy comments that make you go hmmm…I can’t see a way to whittle them down so I’ll just read them in, in full.
The New York Times has an amusing piece about the frustrations of college professors:
Prof. Marshall Grossman has come to expect complaints whenever he returns graded papers in his English classes at the University of Maryland.
“Many students come in with the conviction that they’ve worked hard and deserve a higher mark,” Professor Grossman said. “Some assert that they have never gotten a grade as low as this before.”
He attributes those complaints to his students’ sense of entitlement.
Another prof, Ellen Greenberger of the University of California at Irvine, has published a study called “Self-Entitled College Students”:
Nearly two-thirds of the students surveyed said that if they explained to a professor that they were trying hard, that should be taken into account in their grade.
Jason Greenwood, a senior kinesiology major at the University of Maryland echoed that view.
“I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade,” Mr. Greenwood said. “What else is there really than the effort that you put in?”
“If you put in all the effort you have and get a C, what is the point?” he added. “If someone goes to every class and reads every chapter in the book and does everything the teacher asks of them and more, then they should be getting an A like their effort deserves. If your maximum effort can only be average in a teacher’s mind, then something is wrong.”
Anyone who works for a living is immediately struck by the contrast between this attitude and the real world. When you hire someone to do a job, you look for results, not “effort.” Someone who works effectively and effortlessly is much more valued than someone who tries really hard and produces mediocre results. Why should schoolwork be any different?
The answer is that, except at the highest levels of higher education, school “work” is the opposite of real work. Students do not work for professors; professors work for students–or, to be precise, students (in combination with their parents and the government) contract with institutions of higher education, which in turn employ professors to deliver services to students.
If students have a sense of entitlement, it is a sense best captured in that old saying: The customer is always right. They’re spending tens of thousands of dollars to get a degree so they can go out and find a job, and they’re working hard on their assignments to boot–you’re darn right they feel entitled to good grades!
Professors, quite understandably, see it differently. To the best of them, their calling is to impart knowledge and intellectual refinement. The degree is merely a symbol. The real “product” that colleges produce is educated young people.
What we have, then, is a mismatch between what customers are buying and what institutions are selling. Colleges and universities have had great economic success marketing themselves as sellers of job-hunting licenses. If they embraced instead an old-fashioned vision of learning as an end in itself, the quality of their product doubtless would improve immensely–but their market would shrink correspondingly.
Professors may be unhappy to be working for institutions that, to a large extent, have degenerated into mere diploma mills. Many of them, however, owe their jobs to that degeneration. [emphasis mine]
I think Taranto nailed it with the “mismatch” comment. A man’s ego is the most convincing prospectus; nothing will get us to believe in a new currency, quite like a past event in which some of our personal treasure has been converted into it. These hard-working mediocre students are simply displaying a well-known human emotion — they paid the money for this job-hunting “license,” and dammit, they want it. Naturally, once they get it, there should be no further challenges down the road. Very much like buying a ticket to a sporting event, and, being able to present it, sitting in exactly one seat, to which you can now lay claim.
Part of the modern-day “your job is your personal property” mindset.
How did it come to impact me, then? It seems these knuckleheads with diplomas that they worked really, really hard at getting, while simultaneously working really, really hard to keep them from actually meaning anything, fancy themselves as enjoying an exclusive, personal license to dilute currencies by printing up counterfeit things. It comes down to this: They can’t do things. But they paid their money, argued with troublesome professors who tried to make ’em learn things and do things, wrote to their deans, threatened their lawsuits, and they got their piece of paper. They aren’t competent but they have the paper.
They come to find out someone is applying for a job, and that someone can do the job but doesn’t have the piece of paper, and this bizarre hypersensitivity erupts like Mount Pinatubo. Moderation would be: Fine and good, let’s staff this data center with a mixture of people who make their living by knowing how to get things done, and other people who make their living by waving pieces of paper around. That would be moderate. But there’s no room for moderation. Emotions are impacted by this. The folks who don’t know how to do what they’re doing, who got their pieces of paper by harassing people like Captain Capitalism, dumbing down the currency that is the certification or diploma — are suddenly just now concerned about inflation. They’re concerned that this guy has a counterfeit stadium ticket. It comes down to that.
In short: Getting a job by knowing how to do it? There’s no room for that here. I got my job by having a ticket to it and not knowing how to do the job; you might make me look bad.
True, true, some folks have the piece of paper and also know how to do the job. They’re in the minority. If they weren’t, this wouldn’t be such an emotional issue. They’d simply say “well, let’s see what you can do,” as job candidates have been told for over a hundred years, perhaps for centuries. And that’d be the end of it.
But the “I got a ticket to my seat” mindset prevails. And as a direct result of that…in a society in which you have to have a four-year degree to have any job, nevermind the information-technology and engineering ones…it’s getting so hard to accomplish just basic intellectual work, such as communicating verbally with someone when you place a food order…this robust, information-based super-technological society is just about to grind to a halt. We can’t get food now. We have such little respect for information making things work, that we can’t eat. No, I’m not going to sit here and type in some words to the effect that we’re starving to death. I will not say that. We’re fat as hell. But a techno-industrial society is losing its ability to accomplish basic things, and does that not become undeniable when we run into strange, arcane, unnecessary and sometimes insurmountable difficulties acquiring the staples of life?
This “Got My Ticket, Want My Seat” mindset does not yet enjoy complete unanimity in the academic circle, or in the professional one. But it does enjoy dominance in both. And that should be of concern to us, if the United States is moving away from a manufacturing economy and into a service-oriented one — which it seems to have done, a generation or two ago. Is that still up for discussion?
No? Then, if we are in a service-oriented economy, and with the passage of time we’re only becoming more and more enmeshed in a service-oriented economy…my suggestion would be that we concentrate a bit more effort into performing some services. This “ticket-seat” thought model isn’t going to do much to enhance that, and seems to have already done a dandy job of having gotten in the way. If we continue to let it, we might not be so fond of the future we’ve made for ourselves, down the road when it’s too late to reverse course.
Now, do what I say, dammit, I worked hard on typing that stuff.
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.