Saturday, July 13, 2013

A look at a graduate course in Education

Let’s Take A Graduate Education Course!



     As part of my research into determining what happened to higher education to make it so different from what it was a few decades ago, I determined to take a graduate level course in Education, the field that brandishes so much influence over higher education today. Naturally, I shopped around before paying money for a course that would serve my purposes:


-  No Online courses with technology problems or cohort meeting times

-  No reading of 300 online computer pages and then writing 50 page reports.

-  No driving and travel time to class locations and no child care needed. 

-  Great for independent learners or you can take courses with other teacher collogues (sic).

---from the instructions and promotional material for the course. Typos happen. Yikes, there are online courses where you write 50 page reports? That’s scary. I bet that only happens in the most advanced graduate level online courses. In a later essay, I’ll show I lose that bet.


     The ad above is not exceptional. In the “old days” institutions of higher learning advertised how their programs had top people, and how graduates got top jobs. Now, they advertise ease and availability…are “we’ll take your money for anything and it won’t require much effort on your part” really good selling points for job training? Cost is seldom mentioned, since, gee whiz, government loans pay for it.

     Anyway, time and again faculty and students are subjected to the thoughts of Educationists, because administration is convinced these people really know what they are doing, and have such vastly superior capabilities they can tell everyone else how to improve learning. I had already seen at the undergraduate level Education courses had little to offer. I resolved to take a graduate level education course and see with my own eyes what kind of skills and knowledge are necessary to master the most advanced material of Education. Since so many of Education-type degrees are offered online, I decided to take an online course for 3 graduate hours, with a public (not for profit), accredited institution. I justified the tuition expense as necessary for my research.

     According to the course syllabus, completing the assignments should take me 45 hours, for a 3 credit hour course. This is an interesting number, as 14 weeks of meeting 3 hours a week, the typical brick-and-mortar semester, is 42 hours. It’s almost as though Education doesn’t really expect much effort from their specialists other than class time.

     What are the assignments? Read a book and write a book report. Also, read a research paper and write a small report. Next, prepare a lesson plan for a single class meeting. Finally, write a 2 page summary of what I learned in the course.


So How Do You Feel About What You Just Read?


    Educationist: “It’s not about learning how to spell properly. It’s about making the student feel good for what he did.”

--Educationist explaining why we shouldn’t really care about basic errors in student work. I give my non-native English speakers a break since I don’t actually teach English, but I still write down corrections in their e-mails and notes. The concept that students will learn what they are doing is wrong even if nobody tells them is core to Education, but is completely alien to me.


     The instructions for the course are a little contradictory, but doing the best I could to follow them, all four of the assignments put together consume around 25 pages of writing (and a like amount of hours of my time; the essay you’re reading now is about 5 pages). I was particularly thorough in my discussions, but I could easily see someone doing it all in under 20 pages (following the rubric, a dozen pages might be passing). As per the instructions, I concatenate all my assignments into one document, and tell the instructor what grade I’m hoping for based on my following of his rubrics (!). Then I get a grade.


Student: “You gave me an F on what I wrote about Plato’s thoughts.”

Faculty: “Your writings clearly show you didn’t understand what you read.”

Student: “That doesn’t matter. I wrote what I got from it.”

Faculty: “What you got was wrong.”

Student: “That doesn’t matter.”

--exchange between Philosophy professor and student, leading to an official complaint.


     The course book was an interesting read, and I certainly learned a little here, but I can’t help but have reservations over this course. There’s no interaction with the instructor, no feedback to know if I’ve done anything wrong so that I can improve my completely nonexistent Educationist skills, nor does the course allow any feedback.

    My book report instructions are primarily to write my own reflections on the material I’ve read; at no point am I to show that I understood the material in the book, much less take a test to demonstrate understanding. Just write my feelings down, and along with some lines about how I could use any of it in a classroom.

     I chose a real research paper for my report. Again, all that was necessary was to write my feelings down; I find it unlikely the professor for the course could understand the arguments made in the paper, or even cares. With most of my teaching covering material that I learned in high school, I have to admit there’s not much hope of finding much of direct use in my courses, although I do what I can to apply some of it.

     In well over 20 years of teaching, I’ve never written out an Educationist-style lesson plan, but I needed to write one for this course. I just followed along the lines of a lesson plan I found online, being sure to include group work; I would love to know if my imitation was sufficient, or what details I missed. My first lesson plan, ever…and I have no idea if my plan is even coherent. I feel like it was, and I guess that’s good enough for graduate level Education.

      Finally, I wrote another two pages of my feelings about the book and course, basically summarizing the results from the previous three assignments.


Your assignments have been received and they are

very good. An A Grade has been submitted. You

can order a transcript now. See attachment for directions on

how to order transcripts.


--My most extensive communication with the instructor. Guess I know what I’m doing, then. I remind the reader: this is from an accredited institution. This is how the teachers of your children get qualified to do so.


     And that’s the course. I actually did the work, but if I had hired someone else to do it (there are many online sites that write papers on demand), there’s utterly no way the teacher of the course could possibly know, having never seen my face or signature. I gained some minimal skills out of it, I suppose, although I have no way of knowing for sure. Ten of these courses, twenty weeks of effort at most, and I could have a Master’s Degree in Education, “specializing” in mathematics, no doubt (this would qualify me to teach college level mathematics, and yes, this actually happens now, with graduate “Math Education” degree holders getting “math professor” positions but unable to teach our first year math courses). This education seems to be little more than a straight transfer of money from me to the school in exchange for a piece of paper asserting that I know something…an assertion based on one long e-mail that could easily not be from me.

     Curiously, my annual evaluation at my institution dropped sharply after taking the course…as though this level of prolonged exposure to Educationism has actually damaged my ability to do my job of education. Perhaps in a later essay I’ll discuss how my job performance is evaluated; it’s good for laughs.


      “You remember (name), the one you failed in College Algebra? She’s now teaching 7th grade math.”

--A friend let me know how one of my former students is doing, now teaching one of my friend’s children. She got her degree in Education, and thus is qualified now to teach any subject.”College Algebra” is basically 10th grade math, so I guess her students won’t be shortchanged much.


      Bottom line, this course was nothing like the courses I took in graduate school. In those courses, I had to demonstrate that I actually had gained skills and learned something…I had to do more than just show up for class. With my own eyes, I’ve seen that Education coursework is marginal, both at  undergraduate and graduate level. I’ve read much about how graduates of undergraduate Educationism have done little for the public schools, and I see what they’re doing in higher education.

      After seeing the void that is Educationist training with my own eyes, the next question that came to mind was basic: how did it come to pass that Educationists gained so much power over higher education? I resolve to look into administration soon.

     Until then, note that the homeschooling movement has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years, and consider the question: Why shouldn’t parents just teach their own children rather than send them off to teachers who don’t necessarily know anything? How much of higher education could be handled the same way?

Think about it.