Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Remediation Should Be For The Serious, And Not A Joke


By Professor Doom


Student: “I get a gun. I get a knife. I don’t know why she gotta come on up here and beef with me and my daughter. I didn’t ask her husband to get me pregnant, that just happened…”

--overheard cell phone conversation. I often have parents and their adult-ish children taking my classes concurrently, or nearly so.


     There was a time when entrance examinations could literally keep a student out of college, instead of merely placing them in ever lower levels of “developmental” courses. I believe in open admission, that everyone who wants to learn should be allowed the opportunity to do so.

     I also believe this should be done with integrity. Those entrance exams weren’t a completely arbitrary barrier.


Student: “Bitch, I’m up here learning.”

--hastily ended phone call on campus.


      Far too many people are coming to campus with no prior inclination towards learning, no current inclination towards learning, and no future inclination towards learning. They put nothing into learning. These people come to class and expect…something in addition to the check, and administrators lean heavily on faculty to provide it.

Faculty: “I know the course is bullshit, and the students are just here for the checks. I need the money, and if I taught a real course administration would fire me.”

--really, there needs to be a way to stop this. Every department has faculty saying this.

     It’s offensive to say the only reason these people are on campus is the free money, so let’s charitably assume that the money isn’t the reason these non-learners are swarming onto campus. Great. Get rid of the money. Stop loaning money to remedial students. Again, this sounds like a terribly mean thing to do, and so again, I present arguments for what should be obvious.

     Before I begin, I want to emphasize: I’m not an elitist. I understand some people grew up in places with terrible schools, or had terrible upbringing. But realize that the skills in remedial classes do not require the efforts of a trained professional to teach. They do not require a high tech lab. They do not require expensive software. We’re talking skills like writing in complete sentences, or being able to add fractions…stuff young teenagers can do, and that any normal human being that puts real effort into it can accomplish if he wanted to. A century ago, people gained these skills without being trained by professional educators in schools. Homeschooled students have little trouble gaining these skills.

There’s just no reason a person should sign up for a lifetime of debt to learn the basics.


Administrator: “You need better retention. These students can be anything they want to be. And you’re standing in their way.”

Me: “Suppose I want to be a professional race horse jockey. Are you sure that all I need is money to pay you?”

--The look of confusion on the administrator’s face was priceless. For the reader’s benefit, I’m 6’ 2”, and 240 lbs, over twice the acceptable weight for a jockey…it doesn’t matter how good the retention at Race Horse Jockey School is, the school would be acting without integrity if they accepted me as a student and talked me into taking on vast quantities of debt while telling me about the money I’d make as a professional jockey.


      So here comes another amazing idea: no college student loan money for non-college coursework. Remedial students, for the most part, do ridiculously poorly in college, with over 90% of them failing to get a 2 year degree in 3 years, and a majority never getting a degree at any point. It is simply vicious and cruel (and not acting with integrity) to lure these people onto campus and entrap them into a lifetime of debt. If they’re serious about learning, let them pay for those one or two classes with their own money before moving on to college level material. I emphasize again: these students already had the opportunity to learn this material many times in the public schools. Providing the information “for free” has demonstrably not worked.

      I’ve seen for myself that students care a whole lot more about what they buy when they pay for it with their own money. Give them the opportunity to care about what they’re doing, the chance to show they care and the challenge to develop the self-reliant skills necessary to learning, rather than slap them with a ton of debt and no chance to learn an important life skill (work hard and pay for the things you want) as well as academic skills.

     I’ve shown before that at a typical community college, most of the coursework is at the high school level or lower. That’s what most of the “student loan money” is going for. How did nobody notice that most of “college loan money” was spent on non-college coursework? I have no idea, but that’s my next “brilliant” idea: let college loan money only be for college courses.

     There are a few more reasons to shut down the remedial course gravy train, but I’ll address them next time.