Monday, August 4, 2014

College Level Work: Don’t Shave

By Professor Doom

     Many times now, I’ve asserted that most of what is done in college nowadays is bogus, neither preparing students for jobs nor giving them much in the way of higher education. I’ve even cited studies showing most college courses have no requirements, i.e., require no work from their students.

     It’s easy to sit in my chair, wave my hand at a department and say “it’s all crap.” How about I simply demonstrate just how bad it is?

     The easy target will be Women’s Studies, sometimes called Gender Studies…but we all know that these are “yay women, heckyah!” type courses. Anyway, I’ve always been stunned at how ridiculous the assignments and coursework for these types of courses are. I’ve had students hand me lollipops for course credit, or wear stupid t-shirts, or, well, just ridiculous stuff that no reasonable person could call “challenging work” like what’s supposed to be done on campuses.

     But that’s just my eyewitness testimony. Let’s take a look at a recent news piece that actually talks about a Gender Studies assignment as though it weren’t ridiculous:

     As I’m wont to say, I can’t make this stuff up. You take the course, and get “bonus credit” if you don’t shave your armpits for that semester. You also have to write about your feelings in a journal. Nothing wrong with getting in touch with your feelings, I suppose, but paying $10,000 a year for the privilege seems a bit much. A whole letter grade to write in my own journal? Does anyone get this assignment wrong? The writer of the article sure doesn’t think this is a pretty weak assignment.

      Anyway, to get an extra letter grade, a female just has to not shave her armpits for a few months. Males aren’t left out—they can get the same amount of credit if they DO shave. Their entire bodies. 

     It’s so funny, these courses are supposed to be about fairness, and yet, somehow, this “don’t shave” thing has been going on for years without anyone noticing that females don’t have to work (sic) nearly as hard as the males for extra credit. Shaving my body would be a major task, for what it’s worth, although I’d probably lose five pounds or so.

      It’s so funny, times 2, “extra credit” means work you’re doing that above and beyond what’s necessary for your course. If “don’t shave” is so strenuous that it’s extra, how can anyone think the regular coursework is hard in comparison?

     Somehow, it gets nuttier, but only if you talk to the students involved:

     She’s serious. Not shaving your armpits is “activism” now. How about actually standing in front of a women’s hospital and protesting loudly there are no men’s hospitals? Oh wait, this is one-sided fairness.

      Still, surely there’s a real women’s issue that could helped with some real activism? I stopped shaving last November…didn’t occur to me for a minute I was engaging in any sort of political commentary.

     And…it gets nuttier:

     I can’t make this stuff up. They actually speak like “not shaving” is totally relevant. She should donate part of her genitals to women who’ve been affected by “female circumcision” to get a better idea of what a life-changing experience can be. Or maybe she could work as a prostitute for a while, or at least follow a crack-addicted prostitute around for a few weeks…these are the kinds of activities that totally would be worthy of extra credit, and would change her life far more dramatically than “don’t shave for a while.”

      And…it gets even nuttier, and lines up with today’s discussion:

“…declined to participate in the project during the first two classes she took…but took the plunge during her third opportunity.”

      This student has taken THREE courses where she could get college credit for “not shaving.” A look at the course catalogue at the student’s institution reveals that there’s no way she could take three courses without taking at least a 2nd year course in gender studies. Really, there are that many Gender Studies courses.

      The point? “Don’t shave for a while” qualifies as 2nd year course work in gender studies.

      Let’s compare this to second year coursework in a, well, more respected field, in a course I teach on campus:

Input Derivative Principle for Laplace Transforms:
L{f(n) (t)} = snL{f(t)} – s(n-1) f(0) - … - sf(n-2)(0) – f(n-1) (0), for s > a

     It takes hours of actual work for a student to master everything going on in that concept (and it’s not even worth a letter grade), and there are many, many such concepts in a real second year course. And yet the Gender Studies course has so little in it that “don’t shave” is considered going above and beyond the usual work.

       I’m not saying either coursework necessarily helps much with day to day life, but can anyone honestly tell me “don’t shave” is remotely as difficult a concept to master and understand as the Input Derivative Principle for Laplace Transforms? 

     Tuition runs around $10,000 a year at ASU, where, apparently, the second year students learn “some people find hairy armpits on a female unattractive” and think they’re getting a college education. I’m serious.

     As always, I point out that accreditation, which supposedly legitimizes the education at an institution, does nothing of the sort, and is a huge deception to the taxpaying public that’s supporting it. Administration, which in the past took responsibility for the care of young people and actively worked to improve education, now is only interested in extracting as much money as possible from the kids, using any means necessary.

      Across the country, young people are burying themselves in debt, quite often for absolutely ridiculous coursework and indoctrination that will give no personal growth, no job skills, and no measurable increase in any ability.

     Anyone who bothers to look can see it.


  1. Considering that one of the prevailing educationist ideologies is that learning must be "fun" and difficulty is to frowned upon, I'm not surprised.

    I'm not sure how relevant it is, but I came across this item:

  2. I'm not sure the decay of higher education relates to the loss of belief in the "expert". The latter, I feel, has far more to do with the government takeover of science. The huge global warming scam, massive fraud in economic reporting, outrageous FDA scandals...all of these have done much to undermine belief that "the expert" actually knows anything. If expert scientists, economists, and doctors can spew such obvious crap, why should anyone have any belief in experts?

    Heck, an idiot that makes his own decisions, rather than follow the advice of government, will likely be better off in most ways.

    1. It has led to the notion that all ideas, no matter how outlandish they might be, are equal in concept and equal in worth. Why else is the main subject of this posting being given the same status as Fourier analysis?

      At the same time, it has led to the reduction in authority of the teacher or professor. Whoever stands at the front of the classroom is at the same level as those who are being taught. That now means that everyone is all participating in that "wonderful journey" through learning. (I was told that by one of my supervisors at the place where I used to teach and I also heard that from a university professor I spoke with a few weeks ago.)

    2. And why would the teacher or professor have so much authority? I can see how it developed because students tended to be children, or much younger than the teacher. That is still the case in elementary school. In higher education, not so much. Some students may even be older. Moreover, this notion of authority was developed in a different time when education was more authoritarian. My grandmother was a school teacher at 18 or 20 and got to hit with a ruler some guy her age who was still in her school. She was also saying that it was inappropriate, from a pedagogical standpoint, for a teacher to admit being wrong to a pupil, even about factual information. Maybe there was something wrong with authority? Perhaps those teachers who are really qualified don't need it? It will become obvious? At least one of my professors had studied at Harvard. The one I know about, he didn't tell us. It was just obvious that he knew his stuff.

    3. Teaching is like herding cats.

      I've had a wide spectrum of students. I've had self-important, entitled brats fresh out of high school. I've had tradesmen and military vets. I've had drunks, misfits, and screwballs. I've also had students who were well-behaved and who did their work. I've had some who could have easily qualified for membership in Mensa. Some of my students liked me and others would have loved to hang me.

      Now have a bunch of those in the same room. If I'd let them manage themselves, the place would have been bedlam. Most had neither the maturity nor self-discipline to be left on their own. Many hadn't learned to make their own decisions because they were the children of helicopter parents and were graduates of a nanny high school system.

      Now try and turn them into graduates who would make good employees. The approach used by A. S. Neill in his Summerhill school would quickly be tossed out the window in that setting.

    4. People who don't want to learn shouldn't have to be "herded". They are not interested or they are in the wrong class. Students should be your equals, perhaps even your superiors (you are hired to serve them by teaching them). But then, if they are not interested, they shouldn't have to use your services or let you "herd" them. Those who are immature will learn by making wrong decisions or by being asked to leave. Don't worry about what kind of employees they will make. If they are not good employees, they won't be allowed to be employees for long. If one employer is a little more forgiving, good for them. They found a good match.

    5. People who don't want to learn shouldn't be enrolled in the first place. But, by signing up as students, they agree to abide by the rules and regulations of the institution in question. That includes adhering to standards of behaviour and academic performance. If they don't work, they don't deserve a place there, particularly as there may be someone more worthy by talent and ambition who could fill those slots.

      Students, in general, are neither equal or superior to their instructors. If they were, then *they* would be the ones teaching. The master does not learn from the apprentice.

      As for the type of employees those students would make, there is such a thing as institutional reputation. If a university consistently produces graduates who are inept or incapable, no employer will hire them. When that occurs, the general public finds out and prospective students will take their trade elsewhere, resulting in falling enrollments.

      The real world works considerably different than how some people believe it does or wish that it does.

  3. I don't think you can say that the master does not learn from the apprentice. It could happen. For instance, the results of student research may surprise the "master".

    Speaking of masters, that's exactly the word I had in mind when speaking of "superiors", but in the sense of master and servant. The teacher is a special kind of servant. Instead of doing housework, he's teaching. I had tried to be less blunt about it, but that's how I see it. If you actually get to be equal, that's actually generous. Since you are getting paid, there is nothing wrong with considering you a servant.

    1. Your last few sentences explain a lot about your perspective.

      Sorry, but the student is *not* a customer and a teacher/professor/instructor is *not* a servant. Tuition does not purchase a commodity or service. It merely pays for the privilege of attending a given educational institution along with many of the expenses incurred by operating that facility.

      As for a master being the one learning from an apprentice, one shouldn't ever try that in the trades if one wishes to become a journeyman.

    2. You never learn anything from someone supposedly less experienced than you? Some new insight? Some unexpected way to (mis)interpret your ideas or make a mistake?

      I like it how in Ancient Rome a professional (tutor, physician, etc.) was often a slave instead of thinking that he ought to be in charge. I see professionals as being in a helping and advisory role rather than as authorities. If they are also in a subordinate role, that's even better. If the Caesar decided to learn a language, he would have hired or bought a tutor. More likely, he would have used a translator or interpreter instead. The tutor or translator/interpreter would not have been the one in charge and neither should you.

    3. I only learned from someone who was an authority on a subject either by virtue of training or experience.

      Keep in mind that in ancient plutocracies, anyone who was neither rich or in power was treated as a slave. However, I live in a parliamentary democracy. Things tend to be different in that system.

      Since there are some who advocate a free-style, free-range form of education, all form of trades and professional training should be abolished. In those occupations, there is a clear delineation of authority, something which those advocates find abhorrent. It is the master of the arcnum in question who teaches the pupil or apprentice, not the other way round. It's worked well for hundreds of years.

  4. Replies
    1. Forgive my slow-wittedness...can you elaborate a bit?