Saturday, August 9, 2014

Learn English in College? Har.

By Professor Doom

     While mostly I discuss what “college mathematics” has become, that’s only because I’m very intimately familiar with mathematics at all levels. I can speak from direct experience and observation.
     Nevertheless, I’ve been blessed with some success as a professional writer, and even taught a college level writing course. So while not “intimately familiar”, I still have some direct observations to add when it comes to what others say regarding the fraud that is much of higher education today.

     Last time, I looked at a report that discusses community college mathematics. It also discusses English, which covers both reading and writing. Despite my own biases towards mathematics, I openly concede that reading is the most important skill to teach a human being. Writing, being able to discuss in written form what is read, is only very slightly less critical than reading. No civilization has advanced beyond the stone age level without acquiring some method of preserving and transmitting information in some written form.

     We need to be able to read, to learn what our forefathers knew. We need to be able to write, to pass down our knowledge to our children. First learn to read, then to write…doing so coherently is what we generally call “literacy.”

     The report has already shown that mathematics is a fraud and a joke at the college level. What did it find in English literacy?

“…We found that the reading and writing currently required of students in initial credit-bearing courses in community colleges is not very complex or cognitively demanding. While the information load of texts students encounter in community colleges is considerably more demanding than of those assigned in high school, students are not expected to make much use of those texts…”

     Much like with the math coursework, the study finds fraud, though it never has the guts to say so. Again, the texts are college level texts, but what actually goes on in the courses? Not even close, and the study looked at many public college campuses, it wasn’t just an isolated incident just at one for-profit school known to be bogus.
     The study never asks the obvious question of “why is this the case?” but I’ll happily do so, and answer as well. Colleges are run by clueless, uneducated administrators that don’t care at all about education, all they care about is growth. These clueless administrators need to submit textbooks and syllabi for the courses on campus to accreditation…so the textbooks and syllabi look like college courses. Accreditation never actually goes into the classroom in a legitimate (i.e., secret) way and verifies that the school is legitimate.

      Administration then goes to the instructors of these courses and says “pass students, or we fire you.” Administration never looks at what goes in the classroom, or even cares—I could literally serve coffee and doughnuts in class every day and administration would neither know nor care. I’ve seen classes that met less than half the time the catalogue says they were to meet, with no assignments despite what the syllabus says…as long as the students all get A’s, administration is happy and the professor gets promoted.

     All administration cares about is passing rate: growth and retention. Instructors that offer legitimate courses that ask students to do anything are fired. Instructors that offer “not very complex or cognitively demanding” courses are promoted. I’ve seen this with my own eyes, many times, and study after study shows my eyes do not lie.

     So the report finds widespread fraud, courses that superficially look like college courses, but in fact are very simple and require no thought. No kidding: that’s the only coursework administration, especially at community colleges, allows.

     The report continues:

“…community college instructors typically make limited use of the texts they assign and use many aids (e.g., PowerPoint presentations, …”

     Ah, the PowerPoint presentation. A legitimate accreditation procedure would simply revoke the degrees of instructors that rely on PowerPoint presentations.   

     Don’t me wrong, for superficial, limited, discussion of a topic presentable to a wide audience, PowerPoint is pretty good. Unfortunately, a great many classes on campuses are exclusively PowerPoint, and the tests are completely based on the PowerPoint, which is provided to the student in a file (so he need not come to class).

      Let’s do the math on this. It takes an hour, tops, for a diligent student to master all the material present in Powerpoint presentations over the course of a month, and most classes give 3 tests. A student really only needs 3 hours of study to pass a PowerPoint based course, assuming he wants an A. He takes 5 such courses a semester, every semester (and that’s more than the 12 hour minimum to be “full time”), and he’ll graduate in 4 years, no problem.
     That’s what a college degree means for most students: 120 hours of actual work, spread out over the course of 4 years. That means a college degree needs about 5 minutes of work a day, over the course of 4 years. And yet people wonder why their college degrees don’t really mean anything…

     The report has more to say:

“…most assessments in community colleges come in the form of multiple-
choice questions that demand very little in the way of complex reading skills and no writing…”

     Again, the report doesn’t connect the dots…PowerPoint tests (i.e., tests in courses that delivered all through PowerPoint) are multiple choice, which is why studying for them requires so little.

     “…so little writing of any kind is assigned…”

     The report says this, but doesn’t ask the obvious question. Why didn’t the report ask the obvious question of why the writing courses don’t require writing? Hmm. The writing course I taught, incidentally, had students submit a writing assignment every week.

      “…We have noted that community college instructors do not expect their students to be able to read at the level of their texts or to write very much at all, …”

        Repeatedly, the study just assumes these colleges are legitimate, and this false assumption repeatedly leads the researchers to make wrong conclusions. For example, the above statement suggests to the researchers:

“…that those instructors have very low expectations for their students,…”

   The suggestion is not only mostly wrong, but to the small extent that it’s true, the false assumption of legitimacy prevents the researchers from asking the right questions.

     I’ll already addressed why this conclusion is wrong, but I don’t mind repeating myself. An instructor that expects his students to read and write “much at all” will be FIRED. Expecting this of students is self-destructive, the system is run by people that do not want this. Thus, very few, if any, instructors can afford to expect much of their students.

      Even in the case where the conclusion is true, the report heads in the wrong direction. The report blames the high schools for graduating poor students…but poor students have been coming out of high schools for a solid century now, so the researchers really should have thought some more about this conclusion. Poor students have been coming out of schools for a century, so why are they in college now? An obvious question the report writers didn’t think to ask.

      Had they done so, they would have learned that at least 25% of students are in community college for fraudulent reasons. Then the researchers would have asked why such scamming students are allowed to remain on campus. Then the researchers would have learned administrators fetishize growth over all else, and have long since sacrificed educational integrity in exchange for higher growth.

      But, at least the researchers agree with what I’ve said: what’s going on in community colleges is a fraud.


1 comment:

  1. It appears that PowerPoint has gone from one supplemental teaching aid to a mandatory method. Several years ago, I was interviewed for a position in a university transfer program at a junior college. I was required to present a lecture to the interview committee and I did everything on the board, much like I did for years while I taught at a certain tech school.

    When asked why I didn't use PowerPoint, I said I didn't like it. The reaction was shock and disgust. I didn't like it because it was an easy way out. I found that students need to be occupied during lectures. Copying what I wrote on the board was one way of doing so, particularly when I would go through derivations of certain equations or solving example problems.

    I would have offered that as an explanation but the committee wasn't interested. By not using PowerPoint, I amply demonstrated to it that I wasn't concerned with students learning. According to prevailing thought, PowerPoint would allow students to concentrate on mastering the material being presented. (Yeah, right.) Instead, it would an incentive for them to switch their brains off, almost to the point of falling asleep.

    Evidently, the committee was more interested in believing its idealized concept of education (e.g., students eager to learn, voraciously digesting concepts) rather than dealing with the reality that most students are bored, restless, and only interested in ample reward for doing next to nothing.

    Of course, I didn't get the job. However, it came no surprise to me when, several years later, I read that the college was planning on closing down its university transfer program.

    During my latter years of teaching, I often encountered a bewildering mentality, namely that when one is running a course on one subject, information or techniques which are taught in another cannot be assessed.

    For example, I was a TA for a certain sophomore-level engineering course during my Ph. D. residency. My duties were primarily to grade the problem sets that the prof regularly assigned. I would penalize students for errors in, say, algebra because I wanted to point out to them why they got the wrong answer. I was soon reprimanded by the prof, the reason being that it wasn't a math course. Go figure.

    During my last year of teaching, I taught a service course to another department. Often, my students whined about my penalizing them for math errors. They justified it by claiming that they had already been tested in topics such as algebra through other courses. They weren't satisfied with my answer that it was in courses like mine that the math they learned earlier would actually be applied.

    I also received criticism in another course I taught. It had a lab component and the students had to submit reports for the sessions we had. Those documents were, on the whole, dreadful to read, let alone grade.

    Of course, I was severely criticized for penalizing them on their writing. Never mind that many rarely used the spell-checking tools that came with the word processing software that they used. Even if they did, they rarely proof-read their writing because their grammar was often horrid and, frequently, they would use homonyms rather than the correct words (e. g., their instead of they're).

    Of course, I was criticized for over-stepping the limits of my authority.