22.12.04

STAYING THE COURSE. Grant at Anthropology and Economics gets his range and bearings here. ('Tis the season to think about lode stars.) Thanks for the props. His argument:

Here, if I may, is the “intellectual” approach. I offer it as a rudimentary handbook for the liberal arts programs that have yet to install it.

1) take kids who are, many of them, not very gifted.

2) introduce them to a body of ideas that are, many of them, not very clear.

3) insist on a relativism that gives each student a certain freedom from judgment, as in “this is what I believe, so you may not judge me.”

4) engage these kids in a classroom debate in which political or personal correctness is more important than power or acuity.

5) engage these kids in a classroom debate in which certain hallowed beliefs are “taken off the table” and removed from scrutiny.

6) evaluate these kids on written work in which they are allowed to reproduce the lack of clarity (aka discursive delirium) of the authors on which they have been
raised.

7) create a classroom in which “real world” issues and outcomes are never discussed in strategic or practical terms unless they might be seen as ways “to fight the man.”

The characterization is a bit loose in places, but the conclusion appears to be accurate.
The “intellectual” approach pays dearly for it’s epistemic and pedagogical investments. Smart kids are obliged to forego some of their intelligence. Not very smart kids are confirmed in their mediocrity. The “anti-intellectual” approach creates astonishingly capable people. Native intelligence is multiplied and maximized. Smart kids get smarter. Ordinary kids get smart.
Sounds a bit like Hard America, Soft America (details or compare prices) to me.

But what qualifies the Superintendent to be lode star for the tempest-tossed Academy? Practice, perhaps. In the course of housecleaning, this memorandum, dated 21 November 1985, from me to my department chairman at Wayne State, addressing retention of students, turns up.

I have read the Carlton Maley's [c.q.] memorandum of October 29 describing research into the University's enrollment decline and efforts to stem same by retaining more students. I have three suggestions which might help.

First, we lose some students because they are simply not prepared to handle schoolwork: they lack simple reading, writing, and math skills, and any idea of good study habits. Not surprisingly, we lose many of these students in the first few weeks of class. The university can solve this problem either by raising admission standards or by being more insistent on students acquiring these skills before they enroll in classes.

Second, we lose some students because our class schedules, while more convenient than those at many universities, are not perfect. For instance, our first evening session begins at 5:30. Since the working day ends at 5:00 for many people, and their jobs are as likely to be in the northern suburbs as downtown, we are discouraging students by expecting them to battle crosstown rush hour traffic to make classes on time. The University should consider starting some evening classes at 6:00.

Third, we lose some students because our extension classes are in locations where the people have left: in Detroit and at the Downriver Center. Meanwhile, Central Michigan is offering an MBA program at Troy High School. The University should consider new extension locations, and encourage the state to impose "sales territories" on universities.

What has changed and what hasn't? Clearly, a college cartel is a bit powerless against private entry. In Illinois, there is a state board of higher education to manage the state-tolerated institutions, but it has no authority over what Chicago, Northwestern, Loyola, DePaul, not to mention Upper Iowa or Phoenix do. Evening classes at Northern Illinois begin at 6 pm, with monster traffic jams from about 5:30 to 6:15, and the extension centers are in Hoffman Estates and Naperville, not exactly poverty pockets.

But check out that first point. Sound familiar? So far, nobody has offered me any evidence that would persuade me to reject that position, while many execute ever more complicated maneuvers to deal with retention problems by other methods. Westward leading, still preceding ...

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