5.4.06

THINGS DONE DECENTLY AND IN ORDER.

Tonight's sermon is based on 1 Cor. 14:40.

Let us begin, because begin we must, with continuing coverage of the rape investigation at Duke University. Salon's Alice Bumgarner looks at the student culture and the university's response.
At last week's Academic Council meeting, [Professor Houston] Baker [of English and African-American Studies] says, "one of the faculty asked President [Richard] Brodhead directly, 'Will you say, I condemn Duke's culture of alcohol, violence and sexual assault, and make that a top-down statement?'

"He answered, essentially, I will not do that. His rationale? These things exist at tier one institutions. Causality is not certain, but we do know these cultures exist in high school, as well. I'm the leader, and how can I make that sort of focused statement for this entire institution?
This is the same Professor Baker whose rather intemperate letter to headquarters received the smackdown from his provost that University Diaries reported. But let us suppose there is some truth to President Brodhead's remarks. "These things exist at tier one institutions." To quote my dad, "Why compare yourself to the worst?" Is this remark simply a confession that there is such a thing as an upscale safety school? Is it an unwillingness to confront the hook-up culture and the MTV Spring Break construction of collegiate life and the marketing of a Jacuzzi U. or a summer camp, to name four themes that never fail to provide material for these pages? Are we seeing things being done decently and in order, President Brodhead?

And do we see "these things" trickling down to the flagship campuses? Monday, it's fraternity rituals with barnyard animals in Minnesota. Wednesday, it's tasteless fraternity parodies of Brokeback Mountain in Vermont (via Andrew Sullivan.) Officials at the University of Vermont are apparently willing to suspend or close fraternities and sororities for "these things." That appears to be things being done decently and in order, although the college official who describes the investigation of the parodies as "We're hoping to get to the bottom of it" has committed an infelicitous turn of phrase.

And are "these things" limited to looking the other way at an out-of-control party scene? The notes for this sermon started taking shape last week, in response to "We Can’t Do It Alone" by Eastern Michigan's Russell Olwell at Inside Higher Education.
Colleges and universities have come under relentless pressure from lawmakers and the public about retention and graduation issues, and demands for accountability based on graduation rates have increased across the country. Higher education even faces the possibility of standardized achievement testing, which has made life at the K-12 level miserable for teachers without necessarily improving student learning. Unless colleges and universities can start to both raise graduation and retention rates, and to change the public’s perspective on these issues, academe may look a lot more like a high school than a university.
Let things be done decently and in order. I still await the institution of higher education that announces, "Hereafter we will no longer offer remediation or admit applicants with serious deficiencies on their transcripts." There is no point in raising graduation and retention rates by offering a repeat of high school, which, alas, is where Professor Olwell will take us.
Universities and colleges, including my own, have made retention a priority, encouraging faculty members to rethink what they do in order to foster student success. However, this is only half the effort needed, and may come too late for many students. Like the musical Chicago’s Velma Kelly, colleges and universities cannot be a one-person act in the musical Retention; they need their K-12 partners to get in on the action.
Recent research on student achievement may help colleges and universities start to formulate policies that reverse this tide of bad news. The first key piece of evidence comes from Clifford Adelman’s study “The Toolbox Revisited,” which charted the high school courses that helped students complete college on time. He found that taking a core set of academic classes was the most powerful predictor of high school and college success, for students of all races, classes and genders.

In other words, a great deal of the success of college students depends on the choices they made in high school, particularly the decision to take rigorous classes, and to also pursue college credit options. If students enter college with six college credits in academic subjects, their chance of successfully making it through freshman year increases markedly. Core high school academic classes, such as advanced mathematics, give students a broader chance of majors, and keep them out of the remedial/non-credit classes that serve as a trap for students, basically leading to stagnation and eventual non-completion.
Let things be done decently and in order. Drain the retention ponds. "Stagnation and eventual non-completion" admits, in effect, that remediation doesn't work.
If college and universities worked with high schools to promote rigorous classes, relevant curriculum, and to give students in high school a vision of what they could become, both institutions would benefit greatly. The greatest area of need, as the [Bill and Melinda] Gate[s] Foundation study points out, is for teaching methods that effectively engage and motivate students, and colleges and universities are critical to providing that professional development to teachers.

However, it is also important to address public and lawmaker perspectives on retention and graduation. Adelman makes a strong argument that students and their choices need to stand at the center of the debate on high school and college success. High schools and colleges need to do their utmost to promote success and opportunity, but need to remind people that while they can offer incentives, they cannot choose for students. Students themselves choose AP Calculus or study hall in high school, and they can choose to take classes over the summer in college or drink with their friends. Public officials, policymakers, the public and parents need to hear this message more often.
Let things be done decently and in order. Students themselves choose to attend calculus or not in college, and they can go to the library on Thursday, or join the lacrosse team's Thirstday toasts. "These things exist at tier-one institutions" is not good enough.

Having loaded the bases for high expectations, Professor Olwell then gets picked off first.
To recognize that students make their own decisions is not to let institutions off the hook. The federal government needs to support programs that promote college readiness, such as GEAR UP and Upward Bound, rather than annual proposing their destruction. Whether funded by federal money or not, college and universities need to provide middle and high school students with accurate and timely information about where they stand and what they need to do to achieve college admission and readiness. University access and mentoring programs need also to be expanded, and must target the students most in need of them.
No. That simply enables the bad habits. Consider two useful posts at Anonymous Community's office. One, on the difficulty of people working their way through college with full-time summer and part-time school-year jobs, turns into a conversation on the difficulties of not throwing away the (frequently mugged by reality and motivated) first-generation, returning-adult, and non-traditional (often read divorced or never-married parent) students without creating a downscale safety-school environment that enables the not-yet-mugged-by-reality or not-yet-motivated to perpetuate their poor life-management skills. Read the comments. A second post communicates the dean's frustration with the not-yet-mugged individuals attempting to evade the mugging by arguing that reality does not apply to them. Let things be done decently and in order.

Professor Olwell, let's take your last paragraph seriously.
Colleges and universities need a proactive strategy for working with K-12 schools to promote college readiness, and to encourage middle and high school students to do the work that will prepare them for college success. From a retention and graduation rate perspective, colleges and universities need more students with a strong academic core, who have had college-level experiences before enrolling freshman year, and who are prepared to work hard at being a college student — and fewer students who expect the college experience to be what they have seen on Laguna Beach, Beverly Hills 90210 or (worst of all) Saved by the Bell: the College Years.
If the high school graduates get the right message, the remediation and retention problems diminish. But that calls for the President Brodheads of this world to offer a different message from "These things exist at tier-one institutions." Yes, and they become trash-TV (excuse the redundancy) material. Let things be done decently and in order.

Let us end by contemplating a development at a high school in Greater DeKalb. Kids want cops in class. (Via Betsy's Page.)
At least 150 students played hooky from Kennedy High School on Tuesday to demand extra security in their Southwest Side school, saying they'd even welcome cops in the classroom to stem rising violence.
Toting signs reading "Does Someone Have to Die?'' and "We're Scared of School,'' kids rallied across the street from Kennedy in the wake of a brutal beating last week that stunned the school.
Let things be done decently and in order.
Protesters blamed Kennedy's 56 percent rise in reported violent incidents this school year on 190 students who have joined the school since Oct. 1.

"We don't feel safe. We have certain individuals . . . who refuse to wear IDs, who won't sit down . . . who stand in the hallway. They do not want to be in school. Kennedy is a social gathering for some students,'' [senior class president Ibtesam Nasser] Saleh said.

"We'd like to have more security guards and know we're safe in the school. If there was a way of having policemen in the classroom, that would be wonderful,'' Saleh said.
Where do you suppose the notion of school as a "social gathering" began? Might it have trickled down from the top-tier institutions, President Brodhead? Let things be done decently and in order. And let us hear less of the tired therapeutic nostrums.
Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart fears turning Kennedy into a "police state.'' Stewart said CPS needs to attack the root cause by offering more social services to students and adding counselors. High school counselors now serve as many as 350 students each.
We have been hearing these arguments for at least the past forty years, and look where their implementation has led us. Let things be done decently and in order.

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