A Memo to College and University Students

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MEMO

To: College and University Students
From: Someone who Does not Know Everything, but Knows Some Things
Re: Happiness and Success

You are not guaranteed happiness.
You are not guaranteed emotional satisfaction.
You are not guaranteed success.
You are not guaranteed to have any career you want; you must have the talent, skill, and hard work needed to succeed in that field.
You are not guaranteed a passing grade or any other grade in a class other than what you earn.
You are not guaranteed freedom from criticism of your views in class or in any other context.
You are not guaranteed that all your choices are good.
You are not guaranteed wealth.
You are not guaranteed “safe zones” in the real world.
You are not guaranteed that elections turn out the way you feel they should.
You are not guaranteed that everyone else agree with your opinions.
You are not guaranteed to know everything–or anything in particular.
You are not guaranteed protection from sickness, injury, death, loss of loved ones, or any of the other bad things that happen to all of us as part of the human condition.

University Student Behavior

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A crowd of college students at the 2007 Pittsb...

A crowd of college students at the 2007 Pittsburgh University Commencement. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As late as the early 1960s, the professor had a near absolute authority to discipline a class in whatever way the professor saw fit. Some professors would even slap students who made foolish comments. Very few people would want to return to those days–a university student should not be afraid of a professor. However, student behavior since the early 1960s has worsened in the college and university setting.

The problem began in 1964 with the student revolutions. Beginning with the “Free Speech Movement” at the University of California at Berkeley, which originally allowed anyone, no matter what the person’s ideology, to speak, the student movement degenerated into an orgy of radical leftism. Students took over administration buildings, and in the case of the University of California, the entire campus. It took then Governor Ronald Reagan calling out the California National Guard to restore order. Such protests continued, though with less radical effects, from the 1970s until the present. Today, however, at the classroom level the problem is with students who talk in class out of turn, walk out early if they feel bored with class, use cellphones and other electronic equipment in class, or smart off at the professor in class or in an e-mail. I suppose in some colleges and universities there has been much more serious disrespect than what I have experienced, but even the relatively “minor” problems in my classes point to some fundamental problems in American society.

“Respect” can mean the respect due any human being for being human, respect for a person’s position (for example, respect for the president of the U.S.), or the respect that is earned when someone lives a good moral life or does a job well. All three forms of respect play a role in the classroom.

Students should respect the professor’s position. The professor worked hard to gain degrees in his field and is in a position of authority over students–not arbitrary or overbearing authority, but authority as someone who teaches, guides, and helps maintain decorum in the classroom. Too many students think they know more than the professor, even in the professor’s own field of study. This is highly unlikely to be the case and is most often evidence of a student’s immaturity. Pampered, spoiled students whose parents have protected them from the harsh realities of life tend to remain at the developmental level befitting someone younger than they. They still hold on to the attitude that they know everything and that older people are ignorant fogies who accept only outmoded ideas. Some students will mature out of this immaturity (especially women), but many do not. I can have a sense of humor about that form of disrespect in class, but if students do not grow out of such arrogance, it will harm them in the future. Other students rebel against any authority figure, no matter how benign. Their misbehavior is not as much personal as it is about a hatred of authority in general.

Students lack respect for human beings qua human beings when they talk in class about non-class related subjects when the teacher is giving a lecture. They are also disrespecting other class members and exhibiting a “me, me, me” attitude that damages the American social framework more than any other attitude. It has become practically difficult to discipline students for such behavior, especially for large classes. Except for test days, I do not fight over phones–if students do not listen in class, they will not do well on exams, and that will be their punishment.  It is the “I don’t care; I’ll do what I want” attitude that so exacerbates me and other professors. Of course if students talk out loud in class about last night’s ball game or about other topics having nothing to do with the lesson for the day they reveal their disrespect for not only the professor, but also for their fellow students. One of the worst behaviors I have seen is when a student walks out of school due to being bored or due to disagreement with the professor. This behavior shows disrespect for both the professor and for the educational process in general.

Then there is the respect that a professor earns for doing a conscientious and thorough job in teaching, who carefully integrates research and teaching, and who helps students to excel. Despite the fact that a conscientious professor does a good job, bad apples in the class who disrespect the professor’s work (usually out of sheer spite) can make trouble for the class and encourage otherwise good teachers to receive poor evaluations by stirring up trouble in the class. Such agitators are dangerous, and if the professor detects their handiwork, the professor can take steps to confront and discipline them.

Being a college or university professor is a tougher job than in the past–the behavior of high school students in the 1970s has become mainstream behavior on college and university campuses). I fear what the future holds for college and university professors without a restoration of the traditional family, parental discipline, and a commitment from college and university staff to affirm the importance of classroom discipline.

Keeping the Ignorant Ignorant: The Destruction of Core Curricula in American Colleges and Universities

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English: The School of Athens (detail). Fresco...

English: The School of Athens (detail). Fresco, Stanza della Segnatura, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Americans are known world-wide for their ignorance of basic history, geography, and natural science. More than half of Americans totally deny biological evolution (other than perhaps microevolution). A significant number do not believe that the earth revolves around the sun. In one classroom experiment, only about 10% of students could identify the state in which they were living while in college or university on a map. Students are abysmally ignorant of the Bible, one of the major influences on Western civilization. Many cannot tell the difference between Plato and Play Dough. Despite such ignorance, there is a major push to either eliminate or to curtail core requirements in colleges and universities. Sometimes administrators lead the push, and the majority of faculty go along with radical decreases in core requirements, including requirements in the humanities, the natural sciences, and foreign languages. Why would faculty at American universities be so ignorant as to approve the destruction of a basic liberal arts education for college and university students? There are several reasons–none of them are good.

“Follow the money.” As majors in technical fields proliferate and as the hours required to fulfill such majors increase, students often spend more than four years in college. Since many students realize they cannot afford to stay more than four years, they avoid the so-called four-year degrees and go either to community college or technical school or try to get a job when they graduate from high school. In an increasingly competitive academic environment, colleges and universities seek students like mosquitoes seek blood. Students are much of the financial food for American colleges and universities, especially those without state support or without large endowments. Any policy that discourages students from attending college or staying there the full-time alloted for a degree is questioned, no matter how sensible that policy might be. Some students complain that they do not like liberal arts courses–they are difficult for students because they demand study and reading in areas in which the students are either not interested or do not believe will give them “job skills.” The fact that good communication skills and critical thinking as well as basic knowledge of the world around them is essential for jobs is lost on them. College administrators and sympathetic teachers, especially in such departments as Business and Education, support eliminating liberal arts courses to allow more hours for their major field courses without overburdening the “customers” that furnish a ready source of income for the college.

A second factor in gutting core curricula is accreditation agencies and their allies in the social sciences. accrediting agency staff, often holding weak Ed.D. degrees or degrees in the social sciences, prefer a strictly quantitative and utilitarian approach to core curricula. They push the idea of a “common core” across all degrees, which sounds good on the surface but in practice encourages a sparse core. The emphasis on outcomes-based education combined with a purely quantitative approach to evaluation is not friendly to the wisdom one can gain from a good liberal arts education, a wisdom that goes beyond the mere quantitative. Plato and Aristotle both recognized that qualitative knowledge is essential. Accrediting agencies do not deny this, of course, but they insist on quantitative measurability for qualitative criteria, a narrow approach fitting sciences such as psychology which remain stuck in a Newtonian mechanistic framework long surpassed by the natural sciences.

A third factor is the increasing role of corporate models in American institutions. Corporate models have already taken over hospitals, even non-profit hospitals, to the detriment of the fundamental ends of medicine to help sick persons in need. Business tends toward a utilitarian approach to reality in which the bottom line and “customer satisfaction” are what is most important. Considering college and university students to be “customers” is a major category mistake. If we are wanting “customer satisfaction,” why not eliminate the liberal arts all together and offer students only the courses they want to take. Those few students interested in a traditional liberal arts education can have their “consumer needs” satisfied at a college that focuses on the liberal arts. For the other customers there is a token core so college administrators and sympathetic professors can deceive themselves and pretend that their college offers a liberal arts education when it is doing no such thing.

Citizens who are woefully ignorant of history are not the kind of citizens needed in the limited democracy in the United States. Such citizens cannot place decisions of national import in historical context. They do not know enough basic economics to say anything coherent about the budget crisis. They are like the ancient barbarians who destroyed the Western Roman Empire–ignorant and uncouth, as monks struggled to keep the dregs of civilization from burning out. The saddest thing in American colleges and universities is that the barbarians–in the form of college administrators, accrediting agency staff, and many college professors–are within higher education. With the roots so rotten, the tree will inevitably die.

More Insanity from the Obama Administration: Racial Balance in School Discipline

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Official photographic portrait of US President...

Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Obama justice department is pushing for racial balance in school discipline. On July 26 he gave an executive order to set up a panel funded by the federal government. This panel is empowered to find ways to lower the “disparity” of discipline between black and white students. In effect, school administrators will suspend more white students to have an allegedly more racially balanced discipline environment.

The fallacy is to move from (A) there is a disparity between the number of black students suspended vs. the number of white students to (B) such disparity reflects racial bias rather than the actual discipline situation. (B) does not follow from (A). If a higher percentage of black students commit suspendible offenses than white students, a “disparity” will take place, but that is not due to racism. If a predominately black school suspends more black students than white students, that would reflect the demographics of that school. School administrators, fearful of federal action, may set up a quota system in which every time a black student is suspended, a white (or perhaps an Asian) student will also be suspended.

This is the insanity of federal control at its finest, especially when the Obama Administration is filled with radical left wing race baiters. Putting in a quota system would inevitably result in a white student or Asian student being suspended for a relatively minor offense in order to keep “racial balance.” The same situation would take place with other forms of school discipline such as expulsion or (in the South) paddling.

It is well known that in many urban areas in the United States the black family has been in crisis for years, and the lack of two-parent families and high illegitimacy rates along with limited parental discipline lead to a hotbed of crime. Children sometimes can escape such a background, but it is difficult. Thus, many black children are coming to school as behavioral challenges. Note that the same process is starting with white families, with the white illegitimacy rate around 26% and rising. If this rises more, the suspension rates most likely will balance out. To ignore individual discipline situations and place a quota system (or even to bring “racial balance” into the discipline equation) is madness. Such a system will automatically be unfair.

Like forced busing, “racial balance” in school discipline is another federal social engineering scheme that is doomed to failure. It will lead to more whites and Asians fleeing public schools. If a private school accepts federal aid, that school will be vulnerable to be placed under Mr. Obama’s executive order. Will higher education be next? After all, colleges and universities who accept students with federal grants and loans are vulnerable to federal regulation.

This executive order is another reason to vote for Mr. Romney. Mr. Obama is bringing the country back to the age of race-based quotas in education and jobs. In the meantime, if the government panel makes recommendations that are adopted by federal regulators, schools will be forced to be unjust to white and Asian students in the administration of discipline. How far is this administration willing to go in pushing its vision of racial balance onto the world? Very far, I think, and that is frightening.

On the Ban of Bake Sales

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at the bake sale

at the bake sale (Photo credit: tiny banquet committee)

Almost every day I read an article from a news source and wonder, “Is this for real?” and I cross-check other sources to make sure the story is accurate. Here is an example that turns out to be accurate: A number of schools in the United States have banned bake sales as fundraisers due to their selling “junk food” and alleged encouragement of obesity. Apparently one place this has happened is in the schools of Massachusetts (surprise!) and another place is a district in Maryland.  Now obesity is not a good thing–it can lead to serious health problems. It is also true that Americans have an addiction to junk food. However, to police what children can sell at bake sales smacks of Puritanical totalitarianism. Those Americans who are not busybodies about violators of religious orthodoxy find another religion, whether it be the War on Drugs or the fight against junk food. In the past, Prohibition was the great Puritanical crusade. Some Americans are not happy unless they can force their nosiness down the throats of others by government power. Thus, food totalitarians have banned bake sales, which are excellent means of fundraising by school organizations. Many clubs on the university campus where I teach have bake sales, and I buy and enjoy the “junk food.” To any Puritan who wishes to force his beliefs on me, my response is “Don’t tread on me.” Thankfully, parents see the silliness of the bake sale ban. A simple way to stop such nonsense is to elect a school board that is not composed of nosy busybodies who have nothing better to do than to police free people’s food. They may reply, “But some of this junk food is being sold to children!” Unless parents have a child who is morbidly obese and overstuff him, which is an extreme case anyway, if parents have no problem with their children eating what is sold at bake sales, there should be freedom to decide what foods to buy. Those arranging bake sales should also have the right to sell cookies, brownies, and other staples of bake sales, as well as the usual hot dogs and hamburgers. If Ms. Yogurt Breath still wants to discourage junk foods (by the way, I like yogurt), she can use education and try to convince people to change their minds. It is way past time to get the food police out of the schools of the United States.

 

Accreditation and the Tyranny of the Social Sciences

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Detail of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sa...

College and university accreditation and re-accreditation has become a nightmare. Accreditation agencies demand “continuous quality improvement” to be documented by quantifiable data. Following a model that has wreaked havoc with teachers in the public school system, specific departments at a university and the university as a whole must not only form a mission statement, but formulate a series of goals and objectives to meet those goals. The objectives must be measurable in a quantitative way. Some departments require not only a list of goals and objectives for the course, but also for each week of the course. Standardized group final exams are becoming more common in certain fields, such as the physical and social sciences. The comprehensive portion of the final exam may have some of the same questions year to year so that a department can track “improvement” in students’ ability to answer certain questions covering key goals of the course.

Such a social science oriented quantitative approach to education works neither in the physical sciences nor in the humanities, and I doubt it works in some social sciences either. Science involves critical thinking, something that is more than a quantifiable measure and often involves “abduction,” an inference to the best explanation that is as much an art as it is a science. The “social science approach,” a fortiori, does not work in the humanities. Students must do some memorization of facts in the humanities as in any other field,  and they can be “objectively” tested over such facts. The humanities, however, are about critical thinking, forming a world view, interacting with the great events and texts of history, reading Plato, Aristotle, and other great philosophers who sought wisdom. Wisdom uses knowledge, but refers to the practical wisdom (prudence, or what Aristotle called phronesis) to make the best decision about how to live the good life in a specific situation. A conception of the good life implies a world view, a vision of how all things fit together into a whole. World views are by nature qualitative, not quantitative. They demand weighing different and sometimes contradictory perspectives. That is why it is important in philosophy to allow faculty to use the textbooks and the approach they choose, rather than having a “cloned” approach to teaching a course. The trend toward conformity in academia has been accelerated by pressure from aggressive accrediting agencies.

There is a line of thought in the social sciences, which is also present among some scientists who work in the natural science, that nothing is real unless it is quantifiable, including knowledge (I doubt that this line of thought has room for “wisdom”). Many psychologists, especially, take a totally quantitative approach to what they are studying. As the most conservative of sciences, psychology tends to fit better into nineteenth century though rather than into twentieth and twenty-first century thought. The situation seems like the revenge of Jeremy Bentham‘s often criticized “hedonic calculus” that tried to quantify an exact measure of pleasures and pains. The basic idea of quantifying everything has been broadened to the idea that one can operationally define any learning task and test to determine whether students have actually learned. Can Plato’s view of the Forms be operationally defined? What about the significance of World War I in the development of interwar continental philosophy? Can wisdom be operationally defined? What about truth, beauty, and goodness? The accrediting agencies are attempting to destroy what is most valuable about education–becoming wiser, with a better ability to think critically and to make judgments, exposure to different world views, the privilege of discussing differing positions with a professor. To say that qualitative measures are allowed is disingenuous since even those “must be measurable”–how? There must be a quantitative rating scale. Hopefully college and university faculty will encourage accreditation agencies to re-examine this current trend toward a bad social science model of evaluating educational quality.

Schools and Children Accused of “Sexual Harassment”

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At http://www.wsoctv.com/news/29910470/detail.html and http://boston.cbslocal.com/2011/12/02/7-year-old-accused-of-possible-sexual-harassment-for-kicking-boy-in-groin/ are two stories that illustrate the lack of common sense among many teachers and administrators in the government school system. For the retort I expect, I am not saying that all public school teachers and administrators lack common sense to the extent shown in these studies. But to accuse seven and nine-year-olds for sexual harassment (a few years ago, a five-year-old boy was accused of sexual harassment for kissing a girl he had “puppy love” for on the cheek) is stupid to the point of incomprehension. A boy tells another boy that his teacher is cute–and a nosy substitute teacher blabs about it–and the boy is suspended for “sexual harassment.” A seven-year old kicks a bully in the groin and is accused of “sexual harassment.” The specific teachers and school administrators responsible for such injustices are utterly ignorant–and if I could get away with it I would use stronger language. The most radical elements of feminism have invaded society to the point that even a male child cannot complement a woman’s appearance without being accused of sexual harassment. Such extremes are bad enough when applied to adults–this is a world in which a man cannot even say to a woman “You look nice today.” If he says the opposite, he would be in just as much trouble. Such views are so contrary to human nature that only academics (and I am an academic, so I know that way too much of the academy has been corrupted by the radical 1960s crowd) could actually be stupid enough to believe them. Unfortunately, the most radical theories of the academy, having poisoned the minds of way too many policy makers, producers of government regulations, and educators, have become more and more dominant in the nation’s school system. There are exceptions, of course, and thank God for those teachers and administrators who still retain common sense. If only there were more of them. More

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