Friday, October 31, 2008


The march of doom:

No doubt these students deserve some blame for their lethargy, but some culpability lies with their professors, and the administrators who ostensibly but unsuccessfully provide vision and direction. Today’s faculty and administrators capitulate to students’ demands in innumerable ways. They hold classes outside on sunny days, not really caring if there is no blackboard, or if the students are admiring each other instead of the texts to be dissected. They encourage students to think of college as a “comfortable” and “supportive” community, not as a means to acquire necessary skills. Far too many of my colleagues are dialing in – showing up late, popping in videos during class, assigning group projects, or sitting in a circle and asking students how they feel. Why they have abandoned classroom rigor is something that only they can answer. But one answer is simple – students flock to these popular classes, probably because they cater to the students’ worst sensibilities. Homework is minimal, or sometimes optional. Surprise quizzes are considered unfair. Late assignments are not failed. Some grades are even negotiable.

Holding classes outside! Next thing you know, we'll be holding classes while walking around like Aristotle! And you know you can't walk around with a blackboard!

I'm tempted simply to let the passage be its own parody. What 'John Smith' calls a loss of classroom rigor is simply the loss of purely arbitrary features of the institution, ones that never had any particular claim to being serious elements of learning. It's certainly true that sometimes rejection of this leads down into bad teaching; but acceptance of it was never particularly conducive to good teaching or genuine learning, anyway. What I find most amusing is that 'John Smith' thinks that the students in his class are admiring the texts that they are studying rather than each other; the tendency to get distracted from the former by the latter is really not a feature of student life that can be eliminated by rows of desks and a blackboard, no matter how dismal and unflattering and unlike a sunny day you make the classroom.

I don't actually disagree with every single thing that 'John Smith' says; but when we are ranting about the evils of holding classes outside on sunny days (without blackboards!) or assigning group projects, it is indeed time for us to leave academia, because we have gone over the deep end.

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