Current Reading

This blog is primarily for me to blog my responses to books that I'm reading. Sometimes I blog about other stuff too, though.

I'm currently reading Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society by Mario Vargas Llosa.

Word cloud

Word cloud

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Vanity of vanity! All is vanity!

I didn't write this article...but I could have.  The whole thing is worth reading, but a few choice quotes:
The communities where such universities exist, like jars of pickled eggs themselves, tend to be on the margins and therefore poorer and less resourced than their urban counterparts. A common refrain often heard in these communities is that, because their kids are poorer, we shouldn’t expect too much from them. It’s not fair to them because of where they came from.
Though this is always presented as compassion, it’s not. It’s contempt. It amounts to saying, “Because these kids are poor it’s all right if we also let them be illiterate.” That to me simply adds insult to injury. Intelligence is and always has been a great leveler. It roams the world freely, flagrantly disregarding its divisions and classes. But it’ll settle in and make itself at home anywhere it receives an honest welcome.
The ones who want to dumb it down will ALWAYS talk about disadvantage and diversity.  ALWAYS.  Just by typing the previous sentence I am exiling myself from polite company, but I am beyond caring.

Or, regarding what I suspect is a "flipped" class:
If you’d like a sense of how contentless it can get, I have heard of an instructor, one without a PhD, who assigned his students videos of himself talking about this or that subject as their class text. A digital lecture is assigned as preparation for a live lecture that will be about a digital lecture.
God help us.
The anecdotal evidence I’ve been able to gather tells me that students do not read anymore. In one course I co-taught with several other faculty members, the readings were posted online, which allowed us to map access patterns. In that course, readings were accessed — not necessarily read — by between 5 and 15 percent of the students in the class. The same pattern was confirmed by the textbook sales in a course from the previous year. There were roughly 230 students in that class. I was teaching George Orwell’s 1984 and I had ordered 230 copies based on enrollments. At the end of term, the bookstore informed me that it had sold only 18 copies of the book, a hit rate of about 8 percent. It may be that some students already had the book, or had purchased it from another source. But the quality of essays and midterm exams suggested a very different story, as did students’ own explanations of their actions. If you only remove your professor hat for a moment and allow them to speak frankly, they will tell you that they don’t read because they don’t have to. They can get an 80 without ever opening a book.
It used to be believed that tyrants would ban books that threaten them, but they did us one better:  They trained the public to not want to read the books.  You don't have to ban the book if nobody will read it.  So now nobody reads 1984.

Of course, I have a colleague who has gone on the public record as saying that he does not assign ANY reading in his upper-division "GE Synthesis" course, i.e. an advanced course that is supposed to include substantial reading and writing.  Nonetheless, he has published an article in an education journal in which he BRAGS that students do not need to read to pass his (100% multiple-choice) tests, and his publicly-available syllabi back this up. He's a veritable Frito Pendejo. It is only the thinnest pretext of civility that keeps me from naming names, but maybe one of these days...

Oh, and our masters are sorely lacking in the critical thinking that we all claim to inculcate in our students:
I recall a meeting in which an administrator asserted enthusiastically that the university’s online teaching platform demonstrably improves student performance because one of his tech staff had discovered a correlation between more frequent usage of the platform and higher grades. Never mind that course materials are delivered through the platform and that better students tend to pay more attention to (I don’t say read) such materials; in flagrant disregard of such obvious considerations, this administrator credited a rather pedestrian technical device with the ability to make students significantly smarter and thereby to justify the pressure the institution wished to exert on faculty to deliver ever greater portions of their courses electronically. The fact that such things can be said in public without those who say them being laughed out the room is an indication of how desperate the situation has become.

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