Thursday, December 11, 2008

Without all that troublesome knowledge

It is the end of the semester, the final day, final deadline for all written work. One of my students, handed me an entire semesters worth of work -- six essays on topics from as long ago as August -- today. Unlike some faculty, I do accept late work, but I do penalize it, on the earliest essays she will lose at least 50 percent of the points as a late penalty. This isn't particularly unusual. Every semester I have a few students who do this, wait until the last few days of the semester and turn in a pile of essays.

This student's essays were well written, no problems with grammar, sentence structure, spelling or punctuation. They were neat (although hand written which is unusual in this day and age). They were original, no plagiarism -- for which I was deeply grateful. All too often the student who waits until the last day to turn in the semesters work, hopes to slide past you with egregiously plagiarized work, copied in large part (or in whole) from some Internet site. [Somehow they never seem to realize that if they could find the information, so can I]. What disturbed me about these essays, was something, unfortunately, not unique to this student -- there was no evidence in the essays that she had even opened, much less read, any of the assigned readings, or learned anything at all from the course materials. Instead she held forth on her personal opinions about American society, opinions that she'd held before she entered my classroom, and which were no more informed today, after 16 weeks by the facts and research, than they had been when she started the class.

One of the problems with our college students (and one that is fairly wide spread today) is that a larger and larger percentage of the students attending community and lower level state colleges do not actually want a college education (and are not prepared for it in any case). What they want is a good job that will pay a living wage. They have no interest in learning, no thirst for knowledge. In fact, many of them actively resist learning anything new, especially things that might challenge their most precious prejudices and preconceptions. But they have been told (over and over from many sources) that if they want to decent job they have to get a college degree.

So they do want credit for classes and they'd prefer A's over B's and B's over C's -- although they don't want to have to learn anything to get those grades, they want me to give them a grade for spouting back what they already knew when they walked into the classroom. [Note math teachers and sciences teachers do not have this particular problem, because students realize they don't know anything about math and science when they walk into the class -- the problem math and science teachers face is students who want good grades for "trying" regardless of whether or not they actually learn anything.

The source of the problem lies in our economic system which bit by bit has stripped away most of the jobs (manufacturing, basic materials fabrication) that used to exist that would provide a decent, living wage for someone with a high school diploma (or less). We've sent those jobs to other countries (where a living wage is a lot less, and therefore profits are higher), or we've replaced live workers altogether with robots and computerized, programmable technology.

My students are right; to get a decent job that will pay a living wage today, generally does require at least a two year degree, if not a bachelor's degree or more. They just want to get the degrees, as my husband likes to say "without all that troublesome knowledge."


Anonymous said...

Speaking of grammar:

"All to often"

Teacher, teach thyself! ;-)

Anonymous said...

As an educator I'm sure you agree that the piece of paper at the end of the rabbit trail is worth little if you didn't learn anything to receive it.

I have purchased my PhD online and it should be with me in four to six weeks. Just call me Doc.