Wednesday, June 11, 2008

If Everyone is Incredible, Nobody Is

Recognize that quote? It's from "The Incredibles", that absolutely entertaining kids movie that was released a few years back. I'm sure you've seen it. It's about a world with superheroes, except the superheroes are forced to go underground because they were taking too many liberties: too many people were getting hurt, or people were getting saved that didn't want to be saved. Well, the bad guy of the movie, was spurned by the main character, Mr. Incredible, and so he goes on an inventing spree and develops this incredibly invincible robotic monster that knocks off each incredible one after another. His main goal is to rid the world of incredibles, mass market these super weapons so that everyone can be incredible, because in his words, "if every one is incredible, nobody is".

But that's not the way I see it. Because truly, we are all incredible, or at least we have incredibleness embedded in our DNA just waiting to come out. We all sell ourselves way too short, and its easy to do. Life is hard, full of setbacks and missteps. We struggle through ultimately just hoping to provide food, clothing, and shelter for our families over our precarious lifetimes, always feeling slightly on the edge, like one wrong move, and things could slip away. At least that is how I sometimes feel, doesn't everyone else? But even when we feel secure in our most basic needs, tapping into our incredibleness genes is still an incredibly tricky thing to do, there are so many barriers. We have to be absolutely honest with ourselves and our own abilities and talents. We need to be brave, willing to forge our own independent paths, learning from others, sure, but also willing to be fiercely independent in our goals and direction. We also have to be strong and disciplined, able to shed ourselves of the infinite distractions society throws at us, and we have to be willing to tap into the personal inspiration of deity, being willing to tap into a power much bigger than ourselves. All of this is possible for every last one of us, but so few really recognize it and have the confidence to step up to it.

But its true, our world is filled with true blue Incredibles. And I think this is the beauty of democracy and a truly free market. Where the individual has all the opportunity in the world to produce products other people desire. Where the government is run and controlled more by the people at large than by a few selected elite. At least that's the theory. The real world is not so clean. In reality, you tend to have a handful of super stars making all the money, doing all the heavy lifting, and the rest of us are way too dependent of the decisions those folks make.

Some of this is just plain a reality. There are some superbly gifted people out there, while the rest of us toil away with our lives. Only a few people, relatively speaking, are required to churn out Facebook or Google, while the rest of us are just happy consumers. And the economy is based largely on this. Rather than uniquely architected custom homes, most of us are more than content with some half baked template that gets duplicated over and over again. They throw in a few thrills, some archways, some big gothic pillars, some vaulted ceilings. Then they mass produce, and we consume happy to get something so nice, so cheap, and so new.

But it seems like things are starting to turn a little bit. The internet evens the playing field some. It used to be only the small minority could really contribute to the nationwide conversation, those lucky folks working for our newspapers, publishing books selected by the major publishing companies. But right now, I'm publishing my essays for all the world to see, no matter if only five loving readers are actually taking advantage of my generous offerings. But not just me, millions of others are publishing every day of all kinds of quality, some of it quite good. The fact is so many people are contributing, producing, and they are doing it for love and not for money. Intellectual commodities are flooding the market at dirt cheap prices.

And it seems, for some reason, society at large is making a shift. It used to be that a high school education was all that was required, but now advanced degrees are now almost becoming as necessary as high school degrees once were. The strangest jobs are now requiring people who work in them to study Shakespeare and Thoreau, and then to write deep essays on them.

Read this essay. Really, read it. It's absolutely fascinating. The author teaches English at a junior college in the evenings on the side largely to working professionals who are required to get more credits for their jobs.

Consider this quote where the author talks about the possibilities that seem at the taking for each class member as they begin their course work:

Class time passes in a flash—for me, anyway, if not always for my students. I love trying to convey to a class my passion for literature, or the immense satisfaction a writer can feel when he or she nails a point. When I am at my best, and the students are in an attentive mood—generally, early in the semester—the room crackles with positive energy. Even the cops-to-be feel driven to succeed in the class, to read and love the great books, to explore potent themes, to write well.

The bursting of our collective bubble comes quickly. A few weeks into the semester, the students must start actually writing papers, and I must start grading them. Despite my enthusiasm, despite their thoughtful nods of agreement and what I have interpreted as moments of clarity, it turns out that in many cases it has all come to naught.


And I can really relate to that. I remember enrolling in a class with an exciting, interesting sounding subject, stepping into class with my text books in hand, clean white notebooks, and an enthusiastic motivated spirit. And for a while, I'm keeping up. But subjects are always harder than they appear. The process of learning something is very tedious, the work is arduous, and those times where I'm not fully prepared with the prerequisite knowledge, or if I just simply doze off one too many lectures, I fall behind, and I'm forever, hopelessly lost, until through my own sheer force of will, manage to catch up (usually when a midterm looms).

For the students of this professor's class, however, the situation is much more dire. These students are so thoroughly unprepared for college, and they lack the time or the means to really catch up. The professor talks about how he just can't pass these students, how he's forced to fail a large percentage of them. Here's another quote:

There seems, as is often the case in colleges, to be a huge gulf between academia and reality. No one is thinking about the larger implications, let alone the morality, of admitting so many students to classes they cannot possibly pass. The colleges and the students and I are bobbing up and down in a great wave of societal forces—social optimism on a large scale, the sense of college as both a universal right and a need, financial necessity on the part of the colleges and the students alike, the desire to maintain high academic standards while admitting marginal students—that have coalesced into a mini-tsunami of difficulty. No one has drawn up the flowchart and seen that, although more-widespread college admission is a bonanza for the colleges and nice for the students and makes the entire United States of America feel rather pleased with itself, there is one point of irreconcilable conflict in the system, and that is the moment when the adjunct instructor, who by the nature of his job teaches the worst students, must ink the F on that first writing assignment.


Or consider this quote about a student of his who just couldn't cut it writing a term paper:

Her deficits don’t make her a bad person or even unintelligent or unusual. Many people cannot write a research paper, and few have to do so in their workaday life. But let’s be frank: she wasn’t working at anything resembling a college level.


But should our society be so widely educated?

There is a sense that the American workforce needs to be more professional at every level. Many jobs that never before required college now call for at least some post-secondary course work. School custodians, those who run the boilers and spread synthetic sawdust on vomit, may not need college—but the people who supervise them, who decide which brand of synthetic sawdust to procure, probably do. There is a sense that our bank tellers should be college educated, and so should our medical-billing techs, and our child-welfare officers, and our sheriffs and federal marshals. We want the police officer who stops the car with the broken taillight to have a nodding acquaintance with great literature. And when all is said and done, my personal economic interest in booming college enrollments aside, I don’t think that’s such a boneheaded idea. Reading literature at the college level is a route to spacious thinking, to an acquaintance with certain profound ideas, that is of value to anyone. Will having read Invisible Man make a police officer less likely to indulge in racial profiling? Will a familiarity with Steinbeck make him more sympathetic to the plight of the poor, so that he might understand the lives of those who simply cannot get their taillights fixed? Will it benefit the correctional officer to have read The Autobiography of Malcolm X? The health-care worker Arrowsmith? Should the child-welfare officer read Plath’s “Daddy”? Such one-to-one correspondences probably don’t hold. But although I may be biased, being an English instructor and all, I can’t shake the sense that reading literature is informative and broadening and ultimately good for you. If I should fall ill, I suppose I would rather the hospital billing staff had read The Pickwick Papers, particularly the parts set in debtors’ prison.

I like the point he makes further on (unquoted), that its purely an American idea to provide the highest level of education to anyone in society who wants it. To democratize knowledge is America's legacy to the world.

But for those folks in this professor's class, it is a struggle:

For I, who teach these low-level, must-pass, no-multiple-choice-test classes, am the one who ultimately delivers the news to those unfit for college: that they lack the most-basic skills and have no sense of the volume of work required; that they are in some cases barely literate; that they are so bereft of schemata, so dispossessed of contexts in which to place newly acquired knowledge, that every bit of information simply raises more questions. They are not ready for high school, some of them, much less for college.

And really what is college for? I'm not really sure I guess. For so many of us, its just a way to get the door open a little wider for a more lucrative career. I went to engineering school, which is largely, nothing more than a souped up technical college experience. I barely did any writing in college. I took my required English 101/102 courses as a freshman and that was it until I had to take one credit hour (one hour/week) course on technical writing the last semester of my degree. We only had to take to the bare minimum number of humanities courses to give us a "well rounded" education. Largely our course load was filled with math, science, and engineering courses, and nothing more. And even much of this has not been directly useful to my day to day work activities. There are definitely plenty of successful programmers out there who have never set foot on a college campus.

But, what about those jobs referred to in the article I'm so heavily quoting? Why would a hotel manager need a college degree? Or a police officer?

Well, its because Democracy demands it, I suppose. If we are to really, truly to realize the ideal of democracy and of capitalism, we need to democratize brilliance. Despite what this teacher has experienced, I think we have in the large view, a growing sense of this democratization. Just one example, in the old days, there were the superstar poets that everyone knew, those we all studied in school, Yeats, Keats, Wordsworth, I'm sure there were other less talented poets during those days that nobody remembers now, but surely the sheer quantity of poetry writing and publishing now is exponentially larger than was found then. And the quality is better now too. At least thats what I've read.

But, as noted in the article, we have a long way to go before we have reached the ideal. And I think the ideal, the dream, is to make genius ubiquitous. If the market can be flooded with brilliant craftsman, artists, architects, programmers, musicians, actors, scientists, doctors, and nurses, the salaries of those professions would most certainly go down, but then we would all have free or cheap access to it. My dream would be to hire out an architect to custom design my home, have skilled carpenters construct it, have interior designers decorate it and fill it with really nice furniture. Right now, this kind of thing is only reserved for the wealthy. But if labor costs were cheap because talented people were buzzing around like flies, anybody would be able to afford to do this.

In fact, this sort of thing seems to be happening right now to some extent in NY City, my sister lives there, and she is always telling me about how she has attended some local theater production and the talent of the actors were amazing because amazing actors are simply everywhere over there, all congregating in NY City trying to catch a break. She's told me a professional jazz pianists accompanies her daughter's ballet class. And my sister is not rich, its just that this kind of stuff is available to almost anyone who wants it.

So an educated and talented workforce generates wealth, and as this talent is distributed in a relative equal level throughout the citizenry, you would expect wealth to be distributed equally as well. Consider this quote from the book Development As Freedom:

"This approach goes against - and to a great extent undermines - the belief that has been so dominant in many policy circles that 'human development' (as the process of expanding education, health care and other conditions of human life is often called) is really a kind of luxury that only rich countries can afford. Perhaps the most important impact of the type of success that the East Asian economies, beginning with Japan, have had is the total undermining of that implicit prejudice. These economies went comparatively early for massive expansion of education, and later also of health care, and this they did, in many cases, before they broke the restraints of general poverty." (p 41)

And further, the author compares the developmental effects in India and China:

"The contrast between India and China has some illustrative importance in this context. The governments of both China and India have been making efforts for some time now (China from 1979 and India from 1991) to move toward a more open, internationally active, market-oriented economy. While Indian efforts have slowly met with some success, the kind of massive results that China has seen has failed to occur in India. An important factor in this contrast lies in the fact that from the standpoint of social preparedness, China is a great deal ahead of India in being able to make use of the market economy. While pre-reform China was deeply skeptical of markets, it was not skeptical of basic education and widely shared health care. When China turned to marketization in1979, it already had a highly literate people, especially the young, with good schooling facilities across the bulk of the country. In this respect, China was not very far from the basic educational situation in South Korea or Taiwan, where too an educated population had played a major role in seizing the economic opportunities offered by a supportive market system. In contrast, India had a half-literate adult population when it turned to marketization in 1991, and the situation is not much improved today." (p 42)

There has been a ton of discussion (myself included) in how to improve our health care system and educational system, but it should not be difficult. Consider this one final quote form Development as Freedom:

"Surprise may well be expressed about the possibility of financing support-led processes in poor countries, since resources are surely needed to expand public services, including health care and education. In fact, the need for resources is frequently presented as an argument for postponing socially important investments until a country is already richer. Where (as the famous rhetorical question goes) are the poor countries going to find the means for 'supporting' these services? This is indeed a good question, but it also has a good answer, which lies very considerably in the economics of relative costs. The viability of this support-led process is dependent on the fact that the relevant social services (such as health care and basic education) are very labor intensive, and thus are relatively inexpensive in poor- and low-wage - economies. A poor economy may have less money to spend on health care and education, but it also needs less money to spend to provide the same services, which would cost much more in the richer countries. Relative prices and costs are important parameters in determining what a country can afford. Given an appropriate social commitment, the need to take note of the variability of relative costs is particularly important for social services in health and education."

Slight political digression here. Our country is doing well, when compared to many developing countries, in providing general education and health care to its population, and we are doing well, in my view, in educating the population as a whole when compared to any other country in the world. But in health care, we are falling painfully short. Health care costs have risen drastically over the past few years when compared to other goods and services. This shouldn't be, and its directly a result of a system and political failure in our country that must be addressed, and I hope will be addressed once we get a new president.

But the point is, a talented, healthy and motivated population produces wealth.

I do have some more to say on the importance of personal education and the impact we have as smart consumers and not just producers. An intelligent consumer is someone who pays more for quality and thus rewards smart producers. Consuming smart takes about as much skill, effort, and talent as producing smart. Its simply almost as difficult. Smart poets produce great poetry, but how much better would our society be if we had a nation of poetry readers. Great symphonies come from many people willing to spend a lifetime sacrificing their time to hone their talents, but its all for naught, if nobody is around to listen and appreciate it.

In contrast, how much skill does it really take to post naked pictures on the internet. But pornography is a huge industry, but sadly only enslaves those who consume it into painful addictions and often broken families. A prime example where both the producers and the consumers act to make our country poorer.

It's for this and other reasons that the value of an individual sacrificing years to hone a skill is not just valued simply because of the opportunity to have a career. My wife, who I am enormously lucky to have in my life, started piano lessons at age four and half and stuck to it all the way through a Master Degree in piano performance. She entered my life as she was just beginning her Masters degree at ASU. I remember her crying many times as she was trying desperately to prepare for her Masters recital, where she was to memorize and perform an hours worth of intense classical music. She pulled through the experience and did it. But for what? She continued on as a part time piano teacher, charging as much (or maybe marginally more) as many other teachers with less education and experiences. She is now teaching one student, and is relegated to using her piano skills as an accompanist to a church's volunteer choir. Surely she didn't need a Master's degree for that.

But the experience of pushing herself to the absolute peak of her potential, to really understand what it takes to master something at a high level, to appreciate and know music as well as she does now because of that experience, is part of the reason why living on this earth is so enjoyable. The fact that each of us has the potential to pursue some interest, whatever it is, the fact that almost any subject imaginable is wonderfully complex and deep enough to offer a lifetime of study, and the fact that we can with our knowledge, skills and talents, give back both to our economy and our community in ways that can deeply affect each other's lives in real tangible ways, makes each day so exciting (and at times frustrating), but immensely rewarding.

Genius is within our grasp, if only we have the self-awareness to reach out and take it.

9 comments:

H said...

Scott,

You make a lot of important observations about society here, and I'm not sure how to address them all. I do believe that everyone is or has the potential to be incredible, but I also think that society has a way of making people think or feel that they are un-incredible. What makes the distinction between incredibleness and normal, typical and a-typical? Money, fame, education, power, integrity...? I think that not everyone, myself included, would want all of these things. Even The Incredibles (from the cartoon movie) had different talents. It was the ability to use these talents "for the greater good" that made them incredible, in the eyes of society. When they took that away from them everyone suffered.

You seem to put a lot of emphasis on education being important and I wonder if it is only formal education that you are talking about. Yes, there is something to be said for someone that has to report to a professor(or several professors by the end of their schooling) than the person who reads for personal satisfaction but is either one really superior? Who gained the most from exploring the topic? I will make an assumption here that everyone holding a college degree took at least one class they didn't want to, gave it as much effort as needed to pass, and moved on. Which brings me to my next point, which is the article you linked to:

Who does "Professor X" think he is and why on earth is he teaching at a college "of last resort"? He obviously does not have a passion for actual teaching, at least not the subject he has taken a job for. If he wants to be discussing Shakespeare, Dubliners, poetic rhythms, and Edward Said then he certainly should not be teaching English 101 and 102. He tries to point out "literary techniques" when he needs to be teaching paragraph construction. Yes, these are high school graduates and should already have these skills, but they don't and he is the teacher. Although it is not in his job description to teach the basic skills, neither is advancing his students appreciation of great literature. He tries to do that on his own, because he wants to. A good teacher wants his students to succeed, helps them to succeed, and encourages them to succeed in the subject he is assigned to teach them. If he doesn't like his job then he should quit and leave the teaching to someone who wants to do the job.

Why am I so harsh on this "adjunct professor", and why do I doubt his sincerity towards his profession? Because of the way he refers to his students, tells of the events in his classroom, and his obvious disdain towards anyone less literate than himself. His whole article reeks of his superiority, yet he writes:

"Our presence together in these evening classes is evidence that we all have screwed up. I’m working a second job; they’re trying desperately to get to a place where they don’t have to."

Again, in his own words he is a "sexist, ageist, intellectual snob." I had to look up ageist, and the inclusion of "sexist", in reference to a particular female student,is exactly why I assume that his professor is a man.

So back to being "Incredible". My question to this professor, and to you is this: do we really think that fitting into a proscribed, literate mold, being able to write term papers, and obtaining a college degree is really what makes us incredible? Maybe we don't need to "democratize brilliance", but appreciate an individual's brilliance for what it is.

I have additional thoughts on your inclusion of Sara's experience but feel I've gotten too lengthy already.

Thanks for the post! I'll have to think more about your associating education, democracy, and capitalism so closely together.
Helena

tempe turley said...

Helena, thanks for the comment. Just to address some of your points:

1) I was not referring to just formal education. I was hoping to paint a broad enough stroke to incclude any and all atttempts to hone one's talents in any way possible. In many ways, formal education can get in the way of that in the ways you describe.

2) I disagree with your harsh judgement of the professor. Interesting that you automatically assume the professor's male, very well could be female. The point is that the professor is teaching a college writing/literature class, and many of the students (not all) don't have the pre-requisite qualifications for it.

Maybe there needs to be some sort of adult training courses available but the skills these particular people lack were skills they should have gotten in high school and earlier but didn't.

Should these sort of adult literacy courses (but hardly college level) be counted as credits allowing the students get promotions and higher paying jobs? Maybe, but that's not what's happening here. But this particular professor is definitely not qualified to teach such a course, nor was that his/her expectation going in.

I definitely don't agree we should lower college standards accordingly, maybe come up with competing adult educational models...

The larger question made by the article is, do aspiring police officers (for example) really need to know and write about Shakespeare? That's the direction our society seems to be going, intentionally or not.

3) Finally, my point is that incredibless should be normal. I'm definitely not talking about money, fame, or power. I'm talking about a society filled with talented people making significant contributions helping all of us to enjoy a higher quality of life. Democratizing brilliance means that brilliance is normal.

Davey said...

I started to write a whole different response but then I read Helena’s post and had to change it up.

A few quick clarifications Helena said “in his own words he is a "sexist, ageist, intellectual snob."”, which is not in his own words at all, but I did notice you posted your comment at 2:45 in the morning so maybe that’s why you missed that when he used those words he was accentuating the fact that those would be the accusations leveled at him if he were to encourage his student to drop out of the class due to insufficient preparation. The irony of course being that when you decontextualize the quote and misrepresent its meaning you effectively make that very accusation. He is in a catch-22 here then isn’t he? Also, why the skeptic marks around the term adjunct professor? Do you doubt that he is an adjunct? Or do you simply want to discredit him by making a valid credential appear questionable? Maybe you should have just put the word “just” before the term so we knew how you were feeling about his credentials.

I actually think the professor raises a number of important issues that I have thought about for awhile. I posted here about it but I’ll add a few things.

People always speak of “formal education” as if it’s functionally different than other forms of education and usually it is used as a pejorative, implying its inferiority to a “real” education. You, of course, were only saying that “formal education” may not be appropriate for everybody which is ludicrous and implies that people like Mrs. L have some other comparable form of education, which she doesn’t; she is, by even the loosest definition of the word, uneducated. The simplest explanation why this is so was given to me by an otherwise uninsightful dance instructor during a, wait for it…college course! Anyway it was ballroom dance 101 which is Latin, swing, waltz, and a bunch of other stuff I don’t remember. He said that his ballroom dance classes always looked way better at the final competition which included the entire department because we were forced to learn a range of skills. The kids from the Latin dancing 101 may have known more steps then us but we were less blocky, and insecure, more fluid and comfortable and looked like we were having a lot more fun. The point being of course that few of us there really wanted to learn all those different dances but in the end learning things that we didn’t want to made us better at the things we did want to do.

In this spirit I am a huge advocate of classical education and general studies on the whole. In my post I referenced above I described the irony of giving people vocational training and then calling them educated. This is why I don’t like the artificial division between formal education and personal studies. What would you say to a woman who diligently reads the complete works of Harlequin Publishing because she wants to keep her mind sharp? Or a Doctor? Does the ability to memorize the medical cannon render you educated? Maybe, maybe not. What about construction workers? No doubt building a skyscraper takes skills comparable to surgery but nobody’s out there claiming they’re educated. I’m making the point that education comes in only one form, and if it’s taught in a college class or in the local used bookstore there is no substitute the true goal of education: excellence.

This is, I think, the point Scott was making. Excellence in literature, music, the arts, philosophy, whatever is worthy of our efforts. This professor was not pompous; he was frustrated and rightfully so. One question is why do we want police officers to read and understand great literature? But that leads to another far more important question, why should anybody have to read Shakespeare? Here’s my answer

D&C 109: 7, 14
7 And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best abooks words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith;
• • •
14 And do thou grant, Holy Father, that all those who shall worship in this house may be taught words of wisdom out of the best abooks, and that they may seek learning even by study, and also by faith, as thou hast said;

D&C 88: 118
118 And as all have not afaith, seek ye diligently and bteach one another words of cwisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best dbooks words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.


How can we hope that someone who can’t read Shakespeare will somehow be able to mine the richness of God’s word? If someone can’t commit themselves to learning about John Locke how can they hope to appreciate Mosiah? We say study the scriptures but we don’t teach how to study at church, we just don’t. That has to come from home and from school.

I think at some point we should not be scared to say, “You know what, that’s stupid”. A number of books have hit the national scene recently about the disdain that American’s have for education. The word “elite” has taken on a negative connotation. So while I agree that being incredible is probably relative, it is not that relative. Democracy in modern understanding has come to mean the celebration of mediocrity.

In the end university should be a place where people are challenged and tested. It should be a place where we teach our children discipline, hard work, commitment and perseverance. Somewhere deep inside we still know this, which is why we think policemen should learn to write research papers because we know that it will make them better human beings and better policemen too.

You can argue that those things can be taught anywhere but they’re not being taught anywhere and, increasingly, they’re not being taught at universities anymore either. I commend this person for giving so many failing grades. While it’s tragic that people are not prepared this is not his fault but like he said he’s the one on the front lines and it sounds like he takes this responsibility seriously.

I think education is a travesty for the most part in this country. But only because I, like Thomas Jefferson, hope for a nation of philosophers, or at least people who can read or write (which a college “education” does not guarantee). Our nation is currently struggling with this, which is what the paper points out. Should we force people to be smart? Or does democracy demand that we allow people to wallow in ignorance? I’d be happy with a resolution either way. Either we commit to the full educational experience, forcing people to learn to read Latin and all that or we purge the university of pollutant vocational programs. I’m torn in that I feel bad for people who don’t want educations but then again it’s like saying the only reason people are poor in America is because they don’t want to be rich. The truth is people reject hard work and excellence in economic matters for the same reason they do in educational ones – social forces have combined to encourage people to settle for mediocrity instead of teaching them how to be excellent.

tempe turley said...

Davey, you make some interesting points about the traditional classical education. I have found myself waffling a lot between spending my free time on trying to broaden my education or enhancing my craft.

I would agree that both are important and are inter-dependent.

April said...

Okay, I'm ready to comment. I've read everything and here is my take on Professor X. He has a problem. I use 'he' simply because my father was an English professor who also hated his incompetent students. I know this because we would read his student's essays and laugh together. I was 13 and a much better writer at the time in comparison with his college kids. Anyway, he states plainly that he really doesn't want to be there. However, in high hopes he brings his wisdom and enthusiasm to his calss but ultimately fails in helping his students reach a passing grade. Now, that is depressing itself. Not only does he feel like a failure but he in a sense feels responsible for the failure of his students and thus the failure of their job raise, reimbursement, what have you.

A point that no one has brought up yet, is that he himself is obviously not "educated" enough to teach what he really wants to teach or do what he really wants to do. He is at a community college teaching Eng 101 and 102 - not very prestigiuos. Yet, he is expecting to discuss the greats when he knows full well that the kids coming into his class cannot even write a complete sentence. There are many problems with this. And I personally take issue with his lack of concern for these students. He knows that many are failing and retaking his class, yet he does nothing. He deosn't change his methods of teaching, and he says nothing about it to anyone.

This reminds me all too much of my experience teaching. Interetstingly enough I too came into my eight grade classroom wanting to teach Shakespeare. Soon enough, I realized that many of my students couldn't read or write worth a darn. The difference though is that I didn't plug through and follow my syllabus just because they should already know these skills - I started from scratch and taught them what they needed to know. Now, they ceratinly weren't high school ready when they left my classroom, and many actualy failed in my book although the school passed them on, but they achieved a lot under my teaching. They all improved and were all able to write esssays on some level or another that were acceptable to their individual abilities. (Schools passing on failing students and a lack of individualized education are two seperate blogs by the way.) The problem is that this professor is drudging along in life just like his students. He does what he has to to get by and doesn't make a fuss. If he truly wanted these students to embrace his enthusiasm for writing and literature he would find a way. I found a way. I did teach Shakespeare to my students and they wrote critically about it as well.

My point is this - this professor is just as pathetic as these students. He is one of his students, only he is not on the path to become a better anything. He is simply existing and making do with a teaching job that was "a last resort." How sad that we let oursleves just live in mediocrity. You'd think that by reading and writing about all of the greats he'd be on to bigger and better things. So, it truly doesn't seem to matter what kind of eductaion you have or what skills and talents you have if you choose not to use them. I will spare you scripture but this man's gonna lose his gold coins because he's hiding them. I know he can be a better teacher.

Now, that being said, or rather judgment being passed, I'd also like to say that the idea of everyone having an education is important. I do believe that an officer can be better at his job having read the greats. I beleive this because reading causes you to reflect and when you reflect you begin to change and grow as a human being. And isn't the point of our whole existence to grow and develop as human beings? I do think that the best way to do this is through gaining knowledge, but as Scott touched on in his essay knowledge can be sought in many ways. I would like to add that the best knowledge I have found is through human relationships: dealing with people. If we are so concerned about being educated and are constantly focused on seeking knowledge in any way we can, we will miss out. We will miss life. We will miss human realtionships. It makes me think of the documentary on PBS about the LDS faith where they spoke plainly about many people that were too intellectual that they had to leave the church or were excommunicated. I find this fascinating. I think there must be balance in all things. We must seek knowledge, back it's truth up with the spirit and share our experiences with others. That I think is the key to better living -shared knowledge and experience.

Did I make any sense? I think it's unfair that Scott gets weeks to write essays and we have to make our comments in one fell swoop and sound like complete morons. Too bad. Those is my idears about edgimication!

Sara said...

I just want to say that I'm impressed with all the "critical thinking" going on here, and I think we all know now why the author of the article is listed as Professor X! (By the way, I totally thought it was a woman when I was reading it. Don't know why...)

tempe turley said...

April (and Helena),

You both make some really good points, and I can't say they are wrong because I do agree with you. But the points the professor is making is right as well. Certainly both of you are making some assumptions about the professor that may or may not be right based on what he wrote. Also, I think both of you are writing from the perspective of an elementary or high school teacher. I think the game is different in an adult/college setting.

First, in college I felt that learning was much more my responsibility. The teacher was more of a guide outlining and introducing the topics, but it was my responsibility to do the hard work of study.

Second, if the professor changed (dumbed down) the class to meet the needs of the slowest students, would it be fair to those students who were actually ready for the class?

The big problem here is that there are too many things that haven't been sorted out completely in our society. The Junior Colleges, in particular, just admit everyone who applies whether they are college ready or not, and largely because the extra tuition is a boon to their bottom line. Is that right?

All of these jobs that used to not require college course work, now require it. Why? What more are they really expecting out of their employees because they have a college degree?

And the professor is stuck wondering if he should lower his standards to these students who came in unprepared for college (ok I thought he was male too) or if he should keep the standards where he feels they should be kept and expect his students to rise to the occasion. Obviously he chose the latter...

But without a doubt there are a ton of people graduating from our high schools that are not college ready (not even junior college ready). That used to be ok, but more and more it no longer is.

Maybe there needs to be another route, some sort of bridge curriculum that allows people to enroll in college prep courses before they actually enroll in college...

Or maybe more of our high schools need to take on a college prep feel...

All tough questions.

April said...

In all simplicity the real problem with education is not education...it's the disintigration of strong families. Show me a pitiful student that has outstanding parents. It's not going to happen. Any child can succeed in any school if they have engaged parents that care about thier child and their child's education. I would guess that had these students' of X's had amazing parents and good family support systems, they would not be struggling with English 101 and 102. In fact they probably would have graduated years previously and would have moved on to careers. Just some thoughts.

And yes, Scott, I definitly read this as a teacher, but I would disagree that college is any different than earlier grades. Teaching is teaching. You never know what level of skill you will be presented with, but once you do know you should deal with it and not look the other way as your students fail. I know I'm being harsh, but there are far too many teachers teaching that shouldn't be teaching and X is one of them.

tempe turley said...

April,

I'm sorry I'm beating this discussion to death, and we're probably going to have to agree to disagree.

But I don't think Professor X was looking away as his students failed. He tried with these students, but the gap between where they were and where they needed to be to pass these classes was insurmountably vast.

And there was no where near enough time to catch up, with work and family obligations on top of the course load.

I look back on my English 101/102 experiences, and those were rough classes. I took English 101 at the junior college in Yuma the summer after high school and I got a C in the course. And I had taken honors/AP English courses through high school, and still I could only muster a C. It wasn't like I slouched through it, either. I worked hard on those essays. The teacher punished me for trying to be too much of a show off in my writing. At the time, I dismissed it, thinking the teacher was full of it, but looking back I deserved that grade completely and fully.

I took English 102 at the U of A, and I worked my tail off in that class, harder than any other of my classes that year, and I had some tough ones. I only was able to muster a B, my only B that year. It was a hard class, the teacher expected essays with extremely well thought out arguments with a ton of evidence backing up the main points. She wanted us to go deep and back it up thoroughly.

We read Jane Austin's Emma that semester, and had to write a major paper on the book. I felt like I read the book about 5 times practically in its entirety to pull all of my thoughts into that paper.

But again, looking back, I'm glad the teachers didn't lower the standards. At the time I would have been glad if they did, I was all about easy A's. But now, looking back, I learned a lot of important lessons from those experiences. And I simply would not have if I had a teacher slow down the pace of the class to accommodate students who were not ready.