Idiocracy Report

Fall semester is drawing to a close, for which I am very very grateful.  I have graded a LOT of really horrendous discussion posts this semester.  More and more mid to upperclassmen get to me with no knowledge of correct English, how to properly cite anything, and (in many cases) a shocking lack of caring that such issues are tanking their grade.  Most of them are just angry that I don’t spoonfeed them, give them endless extensions, or provide study guides.

I’m sorry.  You’re in COLLEGE NOW.

This is another one of those things that truly terrifies me for the fate of our country.  No Child Left Behind is sending education to hell in a handbasket, graduating students who don’t know squat, which is ultimately going to leave everyone behind.

I just finished calculating exemptions in my classes.  I’m one of the cool profs.  If they have an A in the class prior to the final, to my mind that indicates mastery of the material, so I give them an A and let them skip the final.  It’s a practice I’ve had since I started teaching five years ago.  Over time, the number of students who are exempt gets smaller and smaller.  Twenty percent of one of my classes is failing going into the final because they just didn’t bother to ever turn in a discussion question all semester (20% of their grade).  One student emailed me wanting to know her grade going into the final so she’d know what she had to make to pass.  I got to email her back to explain that even a 100 on the final wasn’t going to get her to pass my class.  Cue freak out and “But but but!  I deserve an extension/do over/to be passed even though I didn’t earn it!”

I repeat YOU ARE IN COLLEGE NOW (even though many of you have no business being here).  Education is doomed so long as the popular thing is to maintain that everyone has equal ability.  It’s moronic.  That’s like saying everybody is capable of playing pro football or being an astronaut.  College is not for everyone.  And that’s totally okay.  What sense does it make for somebody to have a 4 year degree in some random thing if their passion is, say, working on diesel engines or something? I’ve got degrees out the wazoo and I sure as hell couldn’t do that.  It still takes serious brains, just a different type of education.

It drives me insane that a college degree has become the new high school diploma, which is now graduating hordes of students who really don’t know anything more than they did in high school, but damn it they have that piece of paper–and tens of thousands in debt to show for it.  How is this a good thing?  It devalues all education across the board, puts people in school for longer, getting higher and higher degrees, higher and higher debt, all to acquire jobs that aren’t going to pay enough to justify the debt burden.  But hey, debt is a popular thing in our country.  And our Congressmen keep giving themselves raises…

Okay this is so not the place for a political rant, so stopping myself now and just gonna say I’m grateful for the fact that finals are next week and I get a few weeks off from evil day job number 2.

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14 comments

  1. I stopped teaching High School US History & Civics because of this program. You’re right to fear for our future. No Child Left Behind pushes rote learning to the test, not the necessary critical thinking skills we need to make good decisions–financial, political, & life. We are training, not teaching, a generation to follow orders & not think. Don’t get me started. Oops, you already have.

  2. I agree with you on all counts. Just don’t know what to do about it. I’ve got one grown son who struggled to get out if high school and excelled in a mechanical sort of career, one daughter who is now paying for her lack of attention in HS but regrets it and is working hard to catch up (and reallyis doing it) while going to college and one son who has the brains but not the motivation to excell academically. All three great kids with different capacities and I don’t feel any less proud of the one not cut out for college.

  3. I agree 100%. DH teaches at two local universities and… yea. We’ve got nothing good to say about 95% of the students. Where do they get off expecting grades to be handed to them on a silver platter no matter how little effort they put into their studies?

  4. Semi-literacy is the standard these days. The college instructor’s job is to pretend that they’re teaching and that the students are learning. As long as there’s no acknowledgement at the highest levels that this is why the country is falling apart, then efforts by critics, parents, and the educators themselves have absolutely no impact. And that lack of acknowledgement is exactly what leads so many to believe that the powers-that-be, the 1%, or whatever you want to call them, are perfectly happy with things as they are.

  5. You are a cool professor for giving A students an option to skip the final and keep their A. The closest thing I had was a college instructor who told me to take a 0 on the final and let my A drop to a B for his class. He said he’d never study for a final if he could take a zero and still have a B in the class. (Yes, seriously.)

    As for what you said about college becoming the new high school, it’s shame. But it’s true for the exact reasons you stated. Most people there don’t need to be there. They don’t want to put int he effort to pass, and they want their grade to be given to them. It devalues the system for those who really are there to work hard and learn.

    Good post. 😀

  6. I’ve been saying this for years, Kait. Nice to hear someone with some credentials saying the same thing. Egalitarian programs forced upon us by the government are never the solution, whether they involve education, finances or whatever.

  7. A fine rant, and I have to agree. This idiotic idea of no child left behind will, in the end, open all of North America up to an invasion of truly well educated and highly skilled immigrants who will ultimately take over. This is foolish and has been so from it’s inception.

  8. Unfortunately, that’s all too true. My first English class in college taught me that everything I learned in high school with WRONG! I was pretty pissed because I wanted an education and worked hard, now people are telling me the rules are different in college?? No wonder a lot of people just say “forget it” and never really apply themselves. The system isn’t set up for success. Education reform needs to happen from the bottom UP! But it won’t and we know it. Thank goodness for professors like you who I’m sure ARE having an impact. We’ve got to impact positive change in the small ways we can.

  9. I have to admit that I read this on the other side of the gate, so to speak. I’m in finals mode right now and I’m FREAKING OUT. And while my experience with profs over the years has been 99% positive, I’ve also had experiences where some of my particular learning challenges (I’ve been diagnosed with a learning disability) were interpreted as laziness by teachers and professors. Heck, I remember in my senior year of college studying 20 plus hours for a Biology exam and still flunking it. And yeah, when I tried to talk to the professor about it I was basically interpreted to be: a) lying, and b) if not lying, then clearly studying the wrong way. You’re totally right that people have different abilities and that’s okay – I’m never going near a Biology class again!

    But I guess I wanted to give some perspective that profs don’t always see the other side of the story, that sometimes students try VERY HARD and the grades just don’t reflect that.

    Then again, I’ve had the courtesy of attending programs where I and the other students work very very hard. I know it’s not like that in all programs, as evidenced by my semester abroad where my roommate basically skipped all her classes except for the finals, which she studied something like 4-5 hours for, tops. And it kind of boggles my mind that your students would just elect NOT to do an assignment that was 20% of their grade. Reminds me of: Cake or death? It’s like they picked death.

    Wondering if part of the citation confusion involves APA vs. MLA? Embarrassed to admit that I confused them sometimes as an undergrad.

    1. See, it’s not even that they’re giving me some kind of bastardized combo of APA and MLA. I’d accept that because then at least they’d still be trying to indicate “hey, these aren’t my words/thoughts, they came from this dude over here”. It’s like they just flat don’t recognize that they have to do that and what constitutes plagiarism.

      I definitely see a big difference in my students who struggle with the material but are obviously trying (or have learning disabilities–I’m in psychology so I’m trained to recognize them) vs. the ones who just flat don’t do assignments and then try to make up some lame excuse. Really? The flu prevented you from calling me or emailing me on Monday to tell me you were sick as a dog, so you had to wait until after Thanksgiving? Because that totally doesn’t look like you didn’t bother to check your course calendar and assumed we didn’t have work done and now you’ve hit your Oh Shit point.

      I have a firm policy that if my students have problems, I’m happy to help, but they have to contact me ahead of time, not well after the deadline is past. The lazy ones didn’t bother to read that in the syllabus and are the ones who missed half their assignments and think I’m going to give them enough extra credit in finals week so they can pass when they’ve never even had a conversation with me to say “Hey I’m having trouble.” Um, no. Too little, too late.

  10. Even just working on my elementary school’s homework with them makes me cringe. They come home with reading assignments, and they have to read to me out loud. The reading material is not even in correct english. It makes me cringe. No wonder they have problems later on.

  11. First, I love you for pointing out that not everyone is cut out for college. It took me a long time to struggle with whether or not I wanted to go. I barely hacked high school because of all the classes jammed into one day. I just didn’t learn that way, but when I went into homeschool courses and went to one or two classes a day (kind of like college. Kind of), I suddenly excelled. But I’m going to try out community college and see what happens. If it doesn’t pan out then it doesn’t. I personally know I’m not dumb for that, but my family doesn’t.

    The fact that I even took this long to get out of high school has my family and friends assuming I’m an idiot, nevermind the fact that I might just learn things differently and am not ashamed of admitting it. Not everyone is fit for college. I might be one of those people, or I might not be. I’ll figure it out — but I sure as heck won’t get into debt over any of this. I love education, but it’s not worth being anywhere from $20,000 – $80,000 in the hole. That’s the amount of debt my friends have accrued over their college days. No thanks.

    The other thing that’s frustrating is how easy the classes are if you just pay a modicum of attention in the class and do the freaking work, even on a college level. I mean, that should be a no-brainer, but in my college-level math class, I was one of four people in a thirty-person class that had an A. And the teacher practically gave us the answers. Went over homework in class, went over every single concept and formula at least three times a week until the tests. Then people would brag about not listening or not doing their homework only to freak out when they realized the final won’t get them the grade they wanted. It’s… like high school, only worse. I don’t even know what to think of it, and it’s one of the major reasons I questioned if college was worth it. I mean, do I really want to repeat high school all over again? Am I really learning anything new? Not really, in all honesty. And that makes me sad…

    Sorry for such a long comment! I just really, really, really am frustrated by our education system. And you sort of pointed out exactly why. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one.

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