More on the Clown Car

Since posting on David Brooks’ “When the Circus Descends” yesterday, Stephen Sondheim’s great song “Send in the Clowns” has been going through my head, especially these lines:

I thought that you’d want what I want.
Sorry, my dear.
But where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns.
Don’t bother, they’re here.

What frustrates me so is that all of us should have the same goals concerning education, “I thought that you’d want what I want.” The goal should be real education, described by John Dewey as well as anyone has:

I believe that all education proceeds by the participation of the individual in the social consciousness of the race. This process begins unconsciously almost at birth, and is continually shaping the individual’s powers, saturating his consciousness, forming his habits, training his ideas, and arousing his feelings and emotions. Through this unconscious education the individual gradually comes to share in the intellectual and moral resources which humanity has succeeded in getting together. He becomes an inheritor of the funded capital of civilization. The most formal and technical education in the world cannot safely depart from this general process. It can only organize it or differentiate it in some particular direction.

This is not training for jobs. It is not a competition with other nations. It is a fundamental component of society and the basis for its progress. “Sorry, my dear,” but it also starts with the individual, as Dewey writes, and moves from there into society’s “funded capital of civilization.” It does not work when imaged from the top down, as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that Brooks extols tries to do. Structured from the needs of the top and not from those of the students at the bottom, it becomes training, not education Continue reading

Northwestern’s Bad Arguments Against a Football Player Union

On April 25, Northwestern football players will vote on whether to form a union. But we may never know the results of the vote, because Northwestern University is fighting to have any union banned after the NLRB Regional Director ruled it could exist. In a legal brief appealing the ruling (pdf), Northwestern made a number of strange and disturbing claims, beginning with the argument that  “The University is not in the business of football.” If it’s not a business, then why are you paying your head football coach total compensation of more than $2.175 million per year in a 10-year contract, which is far more than the president or any professor at the school makes? Is it because football is the most important educational activity at Northwestern? Or is it because football is a big business?

Continue reading

Backseat Driving in the Clown Car

Backseat driving in the clown car: that’s what pundits are about, today.

In The New York Times, David Brooks tries to turn that around, making out that is those who disagree with him who have the red noses and squeeze horns. He mounts a defense of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) based on the idea that those he shills for are the wise and considerate and caring–and that everyone else is either raw material or the lunatic fringe (both left and right).

Education, to Brooks, “is to get students competitive with their international peers.” What the students need in their personal lives, or want, these don’t matter. What communities need, in terms of citizens and contributing members, doesn’t matter. And anyone who disagrees with Brooks and those he advocates for is a nut. A clown. Continue reading

The NLRB Decision on the Unionization of College Athletes at One Institution Signals, but Will Not Determine, the Changes That Are Coming

The Tacoma News Tribune very recently published a very thoughtful editorial by Bill Virgin titled “It’s Not So Far-Fetched to See the Future of Collegiate Sports as a Business Entity” [http://www.thenewstribune.com/2014/04/13/3147199/its-not-so-far-fetched-to-see.html?sp=/99/261/].

Virgin considers the following contrasts: the erosion of the concept of the amateur athlete and the rise of professional sports as a major entertainment industry, the rise in the profits generated by intercollegiate athletics and the low graduation rates among college athletes; and the tension between increased allocations to intercollegiate athletics ostensibly to market academic institutions and the rise in student debt and cuts to instructional budgets.

Virgin concludes that the end of amateur collegiate athletics is on the horizon—not because of the recent NLRB decision to allow the student athletes at Northwestern University to unionize but because that decision reflects a broader societal awareness of the hypocrisy of pretending that, at its top levels, this “big business” should be able to generate huge profits for everyone involved except for those most fundamentally involved, the athletes themselves.

Like Virgin, I don’t think that there is much point in mulling over the specifics of the NLRB decision on Northwestern. It seems more significant as a pivotal event than as a critical event: that is, it has created an awareness and a certain momentum that will extend beyond even its being overturned in the courts. Continue reading

Across the Great Divides? No More (Updated)

No matter the measure you use–education, income, heritage, race, family size, job type, language–Americans are moving to greater segregation than we have ever before experienced. This is a no-brainer; it has been the pattern for decades, and it becomes more dominant each year.

We must be satisfied with it, for we are doing nothing, absolutely nothing to change it. Certainly not in higher education.

My students, most of them first-generation college students, many of them immigrants, almost all of them from the less fortunate “side of the tracks” in one way or another (generally in many), are still sold the dream that they can make it to the other side of the divides, that their education is going to make a difference. They have been told that degrees are all it takes, told it throughout their education. I work with an Associates degree program, a transfer program meant to prepare students for baccalaureate majors. Few of these students were strong candidates for college in the first place (else they would be at one of the other CUNY campuses) though most of them (even those lacking basic skills) have the intellectual capacity for college work. As in A.A. programs nationwide, however, their success rate is abysmally low. We, like educators everywhere, are working hard to change that–but we still are, also, abetting a situation of growing separation.

What are these students going to do when they do get their Bachelor’s degrees and find that they still aren’t going to get the prize jobs? When are we going to admit to them that the dreams for their futures that we have helped foster can never be realized, that their chances of crossing to the other side are next to nil? When are we going to recognize that we are fooling ourselves–along with our students–when we claim that degrees are enough in themselves? Continue reading

College and the Growing American Divide

This was no surprise:

Deluged by more applications than ever, the most selective colleges are, inevitably, rejecting a vast majority, including legions of students they once would have accepted. Admissions directors at these institutions say that most of the students they turn down are such strong candidates that many are indistinguishable from those who get in.

The divide between thems-as-got and thems-as-ain’t is becoming even less connected to merit than it ever was (and the connection was weak at the best of times). The myth of a burgeoning meritocracy promoted by Charles Murray, Richard Florida, et al is becoming even more clearly and simply a justification by those on the top side of the divide, a justification for their being there. Continue reading

The Top Issues Facing Higher Education in 2014 and Beyond

Writing for Forbes, John Ebersole, the president of Excelsior College, has identifeid the following ten issues as the most significant issues facing higher education this year:

1. Cost.

2. Renewal of the Higher Education Act.

3. Workforce development.

4. Competency-based education.

5. Accreditation.

6. Assessment.

7. Quality assurance in non-institutional learning.

8. Recognition of the new majority in student bodies.

9. Crisis in leadership.

10. The economy.

Ebersole notes that many readers may wonder about his exclusion of MOOCs as an issue, but he feels that the questions about their efficacy for most students and their over-exposure in the media have greatly decreased the consideration of MOOCs as an major innovation in higher education.

I agree largely with that assessment, but I would take issue with a fairly large number of his choices for the list. Continue reading

Missouri Program Allows Students to Apply University Credits Retroactively toward an Associates Degree

In a recent post, I discussed a dubious proposal put forward in Ohio to award associates degrees to all university students who have simply completed a specified number of credit hours, regardless of the distribution of those credit hours [http://academeblog.org/2014/04/04/kent-state-university-announces-plans-to-increase-dramatically-the-number-of-associates-degrees-that-it-grants/].

A much more reasonable program has been initiated in Missouri, though to date the results have not been anything close to what the proponents of the program hoped to achieve with it.

In 2012, the Missouri legislature approved what it called a “reverse-transfer program.” Recognizing the need for the state to produce more degrees at all levels and looking for inexpensive ways to achieve that goal, the legislature considered the number of students who had earned well over the number of credit hours needed for an associates degree without receiving any degree. Continue reading

Higher Education “Reform”: The Price Paid by the Next Generation of Students and Professors

An “On the Issues” Post from the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education [http://futureofhighered.org]

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The increasing awareness of—and outrage about–the size of the debt crushing college graduates is, we must hope, a sign that meaningful action to address it may be possible.

The numbers alone are staggering.  According to recent reports, the average student debt for graduates with bachelor’s degrees is now $29,400—roughly 80% of a young person’s average income in this country. (See more at http://www.edcentral.org/student-debt-review/.)

The implications of these numbers are also frightening.  As we are increasingly aware, student debt is fueling the widening wealth gap in the United States (http://save2limitdebt.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Student-Loans-Widening-Wealth-Gap_Fullreport.pdf) and even threatening the health of our overall economy (http://www.kansas.com/2013/08/10/2935730/crippling-student-debt-affects.html).

Less understood is the parallel economic precariousness of this generation of college professors. Continue reading

Kent State University Announces Plans to Increase Dramatically the Number of Associates Degrees That It Grants

The Columbus Dispatch recently reported that Kent State University is planning to grant an associates degree to any student who completes 60 credit hours, or about half of the credit hours needed for most baccalaureate degrees.

Apparently the university will create a generic associates degree for this purpose.

In addition to its main campus in Kent, Ohio, the university has the most extensive system of regional campuses of any university in the state. There are seven regional campuses in the Kent system, stretching from the northeast corner of the state and the shores of Lake Erie to the Amish region just north of I-70, which runs west to east across the entire state, passing through Dayton at the western end of the state and Columbus in the center. Kent State’s seven regional campuses are the Ashtabula, East Liverpool, Geauga, Salem, Stark, Trumbull, and Tuscarawas campuses.

At those regional campuses, the university has always awarded associates degrees. Ohio’s two dozen regional campuses are treated as colleges within nine of the state universities. Established during the 1960s and early 1970s, the regional university campuses initially offered selected technical programs, comparable to those typically offered at technical and community colleges, as well pre-baccalaureate coursework for students transferring in their third year to the main campuses of the universities. Over the past two decades, the university regional campuses have phased out many of the more “blue-collar” technical programs and have increased the number of baccalaureate degrees that can be completed entirely on the regional campuses.

So, the Kent campus’s announcement that it plans to start awarding associates degrees runs counter to the gradual and ongoing shift at the regional campuses away from an emphasis on associates degrees and toward a greater emphasis on baccalaureate degrees. And it is therefore hardly surprising that many questions would be raised about the rationale for such a plan. Continue reading