Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Wonderful Story, Part 2

Our friends have posted more of their story about their trip to Eastern Europe as they prepare to adopt a child with Down's Syndrome. Right now they are waiting for the time when they can return and claim their soon-to-be son. You can read Part 2 here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Wonderful Story, Part 1

Friends of ours are in the process of adopting a boy with Down's Syndrome from somewhere in Eastern Europe. They recently took their first trip there and finally met the little almost-4-year-old boy, who has lived in an orphanage most of his life. Here is the first part of their story. I encourage you to read it.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Book Review: In the Basement of the Ivory Tower

This book was written by the anonymous "Professor X", an adjunct English 101 and English 102 teacher at two colleges somewhere in America. One is a private university; the other a community college. He had previously written an article for The Atlantic, out of which this book came.

Professor X believes that the idea of a university education being for everyone is a destructive myth. From his own experience, he points out that many who, often due to real or implied coercion, find themselves in a college classroom taking his courses one night per week for a semester are horribly ill-prepared for the experience. Many do not receive passing grades—sometimes half the class. Several general reasons he gives circle these themes:

  • Many students should not be in a college classroom because they are not ready to do college-level work. There may be any number of reasons for this. One he cites that is often overlooked is that many of these students in his evening classes read almost no books and follow almost no news, which makes it difficult for them to write about either classic literature or current events.
  • Many students who are compelled by their employers to take his class really do not need the class to perform their jobs. For example, does a police officer need to be acquainted with the literary theme of a book he will never, ever choose to read? But many employers these days, and especially in this economy, feel they are able to demand a college degree of some kind for a position that really doesn't need one.
  • America has, for the most part, absorbed the point of view that everyone should have a chance at a college education. This was not always the case. [Have you ever checked out the Harvard entrance requirements from two or three centuries ago? I still wouldn't have a chance.] But many are encouraged to try, despite their obvious lack of preparation.
Naturally, the colleges are happy with the increased enrollment. And, hey, if the student fails, he can always pay the course tuition to take it again. Politicians, including President Obama, feel almost unanimously that increased college enrollment is good; have you ever heard any politician decry the glut of college students in the land? Many employers, recognizing that college education does have benefits both tangible and intangible, help defray their employees' college expenses.

But the simple fact remains: There are those people in America who, despite having being awarded a high school diploma or GED, are not ready for college work. Professor X makes no attempt to fix blame for this. Many of these students, most years removed from their last classroom experience, find themselves in the classrooms of the community college or university, in the evening, after a day's work. Many are trying to do so while balancing all of the other serious responsibilities of parenthood and employment. Many would struggle with the time commitment even if their academic preparation was solid.

It is, in his view, a recipe for failure.

And I can totally relate, because I, too, have taught as an adjunct in the evenings at a university in Michigan. While I have no complaint about that university and no question about its educational motives, it became apparent that nearly every class had a few participants who were not anywhere close to ready for the College Algebra or (especially) Statistics classes that I taught. Mathematics, like grammar or writing, is a skill that can fade over time when not used...especially when that time can be measured in decades.

If I had a complaint, it would not be that the students were required to take these math courses—this is, after all, college, and the courses did have relevance to the program of study—but that they were enrolled into the courses regardless of their readiness to succeed in them. Some of my students, academically speaking, had no business being there; they were woefully ignorant of mathematical concepts quite basic to the course in which they were enrolled. "Remedial work," as it is usually called, was entirely in order....but not in the picture. After all, when these students sign up for this college program, do they want to hear that they must take remedial work just to get up to speed in mathematics? And when they already are embarking on the major task of completing a college program of study?

I do some online math tutoring, and I see this problem there, too. The student can identify his or her grade level and subject (they otherwise remain anonymous to me), and I regularly tutor "College Level" students in some of the most basic concepts of Algebra (or lower), concepts which my 13½-year-old (or even my 12-year-old) finds easy.

The fact that students are found in college (or high school) classrooms for which they are not academically prepared is a sad state of affairs. People need to honestly assess what it takes to succeed and whether or not individual students are ready to do so. Colleges need to be forthcoming about what-level-class a student of English or math should take.

And like Professor X, I agree that college is not for everyone.

P.S.: Professor X's most glaring writing deficiency is his use of vulgarity. This is not a book to let your 13½-year-old read.