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View Diary: Pennsylvania school district runs out of money to pay teachers, but they keep teaching (81 comments)

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  •  Thank you for the elaboration. (3+ / 0-)

    One college professor of mine had a theory that college itself had a hand in the rise of anti-intellectualism in this country, as anti-intellectualism was on the rise as more people went to college.  

    She pointed out that too many professors would ask you to write a paper making grand new conclusions about something you'd only been studying for a semester.  As if you could come up with something new and true to say about something after three months.

    She said she felt that led to students feeling like frauds, and generalizing to find the whole project of academia suspect.

    For this reason, she basically forbade us from having theses in our papers.  It was rather refreshing.  

    •  That's a mixed one for me (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cai, Just Bob, bkamr

      I was just contemplating the notion of what students were capable of writing yesterday, since I was working on writing prompts for this upcoming Semester. And while my course is themed, I realized I was overshooting at one point, and was probably going beyond where they were ready to go for the final essay; happened last year with this class, so I was scaling that assignment back -- haven't quite gotten it reconceptualized yet though.

      I think college does sometimes fuel anti-intellectualism (this is a really controversial statement to make, mind you, although I feel strongly about it) not due to requiring advanced or thesis-driven work. I think because it can amount, at times, to Professors proselytizing their personal cosmologies a bit much, or trying to veer the class not through exploration but to unified conclusion which is totalizing.

      I won't clutter this diary up with these thoughts. However, I know that it's easy to get students on and off board with a class if you try to lead them somewhere forcefully and get annoyed when they don't go there with you. I don't blame them either.

      Then again, my classes are more Philosophical and analytical than content-knowledge based.

      I wouldn't drop thesis for anything because if you cannot signal to your reader what you're going to say, they often quickly grow bored and may even doubt your ethos, although I can also see how, if taught ham-handedly, it could seem like an absolute turn-off. Many of my students do walk in with that attitude and then, when given better ideas about the function of a thesis, or any of the other elements introduced, like the function or logic behind grammar, for example, they become much more interested in using it since it is no longer a "rule" but then a personal tool to be adapted to ones' purposes.

      Also, students always do feel like frauds. So do many Professors. I believe that comes from the notion in the academe that there is some quantifiable level of knowledge that one ought to have, or even can have, which is in turn supported by reductive assessment models which permeate the University. Once you teach students to see quality and not quantity, they become much, much more comfortable as students and understand that they cannot be measured, stamped, weighed, and filed away as "adequate" or "inadequate."

      •  My professor was talking about subjects (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mahakali overdrive, bkamr

        where a lot of background would be needed to say something new.  e.g., the history and religion of Tibet.

        It was much more possible to write theses in subjects like English-language literature, where you could focus in on one aspect of one text or two texts, or even one sentence of one text.  

        •  Ah yes, intensive research papers (1+ / 0-)
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          Disciplinary difference. I'm supposed to teach Writing Across the Curriculum, but this gets tricky when my training is solely in English. I focus mainly on critical thinking and persuasion and "safe" academic conventions. And we work on research skills too, but mainly as an end in and of themselves for students. Textual analysis ideally requires really strong background knowledge too, but only at a higher level (some 300 and all 400; some would argue that it should be reserved for Grad students producing original work -- I'm more rigorous).

          But you're right here that close textual analysis is sufficient, generally. Or close critical analysis of a concept. I'm more Critical Theory than Lit-based, but have been lucky to have a really broad range in my training.

          Teaching outside of your pedagogy is really hard. One of the things that, if I ran the University, I would absolutely implement would be a flat foundation course in Writing in the disciplines in which any student will be graduating. Period.

          Because while I can assign a paper on the example you give to bolster research skills, without enough knowledge myself, I'd have a very tough time assessing the veracity of a paper on the topic of Tibetan Religion and would have to do a ton of research. I don't think it's unrealistic though to ask upper division students in a major to do that at all. But if it's a GE course? No way and not fair.

          My pet peeve is instructors who hold non-majors to their personal disciplinary standards and dock them if they don't adhere to these! Happens all the time. Students always come to me with writing from other classes during office hours because I'm willing to look over it. Obviously, these skew toward papers they are wrestling with. The most common reason they're wrestling, it seems, is because instructors are applying different standards to what is "good writing."

          I just read a really interesting study on assessment in Higher Ed which showed this roundly to be true. And then you are adding the point of students being expected to acquire too much knowledge for a given chunk of time, much self-acquired. I hold that is suitable for upper division courses in a major (and am a bit of a bear about research and rigor), however anything otherwise, what precisely is the goal? I occasionally have taught GE English classes, and my expectations are way, way different than for courses in the major. Even for Seniors. They won't have the same background. I can't imagine how I could literally torture students outside of English with Theory; many students in the field can barely grasp it.

          Great points. Sorry to be verbose.

    •  no (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bigrivergal, bkamr

      I'm sorry, but history doesn't support your professor's thesis here. Anti intellectualism has a long history in the US (e.g.: the Know Nothing Party of the 1850s). There was a huge growth in "scientism" (if you will) after WWII with the corresponding huge increase of college-educated citizens. Contemporary anti-intellectualism results primarily from two inter-related factors: (1) corporate dominance of the media; and (2) "dumbing down" university curricula in response to the consumer model of higher education.
      Growth in college attendance and graduation rates led to the closest thing we've ever had to a true democracy in this country - something the corporate rightists couldn't stomach. In response they have spent much of the last four decades attacking professors, academia in general, and - even more broadly - the concept of research and knowledge.
      Anti-intellectualism has many strands in the American tapestry. The fact that the current version is subsidized by NewsCorp and GE doesn't change that.

      •  Don't need to go back that far (0+ / 0-)

        Remember how W was praised because he "felt" and "went with his gut"? And how both his opponents (Gore & Kerry) were derided as being "intellectual" which led to them being "elitist"? How W was the guy you wanted to drink a beer with? Of course, W was such a fuckup that as soon as people had the chance in 08 they said "Fuck it, I'm going with the smart guy this time around."

        A village can not reorganize village life to suit the village idiot.

        by METAL TREK on Fri Jan 13, 2012 at 09:26:22 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

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