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S L Forsburg forsburg at nospamsalk.edu
Mon Nov 17 11:18:03 EST 1997

aloisia schmid (a-schmi at uiuc.edu) writes

> And so we have students who are only interested in material they are
> going to be graded on. And students who can't spell or put a sentence
> together because they don't read on their own anymore. 
> They don't read and therfore can't write. And most infuriating 
> of all, they are not  students  at college, feeling priviledged 
> for being there---they are consumers  shelling out big bucks for 
> an education; their professors are  education
> providers in the way doctors and nurses are health-care providers. As
> such they feel completely free to demand maximum quality for their
> buck.

Exactly on track--education as a commodity.  That may be training,
but it's NOT learning.  What is the purpose of a university?

> And to their way of thinking, this means being able to call a
> professor  and leave the message that they would like him to 
> return their call!

yes, this one frosts me--and I don't even hold a teaching position.

> They
> feel completely at ease holding a TA responsible for their own bad
> grades  on an exam or a lab report. They feel that if they failed to 
> perform  well, then it is the problem of the provider, that the 
> provider did  not do
> his or her job, and that they, as consumers, have every right to
> demand  better performance.

Someone pointed out to me in private email that this sense of 
entitlement is particularly noticeable in relatively well off
kids from typical middle class backgrounds. These kids miss the point.
My job is not to give them an A, or a PhD.  My job is to create
an environment where they can work and learn.  They may not be
up to it, any more than they may not be up to running a 4 minute
mile.  That's not my fault.  Not everyone can do it.

> I am not sure what the answer is. How do you instill a love of
> learning? I don't know but I think that even in the last 10 years,
>  we've gone a  long  way towards losing whatever instilled it in 
> the first place. I'd love to  hear from people as to how they think
>  it might be possible to make it  cool
> to be an intellectual again. How do you make it cool to be well-read,
> to  have a great vocabulary? When did being well-eduacted and literate
> become intellectual snobbery? 

I think it comes from the social attitude that it's not okay to be
smarter than anyone else.  It's okay to run faster, or be an ace
on the basketball court, or a tennis superstar, but it's NOT
okay to be an academic superstar.  As long as you give someone
an A for effort when the did not earn it, you infuse a sense
of entitlement for that A.  And that, sadly, is what our schools 
are doing.  In the recent comparison of math scores around the
world, US students did abyssmally, but they self-rated themselves
at the top!   Becasue there's no such thing as academic accomplishment
any more, everyone is created mediocre....

For example, NOT everyone can be a scientist, because not everyone can
think that way.  There's nothing demeaning about that.  Not everyone
can be a concert pianist either.   IMHO we are definitely
admitting some people to graduate school who shouldn't be there.
No one is entitled to a PhD degree--they have to earn it! 

A recent New Yorker profiled a school (Univ of Phoenix?) which 
specializes in adult education, and offers classes in marketing and
business administration.  The discussion in the article was
quite thought provoking.  Maybe our university system should be
divided between schools offering  training, such as marketing and
writing ad copy, and those dedicated to learning "impractical"
things such as cell division, or English Lit, or Philosophy.   

Or maybe there is no longer room in American culture for humanities
and pure sciences or art and we should just resign ourselves to
being "degree providers". 

DON'T REPLY to the email address in header.
It's an anti-spam.  Use the one below.
S L Forsburg, PhD  forsburg at salk.edu
Molecular Biology and Virology Lab          
The Salk Institute, La Jolla CA 
"These are my opinions.  I don't have  
time to speak for anyone else."

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