Monthly Archive for March, 2010

The sad state of our education system

I just read a post on Life­hacker, it’s called What’s the Most Impor­tant Class You’ve Ever Taken?. There is one guy that made a very long reply. I can judge from his leg­i­ble writ­ing that he’s telling a truth, and in that case, a sad truth of the cur­rent state of our edu­ca­tion system.

By far, the most enlight­en­ing class I ever took was an Eng­lish class (which I sub­se­quently left after the first day). While it didn’t teach me much about the sub­ject, it opened my eyes to the extreme polit­i­cal and philo­soph­i­cal bias in many of our col­leges today. A bias that rewards those who agree with the doc­trine pro­fessed by instruc­tors, and pun­ishes any thoughts that con­tra­dict their beliefs. This isn’t as big an issue in many schools, and it cer­tainly varies between teach­ers, sub­jects of study, depart­ments and the makeup of the stu­dents in a class, but it my case, the hypocrisy of these “enlightened” teach­ers was on full dis­play that day, and taught me to ques­tion not just the state­ments people make, but their motives for making them.

The class began as most do, with the dis­tri­b­u­tion and read­ing of a syl­labus, a brief intro­duc­tory of the instruc­tor and stu­dents, and then pro­ceeded to the professor’s overview of the class’ objective.

“This will be like no class you’ve ever taken” she began. “Here, we won’t just learn about Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture, but also learn how to apply it to real sit­u­a­tions, with an empha­sis on women’s suf­frage and black rights”.

I double checked my sched­ule, to be sure I was in the cor­rect room. Yes, room 206 at 10:00am in the Eng­lish build­ing, I was in the right place. And the title of the class in my sched­ule con­firmed what she was now scrib­bling on the chalk board “Thirteenth Cen­tury Eng­lish Literature”.

So I raised my hand. “What does Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture in the 1200′s have to do with women and black rights?” A fair ques­tion I thought, but appar­ently, I was wrong. She mut­tered some round-​about answer that dodged the ques­tion while star­ing scorn­fully at me.

I asked again, hoping I could clar­ify the ques­tion. “Weren’t the major Eng­lish writ­ers of the time men? Mostly monks I thought, with such high illit­er­acy among the non-clergy.” She hes­i­tated in her response, so I wen’t on. “…and since the period pre­dates the North­ern Euro­pean col­o­niza­tion of Africa, how many Eng­lish writ­ers had ever seen a black man?”

“Well,” she answered, “we’re look­ing at the link between what they wrote and racism and misog­yny today”.

“So the writ­ings were influ­en­tial to the suf­frage and civil rights movements?”

She quipped back “I don’t think you can under­stand what we’re teach­ing here, your a white man, so you don’t have the per­spec­tive needed to see the link between these topics.”

“Couldn’t it equally be the case that I haven’t read any 13th cen­tury Eng­lish writ­ings, and that’s why I don’t understand?” The annoy­ance was becom­ing obvi­ous in my voice.

She stormed out of the room, in a hissy fit, saying she couldn’t teach a bunch of igno­rant rednecks.

So, one bad teacher I thought. I’ve had plenty of good instruc­tors in the past, she was just a fluke. I wen’t to the bursar’s office and tried to get my money back for the class. I had little inter­est in the sub­ject anyway, and was only taking the class because it offered dual credit towards my degree.

I was told that, in spite of this class start­ing late in the term, it was in fact past the drop-​add period and I would need a letter from my depart­ment head to get a refund. I made an appoint­ment to see him. When I arrived at his office, four of my teach­ers were there to have a talk with me. If he was to sign off on my refund paper­work, the policy was that I needed coun­sel­ing first from the staff . They pro­ceeded to tell me how shocked they were at my behav­ior, how dis­ap­pointed they were in me. The terms racist and sexist came up more than once. I reminded them that my girl­friend was half black, so as a woman and a minor­ity, she could attest to the fact that I wasn’t some bigot. I was merely ques­tion­ing the link between the course pre­sented in the course out­line I saw when I enrolled, and the very dif­fer­ent sub­ject matter I was pre­sented in the class, not to crit­i­cize it, but just to under­stand why such a dis­crep­ancy existed between what was adver­tised and what the school was really giving me. My refund was refused. They strongly urged me to change major, as this teacher I had offended was the head of the depart­ment who over­saw all the human­i­ties classes that qual­i­fied for the com­puter sci­ence degree I was pur­su­ing. I would need to go through her to graduate.

“She doesn’t like me” I said, “but isn’t it a bit petty to assume she’d pres­sure a teacher to fail me on those grounds, even if my grades are passing”. That seemed to be what they were imply­ing, but they acted offended that I under­stood what their impli­ca­tions were. I was then told that I may not be a “good fit for this school”.

I had paid up all of my other classes, so I con­tin­ued through the semes­ter. At this time, I car­ried a 3.9 GPA, which dropped a whole point by the end of the semes­ter. I’m con­fi­dent my grades were pass­ing, but papers and lab projects I handed in were graded as incom­plete, as though the teach­ers had never received them. Only one teacher stood by me and acted fairly. One of Eight teach­ers had any integrity.

I changed schools, step­ping back to a com­mu­nity col­lege (with a 2.9GPA for a spring trans­fer, that was the only option avail­able to me). The com­mu­nity col­lege was more fair, but I began to notice cer­tain sim­i­lar­i­ties. The math instruc­tor who likes to review polit­i­cal polls, and then segway into his beliefs on the fal­lac­ies of the elec­toral col­lege and it’s injus­tice. 40 minute rants to solve one equa­tion. The robot­ics and man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­nolo­gies teacher who advo­cates the won­ders of automa­tion, but insists they must not be used to dis­place union labor, in spite of the effi­ciency or cost. As for Eng­lish teach­ers, I have yet to meet one with an ounce of sanity or a shred of integrity, they must be out there, but they aren’t teach­ing in a school near me. The stu­dents who suc­ceed in col­lege are the ones who keep their heads down and write what the instruc­tor wants to hear, saving crit­i­cism for when they’re off campus. Even a number of the pro­fes­sors who seem to have con­trary opin­ions to what most of the staff believes are care­ful not to make waves, and will seldom speak frankly to a stu­dent who may repeat it in front of another teacher.

That class changed my out­look on many things. I have great respect for those who can tol­er­ate 6 years of col­lege. After all that, they’ll tol­er­ate pretty much any­thing, which often includes lower wages. Let’s face facts, if I’m hiring two people, one with 6 years of col­lege, and one with 6 years work expe­ri­ence but no col­lege, my expe­ri­ence tells me to value the latter. I’ll bet my money on the man who spent the better part of a decade in the real world, than the trained, pro­fes­sional Yes-​Man who knows how to tell me what I want to hear while secretly har­bor­ing the ideals imprinted on him by deranged, intel­lec­tu­ally stag­nate hippie douche bags. That may not be the case with all grad­u­ates, but it’s the right call most of the time and I make no apolo­gies for my belief.

My his­tory pro­fes­sor said it in jest, but I have wit­nessed how true his state­ment is: “Those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach in college.”