Friday, April 2, 2010

school vs. education

I found this post over at DSP: Daily Science Professor to be interesting. DSP recounts how his plans to graduate in three years were changed by conversations with faculty members who recommend taking his time and getting the most out of his undergraduate education. I can't help but contrast the advise he got with the advise we're expected to give at this liberal arts college.

As a school, we pride ourselves on our 4-year graduate rates; it's one of the guarantees we give all in-coming students: they can definitely graduate in 4 years. At the same time, we encourage double-, triple, and even quadruple-majors. Of course, as a liberal arts college, we have wide-ranging GenEd requirements, and a fairly low cap on the number of credits that apply to a major. There is also a culture here of encouraging students to be involved in a large number of extra-curricular activities, from theater, to student government, to sports, to student clubs and organizations. (To give you an idea of the scale of student involvement, when I gave my last exam, I had to give a quarter of the students an alternate exam because they had university excuses to miss class on that day for extracurricular activities.)

I think the intention is to produce well-rounded Renaissance men and women. Personally, I think the result is all too often to produce dilettantes, who know a little bit about lots of things, but have never really applied themselves to one field in-depth. That would be fine, except we're also supposed to encourage these students to go to graduate school.

Now, I already have issues with sending any student to graduate school (as I've said before), no matter how well prepared, but the truth is our students just aren't prepared. I've had students who want to go to graduate school in archaeology or physical anthropology who have only had one class in that subject! When I suggest they take some extra classes, or do an independent study, they tell me that they "don't kneed any more credits in anthropology" because they've already fulfilled their major requirements. When I've brought up this problem to my colleagues, or to administrators, the answer I get is "Well, we can't expect students to stay for an extra semester to take more classes. Do you know how much money that costs?" Sure, I grant that's a problem, and if these students were taking their BAs and moving on to some random middle-management job, I wouldn't care. But if we're actively encouraging our students to pursue PhD's (as my colleagues are), then we owe it to them to see they are truly educated, not just that they've fulfilled school requirements.

1 comment:

  1. It's almost as if as long as everyone supports a system of pretense, then ability, work ethic, preparation do not matter. They do! I simply stress the following to my students; applicants are a dime a dozen. In that pool, people who can write, think, make decisions, and show enthusiasm stand out. To do so in a particular area, people must amass skills; this takes... well, it takes as long as it takes. The problems we face in education are linked to entitlement and impatience, both of which are cancers in our society. Act locally, think globally and continue to fight the good fight within education.

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