A noticed a link on FaceBook the other day, purportedly about the failure of the American education system. I followed it to an Op-Ed piece in the Boston Globe that assploded my unintentional comedy meter.
It starts off looking like the piece is going to be a discussion of the new book "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses’’, by two sociologists, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa. The Op-Ed piece cites it as claiming "that 45 percent of the 2,300 students they analyzed showed no improvement in a range of vital skills, from critical thinking to writing, over the first two years of college" Without having read the book, I won't comment on whether what they tested was valid or not, but that hardly matters for discussing this article, because that is where references to anything other than random opinion stop.
After managing to read the jacket cover of the book, the author decides to investigate this important nugget by informally survey three friends who are grad students, because, "After all, they weren’t in college that long ago themselves, and are often on the front lines of lecturing and grading younger collegians." Clearly this, and the fact that the authors claims his friends are at good schools, is credential enough to render judgment on the US education system as a whole.
Without providing any details about the field these friends are in, the level of students they are talking about, how long his friends have been graduate students or the sample size of students they have interacted with, the author goes on to quote his friends on how horribly unprepared college students are there days. Though mentioning in passing that his friends' random opinions are "anecdotal" (no shit?), they do serve as the sole source for his wannabe-expose of college students and the horrible teaching they receive.
"Grading easily is “definitely the custom,’’ wrote Kelly.... Mike pointed to a skewed incentive system... Jill pointed a finger at the lack of supervision of inexperienced adjunct professors" So, we've got easy grading, incentive to make students happy instead of rigor and those damn adjunct profs who just don't care. Oh, and plagiarism, but that comes at the end of the article.
I won't argue that these types of problems crop up in our educational system and that are issues. I have talked very recently about trying to balance what I think the students should learn versus how they expect to be taught, and it is a struggle to find the right balance.
But, when you include text like "Their students had trouble with the bare basics of making or analyzing an argument. Jill said that her students’ papers 'are replete with sweeping generalizations and overly simplistic and overly confident perspectives on complex issues.'’’ might not you want to avoid using sweeping generalizations and overly simplistic and overly confident perspectives on complex issues? Would it be a good idea to make or analyze an actual argument? Or perhaps this was actually a report produced by one of Jill's students, because the author falls into the exact traps that he bemoans. I realize that as an Op-Ed piece it is welcome to be the most basic piece of tripe it wants to be, but it is clear there was no class on irony in Mr. Singal's educational background.
I'm pretty sure that not a day goes by without someone claiming that the system done been broke and how students waste their money and most shouldn't be in college, etc., etc., puke. Education certainly needs to be more of a focus in the US. I don't know about you, but whenever there are state or town budget cuts where I live, it seems like the schools are the first to take it in the teeth. K-12 education needs improvement and support, just as the university system does, but IME, 95% of the stories we hear are about 5% of the students. This is especially true when one contacts three friends and says "Hey, I'm writing an opinion piece about how bad education is in the US, give me some fodder!"
Chicken Littles have never solved anything and bad writing is bad writing, whether in a news paper or in a college book report.