Colleges Survive on Exploitation

Colleges love to tell you how great and wonderful they are. And, indeed, great and wonderful things happen on most (perhaps all) college campuses. Intellect is stimulated, curiosity is nourished, and inspiration is given and received. Yet all is not as wonderful as it’s cracked up to be. Continue reading

Final Exams May Be a Waste of Time

I graded final exams this week. Once again, I’m thinking it makes no sense to keep giving final exams. I haven’t had a long track record of teaching college students, but in courses I’ve taught thus far I haven’t been surprised by a student’s final grade — not once. Which leads me to believe I should save myself the time and effort of developing and grading the exams. Continue reading

Getting Ready for School

I had a lot of good times in college. It’s where I first learned I could compete on a larger stage. It’s where I had some great social times. It’s where I first experienced getting drunk (which, at the time, seemed quite enjoyable). It’s where I first experienced the power of inspiring teaching. It’s where I discovered I truly liked the law.

It’s also where I had the freedom to spend my days as I decided to spend them without seemingly arbitrary parental direction and constraints. It was a liberating time. A time of exploration and new experiences. A time of growth.

It also was a time of waste and anxiety. I was forced to take courses that had no value to me. I had to do stupid homework assignments that served no purpose other than to satisfy someone’s belief there was inherent value in busyness. I had to sit through boring lectures. I had to get up for 8 o’clock classes (a really dumb idea for 18-year-olds). For the first year and a half, I had to live far from the girl I loved.

For good or bad, these experiences helped form me. To this day they inform my views of education and teaching and, more importantly, learning.

So here I am decades later preparing for school. For fun I teach one or two college courses a semester. I say for fun because it is fun and it’s something I don’t do for the money. I am concerned, however, about those people who have to do it for the money. Colleges take advantage of adjunct faculty. They’re paid a pittance. Every semester I think about the newly minted Ph.D.s who are trying to launch their careers, often burdened by mountains of student-debt, and wonder how or why they do it. And I wonder how college administrators and trustees get comfortable taking advantage of an entire group of people. But I digress.

I said I do it for fun. But I suppose there is another reason. I like a good challenge. And teaching is a challenge — teaching done well, that is. Anyone can “teach” a course, but it takes more to teach it well. It takes a lot of thought and planning. And superb execution. And a genuine compassion for one’s students.

I lived through some great teaching in my childhood. I also survived a lot of very bad teaching. The challenge for me is to do it well. Very well.

I love the challenge.

So in one week my class begins. There hasn’t been anything in life I take more seriously. Yet it never feels burdensome.

The anticipation is building. I’ve never met the students who’ll be taking my course. They’ve never met me. And they’ve probably never experienced a class like the one they’re about to experience.

I almost wrote “my class.” But it’s not mine. It’s theirs. It’s theirs just like the learning will be theirs.

I’ll be the guide, the listener, the mentor, the questioner, the seasoned, battle-tested warrior, the storyteller, and, from time to time, the entertainer. But the students are the ones who truly matter. Whether this experience that is about to unfold will be valuable and impactful depends entirely on what happens between their ears and in their hearts. My simple task is to help ensure magic happens there.

I hope a lot of magic occurs in your life, Vera.

 

 

Things I Think About Education – Part II

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What to look for in a college

As for college, if I were a graduating high school senior today:

  • I’d look for a college with a strong value proposition (yes, I know that’s a concept that makes many academics cringe). If you don’t know what a “value proposition” is, keep reading.

As I mentioned in Part I of this post, there are only 100 to 150 U.S. colleges I’d even consider attending, and, personally, I’ve winnowed that list down to 25-50 without much trouble. Continue reading

Things I Think About Education – Part I

Education may be the last bastion of mediocrity left in America. It also has become a contributing factor behind the massive inequality that now plagues our country at levels not seen since the lead up to the Great Depression.

By “education,” I mean our formal educational system. Fortunately, learning is far more important than education. And, fortunately, motivated people will figure out how to learn what’s important, with or without a strong educational system behind them. Moreover, there are still some great teachers in the system and pockets of excellence throughout, so the situation isn’t as bad as it could be. But it’s getting worse. Continue reading