The Onion reports on a shocking new statistical study. Warning: some foul language. If the stream doesn’t work, click the link below the video window.
I am in a position to verify these results. Of those students who took my classes, those who didn’t care—e.g. those who skip and then ask, “Did I miss anything?”, or those who sit in the back with dazed looks and answer “What?” to questions put to them—did far worse than those who did care. I won’t show the distributions of grades for both groups, but can tell you that those who care far more often earn passing marks.
Is it time to arrest this shocking disparity? Should we modify the way we assess student knowledge as the lady in the video says? “It’s time to test these kids on what they know, not what we want them to know.”
But, for those who don’t care, perhaps it’s not entirely their fault. Could it be that the conversion of higher education into a factory has something to do with student attitudes?
A factory, of course, is a place in which raw material is stamped and molded by machine to produce identical products. Inferior material input into the process results in substandard output. Lower quality materials are used typically because of the desire to increase output: quality suffers for quantity.
Naturally, if the desire for quantity is great enough, less reliable machinery is also put to use, machinery which is apt to increase the rate of faulty product coming off the line.
The factory foremen, line managers, and owners know this must be true, yet they are often willing to sacrifice reputation by releasing inferior product simply for short term profit.
At Cornell, for example, the Dean of Arts & Sciences thought it would be a good idea to whack “four of its seven assistant professor positions” in the math department. And now:
In past years, Math 1710, Math 1910 and Math 1920 were each spread across multiple lectures that rarely exceeded 30 students. This year, with 35 lectures in the Math department eliminated, Math 1710 nearly tripled in size; Math 1910 swelled to one 94-student lecture; and Math 1920 was coalesced into a 138-student classroom.
Math 1910 is Calculus for Engineers; Math 1920 is Multivariable Calculus for Engineers. The only reason somebody would think that 138—or even 94—kids in a room could learn advanced calculus is if they thought this subject trivial, one that can be compressed into easily digestible bullet points.
He would have to believe that teaching this subject requires no feedback from the students to the professor. For example, if every kid in that class tried to ask but one question, time would expire long before everybody could ask something.
He would believe that any student could learn it: just cram them all in and they will get it.
Is it a wonder that some students cease caring in an environment like that?