We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Monday, July 25. 2011
I have seen a lot about schools lately on these internets, and it causes me to reflect on my medical and pre-medical education.
Unlike today, when I went to medical school there were a few Asians, lots of Jewish boys, only about 20% girls, and almost no black kids. That was not very long ago, either.
My medical college expected a 20% flunk-out, wash-out, or drop-out rate. In pre-med, of course, it's much worse than that: most quit after their first B or B+ in college (there was no grade inflation then) and went off to do other things. In med school, one lousy grade, or one lousy report from a prof, and you were outta there. Packing your bags with profound humiliation. People who couldn't take the pressure just disappeared without a trace, like somebody falling off a ship.
For each course or clinical rotation, we had both written and oral exams. The oral exams, maybe, were the toughest, because the profs sought the limits of your knowledge, which they could only do by pushing past your limits, making you painfully aware of your ignorance (the oral exams were administered by panels of senior docs who were checking to make sure the junior profs were doing their jobs).
Interest and fear were the motivations. Especially fear, because we all wanted to be docs of some sort. At the same time, we enjoyed acquiring the priestly expertise. Nuns with rulers were not required.
There is an optimal level of anxiety at which a person learns best - high, but not so high as to short-circuit the synapses. The problem is, that point varies for every individual. For doctors, pilots, ship captains, and the like, you need people with high anxiety tolerance who do not lose it or get confused when the anxiety level ramps up and the sh-t hits the fan.
My point, however, was to raise the topic of fear in education. I believe it to be a great motivator, even for those highly self-motivated students but especially for those who are not. Most kids in most schools are the latter.
Do we really know how kids would learn if, instead of having mandatory education, we threw them out of school if they did not measure up or take advantage of the incredible opportunities for learning we offer everybody in America? I mean, from High School and on. Problem is, they need those warm bodies to get the dollars.
Display comments as (Linear | Threaded)
Expulsion isn't even necessary. How about simply denying promotion to the next grade to those who cannot meet the requirements? Repeating a grade or two ought to be preferrable to providing remedial reading classes in University, but it isn't. How can we change that?
By electing different school boards, and by electing Congressmen and Senators who will support vouchers.
Well, in training, fear of failure can be a powerful motivator as you describe in your training as a doctor and the same is true in training for being a ship's officer. However, high school and undergraduate work isn't training, with clear objective, measurable right and wrong answers. Even in the sciences the education is more in how to solve problems than regurgitation or executing an accepted response in the appropriate amount of time.
It is this confusion between training and education that has caused our primary, secondary and undergraduate system to become the antithesis of what it should be, a system to teach how to learn while imparting a exposure to the variety of knowledge. In grad school and the professional schools are where you start the training of skills with some in the technical schools as well.
I would agree, but fear of failure is a great motivator in a lot of areas. High functioning men and women have a fear of failure and will drive themselves to perform at a high level to avoid being thought of as a failure. Saw a lot of that in business - not so much in academia.
Fear of failure certainly works wonders when it comes to working hard enough to avoid failure. When it comes to our schools, however, we are dealing with two major problems that short-circuit fear of failure.
The first is that it the educational establishment does not believe, or at least pretends to not believe, in the value of fear of failure. They must be willing to instill fear. They do not appear to be.
Second, many parents are unwilling to have their children fail in any way, shape or form and will prevent that from happening. They will not accept failure but this isn't always in the terms of making sure their children work hard enough to avoid failure but, rather, using every tool available to them - including lawyers - to prevent the schools from "labeling" their children as failures.
Combine these two circuit failures and there will be no significant move to fail students. The system has failed therefore the students cannot fail and need not be afraid of failing.
(I tried to do a trackback, but it seems it doesn't work, so I'm reprinting what I wrote on my blog here)
Over at Maggie's Farm, there is currently a discussion going on about a post by Dr. Joy Bliss. In the post, Dr. Bliss brings up fear in education or lack of fear in education actually. There have been lots of stories about grade inflation in colleges and universities around the country. This is to keep students from flunking out and keep bringing in the money. Administrators and professors may claim different, but the bottom line is always money.
This concerns me because I decided to go back to college last January. I'm a 47-year-old freshman and doing quite well. Or so I thought! What kind of grade inflation is going on with my grades? Looking back at my courses that I took, I'm pretty sure I earned my grades. Unfortunately, some others in my classes also earned were given the same grades as I received. This was most noticeable in my English class. On our essays, I would have one or two red marks from the professor and get a 90 or 95. Some others would look like someone slaughtered a pig over their paper and would get an 85!?! Usually they were kids just out of high school.
I know, I know, I shouldn't worry about what other people do and should just do the best I can. That's been my philosophy for the last 30 years. But, with grade inflation, even when I truly earn my grade, it is cheapened by grade inflation given to most of the other students. This happens because later on, when someone looks at my GPA, they will automatically assume grade inflation and downgrade it accordingly even if I truly earned the grade.
So what as a society can we do about this? I don't know as I'm just a dumbass freshman. :)
My thoughts about this have really been formed over the last 30 years. I resisted going to college for a long time as to me it was just for a piece of paper. Obviously, I've done well without the piece of paper. My thinking changed last year when I applied for a job as a Facilities Security Officer. This was a department head level job. I was told, based on my resume and experience, that I was a perfect fit. BUT..... they couldn't hire me because I didn't have a degree. It didn't matter what the degree was in, as long as I had one. I could have majored in Basketweaving and that would have been good enough.
Now back in college and I find that this time, I actually enjoy learning unlike most of my fellow students (re: dumbass teenagers). So I feel I'm not wasting my time even though there is definite grade inflation. Back to what could stop grade inflation, it is my belief that the government is subsidizing education far more than they should. In fact, they should probably get out of Pell Grants and Stafford Loans altogether. Yes, this would mean I would have to work extra hard to get my education, but then I wouldn't have to worry about grade inflation. Also, I might have gotten that job if there hadn't been grade inflation and subsidizing of education.
Comments are welcome about this subject here and over at Maggie's Farm if you so desire. And if any of my fellow English students happen to read this, USE SPELL-CHECK dammit!
America needs more Security Officers with Basketweaving degrees!
Thanks for your thoughts, AEWL.
I wish I'd have known this when started my undergraduate but my experience confirms it. I used the problem solving and ability to grasp subjects far more than any of the actual information I learned from my undergraduate in physics. (although I did not pursue a career specific to the field, calculus and physics were required when I was hired)
The idea is, of course, that men are successful because they have gone to college. No idea was ever more absurd. No man is successful because he has managed to pass a certain number of courses and has received a sheepskin which tells the world in Latin, that neither the world nor the graduate can read, that he has successfully completed the work required. If the man is successful, it is because he has the qualities for success in him; the college "education" has merely, speaking in terms' of horticulture, forced those qualities and given him certain intellectual tools with which to work-tools which he could have got without going to college, but not nearly so quickly. So far as anything practical is concerned, a college is simply an intellectual hothouse. For four years the mind of the undergraduate is put "under glass," and a very warm and constant sunshine is poured down upon it. The result is, of course, that his mind blooms earlier than it would in the much cooler intellectual atmosphere of the business world.
A man learns more about business in the first six months after his graduation than he does in his whole four years of college. But-and here is the "practical" result of his college work-he learns far more in those six months than if he had not gone to college. He has been trained to learn, and that, to all intents and purposes, is all the training he has received. To say that he has been trained to think is to say essentially that he has been trained to learn, but remember that it is impossible to teach a man to think. The power to think must be inherently his. All that the teacher can do is help him learn to order his thoughts-such as they are.
Marks, Percy, "Under Glass", Scribner's Magazine Vol 73,1923 ,p 47
I'm not sure we have, " incredible opportunities for learning we offer everybody in America"
Many schools are poor, very poor. And it's not the noble struggling teacher w/ rowdy kids, it's a complete idiot for a teacher, who doesn't know much, period. And even teachers who know their subjects are very likely just repeating superstitions or falsehoods to their students.
I say get rid of this system. Kids aren't learning, or are learning worthless or false materials, and it's all very expensive.
My car broke down last week, took two full days to get it fixed. I'd much rather the current student generation produce more competent auto mechanics rather than hordes who read James Joyce or Sigmund Freud (or more likely the associated Cliff's Notes).
I agree that the government should get out of the "educational finance" business entirely. However, as few people know (maybe because "we have to pass the bill first, before we know what's in it") the SECOND part of the "Obamacare" bill dealt entirely with removing ANY trace of private financing for higher education - that is entirely the job of the federal government (re: Dept of Education) now.
I don't see how that relates to Socializing Health Care, but then, I'm neither a legislator, nor a socialist...
Hmmmpf! Yet another "gotcha" in Obamacare.
I forgot to mention how getting rid of public financing of higher education would help get fear back into the classrooms and eliminate grade inflation. Right now, just with Pell grants and stafford loans, you can get paid to get an education. Remove that, and you also remove a crap load of people that are just spinning their wheels in college and refusing to grow up. Then there would be no need for grade inflation.