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.
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Monday, December 17. 2012
This past week was finals week for my son. Thankfully, his slow start at college led to a fine rally and his efforts were rewarded with good grades. I give him a tremendous amount of credit for pulling himself together in his new environment. He started out carelessly, as many young people do when suddenly placed in an environment which is seemingly responsibility-free. The reality hits home quickly, of course, and his hit in the first two weeks, details of which are not important.
What was important was how he responded. He buckled down, and realized that while he could have some fun, he was there to do work. I pointed out to him his payment for the work he does is the sense of accomplishment good grades provide.
However, for all the fine work he did, there was one event which bothered me. He handled it well, I can't say that I would've.
His professor, for their final paper, asked them all to write a letter to President Obama asking for increased legislation and leadership to move our nation to a 'green' or sustainable energy policy. All the papers would be graded, but the highest grade would be sent directly to President Obama through a personal friend.
My first reaction was "what right does this professor have to force a particular view on his students?" My son replied, "Look, I don't agree with this and I don't support it. But I can get an A and I've got a good idea of how to write this. If I fight him, he'll probably give me an F on the paper."
As much as this approach bothered me, I was impressed with his maturity and focus on the goal. His paper was, for what it was, pretty darn good. I don't know if it will get forwarded, but it was worthy of a very high grade. He and I laughed and I said "at least if it does get chosen, we can use it as a platform to show the inadequacies of some portions of higher education."
I'm aware that many colleges have become bastions of liberal indoctrination. I'm not sure when the decision was made to eliminate critical thought in the classroom - but I hope it is not fait accompli. Luckily for my son, he and I have active discussions about topics like his paper regularly, so he's aware there is more than one view on the topic. I'm not sure how many of his classmates are.
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My kids all learned early on to give the teacher what he or she wanted to hear. It made them cynical but adaptive. They were not, however, happy to have to do it.
That is incredibly frightening. You do know that this is a symptom of the beginning of the end for your country do you not?
Forgive my hyperbole, but the thought of any learning environment where such a travesty could occur and worse, be permitted to continue to occur leaves me appalled and depressed.
Sorry, but I think standing on principle would have been a more valuable lesson than a top grade.
That might be more satisfying but these courses cost money, lots of money.
Not to mention, the poor grade impacts the GPA. While GPA is more that useless and stupid for student comparison, the reality is that it is used to determine who gets the good opportunities.
So the kid chose not to waste money, not to damage his future prospects and to realize the class was a perform and forget proposition but was of value in earning the credential.
Sure the class will add little to his education but college isn't about education, its about getting that piece of paper.
I wish I could agree. He and I discussed this. We even thought about having him write his paper, then sending the professor a note afterward discussing just how demeaning this was and how it cut critical thinking out of the equation.
Ultimately, as BD points out in his comment, we chose to go for the grade and he later sent the professor a note thanking him for his efforts, and wishing him luck at his next position (the professor was leaving Miami U).
Wirraway makes an excellent point - when I was in college, I once stood on principle in a course I was taking for TV Production. I didn't like the topic chosen, it was stilted, it was designed to make a certain group of people look bad, and offered no balance. I complained, and I said I would not work on the project. I got an F for that particular day of work, which gave me a C for a 1 credit course. I didn't feel bad about this at all, I felt good.
Then the professor called me in and said "you did something admirable, and worthy of being commended. But it was also very foolish. Someday you will have a job and you will be asked to do something you disagree with. Assuming it is not illegal, you will be paid to do this thing and you will not be able to avoid doing it without losing your job. Here you cost yourself a letter grade, but in the real world it will cost you much more. You need to be flexible."
I shared that story with my son. It's worth doing what he did, simply because it is what is expected. You don't have to agree with the assignment, you just have to do the work. He and I were able to do the critical thinking on our own.
Yes, but...but...but...there will always be another teacher, another grade, too much money invested, too much of a risk to stand up for one's conscience, morals, whatever you want to call that indignity that requires you to go against your principles to "succeed". Darn it! It's not right to do anything just because it's expected, especially expected by a dunderhead who should never be in a position to manipulate students. And by your son not protesting, he's giving the impression to the other students that is approved behavior. Is it?
NO. This is WRONG!
There is a time and a place for everything.
If he felt this was a professor who would have dealt well with pushback, the situation would have been different.
You can't treat every job like a nail just because you have a hammer. Different tools for different jobs.
This is wrong, I agree. I don't think that at any point I said the whole thing was right.
But a sign of maturity is knowing when and how to say something.
Since this professor is leaving, my son felt the results of a protest would have been meaningless and ineffective. I'd have to agree.
However, I have considered writing to the university, after he gets his final grades, to complain.
Sorry, Bulldog, for protesting so much, but I have just about had it with bullies They don't go away after high school and they can do so much harm. That professor is a bully and he/she needs to be called on it.
I posted this to see the feedback. I knew how I felt, and I had a pretty good idea how the feedback here would go (and I got the answers I expected).
It's not that I disagree.
But over time, I've learned that it's not as important to share that disagreement as it is to find a way to make the entire situation work to your advantage.
In this situation, we benefit if the paper is passed along - and particularly if Obama were to mention it publicly. We get to refute it.
We benefit because he's likely to get the grade he wanted.
We benefit because if we choose to, we can write the university and complain.
The only place we 'lose' - and it's a minor loss in the grand scheme of things - is by not having the ability to write a paper arguing AGAINST the position (which as I told my son would be relatively simple).
In a sense, this was a good exercise for him. He learned that sometimes doing the difficult thing forces you to think creatively. We have too many people who think taking the easy way is the best way. For me, and for him, the easy and natural way is fighting back and arguing. It was much more difficult for him to put himself in the shoes of a liberal and craft an argument which was even remotely believable. But he did it.
I consider that a major benefit. To be able to argue against the view, I pointed out to him, you have to understand it very well. Now he does.
And you MUST write that letter. And you CAN write that paper arguing AGAINST the position and send it to the idiot that occupies the White House.
In fact you son owes it to his own self esteem and principles so to do.
Well, I don't think he needs to write another letter for his self-esteem, but thanks for thinking of him.
He and I both know what his position on the topic is. He didn't feel this exercise was demeaning, he felt it was unfair, but it didn't impact his psyche.
If anything, I believe his self-esteem was improved just writing the letter.
I don't know that I must write the complaint. I'm still considering the pros and cons. I probably will, though.
Good. It pains me to think how much better it would have been for all concerned if the professor had asked the students for their positions on the issue and then asked them to write a paper presenting a view in opposition to their own.
So how's your son feel about being treated like a 5th grader...in college? Not only is such an exercise wrong, I would find it demeaning.
So was this class actually on the topic of "sustainable" energy policy or am I correct to deduce this is what passes for composition classes?
The downside is that this type of assignment further reinforces "school helplessness", the developed lack of thought and effort for school subjects compared to non-class interests induced in students. Mostly because kids aren't stupid and see the assignment is not about learning but about doing what is necessary to get the grade or credential.
It was a class on Global Political Trends. He did not like the final paper's guidelines, though he didn't feel he was treated like a Fifth Grader. In his view, the professor rules the roost, and the fact is in many cases this will be true.
His composition class has an excellent professor and his papers have improved dramatically over the course of the semester. He's written on a variety of issues in that class and I was surprised and pleased to see part of the composition class was to perform a presentation.
He's a natural showman, so he did very well with the presentation.
But that's a new one on me. In my freshman year, I wrote six compositions, of five paragraphs, all in the classic Strunk and White style on topics chosen for me.
I like the composition course he took much better since it was much broader than the one I took. His papers were 3-5 pages long and he got to choose the topics, and the presentation.
I was thinking fifth grader in the sense, "everyone write a letter and I'll send them off." Thus forcing the student into an official advocacy they might not share.
Sounds like his composition professor must have when hunting or fishing rather than attend the composition conferences that Mary Grabar has written of.
I came across a textbook (online) from 1919, "Freshman Rhetoric" a few years ago. I would have loved to have had such instruction when I was a freshman. No BS by frustrated English majors just a book developed to give incoming students the tools they'd need to get the most out of their education. I recognized parts from my school days but it was apparent the instructors really didn't understand what they were doing in the regards to providing us with tools rather than recruiting for the English department after I perused the book. I had the opposite reaction and went full bore into STEM, first engineering then settling on Physics, less BS.
Some ‘teachers’ arrogate this power to themselves without the knowledge or consent of the school. In his freshman year, my older son was afflicted with a teacher who used her Art History course to browbeat the students with her liking of ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ (beginning of the quarter) and her dislike of red meat (end of the quarter). There were complaints. The woman no longer works there. One reason: Instructors at this college do not have tenure.
Teacher and school need to be 'outed' publicly.
This can be done anonymously so that your son is protected, but this kind of propaganda should not be tolerated.
We have laws against the abuse of trust.
or look at this as a lesson in the real world. there will be a time in a kid's life when the Man who signs the pay check will tell him or her that you're representing this criminal or that corporation and you do it and do it well because that's what you're paid to do.
its only later, when you've got your own practice that you can afford to say "no", or, as I do, hand it to someone junior.
Frightening and disheartening. I'm not worried about my own kids, because we've talked to them about thinking for themselves and critical thinking skills and logic and being aware of when someone is trying to sell them any kind of bill of goods their whole lives. They're 11, 9, 6 and 3 and already skeptical about that sort of nonsense (well, at least the oldest two, and the third one is listening intently to our discussions). But what good will that do them if they are surrounded by programmed robots?
During my college years and during my career in big corporations, I always spoke up. Sometimes this worked to steer discussion, but more often I paid a price. I was willing to.
But, as I aged I learned a third way, not agreeing, not disagreeing, instead going around the requirement. I would state the case the power wanted and introduce in a nice way some of the difficulties along with proposed solutions. That's closer to the "scientific method" and academic method: state the problem, the evidence along with its relative weights, and the likeliest solutions to explore. It won't always be a liberal or conservative exposition, but it will hold water and avoid many confrontations, except with the most authoritarian dogmatists.
If Maggie's had a "Like" button, I'd press it for this response.
I agree. There is a third way, but in college that is unlikely to work. He and I discussed ways to manage that, and none was sufficient for us to be sure he'd get the results he desired.
In a sense, this could be a good thing. Assume Obama gets the letter. Assume he mentions it in a speech. Then I get to laugh and say "yeah, we did it for the grade, we don't believe it" when the press comes calling and that opens the question of critical thinking on college campuses.
I doubt that will occur. But it's an intriguing way to see things through.
By the way, I was the same way when I was younger - always speak up. I am currently taking a company sponsored course on leadership and in order to take it I had to explain why I wanted to take it. My explanation was simple. At my age, I should be much further along in my career, but my predilection to speak the truth as I saw it, regardless of consequences, and no matter how correct I eventually was, had prevented me from moving forward.
People like me, even when we are correct, are considered dangerous. No organization wants somebody who is willing to open their mouth, even if they have a extremely useful criticism of the situation. They want positive, pro-company thinkers.
This is detrimental, of course, but there are ways to to be pro-company and still provide critical feedback. It's hard and it's taken me a long time to learn how to do it properly. This course will only help, since the company is sponsoring it. Great for the resume, great exposure to senior management.
One lesson in the first round of classes was - don't be afraid to speak up! Of course, speaking up properly was the key to the discussion. You can't be against something just because nobody else is, and it helps if you've got facts and options available to discuss.
One of the worst maggots I witnessed in a giant corporation would sit through a meeting weighing which side was winning and then say, "That's the way to go!" He would gain an ally or two, get promoted, prove incompetent, then get promoted into another department to get rid of him. This went on for about ten years, until the corporation was bought out by a more competent competitor.
college drama is a bad analogy for the real world. little barry isn't going to give a flying rat over what an undergrad thinks about the comin' ice age I mean global warmin'. if the college prof has an emotional investment in polar bears, and if you're playing the college game, then do the polar bear dance and get the grade, its not like he's changing the mind of any student who thinks its all BS.
Enron, Arthur Anderson, World Com, HealthSouth and, now that the country has become anesthetized by such shenanigans, we could include Citibank, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Bros., and most of the too-big-to-fail banks plus hoards of politicians and public servants too numerous to name -- all had or were served by a leader who bullied the rest of his constituency into illegal acts that hurt many, many others.
Think about it. We as a country don't blink an eye when our leaders in government and industry are caught in blatant lies and illegal activity. Some of us are old enough to remember when this behavior ruined that brazen thug's life; now the thug in the right power structure becomes a hero, might even become CEO or a media figure, or run for office and get elected.