What I Wish My Students Knew

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Rose Woodhouse

Elizabeth Picciuto was born and reared on Long Island, and, as was the custom for the time and place, got a PhD in philosophy. She freelances, mainly about disability, but once in a while about yeti. Mother to three children, one of whom is disabled, two of whom have brown eyes, three of whom are reasonable cute, you do not want to get her started talking about gardening.

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254 Responses

  1. Avatar NewDealer says:

    Excellent post. I have a hard time with this issue because I grew up in a suburb where most of the parents had college or advanced degrees and as far as I can tell most of my classmates have done the same. We were the top 1 or 10 percent in this regard. My college GPA was all over the map but I graduated in four years and then was able to do a Masters and Law Degree in the requisite amount of time as well.

    “They are rudderless. Many seem to have no idea why they are in college. I often ask this of students at the beginning of the semester. They really seem to have no clue. It’s not that they are there for the goal of a liberal arts education in itself and are not yet career-focused. That is a perfectly legitimate goal. They literally have no fishing clue why they are there”

    This is true and again hard for me to relate to. I feel like many classmates from high school knew why we were there and what was expected of us. This includes those who wanted a serious education and those who knew from day one that they were heading to law, med, or business school. What’s the solution though? How do we give young kids aim? I’m not a fan of the right-wing blowhards who just want to send everyone to the Marines and this will teach them a sense of purpose. It might work for some but the leftie in me suspects that many will just become infantry-runts and finish their service with no real skills learned. I am skeptical of the Be all You can be campaign.

    This is sad to me as someone who does believe in a liberals art education but it is untenable to have 18 year olds and their family study Dante, The Tale of Genji, and Plato just to get an accounting degree. Or worse to drop out with a lot of debt and no degree at all like the women in the article.Report

  2. Avatar aaron david says:

    A huge chunk of the problem seems to be the lack of direction for these students. I think if you scratched the surface a little bit, you could find an equal number of poor kids who do fine in the system and manage themselves quite adequately. What is needed is a mechanism to sort out kids who have a direction, and move them toward college. And at the same time take those who aren’t ready, for whatever reason, and guide them in another direction. In my perfect word, this would be a process that starts early, say in junior high, and while allowing for many chances to self redirect, by the time they are 18 they will have a pretty good idea if college is right for them.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to aaron david says:

      How about people who just need advocates to help them navigate the system?

      My hunch is that for the woman in the article, the one who dropped out of Emory is that it was not her intellect that held her back but that the system was alien to her and her family. I think she would have done fine if she had an advocate on her behalf. Someone who could review financial aid forms and the like and then check up and argue if Emory fucked up.

      Is this patnernalism? Perhaps but plenty of middle-class and above kids have parents who advocate on their behalf to university administrators, why not find a system that provides similar support to the poor.Report

      • Avatar aaron david in reply to NewDealer says:

        Its not the intellect part, it is the part that says this is going to be hard work and you need to learn how to both learn and succeed. What I keep coming back to is the need to show students that it is hard work, and that they will need to stay on point, but there is a way if they are willing to persevere.
        Many of the same problems that Rose describes show up with non-college students in the work world also. Time management, what is appropriate behavior when on the clock, how to write a business letter or email etc.
        As for paternalism, I don’t so much mind it, but at a certain point kids need to be learning to advocate for themselves. I think that there are ways to do this in a high school setting, but they would have to start out knowing that by the time they graduate they are expected to be functioning adults.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer says:

        My alma mater had all sorts of programs for those who wanted it. But you had to seek it out and I don’t think anyone did. I knew multiple people who failed out, and none of them did.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:

          I think it would be more ethical for schools to point these out to students and to do so well in advance of financial aid forms and the like.

          My law school has two orientations. One was for everyone and then there was a separate one earlier in the summer that was for kids (usually first in their family to graduate from college types) to give them a little extra boost. It also came with fairly regular meetings during 1L year. The proactive response seems to have largely worked. Everyone or almost everyone I knew in that program graduated on-time and did not flunk out after 1L year.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer says:

            It was all a part of orientation, to those who went. Do you force kids to go to orientation? I can see arguments both ways. It just seemed to completely fall out of consciousness after orientation. I’m not sure how you fix that.

            I had an academic advisor because I was in the Honors College. Which is one of those things that sounds great (like they could point me the way to the help I needed, if I needed it) but even that didn’t seem to work out right. It was considered so perfunctory.

            I went to a huge state university. I’d imagine that this sort of thing is much more likely to be accomplished at a smaller school. Which kind of makes me surprised that it was an issue at Emory. That’s exactly the sort of school I would expect to get it right.Report

            • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:

              “Do you force kids to go to orientation?”

              Yes and you force them to live in the dorms freshman year as well.

              “I’m not sure how you fix that.”

              Me neither.

              “I went to a huge state university. I’d imagine that this sort of thing is much more likely to be accomplished at a smaller school. Which kind of makes me surprised that it was an issue at Emory. That’s exactly the sort of school I would expect to get it right.”

              According to wikipedia, Emory has nearly 14,000 students. Around 7400 are undergraduates. This is not large compared to Michigan or Ohio State but still seems like a huge beast compared to my undergrad alma mater. We had around 2500 students and all were undergrads. That is the kind of school that can get the hands on approach right. Though the liberal-arts experience is not for everyone.

              Admitedly my undergrad experience makes it hard for me to understand the whole education debate in this country. I went to a school without majors like business, engineering, accounting, fashion merchandise, etc. For “practical” majors you were either econ, a pure science (bio, chem, physics), or computer science. The school was filled with people who were looking for educations and not just a degree to get you a job. We were a precocious lot and as you write below, the type of students who would be tracked towards college.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer says:

                Yes and you force them to live in the dorms freshman year as well.

                This has huge (SES) class implications. I am a believer that it’s absolutely for the best if you can send your kid to college without working and living on campus. I am uncomfortable requiring that, though, because what’s ideal for some people is a dealbreaker for other people.

                According to wikipedia, Emory has nearly 14,000 students. Around 7400 are undergraduates.

                I guess this points to our different experiences… that, to me, is tiny (my school had in excess of 30k undergraduates). The most important factor isn’t total enrollment but rather how many warehouse classes you have, general faculty-to-student ratios, and so on.Report

              • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:

                “This has huge (SES) class implications. I am a believer that it’s absolutely for the best if you can send your kid to college without working and living on campus. I am uncomfortable requiring that, though, because what’s ideal for some people is a dealbreaker for other people.”

                I hear you. However as far as I know, it is very common for many colleges to require students to live on campus during their freshman year at least. Though I think colleges/universities can and should give out more financial aid than they do. IIRC studies also show that going away and staying on campus is more likely to make them graduate on-time or even graduate. Basically, a poor student from Detroit has a much better chance of graduation if they attend Michigan State or U-Michigan than Wayne State in Detroit.

                “The most important factor isn’t total enrollment but rather how many warehouse classes you have, general faculty-to-student ratios, and so on.”

                Good point but my experience probably says that Emory would have a lot of warehouse classes 😉Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer says:

                IIRC studies also show that going away and staying on campus is more likely to make them graduate on-time or even graduate.

                I believe this is probably true regardless, but I hope that they controlled for a lot of external factors here. And I’m not sure if applies to U-M/MSU vs Wayne State, though I am sure it would apply to commuters vs. residents at the University of Cincinnati.

                It is or was common for colleges to require students to live on campus. I get the idea behind it, though I think once again there are questions of SES. It might push students to start at the local community college. Which wouldn’t be a bad thing! But would defeat the purpose.

                (Honestly, though there are above-board reasons for it, I actually have my suspicions that for some ambitious colleges, the SES thing is not incidental to the rationale. A subject for another time perhaps.)Report

              • ” However as far as I know, it is very common for many colleges to require students to live on campus during their freshman year at least. ”

                This was true of my alma mater (a large-ish state university, certainly larger than Emory, but probably a bit smaller than Will’s). However, at least when I went there (early 1990s), Freshmen could opt out if they lived with their parents. Whether by design or not, this opt out requirement enabled poorer students who lived in the town to stay with their parents and save a bit.Report

      • “I think she would have done fine if she had an advocate on her behalf. Someone who could review financial aid forms and the like and then check up and argue if Emory fucked up. ”

        I think you have a very good point about advocacy. I will say, however, that I don’t think the problem is primarily that Emory fished up. It’s possible that Emory dropped the ball, but it’s also possible that Emory was following its understanding of best practices (or standardly accepted practices). If I’m right, then that actually reinforces your point about advocacy.

        I can guarantee that if something like that had happened to me (I’m a first generation college student, although I’ve had a lot of privileges and resources to draw on when I went to school), I would have not thought about contesting the school’s determination of my financial aid status. I would have thought that the appeals process was for egregious errors on the college’s part and not just a mechanism to pursue one’s own advantage in a process that the college recognized as legitimate.Report

        • Avatar Rose Woodhouse in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

          Devil’s advocate point about advocacy. I’m not sure if it’s right. But, I wonder if the issue is that skills should be taught sooner and advocacy ended earlier. That there is too much advocacy beforehand. Or advocacy that is ended too abruptly. Or something.

          My husband’s landing in the top philosophy program in the country by total coincidence (mentioned below) and being extra-driven to succeed at it is sort of like that. Higher expectations, etc.Report

  3. Very good post. I’m older (this past fall marked 40 years since my freshman year). When I was going to high school, there were two tracks, one labeled college-prep and one not. If you took the college-prep track, you took classes that were a good preparation for college. In particular, organization and time management were routinely discussed, students were made aware of what were good grades for someone planning to go to college and what weren’t, students (at least the group that I hung with) were well aware of when you could get away with blowing something off (the Tuesday quiz) or not (the mid-term paper). 30 years later when my oldest child was in high school, the classes were much the same but the college preparation part had largely disappeared. My kids were fortunate that my wife and I had the experience and were paying attention, and provided the guidance that the school didn’t.Report

  4. Avatar Shazbot5 says:

    I think the fundamental problem is this. To be succesful in college your goal should be “I will impress the heck out of my professors.” But many students go to school with the goal of “getting an education from my professors and getting a certification that will increase my chances of making money.”

    The former goal is what a college education is traditionally about. Traditionally, professors weren’t teachers who try to give you an education. They were experts who would speak on their area of expertise and the students would have to prove to the teachers that they understood without the benefit of “help” from the teacher (except a sort of cursory help).

    The latter goal has become what college education revolves around. Professor are now supposed to be teachers (even though they have virtually no training in pedagogy) who help with remedial education.

    One of the problems with the new conception of education is that college teachers don’t really give you anything directly. By contrast, If you try to impress them, you will get good at impressing people. which will make you succesful in life. (That is and should be the true goal of education). The other problems are the things you point to: a sense of entitlement with students, a lack of self-direction, a lack pf professionalism to impress.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Shazbot5 says:

      the goal of education is how to bullshit people into liking you?
      eenteresting.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Kim says:

        Not how to like you.

        The goal of education is virtue (not knowledge), intellectual virtue specifically, which is impressive, i.e. the goal is to gain something which is impressive.

        No one can give you virtue. The primary problem in contemporary post secondary education is that many students are looking to be given an education. They will get nothing. A university is a proving ground, and a very special one, and a very necessary one, where you can train yourself to become intellectually virtuous.

        BTW, the way you phrase your comments makes me not want to be a liberal or anything that you are. You are rude and dismissive and uncharitable way too often, including now.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to Shazbot5 says:

          Ahh, many pardons for my irascibility. One might say that I reside here, because of my prickly nature — it drives the finding of intellectual equals who might have differing opinions on many matters.

          I do not see much in the way of intellectual rigor (and indeed much sophistry) in many fields of study at an undergraduate level. At our heart, we love to read about stories. But, unlike truth, stories must be molded to seem both plausible and appealing.

          What virtue is there in storytelling? In moulding reality into deception — perhaps even the most pernicious, self-deception?Report

  5. I think two key interventions might help. Guidance counseling during a student’s high school career helps with the potential rudderlessness of late adolescence and navigating the college application process. Tools like personality tests, other career interests/brainstorming-type questionnaires, and old fashioned one-on-one conversations with the student and family. I’d be curious to know the guidance counselor to student ratio in some of the circumstances described in the NYT piece.

    The second intervention you already described, university-provided boot camp. I only know what my particular first year orientation looked like, which was quite good as far as I can recall. Doing it year after year, university administrators should be able to put together a program that addresses several of the other concerns you mention. Academic term advising would be another support system that guides students towards tutoring and support.

    Last, and I think once through undergrad and grad school this sense probably disappears, but professors can be intimidating. Early in undergrad, going to office hours seemed like interrupting a professor in the middle of their next OUP masterpiece. There’re probably some things that can be done on the professors’ end as well to build a more welcoming environment.Report

    • Avatar Rose Woodhouse in reply to Creon Critic says:

      Any thoughts on how profs can be more welcoming? I think a lot about this. I repeatedly urge them to come. This semester, I’m going to make some of my office hours virtual.Report

      • In one seminar students were required to gain instructor approval of the paper topic, submitting a paper proposal and annotated bibliography. The submission was discussed in office hours. It created an early preliminary deadline and required finding and thinking about sources. Also, early feedback from the professor helped.

        Other practices that might help build better habits, another small seminar required writing of constructive comments on one classmate’s paper for submission to the classmate and to the professor. A kind of in-class peer review that wasn’t high stakes. Had the added benefit of getting another set of eyes on your own paper to raise questions, ask for clarifications, or just point out plain old errors.

        Another practice, also in a small seminar, having a draft paper submission deadline, which was graded, and then another final paper submission deadline also graded. Again, breaking up the possibility of leaving an important paper until the last minute.

        Virtual office hours are an excellent idea by the way.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Creon Critic says:

          “Other practices that might help build better habits, another small seminar required writing of constructive comments on one classmate’s paper for submission to the classmate and to the professor.”

          My school required Freshmen Writing Seminar unless you placed out via AP. I didn’t but was a strong writer on account of having a teacher for a mother. We learned the basics of writing different sorts of papers and did a lot of peer editing. I was shocked at the terrible quality of some of my classmates writing. They weren’t quite functionally illiterate, but they weren’t far off. It made me wonder how they even got in given that the school required an essay and a writing sample. Private tutors can go a long way, I suppose.

          While FWS didn’t do much for me because I already had the skills, I’m sure it proved beneficial to many, albeit a cohort or probably shouldn’t have been there in the first place (seriously… 2.5″ margins and a 500 word piece with nary a transitional phrase?).Report

          • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Kazzy says:

            My school required Freshmen Writing Seminar unless you placed out via AP.

            Hooray! The two high-school English classes that were by far the most valuable to me were speech and composition. Starting college when you are reasonably comfortable standing in front of a group and delivering a coherent three-minute talk, or the ability to write a well-organized one or two page paper, is an enormous advantage. And teaching either of those skills to incoming freshmen who haven’t demonstrated them is an excellent idea.Report

      • Oh, there was one professor, larger class, who did an early paper warning shot thing. After returning the first of three or four papers for his class he said something like, if you got a B- or below in this paper that means something was wrong, you are headed for a bad grade and you should see me.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        “Any thoughts on how profs can be more welcoming? I think a lot about this. I repeatedly urge them to come. This semester, I’m going to make some of my office hours virtual.”

        I think a big issue is that the transition between high school and college is often a huge jump instead of a gradual shift.

        Students are taught for 12+ years to have one type of relationship with their teachers, one that often doesn’t change from elementary school through high school. They also, if they are fortunate enough, have their parents at their side throughout the journey. Then they end high school and start college and suddenly a wholly different relationship is expected or acceptable and they do not have their parents there (again, if they’re fortunate… some helicopter parents do follow through to college). I would advocate a scaffolding of the relationship with your students, both in terms of what you offer them and what you expect from them; a more gradual shift in privileges and responsibilities. You should treat and expect differently from your freshmen then your seniors. The former are barely a few months removed from high school and will often see you in very much the same way they saw their high school teachers. The latter are four years removed from high school, a time during which they interacted with professors in (ideally) a variety of settings and relationships and thus will be better served to have the type of relationship you’d look for from them. We can’t expect them to make that transition overnight just because they’re living in a dorm.Report

        • Avatar Rose in reply to Kazzy says:

          I try to do that, and will try more. It’s not as easy as it sounds. If I teach a freshman level class, there are plenty of juniors and seniors in it taking it for an elective. A junior class will have not only have juniors and seniors, but tons of sophomores, and some spring semester freshmen. I have their major and class level on my roster, but it’s not easy for me to remember that particular detail for each student. Certainly not for intro classes, where I have 100 or 200 students. When people do come for office hours, I always ask them that. When I teach a smaller, upper level class, I always ask them for an introductory email explaining their reason for taking the course, and how it fits in with their university plan. This helps me remember people’s situations much better.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Rose says:

            Oh, yea, I didn’t mean to necessarily put that burden wholly on you. I think it is something that high schools, colleges, and (perhaps most importantly) parents ought to do a better job of scaffolding.

            I think there are some very basic things that colleges assume students know. For instance, there was a time I had planned to meet with a professor during office hours. It was my assumption that a professor sat in his office during office hours and was available for the entirety of the time. As such, I didn’t schedule an appointment or anything to see the prof; I just showed up when a hole emerged in my schedule. The prof was no where to be found. He explained that if no one schedules an appointment, he doesn’t necessarily stick around. Thus, I never got that sit-down with him (it was near the end of the semester) and didn’t get the help I needed. Now, maybe this was this guy’s personal policy that doesn’t reflect how most professors structure office hours, but what could I do? It struck me as sort of self-serving but I didn’t feel I had a leg to stand on to make an issue of it, especially given that I was struggling in the class (Bio Lab) and my complaints likely would have seemed like sour grapes. If the school (assuming this was common practice) or the prof himself had explained how “office hours” worked… that would have helped.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

              Or if my parents had or if someone somewhere in my high school college prep classes had…Report

            • ” He explained that if no one schedules an appointment, he doesn’t necessarily stick around. ”

              It was probably a good lesson to learn for you as a student. Still, I really dislike the attitude of many instructors (professors, TA’s, adjuncts alike, although professors seem the worst) that means the one or two hours (usually one) they are supposed to devote to being open to students are cut short because the instructor finds them inconvenient (even though the instructor originally determined what their office hours would be based on their schedule in the first place). If people wonder why professors sometimes seem not to care about their students, their willingness to give themselves time off like this without alerting their students is probably one reason.

              That said, I do believe office hours are not all they’re cracked up to be. It’s good for professors to be available, and office hours are one way to accomplish this (and to my knowledge, they’re usually required of the instructors, although instructors have the prerogative to set their times). But if all the students showed up at the office hours that the instructor claim he or she wants to show up, the office hours would be woefully insufficient. Also there’s a certain attitude (something I’ve been guilty of), of thinking, “well, I hold office hours, so I’m doing all I need to to be open to students.”Report

              • Avatar Rose Woodhouse in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

                Okay, I think that is OUTRAGEOUS for the professor to do, i.e., not simply be there during scheduled office hours. That is what office hours mean. That’s why they almost say something like M 12-2 and by appt.

                I’ve tried many of these ideas (although not the annotated bibliography – totally going to steal that – for example, people think that a religious website is legitimate source for an academic paper…no one has taught them that skill, either). Required outlines and meetings, first drafts, second drafts. It helps. But. The A students take your critiques seriously and make the changes you request. Others don’t. It’s like you made comments into the air. Others don’t hand in drafts in time and final drafts. Others think that a draft means “half-assed POS job,” despite my directions otherwise. Etc.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

                I’m glad that is not an industry wide practice. I survived, both the class and college, but that scenario could have played out far worse for another student not similarly privileged.Report

              • Avatar Rose in reply to Kazzy says:

                I have thought about laying out expectations super clearly, as well as what they can expect from me. E.g., “I expect your emails should always be grammatical, and you can expect from me that you can always receive prompt answers to your questions and prompt corrections of grading mistakes that you bring to my attention.”

                I would love to hear others’ thoughts on this. Here are my concerns about it:

                1) coming off as too uptight (especially as female teacher of well more than half male students, as is the case in philosophy) and again, unapproachable

                2) even if absorbed for my class, it won’t genalize to other classes.

                3) turning off the better students, who feel patronized and are clued in that there are lower standards and thus turn in a worse performanceReport

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Rose says:

                I think it is a wonderful idea to explicitly set behavioral norms if adherance to them is necessary for success. Especially if there exists a large subset if the population unfamiliar with them. If some students see that as a reason to act a certain way, such is there choice.

                Hard to penalize folks for not following rules they don’t know. And if folks counter that they ought to know them, then lets just have colleges close those doors to that subset.Report

              • Avatar Rose in reply to Rose says:

                I don’t penalize for rules they don’t know. I never penalize for asking about stuff that’s on the syllabus, or informal emails, or whatever. Although I’m sure it creates in me an implicit bias against them. I do penalize them for not following the syllabus by not handing in work on time, etc. This would be about, I guess, hoping they would generalize some of the expected behaviors.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Rose says:

                Oh, sure. I was speaking more broadly. Some profs definitely will hold it against students for writing an informal email. If that is the case, I think there is a certain onus on them to establish that expectation, especially with frosh.

                Generally speaking, I give the benefit of the doubt that you are far ahead on the “learning curve” of the people I target with my suggestions. 🙂Report

              • Avatar Rose in reply to Rose says:

                I mean, maybe this is part of the problem. I hesitate to think it’s my place to tell them how to behave in any class other than mine.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Rose says:

                Perhaps. While it is fair to expect young adults to posses a certain ability to code switch, and to even make this a requisite skill for success in higher education (or at least the variety of higher ed that would lead to a bachelor’s degree or higher), I do think that puts more of an onus on professors and the institution to make clear their expectations.

                I talk about this a lot with my mom, who teaches/has taught middle school and junior high. I believe that there exists a ratio of teacher adjustment to student adjustment that shifts somewhat linearly as children age. In PreK, it is almost wholly my responsibility to adjust to them… maybe a 90/10 or 95/5 split. I can’t expect 4-year-olds to adjust their learning style to my teaching style; they simply don’t possess the skill to do so. As students age, I think it is fair for that relationship to shift; hell, not just fair, but in the students best interest that they are taught how and then expected to be flexible as learners and to be able to adjust to different learning environments, even ones that are sub-ideal for them. They will likely encounter such situations in the post-school world* and it behooves schools to prepare them for this. You may even see the split completely flip, 90/10 or 95/5 towards the student’s expectations to adapt; I surely wouldn’t expect a college professor with 200 students in a survey class to differentiate for 200 different kids, many of whose names she’ll never know. BUT, if that IS the expectation, I do think it is the responsibility of the teacher to make clear what the expectations are, so that the student has the necessary information to adjust. Just like my ability to accommodate for a student is limited by my knowledge of them, a student’s ability to accommodate for a teacher is limited by their knowledge of the class’s/teacher’s demands. Far too often it seems that teachers and professors, both in higher ed and K-12, see students as a hindrance to the ends they seek, instead of ends in and of themselves.

                * I think there is legitimate question at this point as to whether higher ed should be considered part of the “post-school world” (PSW). While there is increasing expectation that all kids go to college, a great deal still don’t (when I was in undergrad and studying adolescent psych, I believe the number was approximately 50%). If we view higher ed as part of the PSW, then K-12 schools have a greater duty to prepare students for its demands, in addition to the other PSW paths they may pursue. If we view higher ed as part of the “school world”, we need to shift a way from a K-12/higher ed split and instead see education as K-16 or whatever, acknowledging that many will split off at a given point. This will require more coordination between the K-12 sub-world and the higher ed sub-world to ensure a more seamless transition, getting back to my emphasis on scaffolding these years more deliberately.

                Regardless, I’m confident you are providing well for your students Rose. I am, unfortunately, not so confident in your peers. Or in mine.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Rose says:

                And on the topic of the PSW, I believe this exists on a micro level as well. I think academic push-down is a real issue. Today’s kindergarten look like yesterday’s 1st grade, today’s PreK like yesterday’s K. I think this can be too much at times and push back against it. However, the reality is what it is; my students are going to have certain things expected of them when they enter K. I can rage against this machine (and do, when possible), however I cannot teach in a vacuum. I often say that I must teach with one eye focused on where my students are and one eye on where they are going, even if I don’t necessarily agree with the path. Education shouldn’t be wholly focused on the path ahead, as learning is an end to itself, but practical realities dictate at least some emphasis looking forward. Part, but not the entirety, of my job is to prepare kids for success in K. Part of K-12 education’s job is to prepare kids for the PSW and not just the academic demands of it. If I may get on just a slightly higher soap box for a moment, I think high stakes testing is a major factor here. With so much emphasis on test prep and so much time spent “teaching to the test”, there is less time and opportunity to teach the skills mentioned in the OP. And don’t think for a second they aren’t skills that can be and need to be taught. We teach kids to count, to add, to read, and to write (hopefully!); we also ought to teach them how to organize their time, how to structure a work environment, how to self-advocate, how to navigate their world using many of the same methods of direct instruction and practical application.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

                You should, as an exercise, put a “proposed grade” on those first/second/third drafts.

                I would, as a matter of course, deliver handwritten rejection notices. Mine would be nicer than my husband’s (who has had people try to buy his red pen, it is so excoriating).Report

        • Avatar Robert Greer in reply to Kazzy says:

          I think this is exactly where social class comes into play. Elementary schools in wealthy areas teach children to be more assertive vis-a-vis their educators than schools in poorer areas. The kind of assertiveness and independence taught to the children of managerial types is exactly the kind of characteristic that suits college students well. Meanwhile kids educated in lower-class schools flounder because the scholastic skills they grew up with don’t translate well to the requirements of college work.

          “In the two working-class schools, work is following the steps of a procedure. The procedure is usually mechanical, involving rote behavior and very little decision making or choice. The teachers rarely explain why the work is being assigned, how it might connect to other assignments, or what the idea is that lies behind the procedure or gives it coherence and perhaps meaning or significance.

          […]

          In the affluent professional school, work is creative activity carried out independently. The students are continually asked to express and apply ideas and concepts. Work involves individual thought and expressiveness, expansion and illustration of ideas, and choice of appropriate method and material. […] The products of work in this
          class are often written stories, editorials and essays, or representations of ideas in mural, graph, or craft form. The products of work should not be like anybody else’s and should show individuality. They should exhibit good design, and (this is important) they must also fit empirical reality. The relatively few rules to be followed regarding work are usually criteria for, or limits on, individual activity. One’s product is usually evaluated for the quality of its expression and for the appropriateness of its conception to the task.”

          http://www.pasadena.edu/files/syllabi/mihogan_20068.pdf

          (This study is thirty years old, but I’ve been educated in a wide array of educational settings and have taught in a few, and it strikes me as very clearly still accurate.)Report

          • Avatar Rose in reply to Robert Greer says:

            Really interesting. This matches what my husband said, below, that it was his school and peers that gave him his college work ethic that his parents were unable to provide.Report

            • Avatar Robert Greer in reply to Rose says:

              I grew up on welfare and went to elementary schools that produced very few graduates of four-year colleges (I’m guessing in the neighborhood of 10%). Section 8 vouchers enabled my family to live in a more affluent neighborhood during middle school and high school, where I made friends of higher social class. My mom went to the local community college and state university while we were on welfare, and got a white-collar job when I started high school.

              My new friends approached school very differently from my elementary school friends. In elementary school my friends and I treated teachers as authority figures, who could be interacted with only along the binary of rote obedience or insurrectionary defiance. But my high school friends treated teachers as social equals working for their benefit: I remember being jealous at the ease with which my friends would talk to teachers and administrators, openly contradicting them as if student independence would be treated as something other than a challenge to authority. When my new friends interacted with college-prep instructors, they didn’t negotiate class divisions, but rather had the privilege to freely speak their minds.

              My high school friends also had the money to participate in extracurricular programs, which strengthened their connection to the school community. (I slowly joined the ranks in this regard, but it wasn’t lost on me that I needed scholarships to go to music camp and youth symphony.) Their parents knew high-level administrators in social and work settings, or were administrators themselves.

              Some of my elementary school friends were bused in from the poor neighborhoods, but there were basically two high schools in one: Virtually none of the students in the honors classes were bused in. There was a very clear academic hierarchy that mirrored the economic class hierarchy almost perfectly. My sophomore year in high school I started wearing more “preppie” clothes, which my old friends took as something of an affront. I hung out with them less and less, and hung out more with the successful — and usually more “popular” — students. These kids had different standards of success than I did before. If I didn’t get integrated into that higher-class group in high school I doubt I would have even felt a desire to get an elite education. I certainly wouldn’t have known how to actually get one.Report

      • This is where I think it’s often helpful for there to be a TA in the course along with the professors. There’s a certainly different relationship between a TA and a full instructor, even an AI who is still a grad student.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        Make Tea. Have cookies. Free food draws students. 😉

        Also, make it clear that you’re there to be a mentor, and that “not class” is still a reasonable subject to talk with you about.Report

  6. This is a great post.

    I went to a five-star high school and graduated in the top third of my class there. It’s still jarring some of the things I didn’t know getting into college. I got by primarily due to my particular skill-set of getting by. If it weren’t for the deleterious effects of aging, I’d do a lot better (or at least get a lot more out of it) if I went to college now.

    I knew a couple of people that were way smarter than I was (or at least far better high school students than I was). That itself sometimes represented a problem because they’d never had to learn to study or time management. They excelled in the structure of high school or otherwise were so smart that it all came super easy.

    I am in the camp that we need to delineate better between those who should be college-bound and those who shouldn’t. It’s a tricky subject, but knowing why you’re there and what you hope to get out of it are probably the least tricky of criteria available.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:

      I agree with your last paragraph but the problem is that I think this will require a lot of government action that will make a lot of people very nervous. The government action would be telling a bunch of private employers that for a bunch of jobs (and they will need to be decent jobs) is that they cannot discriminate based on education. There are a lot of jobs where the ER says “BA required” even though this is not the case. The Government is going to need to disallow that.

      The other part might be a bit of a force march of people into plummer and electrician apprenticeships.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer says:

        Maybe. I’d argue, though, that the main reason employers do this is because they can because so many people go to college. I don’t think sending more people to college alleviates this even slightly. Having lived in places where college degrees are harder to come by, it’s reflected by HR policy job requirements. That’s my experience, anyway.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:

          That makes sense to a certain extent but I still think it is a chicken and egg problem. I’ve certainly only lived in areas where college and advanced degrees are not hard to come by.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer says:

            I would say that rather than chicken/egg, it’s more like a vicious cycle. Someone, somehow, needs to break that cycle. I have some lofty ideas that likely aren’t really workable (A “college degree required” employer tax), but the eagle-eyed proposal is to shift away from the ideal of universal college and move towards votech and alternative – less expensive – ways of demonstrating that you know what’s what to some extent.Report

            • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:

              I agree and someone (or really a lot of people) need to break the cycle but we don’t seem very good at picking the right examples.

              Everyone likes to point to Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg as success stories for being college drop-outs but those were two extraordinary examples. Both had the sheer luck of being in the right place at the right time. They also came from advantageous backgrounds. Gates Senior was one of the most respected corporate lawyer’s in Seattle, possibly in the nation. I think his mom served on IBM’s board.

              Or people talk about Peter Thiel and his plans to give grants to people if they promise not to attend university but Thiel is selecting geniuses in math and science, not ordinary kids or even somewhat above-average kids. He is picking people who make everyone hear seem like lag-behinds and this is a very well-educated crowd.

              Perhaps a tax-credit towards apprenticeship can work. Though credentialism is probably here to stay largely. You might see fewer people try to get credentials (hence the drop in law school applications) but I don’t think employers are going to follow the lead.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

                It’s a hardknock life for folks without a degree.

                Trust me, I know someone who is an independent contractor.
                That’s code for he does the difficult things nobody else can manage.

                Hell, he doesn’t even have a resume (nondisclosure agreements, you see…)

                I’d prefer to see more manual trades, more work to get folks involved, trying out things.

                Rather than “go VOLUNTEER”… why not “Pick Up a Trade, it’s Good For You?” (learn how to mortar, learn how to fix a toilet).Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to Kim says:

                I’d love to see a return of apprenticeship programs; perhaps OJT combined with community college programs focused on both the technical/standards/safety side of work and the aspects of business management required to run your own small contracting company.

                Skilled tradesmen are, typically, in their late 40’s to ’50’s or older. There just aren’t a lot of master electricians, plumbers, welders, machinists, toolmakers, pipe fitters, mill wrights, etc. in their 20’s. And these jobs, getting-your-hands-dirty jobs, are seemingly frowned upon by the aspirations of education that lead to college.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to zic says:

                Yeah. lotta folks in pittsburgh bringing these back…Report

  7. Avatar Kazzy says:

    “Their emails can be informal, demanding, grossly ungrammatical.”

    I found the opposite to be the case. When writing a professor, I made sure that my emails were properly capitalized, had good grammar and spelling, and were appropriately formal. I’d often get responses back that were written like text messages: informal, poor spelling, little to no capitalization. I found this off-putting especially since I had the sense that I would be judged if I had written to them in that manner but I was supposed to feel nothing when they wrote in such a way. I understand that the teacher/student relationship is not wholly egalitarian, but this seemed an area where expectations should have been reciprocal. Now, I recognize that the professors who wrote back informally might themselves have had no issue with being written to in the same manner, but the lack of consistency and transparency in expectations was frustrating.

    When I went to grad school, I developed a very different relationship with my teachers. I was only a few years older (24), but I was working full-time and paying for much of the education myself*. I felt as if I was an adult dealing with another adult, one who was certainly in a position of authority, but not who I must cower before. This made me realize that I didn’t really shift my relationship with my undergrad professors away from the relationship I had with my high school teachers. That was very much on me but all this is to say that such relationships often seem to happen within a vast expanse of gray, which can be difficult to navigate for young adults.

    * I was fortunate enough to have my grandmother set up a trust to pay for undergraduate education for my siblings and I. I took out no loans for undergrad. Once we all finished school (there were 4 of us), the remaining funds were divvied up. I put my funds towards graduate school, covering about half the tuition, the rest of which I covered with scholarships and my own funds (I took out subsidized loans to buy me some time to pay it off but did so before they accrued any interest). And while a bunch of the money was not money I had “earned” in any way, it was, at that point, MY money which I could have done anything with and which I voluntarily chose to put towards graduate school. And it changed things. A lot. I worked hard in undergraduate school… I met deadlines and blew off very few class sessions. But in graduate school, where I was getting the bills and paying them myself and choosing to be there in a way I didn’t really choose to be in undergrad, I worked a ton harder. I did the math and basically every class session was costing me almost $100; I’d be damned if I was going to waste that money by not going. But now I’m needlessly digressing…Report

    • Avatar Rose in reply to Kazzy says:

      I know those ungrammatical emails from profs. I agree – they are insulting (“you aren’t worth the effort of pressing the shift key.”)

      I mentioned in passing, but should have expanded on this. Part of the problem for some students is they don’t know how to be appropriately assertive when they need to be.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Rose says:

        Because so many K-12 schools insist that their students not be assertive with teaches and even more so in those serving communities of color and/or lesser means. The disconnect between what one needs to be successful in college and what one needs to be successful in high school can be huge at times.

        My assistant teacher is in her mid 40’s and prides herself on being old school. She has several times to be remarked, after having a child not immediately respond to her directive, “I could never imagine not just doing what a teacher told me to do. When a teacher tells you to do something, you just do it. What’s wrong with these kids?” How likely is it that her teenage sons will feel comfortable being assertive with their college professors in the coming years?

        And now think of many of the parenting cultures that exist within families of colors and/or those of lesser means… often times more authoritative and demanding greater deference from the children. There is a cultural element at play for many, plus a practical element: “Don’t be the uppity negro, the angry black kid.” “You’re the first in this family to go to college and we’re all busting our hump to get you there. Don’t ruin it by mouthing off to a teacher. Work hard and do as your told.”

        Obviously, there is a lot of gray between being an ABM or mouthing off and being appropriately assertive. But many of these kids grow up in black and white environments. And they’re 18, a terribly difficult age to be.

        Again, this isn’t too shift all the burden back onto universities and professors. I just think it is really complicated when you are dealing with a “school cultural” gap between K-12 and higher education institutions plus racial and class cultural gaps between different groups of students and students and professors.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Rose says:

        I got a response from a professor that seemed like the prof was more on the Auspergers spectrum.

        one line, no caps, sentence fragment.

        I was applying for a job with her, and I was suddenly glad she wouldn’t be my direct report.Report

  8. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Overall, I’m sympathetic to the argument that too many kids go to college, or at least too many go to school without the proper direction, or rudder. And I fully recognize the unique circumstances and struggles that poor students encounter. But I think their situation is even more complicated than indicated in the article…

    This summer I worked with a number of high school aged kids. Quite a few of them were planning to go to college and had all the markings of the rudderless students Rose described here. They were all students of color and of lesser means. They were also all going to be the first members of their family to attend college, a fact that was not lost on them and which they repeatedly shared with pride.

    For them, college wasn’t simply a rational decision to be made through a complex cost-benefit analysis. For them and, more importantly their families, they had it drilled into their heads that college was the ticket, if only they could break their families generational trend of avoiding higher education, they could break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. They were told, time and time again, from various sources, that if they went to college, things would be different.

    But it takes more than that. Just going to college isn’t enough. Some of these kids probably shouldn’t go to college or, at least, will need to take some real steps to make it a worthwhile and successful venture for them.

    But that feels unfair in a way. Feels like a bait and switch. Feels like the rug being pulled out. “Go to college!” they were told. And they did. Or are going to. And now they’re being told, “Well, no, it’s not JUST enough to go to college… you also need to do X, Y, and Z to make college turn out to be all it’s cracked up to be.” They didn’t get that message. We didn’t tell it to them and their family couldn’t because they lacked the firsthand experience to.

    So, yea, I think this is a great piece and think that an overhaul of our higher education system is much needed. But I think the experience of poor children and children of color, especially those attending college for the first time in their families, is a bit more complicated and requires a different analysis than what we might use for white or middle/upper class families. And we certainly need to do a better collective job communicating to these students and families a more comprehensive plan for success.Report

    • Avatar Plinko in reply to Kazzy says:

      From what I see, there are some serious ethical failings among many colleges and universities in this regard inasmuch as they know this and fail to take many serious steps to serve the needs of their less advantaged students.
      Of course, Federal and State programs that lavish direct and indirect subsidies to schools regardless of how well they actually educate their students does it’s part as well.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Plinko says:

        I wonder if giving students an “out clause” would properly incentivize schools. For instance, suppose you are a student who is struggling in school and not getting the support you need to be successful. You can opt to forgo your credits, losing the ability to transfer them elsewhere or use them in the future; in exchange, your debt is forgiven and the money refunded to the lending institution.

        There’d be no incentive for students to abuse this system (or none that I can imagine) and you can damn sure bet schools would do a better job supporting their students.

        I’m sure there are drawbacks to this plan as it is more a ‘half-baked idea’ than a full fledged policy proposal, but the idea of schools having some accountability for the success of their students, particularly poor students and students of color, seems like a worthwhile idea.Report

        • Avatar aaron david in reply to Kazzy says:

          I don’t think this is as half baked as you think, as one of the problems with the debt assumed by students is the lack of any means to discharge it in bankruptcy. Also, in my opinion, one of the issues leading to cost inflation is that schools have very little skin in the game, and I think that some method to force them to keep students either graduating (providing the services needed to keep borderline students on track) or walk away (making the colleges unable to recoup on the investment in the student) will help alleviate some of the problems we are facing with universities.
          If a marginal student can walk away without the moneys used in their education being reimbursed, this will force colleges to either provide a better means of helping students, or be more selective in the students that they accept. For the students, the idea of at least trying college, without fear of crushing debt even if they don’t finish, would be a win.
          And yes, I can see some ways either can game the system, but there are already ways of doing that, so I don’t see those as a deal breaker.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to aaron david says:

            Folks will always game, but I don’t see the real potential here to game in such a way as to collapse the system.

            I think this idea, coupled with the ability to discharge student debt via some form of bankruptcy (I am far from an expert on bankruptcy so exactly what form it should take, I won’t pretend to know), would be a huge win. The latter would be beneficial because it would make lending institutions more shrewd with who they lend their money to.

            Oh, you want to study 13th century weaving? Great. Please do. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to lend you the money to do that given that your job prospects will be nil and your likelihood of bankruptcy will be much higher than the engineering major.

            And while this might mean less kids studying certain fields, particularly arts, it also might incentivize those same lending institutions to invest their monies in those fields. Invest (don’t just charitably give) in the local museum and those art histories majors become more employable, meaning you’ll collect your loan back from them plus interest plus reap the benefits of your investment in the museum.Report

            • Avatar aaron david in reply to Kazzy says:

              On the gaming of systems like this, one of the conclusions I have come too is that we (society and its institutions) need to realize that we will only be able to stop about 90% of it, and not focus on getting to 100%. The resources needed to close that final 10% are where we are just throwing away money. There will be some school that just waves away problems by basically handing out degrees, and there will be students who will almost finish, but because they are going to work for family, just want the practical aspects, and don’t care about the paper on the wall.Report

            • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:

              “Oh, you want to study 13th century weaving? Great. Please do. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to lend you the money to do that given that your job prospects will be nil and your likelihood of bankruptcy will be much higher than the engineering major.”

              Please stop putting arts and humanities under assault. We already subsidize the science and engineering majors by paying just as much in tuition even though their classes have costly lab components.

              Also an arts and humanities education should be available for everyone, not just the very rich.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

                what did you learn in college that you wouldn’t have picked up yourself without it?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer says:

                IF we make student loans eligible for bankruptcy, than I think lenders should be able to adjust terms based on the specific situation, just as they would with any other type of loan. We shouldn’t treat a loan for basket weaving the same as a loan for engineering. And I wouldn’t argue against a policy wherein colleges charge different rates for different sorts of classes. As someone who had to take classes in the dingy education building while business majors took classes in a state-of-the-art building, I can sympathize with this.

                My plan would benefit the basket weaving major as well, because the added difficulty in attaining funds would be coupled with the ability to enter bankruptcy and be absolved of student debt, if circumstances so dictated.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Kazzy says:

                Sorry, people who took the “right” degrees like engineering and other STEM degrees, then went to work for Wall Street banks to create better ways to shift money around have caused far more damage to this country in the past few years than all the unemployed basket weavers in the world.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                And what does that have to do with what I said?

                Lenders should be able to discriminate the loans they offer, especially if there is a risk that those loans would not be paid back. What is controversial about that concept?Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

                Just wanted to lend my support to what you’re saying here, Kazzy. I’ve nothing to add.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

                Ditto what Trumwill said.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to NewDealer says:

                I don’t think painting someone as “not loaning you money that you will then use to get a degree in 13th Century Weaving that you will then not be likely to be able to repay in a timely fashion” as “assault” will help your case more than it will help the case of the banker.Report

    • Avatar dhex in reply to Kazzy says:

      over the course of this summer program were you able to convey that college in and of itself is not the final piece of the puzzle, or was it not appropriate for the venue/situation? if so, how did they respond?

      i spent my whole life being told that by folk who had no real way of knowing any different; i’m not sure how i would have taken being told otherwise.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to dhex says:

        dhex,

        I literally worked with the students, as in they were my colleagues at a summer camp (I was a head counselor; they were junior counselors). The relationship and environment did not seem appropriate for offering such advice, though I did offer more broad, general advice for success in college and afterward.

        Even if I were involved in a program explicitly designed to ready kids for college (something akin to Prep for Prep), it would be hard for me to look the girl who immigrated here from Chile, worked to make up the credits that didn’t transfer from her native high school, and had plans to be the first person in her family to go to college, something her relatives here were told for years is what they should do and what they should encourage in their children because that is the ticket to success in America, and say, “Yea… about that…”

        If college isn’t the route to success in America, what is?Report

        • Avatar dhex in reply to Kazzy says:

          “If college isn’t the route to success in America, what is?”

          it’s still part of the road for a lot of people, though not for everyone. i can see how you’d feel like a jerk bringing that much rain to the parade, but there are probably ways to express this that aren’t the nihilistic sludge they’d be in my hands.

          perhaps for a more general audience this kind of info might alleviate some of the clueless entitlement dr. rose lists above (and that i hear about all semester long), which seems to indicate some broad-if-shallow consensus on having “life prep” as part of the curriculum in high schools. it wouldn’t necessarily have to be college-oriented – plenty of room for household financial and debt info – but it might help with the expectations gap?Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to dhex says:

            That’d be a good place to start; one of the most beneficial classes I took in HS was on financial planning.

            We must be cognizant of the fact that a college degree holds different value for different people. White, middle-class folk can get their foot in the door at some places without it and, if seeking work in an industry that doesn’t necessarily require it, may end up very successful without one. Poor folk and people of color usually aren’t so lucky. Sure, they may get some low-level jobs, but it is harder to move beyond that without that degree, even if the degree isn’t actually a prerequisite.

            I see the disconnect play out even in my own teaching world (PreK). I’ve worked in progressive schools predominantly and largely employ a play-based approach. I often get some of the strongest pushback from parents of color, particularly (but not exclusively) those of lesser means. Their position seems to be summed up thusly:
            “We are busting our ass to put our kid in private school. We’ve been told for years that education is the path to success and that if we get our kids into a private school, we are going to be getting them the skills they need to be successful, to do what we didn’t and couldn’t do. And you want them to play all day? You’re not going to teach them math and reading and writing skills? What the fuck?” It is never articulated as such, but it seems to be under the service when these conversations surface. Increasingly, I find myself with little counter-argument.Report

            • Avatar dhex in reply to Kazzy says:

              i should probably learn more about pre-k development seeing as that’s rapidly approaching our horizon (any book recommendations would be lovely, if it’s not too much of a pita) but i was under the broad (perhaps mistaken) impression that at that age rote instruction is largely impossible? i.e. kids learn via play, etc.

              that said, i can understand why parents would have certain expectations of more concrete results, given the costs involved. on the other hand, it’s pre-k – how much can one reasonably expect, regardless of price tag?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to dhex says:

                A pretty simple book that is great for getting a basic overview of development is Chuck Wood’s “Yardsticks”.

                Any argument about the “right” or “best” way to teach kids but first and foremost start with goals. If your goal is to create creative problem solvers and mine is to create arithmetic wizzes, we’re going to use different methods. And while we can argue the merits of any set of goals, the reality is that different folks are going to have different goals and most of them are at least reasonable and rationale.

                I, personally and professionally, think that young children learn best through experiential learning, which includes a great deal of play. I can point to a lot of research that bears this out. However, my own experiences, training, and this research is largely biased towards white middle- and upper-class students and families. Part of the reason that these students succeed in spite of rote instruction is because their school instruction is being supplemented in a variety of ways at home: they’re being read to regularly, their parents are educated and serve as excellent models for them, etc. Students of color and poor students absolutely can thrive in an environment like the one in which I teach. However, the methods were not normed within that cultural context, which is a real issue that must be considered.

                And beyond a conversation about what works and what doesn’t work is perception. White middle- and upper-class parents amongst whom “progressive education” is a buzz word you drop to impress your friends are not necessarily going to object to play-based learning (some do, but largely because they don’t actually understand what prog. ed. is and just know it has a certain cache in some circles); families of color and/or of lesser means view independent schools as places of rigorous study, places where people who want to get ahead go, places where teaching and learning happening; to them, paying $20K and being told (but not taught) how their kid’s block play will help them with advanced mathematical concepts down the road seems a bit of a bait-and-switch.

                It is a really, REALLY complicated issue that I am probably not doing justice to in these comments. I keep toying with writing a post on the matter but am not sure I’m up to the task.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

      but… Kazzy… in general it works. It just doesn’t work WELL, because our society’s wealth markers change over MANY generations.
      And so those kids slip back into poverty again, despite getting a “high paying job”.

      I think you’re on the wrong problem, hunting for a solution to a snark.Report

  9. Avatar DRS says:

    It wasn’t all that different when I went to university 25 years ago in Canada. I was the first one in my family to graduate high school, let alone go on to college/university. I went to one of the most prestigious U’s up here – University of Toronto. Big mistake; I almost got drowned in the flood of undergraduates.

    I agree that the system is set up for people who already know the system. In my day there were student advocates who could walk you through the maze but I know those jobs were cut later on as superfluous and never replaced. Everyone else seemed to know things that I didn’t know how to find out or where to go to ask questions. And this was all pre-Internet, so there was a lot of standing in line for papers and not being able to read them, etc. etc.

    One suggestion: the university system was set up at a time when there were relatively few students out of the general population who were attending. The huge numbers of people now entering the system are overloading the circuits, and swamping the campus infrastructure. Universities have a huge marketing advantage in the images they project and thus have to hide the problems or risk losing their status.

    Community colleges up here have done better. One of the best is George Brown College in Toronto: http://www.georgebrown.ca/ Take a look at that opening page: GBC’s strength is the number of graduates they produce who get good jobs real fast. And it’s a perpetuating cycle: employers like GBC grads because they know the college teaches and prepares students well, students know why they’re going to GBC (because they want jobs) and many other colleges across Canada are trying to emulate GBC’s success. GBC is more prestigious than many Canadian universities.

    I wouldn’t put it all on the kids. Granted, mid-level effort might get you through when times aren’t tough but it’s a killer when they are. But I’ve been that kid in tears because I missed a deadline I didn’t know about by a day. Universities and colleges are taking the money – treating their students like people wouldn’t kill them.Report

    • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to DRS says:

      Your last sentence (and much of your comment) I agree with wholeheartedly. Speaking purely anecdotally (and probably also flippantly and “biased-ly”), I notice a contempt for students among my peers and, to a large degree, among some professors I know. One thing that bothers me is when people write comments in a public forum like facebook or a blog about some amusing inaccuracy they found in a student’s paper or on a test. (I’m not necessarily innocent of this, at least when it comes to doing it among my colleagues, but I don’t believe I’ve ever done it online…..it is possible I’ve done it in comments on others’ blogs, however, so I can’t plead innocence and ought to be wary of casting stones.)

      (I also know, by the way, many instructors who treat their students well and respect them. It’s even possible that I am taking a small sample of “bad” instructors and claiming they represent the whole. Finally, I’ve made enough mistakes to know I’m not perfect or a paragon of what good teaching should be.)

      Above all, there seems to be little sense that the instructors hold their jobs as instructors because students or someone on their behalf pays money. In this sense, it is a good thing to look at students as “customers.” By that, I don’t mean students “deserve” a passing grade or a good grade just because they’ve paid tuition. But they deserve to be treated as people on whom our* jobs depend.

      *I don’t teach at the moment, and I’m not sure I’ll teach again, so take the “our” advisedly.Report

      • Avatar DRS in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        There’s a biweekly publication called the Chronicle of Philanthropy, based entirely on fundaising in post-secondary institutions. A good read, although I don’t subscribe now that I work in healthcare. Anyway, about 10 years ago the CoP had a big story about a huge marketing study done to gauge students’ and graduates’ attitudes to giving donations to support their alma mater.

        The study found that the vast majority of graduates had to be away from their university for an average of fifteen years before they’d even consider giving a dime to the place. Reasons cited? It took them that long to get over the bad feelings about how they had been treated – the contempt, lack of courtesy, pure tuition-fodder with no obligations on the university’s side. And these were the people who graduated!

        The CoP did a big editorial pointing out that this did not bode well for fundraising and that universities needed to clean up their acts. Nothing happened, of course.Report

        • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to DRS says:

          That’s an interesting example. I for one would not give to my alma maters. Not necessarily because I am embittered, but because they got my money already. (That’s not the whole story: I got scholarships, and for my first two schools, for BA and MA degrees, I was an in-state student and therefore much of my tuition was subsidized by taxpayers and state-controlled prices on tuition.)

          Still, thanks for the citation.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer in reply to DRS says:

          “The study found that the vast majority of graduates had to be away from their university for an average of fifteen years before they’d even consider giving a dime to the place. Reasons cited? It took them that long to get over the bad feelings about how they had been treated – the contempt, lack of courtesy, pure tuition-fodder with no obligations on the university’s side. And these were the people who graduated!”

          I feel this way about my Masters program but not my undergrad and law schools. I loved my undergrad and law schools. I wonder if this is another advantage that small and/or elite institutions have over large universities. They have the resources to make the system seem more humane and individualized and this gives them even more resources from alumni giving.

          Vassar was a small school but they make sure that I know “we still think about you” through alumni programs, happy hours, networking events, etc. And I am 3000 miles away from the university. Even large elite universities like Harvard, Northwestern, Cornell, Penn, know how to do this.

          Those schools also benefit because most of their students really want to go there especially the smaller ones. You don’t pick a school like Vassar, Swarthmore, Colby, Amherst, etc unless you know it is really for you. Many state universities are really great schools but I imagine they also have a lot of students who pick them more for tuition than a desire to attend.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to DRS says:

          *snort* does convincing someone else to give a Very Big Donation count? 😉
          Why donate your own money… ;-PReport

  10. I am a first generation college student. Unlike many first generation students, I had a lot of advantages. I grew up working class, but it was “affluent working class” (my father was a unionized journeyman electrician, and he owned more property than just his house, and he dabbled in mining investments). Either my parents or my very good high school gave me the skills necessary to do well in college, and I was precocious enough to pick up much of the background literature and knowledge that supposedly marks people as “educated.” And I had enough of a rudder to succeed and enough of the soft skills necessary to interact with my professors, although like Kazzy’s example, I probably approached them more on the high school model than on the grad school model.

    Still, going to college had challenges that I suspect might have been lessened had I not been first generation. One challenges seems silly in retrospect, but it was vexing: I didn’t know how to actually get applications. Colleges sent them in the mail, and guidance counselors had some applications in their offices. But excepting those, I just didn’t know enough to write to the college and request the application. (This was pre-internet.) Once my mother and I went to a college fair at our high school, and collected two or three applications from colleges we had never heard of and probably would never consider attending, just because we needed some applications. Things worked out, of course, and my ignorance had much more to do with my shyness when talking to guidance counselors more than anything else.

    Another challenge came because I didn’t have enough soft skills. I applied to Private, Prestigious, Expensive Local University, and got a half scholarship. One weeknight, when I was working, a professor called and left a message with my parents indicating the college would offer me an additional quarter scholarship (i.e., I would end up paying only 1/4 of the tuition, which would put that college in range….this quarter scholarship + half scholarship grant was standard practice at the university, and many of my high school friends, who were about at the same class rank, same number of extracurricular classes, etc., had already got such an offer). Because I was at work, I couldn’t take the call, and when I called the professor back at my parents’ urging, he claimed he had never heard of me.

    I still don’t know exactly what happened, although there was obviously a miscommunication there somewhere. It’s even possible I called the wrong professor. Whatever happened, I just didn’t know how to talk to people over the phone. So I quietly went to some other university. In retrospect, I think it worked out better that I did so than it would have been if I had gone to Private, Prestigious, Expensive Local University. But the latter university had been my first choice, and I was at least a little distraught over what had happened.Report

    • Avatar Rose Woodhouse in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

      That’s interesting. It’s not totally dissimilar from my husband’s experience, who was a first generation college student who ended up pursuing a doctorate.

      He always dismisses any attempt to give him extra credit (so to speak) for having overcome any more obstacles than anyone else. I asked him why, and he said he didn’t feel like he put forth a huge effort and he could have put forth a lot more. Basically he had two things going for him.

      One, his parents could not advocate for him. They were encouraging, but clueless. Indeed, his father died during his senior year of high school. But although working class, he lived at the edge of a well-to-do community and absorbed that ethos that helps you through from his peers. Which is something to think about.

      The other is interesting. The article mention that students who go to colleges that are less competitive are more likely to flunk out. His state university, which is the only place he could go, just happens to have the number one philosophy department in the country. So he absorbed the standards and expectations of academic philosophy while an undergrad.Report

  11. Avatar Roger says:

    This may be my favorite post of the year.  Not just for what it says about college, but what it says about the society we have created.

    First, it explains WHY people are poor.  Disorganized, lacking in social skills, writing skills, deferring to bureaucrats, unable to rationally choose a major, rudderless, without a clue, no long range goals.  And on top of this they are raised (or not raised)  by parents who are the same or worse and are not driven to intervene on behalf of their kids, or perhaps even there at all.  The point is that we have just described why people are poor and why poverty can be multigenerational.  I’m not blaming the poor, I am just replaying what Rose and the NYT article mentioned.  The point is that there are disorganized, less intelligent people without long range time horizons, without “good parents” and life in a complex world is not going to be kind to them. 

    Second, it points to the failure of the current progressive system.  These are the kids our educational system spits out.  We spend more on per child education than any other large nation, and yet we can’t seem to get around to actually building the foundation of becoming a responsible adult.  Something is badly amiss here, and it’s not that we need more money. I have long argued that monopolistic bureaucracies are inherently sclerotic, ineffective and parasitic.  Consider this the perfect argument for my hypothesis. 

    Third, it points Out how whacked out our current college system has become.  Note the game the colleges are using to inflate their tuitions.  We are moving significant portions of our net prosperity to pretend we are giving aid to kids for horribly inflated costs driven up by rent seeking elites that are preying upon children.  We have to pay for the new quad, the new library, the new team of administrators, the new green initiative and the multicultural specialists.  This system is being set up for a big fall, and it will arguably deserve what comes next. The fact that the system managed to convince kids who were obviously not rational decision makers to step onto an escalator to a failed attempt at a useless major is pathetic.  Someone is getting rich off this. 

    Fourth, it begins to establish what is necessary to move beyond and actually create a society which doesn’t abandon these beautiful kids. But I’ve already gone on too long.Report

    • Avatar Rose in reply to Roger says:

      Thanks. While this states the point in much harsher terms than I would, there is no question those of us in the university system are earning money on ignorance.Report

    • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Roger says:

      “We have to pay for the new quad, the new library, the new team of administrators, the new green initiative and the multicultural specialists. This system is being set up for a big fall, and it will arguably deserve what comes next. The fact that the system managed to convince kids who were obviously not rational decision makers…”

      Actually, competitive parents and the market-model of post secondary education the cause of this problem of spiralling costs and waste. Parents want to send their kids to the school with the best US News College report ranking, and schools get that by attracting the top students (in terms of test scores) and over time the best way to attract top talent is to have fancy buildings and services amd a cool quad. (N.B: other countries with more soicalized post secondary education have seen less of a spike in cost and spend less on the inessentials.)

      Merry Christmas!Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

      What a gormless, pitiless notion of education is yours, Roger.

      ‘Girl number twenty unable to define a horse!’ said Mr Gradgrind, for the general behoof of all the little pitchers. ‘Girl number twenty possessed of no facts, in reference to one of the commonest of animals! Some boy’s definition of a horse. Bitzer, yours.’

      The square finger, moving here and there, lighted suddenly on Bitzer, perhaps because he chanced to sit in the same ray of sunlight which, darting in at one of the bare windows of the intensely white-washed room, irradiated Sissy. For, the boys and girls sat on the face of the inclined plane in two compact bodies, divided up the centre by a narrow interval; and Sissy, being at the corner of a row on the sunny side, came in for the beginning of a sunbeam, of which Bitzer, being at the corner of a row on the other side, a few rows in advance, caught the end. But, whereas the girl was so dark-eyed and dark-haired, that she seemed to receive a deeper and more lustrous colour from the sun, when it shone upon her, the boy was so light-eyed and light-haired that the self-same rays appeared to draw out of him what little colour he ever possessed. His cold eyes would hardly have been eyes, but for the short ends of lashes which, by bringing them into immediate contrast with something paler than themselves, expressed their form. His short-cropped hair might have been a mere continuation of the sandy freckles on his forehead and face. His skin was so unwholesomely deficient in the natural tinge, that he looked as though, if he were cut, he would bleed white.

      ‘Bitzer,’ said Thomas Gradgrind. ‘Your definition of a horse.’

      ‘Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.’ Thus (and much more) Bitzer.

      ‘Now girl number twenty,’ said Mr Gradgrind. ‘You know what a horse is.’

      If education has failed our children, it’s because it hasn’t been progressive enough. Kindergarten teaches children to draw and play and the rest of their education tells them they can’t draw, can’t make music, that playing is bad, a continual, depressing process intent on driving out every iota of joy and wonder from the world. And we have people just like you to thank for it.

      If these children have not been socialised, they’ve been told to sit down and shut up. Play is bad. We’ve taken children at the very moment when they’re most interested in learning about the world and tried to turn them in Bitzers. If they’ve never learned to plan, those plans were made for them, rammed into their lives like grain down the throats of Strasbourg geese for the making of foie gras.

      You want responsible adults? Hard to be responsible when you’ve never once made a meaningful decision about your own life. Is our educational system a mess? It’s been the plaything of politicians, kicked around like a ball by people who’ve never once run a classroom.

      Nobody emerges from an undergrad education ready for the business world. It’s a completely different culture and each firm is unique. With very few exceptions, everything you ever learned in college must be unlearned in the workaday world. That’s not what college is for: college teaches people to think, how to have some fun again. You damn the multicultural specialists: learning how to navigate in other cultures is the most vital skill anyone will ever learn in life.

      All leadership is by example. The people who’ve turned into academics, jumped through the hoops of fire. Once Bitzers, now Gradgrinds, they are the curse of the world.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Blaise,

        The “progressive” bureaucrats have been master planning our education for at least two generations and your “solution” is more of the same? The answer is a blank check, huh?

        Then you go onto some fantasy that the problem with education is that people like me are to blame for taking the joy and creativity out of school? What are you talking about? Are you arguing with your imaginary foe again? You do realize I am arguing for freedom, choice and robust experimentation, right?

        “Is our educational system a mess? It’s been the plaything of politicians, kicked around like a ball by people who’ve never once run a classroom.”

        Exactimundo. This is the progressive, bureaucratic system which I reject. Absent parental choice, trial and error, feedback and freedom, decisions are made via politics and bureaucracies that thrive upon their own enrichment.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to Roger says:

          You realize, if you want to whimper about the problems with economies of scale… maybe you ought not to blame the progressives for that?
          Economics is merely economics. Perhaps if we paid more for textbooks, we might see more variety…Report

        • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Roger says:

          The premise here seems to be that American higher education over the last two generations has been largely a failure. Why exactly are we accepting this premise?Report

          • Avatar Kim in reply to Don Zeko says:

            Because our friend Roger doesn’t want to actually do the math on how many genius class people we churn out as a nation.

            Americans make better scientists than pretty much everyone else. It’s cultural, both in school and outside of it.Report

          • Avatar Roger in reply to Don Zeko says:

            Don,

            Let me be more clear. I am definitely harping on the quality of primary and secondary education, which are the least cost effective in the world, and which have doubled in cost adjusted for inflation since 1980. Somehow we can’t seem I be able to get large swaths of disadvantaged kids to graduate with basic skills that I would expect my fifth grade grandson to have. I could point the way to a more progressive system, without having to put the P word in quotation marks.

            On higher education. My criticism is that we have created an elaborate rip off scheme which encourages kids who have never been properly educated to assume horrible loans to try to get useless degrees. I see the college establishment and politicians thriving nicely, while the poor kids in the article one out with a waste of three years and a debt for sixty grand. I call that more than a failure. That is borderline a crime.

            Again, I could lay out the path to a more effective and efficient and less exploitative system. Couldn’t you?

            Kim is missing my point all together, as I have no qualms with how the geniuses thrive.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to Roger says:

          “parental choice” seems ineffectual, for the reasons Kazzy outlined earlier…
          (and I like the idea of feedback and freedom. wish it was there for all students. but those (rich) who back “charter schools” are false friends of liberty).Report

        • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Roger says:

          Well, you’re speaking in vague generalites, so it is hard to know how much of this to agree or disagree with, because it can be interpreted many ways.

          Some important points:

          1. We’re talking about post-secondary education here. And there isn’t as much bureaucratic interference with the curriculum as there is in primary and secondary education. Academic freedom means academics themselves still have some control over what they want to teach. Bureaucrats do make some stabs at controlling general elective courses and basic skill courses like composition, but these are usually pretty ineffective. (If you’re a prof, you can usually figure out how to teach what you want while structuring your syllabus and assignments to make it look like you comply with the admin’s demands, and most everything profs do isn’t checked very thoroughly by admin.)

          2. In secondary and primary education, bureaucrats and education PhD’s do some bad stuff to the curriculum. But a lot of it is pretty anodyne. However, I would point out that the ebst example of what you’re talking about is bureaucrats pushing standardized test taking on to educators. The problem that Rose notes is that the students don’t know how to study on their own, how to follow complex assignment instructions. One of the reasons for that, IMO, is that their teachers are “teaching to the test,” i.e. spoon feeding the kids basic information (memory aids to remember facts, tricks to do math more easily, etc) to make sure they will get a high score. Right wing bureaucrats currently want to do something that will exacerbate the problem that Rose noted. Believe me, I have taught university-level kids in China, and in many ways they have a much worse version of what Rose in talking about in their schools as a result of too much rote learning.

          3. One of the big problems in universities is that they are run like markets, selling a product to little Sally and her parents. This means Sally is paying for an education and it should be goven to her. (She paid after all.) Moreover, students will pick their school, which causes schools to compete like competing movies on May 1st: see who can add the most expensive bells and whistles to draw the kids in. And once in school majors and professors have to compete to not have kids drop your class or choose another major. This means that you don’t want the kids to not like you or think your class is too hard, which leads to grade inflation. In short, the marketization of post secondary colleges is killing it.Report

          • Avatar Roger in reply to Shazbot5 says:

            Shaz,

            I am not defending right wing bureaucrats. A pox on both their houses.

            As for markets, we do not have a properly functioning market in higher education. Markets are not capable of working where:
            1) the government finds out how much you can afford.
            2). It tells the college
            3). The college adds infinite bells and whistles to maximize revenues for maximum number of parasitic special interests
            4). The college then charges whatever is necessary to pay for all the parasites
            5). The student then is either subsidized with loans or grants.
            6). No measurement is available on the actual quality or costs effectiveness of the education

            This system is 100% broken. It is going to fail and fail catastrophically in my opinion. If we care about our kids and our prosperity we would hasten its demise. It is a massive scheme to exploit youngsters.Report

            • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Roger says:

              The system is as good as it was 50 years ago, not at all broken. Maybe better in some ways, worse in others. Here is no data to prove otherwise, just anecdotes about how bad things have gotten, that are similar to 50 year old anecdotes about how bad things have gotten. (It is funny that people always feel things are getting worse, anecdotally, but the data is not so bad.)

              The problem is educational subsidies for the poor, it is something along the lines of what you are referring to in bullet 6. It is almost impossible to quantify or monetize the value of a college education. Thus, parents and students lack information to make a good purchase and administrators don’t know how to sell it to them. Thus, the market operates stupidly. Remove all market elements as much as possible by socializing more of education and the problem is solved. Introduce more authoritarianism in the schools: no choice of classes, few choice of majors, etc.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

          I don’t buy any of that. Yes, you and folks like you are the problem: blaming the “progressive” educators. It’s all semantics, I suppose, but it’s been the progressives who have been working from the bottom up, doing what you now say you want.

          For the last two decades, the unscientific Conservative jackasses have been attempting to wrestle any remaining power away from the teacher and parents and administrators, putting it squarely in the camp of the state boards of education where they can tear out Darwin and the Finches and put in Jesus and the Dinosaurs. If this country was run aright, we’d take our teachers seriously and afford them some respect. All this talk of Trial and Error — the last two decades have been nothing but failed experiments in oversight.

          When I see as much effort put into identifying talent as I see in damnation of teachers’ rights, there will be two moons in the sky. All this harrumphing and bloviating about Freedom and Feedback is black humour.Report

          • Avatar Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

            A bottoms up progressive would be a sight to behold. Let’s see how that would work…

            First she would have ideas on how to educate kids based upon all her experience. Next she would convince others to back her idea voluntarily. She would then offer the idea to parents or adult students and allow them the option of selecting it. Thousands of these bottoms up progressives (BUP’s) would thus begin to compete among each other for the attention of backers and customers.

            Over time, the less successful BUP’s would leave the scene. The better ones would attract more backers and customers, learning along the way both from themselves and from their competitors. The process would self amplify as each surviving BUP got better and better. The best would expand via franchises or branches. They would, in effect taking their success and replicate it, improving it over time.

            But these aren’t really BUPs are they? There is already a name for this type of person, and it is an entrepreneur.Report

            • Avatar Kim in reply to Roger says:

              Oh, my dear friend roger, would you like me to regail you on how a REAL progressive operates?

              To remove one person from the role of mayor, in five steps, which include convincing one of his backers to run for governor?

              You know remarkably little about us.

              Perhaps you might peruse some offerings from Encyclopedia Dramatica??Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to Roger says:

          Roger,
          Calling them progressive rankles the left unnecessarily. And it leads me to lump honestly decent people who are in higher education research in with the folks you’re deriding.

          The Term Is Serving Nothing. Can you drop it? Pretty please?

          Call them “mindless, entrenched bureaucrats”. And then, if you must, damn the left for hiring them.

          But your points are more substantive than they come across, and that’s because of poor word choice, and nothing else.Report

          • Avatar Roger in reply to Kim says:

            Kim,

            The progressive mindset is for rational, top down, centralized planning to solve problems. It isn’t incidental to the problem, it is the root of the problem.

            I get the reflex of those on left to bite back when I point this out. The progressive mindset is guaranteed to fail long term. It is the antithesis of progress over the long haul.

            The true key to progress is to 1) solve problems via controlled experimentation using variation and competition, 2) spread solutions by preserving ones that thrive in the competition, sharing them, replicating and multiplying them, and 3) building upon solutions by ratcheting and combining things that work, making the good better.Report

            • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Roger says:

              I can’t imagine why people react negatively when you start lecturing them about the inherent defects of their way of thinking. What on earth makes them so defensive and unreasonable?Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Don Zeko says:

                You think the progressives are being defensive and unreasonable?

                My experience in studying history is that every age has its dysfunctional paradigms which people hold to beyond all reason. The greatest of all dysfunctional paradigms of all is that which I call the Big Kahuna fallacy. It has been freeing ourselves from the Big Kahuna which has catalyzed the true progress of society. The progressive mindset and the conservative faith are just the latest versions. True progress is difficult, but it starts by recognizing where we are wrong.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Roger says:

                I don’t, actually. I was being sarcastic. It seems to me that you are first arguing that many people cling irrationally to an outdated intellectual paradigm, then taking offense when they don’t immediately agree with you when you inform them of this. This strikes me as a perhaps not entirely reasonable expectation.Report

            • Avatar Kim in reply to Roger says:

              Roger,
              I have had the pleasure of meeting a man who studies education. A progressive, who was working towards his phd at the time.

              I do not think he would find anything to disagree with in your final paragraph. Certainly, I do not, and I’m a deuced progressive!

              You are mischaracterizing, and by that point, making enemies where softer words would win you allies.

              Take note.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

              We have had the Experiments. They have all failed. Our universities are doing reasonably well, best in the world because they do innovate. Our K-12 system has been Experimented damned near to death.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Kim says:

            Progressive isn’t a bad word. Everyone wants to be a progressive: cleaning up government and markets, a scientific approach to progress, stripping out all the cheap moralising and excuses for the status quo, etc.

            The Libertarians would make fine Progressives. But they’re not clever enough to realise their idealism has an engine with a logical drive shaft capable of achieving their goals. It’s called Government. But don’t say that word around them, they’ve been conditioned to think they’re capable of doing this by themselves. The idea that they could control the state to the betterment of all the people is simply beyond them.Report

            • Avatar Kim in reply to BlaiseP says:

              You make me laugh.
              But you’d be wise to read Don’s words to Roger.
              Lecturing is a poor way to win friends.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Kim says:

                I’m not here to Win Friends. You need a block of instruction on what “progressive” means. Do you a world of good, it would, you toothless termagant.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I’ll take that as a compliment, friend.
                Better toothless than stepping over the bodies of your dead allies.
                …Or is it?

                Why are you here, then?Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim says:

                “over the bodies of your dead allies” — not a metaphor, in case it was unclear.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Kim says:

                I seldom ask the Why question. I generally rely on What and Who. I have no problem with the epithet “Progressive” and would appreciate your attention to my cordial invitation to quit speaking for other people. Progressivism has a long and honourable tradition in American history which continues to this day.

                As for why I’m here, that’s a continuing mystery, even to myself. I’m long since past caring about what other people think of me: that’s the HOV lane to Crazy Town. Every time I’ve gone down that route, next thing I know, my head’s so far up my ass I’ve turned into a Human Klein Bottle. People say stupid things, I do too at turns. LoOG is about as good a place for my sort of prose as anywhere. I respect others enough to admit where I’ve been wrong. I am seldom afforded that courtesy in return, especially not by you.Report

            • Avatar Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Blaise,

              Do you have a little Ayn Rand sock puppet that you argue with? Does she ever win any arguments, or do you always manage to get the best of her? I bet you really kick her little libertarian sock puppet hind end.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Roger says:

                I found someone arguing against special relativity at my college, once. A bit cracked, those Randists.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

                Get a grip. I’m talking to you. Nobody else. You’ve hung your naked ass out the window, making all sorts of Dumb Noises about Trial and Error and the error of Centralized Gummint. If I now haul you out that window and explain how you might actually achieve your goals, you need to man up and quit that pusillanimous whining about Ayn Rand.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to BlaiseP says:

              The Libertarians would make fine Progressives.

              Roger uses the word “progressive” in a very particular way, one which refers to a belief set that I don’t I’ve ever seen expressed by a liberal, or a Democrat. Something along the lines of “advocating for ever more government as an end in itself”. And even that’s not quite right, sine I don’t think Roger believes liberals actually advocate for government as an end itself. Instead, I think Roger thinks he’s providing an analysis of the policies advocate. Or something like that.

              I’m not really sure about that, since I don’t know anyone who currently uses the word “progressive” the way Roger does. But when you say libertarians would make good progressives, Roger would deny that that’s conceptually possibility (based on his definition of the word). On the other hand, Roger’s form of libertarianism seems to me to be inescapably progressive (based on another definition of the word).Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Stillwater says:

                Roger’s argument is frankly bizarre, starting with the notion of the Big Bad Kahuna. It’s bad all through, from stem to stern.

                I hate stupid metaphors. A “kahuna” is a subject matter expert, not a lord over people. Moreover, by blurring the lens and conflating the tens of thousands of government bureaucrats and teachers and suchlike, people who fit the actual definition of kahuna, specialists in what they regulate, into one enormous Boogy Man, he’s simply stirring the shit.

                The Libertarians don’t want Big Bad Gummint to screw with their lives. But on whose behalf is the government operating? The lobbyists, the campaign donors, they refuse to admit the Corporate Tyrant is every bit as evil as the Gummint Tyrant. They’ll never get to that point: for the Libertarian, the Market is the great sanitiser. I’m tired of fighting this battle over market regulation with the Libertarians.

                And for many years, that was the philosophy of the Gilded Age. When the working man had some power, the Progressive Age took off in leaps and bounds. WW1 pretty much gutted their ranks.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Blaise,

                Lighten up. The Big Kahuna is perfect because it is so indefinite. In some cases the Big Kahuna is used as an ideal as in THE BIG KAHUNA BURGER. In others it is an authority figure or chief such as in the Gidget movies. On others it is a religious or spiritual power. I use it in all such senses.

                Not is the BK always bad. That was your sock puppet talking again.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

                Just do us both a favour. Quit using terms you clearly don’t understand. Progressive has a meaning. Kahuna has a meaning. You don’t control the definition of either. Gidget movies… (rolls eyes to heaven)… will get a clue for heaven’s sake?Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I got google too.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Stillwater says:

                SW,

                You are in denial. To see the paradigm of the progressive I ask only that you look to the playing field they are attracted to. Progressives aren’t drawn to entrepreneurial fields where they test their ideas by seeing if they be voluntarily selected by free people among truly open competition. Progressives wouldn’t be caught dead in the entrepreneurial world.

                Progressives are drawn to the world of coercion and regulation. They are the intellectual advisors, intellectuals, monopoly bureaucrats and Mandarins that sit behind the throne. The field they are attracted to is to be the idea people and the administrators of those using coercion to rational manage other peoples lives. In some cases they are semi decentralized, operating behind their little feudal lords, but the dream of the progressives is always to expand their power and influence by upgrading to the hand of the king.

                To understand progressives you need only look how they operate and to what it is they are drawn to.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Roger says:

                Progressives aren’t drawn to entrepreneurial fields where they test their ideas by seeing if they be voluntarily selected by free people among truly open competition. Progressives wouldn’t be caught dead in the entrepreneurial world.

                Progressives are drawn to the world of coercion and regulation. They are the intellectual advisors, intellectuals, monopoly bureaucrats and Mandarins that sit behind the throne.

                If that’s the case, then you’re not talking about liberals, nor people who vote Democratic, that’s for sure. You’re begging all the important questions here Roger. You’re not arguing that liberals or even people who vote Dem are progressives.

                You’re just defining a type of person, calling that type of person a “progressive”, and saying I’m wrong about somethingorother.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Stillwater says:

                Feel free to tell me what you think progressives are drawn to. Pick the topic and lets chat about how the progressive methodology is all about voluntary action, open competition and proving ones ideas in the open.

                I am not name calling to say progressives are drawn to master planning the world via the use of regulation, rules and coercion. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Roger says:

                Feel free to tell me what you think progressives are drawn to.

                Well, that’s easy! They’re drawn to the world of coercion and regulation. They are the intellectual advisors, intellectuals, monopoly bureaucrats and Mandarins that sit behind the throne. How could I deny that when the term is defined that way!Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Roger says:

                Did I pass the test Roger? {{I think I did. When I was in school I excelled at the short answer test.}}Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Roger says:

                Well that was easy. I was actually afraid you would disagree.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Roger says:

                Why would I disagree with a definition? I’m not attached to any particular word. There’s lots of them. Homonyms, even. And that’s what we’re talking about, right?, the definition of a constructed term? Nothing’s at stake. You can have your definition.Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Roger says:

                I rarely jump in these arguments but this is really bad Roger. Pure name calling. Plenty of liberals own businesses ( FWIW my leftie parents own a luncheonette for years) and are entrepreneurs. Plenty of liberal types are scientists, what name do you fling at them.

                You can make your arguments really well Roger, but at times all i read is how EVIIIIILLLL liberals are like we are some quasi-separate species. Don’t talk about my dreams because i know you don’t have a clue about them.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to greginak says:

                Greg,

                Certainly I am not arguing that progressives can’t own businesses. That is not my point at all. What I am saying is the progressive methodology is one of exerting the progressive mentality via the use of top down coercion. That is what it is about.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

                Absolute nonsense. Progressives are bottom-up. We’re about making sure dodgy food doesn’t get sold in the grocery store and maniacs don’t destroy markets.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Roger says:

                Rose Woodhouse here
                Following Mark’s lead, I replace an offensive term with a limerick:

                Certain words cause such past pains in hearts to reproduce
                Their statement is justified only by mention, not use
                Racist and hurtful
                We aim for more artful
                I delete my first comment ever with apologies profuse.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Roger says:

                Please elaborate HOW progressives seek to solve the problem of food quality. What is your tool set? It doesn’t happen to involve any top down, master planned, rational, coercive regulations, now does it?Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to Roger says:

                Roger, you sound paranoid.

                During the summer, I shop at several farmer’s markets; definitely a progressive movement, organized at local level by local people. The big change at them this summer was that they could accept food stamps, EBT cards. That was the convergence of top-down with bottom-up organizing toward good ends.

                And the essence of the thing you often miss; your constant conflating progressive with ‘top-down’ misses much of the good work progressives do in their local community. Regulation, government, is one tool in the box. And regulation, government? It’s people, working together. It’s democracy.

                Your blinders there suggest you’re at heart an anarchist. Because you strip away government, and that’s what’s left.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Roger says:

                Roger,
                publishing about arsenic in rice? Doing some research and publicizing the results?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Roger says:

                Kim,

                There is zero wit in wisdom in either your reference or your words there. Please refrain some using such language.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Roger says:

                Zic,

                Paranoid of what?

                I’m not an anarchist, nor do I disagree with top down solutions to some problems.

                Tell me more about these farmers markets. How did the progressives organize these? How do you know those organizing and participating weren’t conservatives or classical liberals?Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to Roger says:

                Roger, I know the people who oragnized them. I helped with one.

                What’s paranoid sounding is the way you use ‘progressive’ as a slur; always with the insinuation that progressives are only able to consider top-down solutions.

                And you repeatedly get called for it, repeatedly burrow down deeper, and never step back and consider that maybe, just maybe, progressives are not as one sided as you think; rather like the way you defend libertarians from one-dimensional attacks.

                People come in many flavors. And that includes people who consider themselves progressives. All the name calling does is shut down meaningful dialogue.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Roger says:

                Roger,
                Anarchy is the FUN tool. Chaos is a great equalizer.
                Luckily, we are rarely in such dire straits…Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Roger says:

                Zic,

                Immediately below, I lay out the popular topics for progressives and their favored solution sets.

                https://ordinary-times.com/blog/2012/12/what-i-wish-my-students-kne/#comment-446384

                The response has been crickets. Are these not the important progressive topics? Which ones did I leave off? Was I wrong about your favored solution set leaning overwhelmingly to top down master planning? How so?Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Roger says:

                There are other possible explanations for a lack of responses than your interlocutors being unable to assail your logic.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Roger says:

                To all progressiv denialists,

                The degree of denial among this crowd of progressives is comical. It would be like going to a porno convention and have everyone there deny that the industry has anything to do with sex.

                Let me repeat myself. The progressive mindset is for rational, top down, centralized problem solving. Lets look at what categories progressives are drawn to and how they attemp to solve the issue:

                Health care: Ten thousand page regulations with new taxes and a dozen or so new government agencies that rationally attempt to mandate top down how, who and what.

                Living wages: they recommend interfering in voluntary interactions and instead coercively regulating minimum wages and benefits.

                Schools: they recommend government monopolies protected from competition and choice, run by bureaucrats and government union employees master plan our children’s education.

                Guns: they recommend government controls, limits and regulations.

                Poverty: they recommend a never ending stream of government driven and centrally controlled monopoly programs run by fellow progressives.

                Taxes: they recommend more taxes to collect more revenues to pay off all those government workers and bureaucrats and to enhance the effective power and influence of progressive politicians.

                Inequality: they recommend an activist government presence that manages and influences wealth and income distribution.

                Occupational safety, drug safety, product safety, racism, the definition of marriage, the environment, global warming, technological innovation, student aid for college, blah, lah, blah: more rationally planned, top down master planning via compassionate regulations and pragmatic coercion.

                Are you guys still in denial? Are you actually unaware that there is another way to address these and other problems? Or are you guys like fish and totally oblivious of the water?Report

    • Roger,

      First, it explains WHY people are poor. Disorganized, lacking in social skills, writing skills, deferring to bureaucrats, unable to rationally choose a major, rudderless, without a clue, no long range goals. And on top of this they are raised (or not raised) by parents who are the same or worse and are not driven to intervene on behalf of their kids, or perhaps even there at all. The point is that we have just described why people are poor and why poverty can be multigenerational. I’m not blaming the poor, I am just replaying what Rose and the NYT article mentioned. The point is that there are disorganized, less intelligent people without long range time horizons, without “good parents” and life in a complex world is not going to be kind to them.

      I was originally going to disagree with this point, and here is what I was going to say:

      I’m reluctant to agree with your first point. Or to be more precise, you state in what seems to be categorical terms that this article and post demonstrate the principal reason why people are poor, while I suspect they demonstrate only one of the secondary reasons that people are poor and, more important, why people *stay* poor when they otherwise might overcome their poverty. I’m not a radical redistributionist, but it matters a lot that some people start out with more resources than others do, and the ability to navigate gateway institutions is only one of many resources poorer people (probably) lack.

      Now that I’ve reread your comment, I don’t think we disagree all that much, if at all, although I think income inequality or more accurately, resource inequality, where “resource” can include income but can also include soft skills and other forms of social capital, is the larger phenomenon to which this post points.

      Finally, I’ll admit that I have an almost automatic (and negative) reaction to the “deferring to bureaucrats” (where bureaucrats are, by implication, considered evil killjoys whose only goal is to stymie the hopes and dreams of real people) because bureaucrats aren’t necessarily bad people and because they usually provide a service (for pay, of course, but I won’t damn them for that) that people need. Still, I recognize that my reaction is in part a bias on my part, that bureaucracy’s operations can be stifling, and that bureaucrats can be petty (or so insistent on covering their a##es by insisting on the rules when the rules can be bent). So we probably don’t disagree much on that point either.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        Pierre,

        I am sure there are lots of reasons people stay poor. The NYT article and Rose’s comment are both excellent. How do you make up for fathers that have abandoned their kids? How do you correct for parents that don’t seem to invest in either their own future or their kids? How do you fix girls who are attracted to the same type of scumbag parasites that their mom fell for? How do you equalize that some people really do have trouble navigating complex modern society?

        But the article gets even more pointed in its condemnation of our progressive fixes. The disgusting scheme that colleges have foisted upon lower and middle class kids should be grounds for banishment. They concocted a scheme where kids get loans to pay for vastly inefficient and inhumanely ineffective colleges. We basically set up a system that puts unprepared kids on an escalator to take out ridiculous loans while trying (often unsuccesfully) to get useless degrees. Shame on us.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to Roger says:

          Roger,
          For generations, mothers have lived with fathers abandoning their children. The kids grew up okay. Read more American History. We put bounties on the Jewish Men, as they were needed for the divorce paperwork.

          You correct for parents who don’t seem to invest in “their future or their kids” by understanding them a bit better than that statement. (naturally, barring those suffering from extreme addiction… who might very well be actually that ‘tarded).

          “How do you fix girls…” Again, wrong problem, wrong solution. Girl gets pregnant, girl gets married. If you have enough men about, this is likely to happen. Well, if girl needs a man to be a functional member of society. If you wanna bitch about women having enough income to manage to support themselves… ya can kiss my ass. But you wouldn’t do that, surely?

          “trouble navigating complex society?” Wrong problem, wrong solution. We still need farmers. Good vocations still exist for these folks. Hell, have them be garbagemen (I think that’s relatively straightforward). And, above all else, discourage them from breeding. ;-PReport

          • Avatar Roger in reply to Kim says:

            Kim,

            You are ignoring the article and the troubles it assigns to exploitative and missing men and fathers. If you are arguing that drug addicted, thieving boy friends and moms with revolving or missing dads are good for youngsters then I will disagree. I think two good parents with good genes and lots of love are better than one, and much better than none.Report

            • Avatar Kim in reply to Roger says:

              Roger,
              Respectfully, but not everyone gets the choice between “two parents with -good genes-” and no parents at all.

              I’d rather see a parent modeling reasonably decent relationships (even if serial), rather than sacrificing themselves to be a model parent.

              The article seemed clear, but what you take from it is different from what I take from it. I think that says more about you and I than it does about the circumstances.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Kim says:

                I concur. Kids don’t get a choice in their parents. Dysfunctional societies will propagate dysfunctional social outcomes. NYT article is exhibit A of one such dysfunctional trend.

                Yes. I read the article and it tells me we could do much better. Better primary and secondary education. Less exploitation in higher education. More attention to the cycles of dependency and parental abandonment that progressive systems foster.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Roger says:

                Perhaps if we had members of the communities that we are attempting to service with these social systems be a part of the decision making process, they’d yield better results.

                The few times I’ve come across in my studies that black parents were allowed to make decisions about education for black students showed marked improvement for these students. Unfortunately, these experiments did not last long because they ran afoul of a larger white establishment that did not take kindly to the approaches utilized, even if many members of that white establishment genuinely believed they had those black students’ interests at heart. They just thought they knew better than the black parents. Which is… ugh… where to begin…

                (I don’t have cites handy but I can dig them up in my records when I’m back at school. Unfortunately, that won’t be for a week and a half.)Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

                am interested. 😉Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Kazzy says:

                Yeah, and I would love to read your FP on the topic you mentioned.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Roger says:

                Rog,

                Not the best source, but better than nothing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_City_teachers%27_strike_of_1968

                Interesting how it highlights the struggles within liberalism and how quickly white liberals, supposedly dedicates to civil rights, bristled when they were expected to endure sacrifices to grant people of color self-autonomy.Report

              • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Roger says:

                Kazzy,

                There were a lot of anti-Semitic comments directed at the Jewish teachers during that strike.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Roger says:

                ND,

                I wasn’t there and won’t cop to knowing the entirety of the story. As I understand it, there was a lot of ugliness on a lot of levels and if there was indeed anti-semitism, that is wrong and should not have been tolerated. But it is alarming that one of the few attempts at community-controlled learning in which black folks exercised the type of power that whites exercised for so long was stamped out and prevented from happening again.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Roger says:

                Kazzy, seems like we’re experiencing post-Christmas doldrums here at the league. I think we need a fresh post on something to get the juices flowing, how bout you? And I have a thought for a topic, one consistent with the season because it’s the gift that keeps on giving. I’m referring, of course, to Tim Tebow, who offered a non-denial denying that he denied the Wild Cat because he was denied the starting job.

                There’s enough denying going on for him to have been denied three times, yes?Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Roger says:

                NewDealer,
                I talked to someone whose mom was there, and he said, “it was just a standard labor dispute. no anti-semitism, nothing.” (which may merely mean “not paying attention”, but he did specifically talk with his mom about it).Report

              • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Roger says:

                Stillwater in with the saveReport

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        Pierre,

        On bureaucracies…

        I would just add that I believe that bureaucratic sclerosis is endemic and almost inevitable in any large, complex organization. Every large, complex organization will become bureaucratic, and over time it will become more bureaucratic, less effective, more inefficient and full of more rent seekers, free riders. Regulations and red tape will snowball without end, and cost effectiveness will dwindle first to nothing and then to net ineffectiveness.

        The only cure for bureaucratic decline is creative destruction, or what I call constructive competition. Education needs a process of constructive competition. The current paradigm leads to the NYT article. In another generation, it will cost even more and lead to even worse results.Report

        • Roger,

          Sorry I haven’t answered in a while.

          I’m not sure I sign on completely to your claim that “[e]very large, complex organization will become bureaucratic, and over time it will become more bureaucratic, less effective, more inefficient and full of more rent seekers, free riders. Regulations and red tape will snowball without end, and cost effectiveness will dwindle first to nothing and then to net ineffectiveness.” That is, I’m not so sure it’s inevitable even if there is perhaps a strong trend toward that end. It seems to me that “creative destruction” (disclosure, I have never actually read Schumpeter) might actually lead some bureaucracies to self-police and self “efficentize” (sorry, a poor choice of “word”).

          At any rate, I think I get what you’re getting at, and I probably agree in spirit.

          Where my “negative reaction” comes from–and I admit it’s probably as much of a bias as it is anything legitimate–is the extremes to which some people might take it. I’m referring to the point where refusing to defer obsequiously to bureaucracy becomes license to treat office workers who interact with the public like crap. Of course, you never said it was okay to do that, but I tend to infer that attitude (again, too precipitously and without evidence) when I hear complaints about “bureaucrats.”

          Also, I recognize that sometimes merely being polite or nice can prove to be one’s ruin. One ought to stand up for one’s privileges and for what one has coming. And that speaks to your point.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Roger says:

      I think you are missing the wealth element, in all of this.
      Believe you me, it bears considering…Report

  12. Avatar Rose says:

    I do not mean to deny that SES pays a huge role in all this. But it’s worth mentioning that both the anecdotes I mentioned in the OP (i.e., Mr. Google Calendar and Ms. Email Reminder) were both non-Hispanic white, and, we’re I to guess (for whatever it’s worth) from at least middle class backgrounds, as most of the white students at my university are. It’s – no question – a deeper problem for those from impoverished backgrounds. But I do see plenty of it with white, apparently affluent kids.Report

    • Avatar Rose in reply to Rose says:

      Apologies for grammatical infelicities occasioned by my iPad.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Rose says:

      I think kids from well-to do backgrounds can be just as directionless because they are used to their parents micro-managing their lives and then get to university and need to do it for themselves and this a shock.

      I learned a lesson like this the hard way during my sophomore year. A class had a term paper. I took out all my books, got approval for subject matter, and then it just escaped my mind until the day it was due. I had no idea how this happened but I woke up and thought Oh Fuck!!!

      I scrambled to turn in a horrible piece of writing that got a D and turned my B plus in the class into a B minus. I was too ashamed to write to the professor and tell him what happened and to beg for mercy/getting an incomplete. I was too ashamed to tell my parents what happened and ask for advice on what to do.

      This hasn’t happened since and will hopefully (knocks wood) ever happen for something like a court filing. But I learned the hard way.Report

      • “A class had a term paper. I took out all my books, got approval for subject matter, and then it just escaped my mind until the day it was due. I had no idea how this happened but I woke up and thought Oh Fuck!!!”

        That never happened to me, but I’ve certainly had nightmares about it happening. Strangely, I still get those dreams, even though I’m not really at the point where I’m turning in assignments any more. Sometimes the dreams have something to do with high school, where I’m still taking calculus and haven’t made it to class in about two months because I forgot I was taking it. Ugh!!!Report

  13. Avatar Thoreau says:

    So, I blog about this sort of stuff a lot at Unqualified Offerings. Class and SES issues are important, but I think that some people emphasize class and SES a bit too much. I teach at a large non-flagship state university. The least-advantaged kids experience a world that is pretty unforgiving about rules and deadlines. If they miss a deadline, it’s often (but certainly not always) because life rained down some travesty on them, not because nobody ever taught them that they need to meet deadlines. OTOH, the more advantaged kids are more likely to be all “What do you mean the deadline isn’t negotiable?”

    My mother went to college, but she was very much a non-traditional student. She wasn’t terribly helpful with regards to “navigating the system” in the large, private, residential institution that I attended. And she certainly had no experience of grad school to pass on. (A few relatives have graduate degrees, but these are not people that I interact with; there was no learning by osmosis.) What really prepared me was, strangely enough, experiences that I would associate with our somewhat less advantaged students: I worked from the age of 12, first delivering newspapers and then in a minimum-wage hourly job (part-time). I kept a planner. How else was I going to juggle a part-time job and school and extracurriculars? Those sorts of habits, introduced by my mother and grandparents and reinforced by my work and activities, seemed to be what prepared me most.

    Apparently working in high school is something that a lot of the more advantaged kids don’t do, so they don’t get those experiences. When I see white suburban kids with professional parents displaying all of the helplessness and cluelessness that you describe above, I don’t think we can blame it all on class and let our hearts start bleeding like some of my colleagues do. (I have a thoracic surgeon on speed dial for faculty meetings.) They say that the disadvantaged kids are clueless because their parents couldn’t prepare them, and the advantaged kids are clueless because their parents prepared them too much. The middle class kids get some of each explanation.

    I’d like to offer an alternative explanation: You and me and the rest of us who excelled at college are the exceptions. We were largely unaware of how clueless our classmates were, whether spoiled kids who had never been forced to fill out paperwork for themselves or poor kids who had never been taught how to read it. The world is and was full of clueless people, and we are and were the exceptions.

    Incidentally, I’m pretty sure that some of my colleagues are and were among those lost sheep. I’m still not sure how these idiots got anywhere in higher education.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Thoreau says:

      ‘If they miss a deadline, it’s often (but certainly not always) because life rained down some travesty on them, not because nobody ever taught them that they need to meet deadlines. OTOH, the more advantaged kids are more likely to be all “What do you mean the deadline isn’t negotiable?”’

      True but from what I’ve read, the poor expect these travesties more often and create a support network that also perversely acts like an unbreakable cycle that keeps them in poverty. Let’s say Bob works as a meat-packer and can be easily sacked for not showing up to work. Bob has a friend named Fred whose car is in the shop. Fred calls Bob up one day and says “I need you to take me to the emergency room. I think my appendix burst”. Bob was getting ready to leave for work and will be fired if he does not show up. From the studies I’ve read, Bob is likely to take Fred to the Hospital and risk getting fired because he knows he can be in Fred’s shoes one day.

      In my white-collar world, I don’t know if any of my friends will not show up for work if I have a medical emergency like a burst appendix. However, I think my employer is likely to be understanding and not fire me for my medical emergency. And I am just a contract attorney working on a long project, not a full associate. Working class folks do not often have that luxury of thought.

      “Apparently working in high school is something that a lot of the more advantaged kids don’t do, so they don’t get those experiences. When I see white suburban kids with professional parents displaying all of the helplessness and cluelessness that you describe above, I don’t think we can blame it all on class and let our hearts start bleeding like some of my colleagues do.”

      I did not work at high school at all. Neither did many of my classmates who fit your description. Nor did I have a work-study job in college. Though I did work during the summers between semesters of college and during my Masters program. My parents did not want me to have a typical high school job like working at a record store. They thought there would be more value in me studying and doing summer programs at a university where we took college level courses. I think they were right. Though for some people, I think working in high school can give them more direction.

      The problem with these debates is that it often seems that everyone (myself included) can only come up with a one-size fits all solution. This can be sending everyone to the Marines, or requiring everyone to do a year or two of backbreaking labor right after high school, or my solution of keeping things as is but having more guidance/advocacy for poor students.Report

      • Re working in high school:

        Speaking for myself only, I found working in high school to be very helpful. I started working (part time, minimum wage, fast food job) at the end of my sophomore year. Although my family didn’t need the money, it helped me out in many of the ways it helped Thoreau out. It also gave me an income I could save for college and that gave me a leg up financially. It also gave me much of the self confidence I would later need. There’s something really empowering about having a source of income, at least for me.

        Finally, working in high school made me appreciate my classes more. Before I worked, I thought of school as an imposition. After I started working, I though of school almost as recreation: I could stay seated (at work I had to stand all the time), and I was the customer while someone else (the teacher) was the employee who was giving me a product. To a very real extent, school was something I got to do when I didn’t have to work.

        As I said, this is how it played out for me. Also, I should add that it played out this way only partially. There were stressful moments, and my actual relationship with my teachers was still the one of hyperdeferential me vs. adult-authority-figures them.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        It is good to remember that their support network WORKS, and perhaps to focus on how to move groups out of poverty, rather than individuals. The Greek model may be instructive.Report

  14. Another thing that can take new college students by surprise is the pace at which material is covered. I was (and still am, to a considerable degree) a math guy. My own estimate has always been that college math classes — at least from calculus on — cover material at about twice the rate that is done high school. This can be a trap for students who breezed along in high school without having to work particularly hard.Report

    • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Michael Cain says:

      The biggest delineator I saw between people who unexpectedly succeeded in college and those who unexpectedly failed – among my cohort – was the extent to which they had learned or had not learned how to work well. If you’re smart – you don’t have to be genius-level – you can make your way in K-12 without a whole lot of effort. You simply do what you’re told. The easier it is for you to do it, the less you have to learn how to work well. The more likely you are to fail when you don’t have someone telling you what to do.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Trumwill says:

        I agree with that. I didn’t get a lot of help thru grade school from my parents, but I was smart enough/lucky enough to figure out how to study efficiently. A lot of that was probably due to being friends with some really smart people who had better family support and whatnot, and I learned from them. When I got to college, it was a pretty easy step to apply that to a new environment. I was always a very efficient student, and was one of those strange beings that really enjoyed taking tests. But I think that’s a learnable skill more than a basic talent. The really smart kids have both, of course. But I think lots of kids underperform because they don’t understand how to study, how to meet the requirements of an assignment, how to prepare for different types of exams, etc. In short, they lack the basic skills necessary to be successful at the college level.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Trumwill says:

        “had not learned how to work well.”

        Yup. The worse students also don’t seem to know that there is a difference between knowing how to work effectively (working well) and putting in a lot of effort (working hard). There is a difference between working well and working hard. The former requires thinking about exactly what the assignments’ instructions ask, strategizing about how you are likely to be graded, showing your face in office hours (and participating) for strategic reasons, learning that a lot of reading material isn’t fit for exam questions, etc., etc.Report

  15. Avatar zic says:

    They are rudderless. Many seem to have no idea why they are in college. I often ask this of students at the beginning of the semester. They really seem to have no clue. It’s not that they are there for the goal of a liberal arts education in itself and are not yet career-focused. That is a perfectly legitimate goal. They literally have no fishing clue why they are there. Because that’s what you do. You go to college. Some will say in the vaguest of terms that they hope that it gets them a better job.

    This. At the local middle/school, they have something called ‘career day.’ blah. These are families employed in the woods, the tourism industry, perhaps there’s a teacher. Here, and I’m sure across vast swaths of the nation, there simply isn’t exposure to what a ‘profession’ might be, what it entails, how one gets to be a professional; the potential for ‘what do I want to be?’ goes mostly unexplored. Instead, one day a year, there are ‘professionals’ who come and spend a couple minutes each saying, ‘this is what I do.’ For kids without a deep seating in a diverse professional community, the whole thing is shrouded in mystery; and the effort to gain mastery at a skill goes unrecognized, or only spoken of as talent instead of effort.

    My husband (not a certified teacher) teaches music at a private boarding school; the bulk of the study body can afford pricy private school. They come seeped in the culture of profession; often with clear goals of what they want, and how to get there. So the value of family indoctrination stands out to me. (There are, of course, always exceptions, I know.) But even here, with students who are musically gifted, there’s not comprehension of what ‘profession’ might embrace — starving rock star, classical musician, or music teacher seem the range; the studio musician, the jingle composer, the computer technician who generates event-driven sounds/music for video games and apps is beyond ken.

    Perhaps the era of childhood matters, also. We’re still recovering from the self-esteem movement; where reward was disassociated from achievement in education and parenting. Shame on parents my age. Yes, it’s important to value people. But we did it at the expense of teaching the basics of accomplishment, the value of mastery.

    The other piece these young adults may suffer, also to my genrerations’ shame, is whole-language/immersion reading techniques that displaced phonics as one leg of the stool to reading and writing competence.Report

  16. Avatar MBunge says:

    Not to be an old grump, but I’m not sure that a lot of the problem is college specific. Sure, there’s some needed information and necessary adjustment for the transition, but what’s described in Woodhouse’s post seems much more fundamentally about two things.

    1. These kids are growing up in a society that has pushed “adulthood” somewhere back into your mid to late 20s, maybe even early 30s, making them even more unprepared for that first step to quasi-adulthood.

    2. Kids whose personal interactions are greatly influenced by electronic or computer communication.

    MikeReport

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to MBunge says:

      “1. These kids are growing up in a society that has pushed “adulthood” somewhere back into your mid to late 20s, maybe even early 30s, making them even more unprepared for that first step to quasi-adulthood.”

      Probably true but how do you change this. I’ve seen a lot of articles in the past few years (often in center-right publications but sometimes in center-left ones) bemoaning this change. The articles often bemoan the fact that it is no longer possible or probable for young people (largely men) to have a good-paying factory/real he-man job out of college and also to have kids and house by their mid-20s. A permanent job/career, mortgage, marriage, and kids being considered the real hallmarkers of adult life.

      These articles strike me as hypocritical for two reasons:

      1. They are often published by magazines or think tanks that played a heavy role in the destruction of well-paid blue collar labor. Usually through a lot of drumbeating for “deregulation, deregulation, deregulation.”

      2. The articles are often written by the kind of paradoxical conservative who epouses traditional values while living the lifestyle that they decry. Mainly the East Coast, “elitist”, professional class of working hard on education and job and then having kids later in life, once settled in a professional career.

      For better or for worse, we have created an economy that pushes adulthood back to your 20s and 30s. We did this through policies that helped encourage a post-Industrial, high knowledge, information technology. This means that the best hope for a good job or a chance at a middle-class and above lifestyle is through education and internships. Someone had to pay their dues for a long time before having a decent life. In many ways it makes more sense for people to wait until they have been working for a while and on a good trajectory before they have kids. Why would someone want to plan having kids while still in a residency that requires 80 plus hours a week at work including overnight shifts?Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        Meh. Why are we expecting men to have responsibility at all?
        Wasn’t that why we needed Prohibition?
        ;-P [please don’t kill me. point is meant jocularly].Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to NewDealer says:

        ND,

        For the record, my guess is that the think tank also recognizes that the regulations you so love were being used to steal the jobs from minorities in the US, and all the people in other countries which were cut out of competing for the job. You bemoan the loss of the good old days where white union workers got to take advantage of minorities and foreigners.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to MBunge says:

      Also and repeated from below:

      Going back to the ruddlerless.

      Why is this bad? What is wrong or horrible about giving young people the chance of having some kind of pseudo-adult/emerging adulthood period where they can explore a bit, have fun in the city (or whereever), do cool and interesting jobs, etc?

      This used to only be the provenance of the very rich (William S. Burroughs was a trust fund kid and so were many other avant-garde bohemian artists) or the truly misfit, the kind of person who could never hold a 9-5 job if their life depended on it. I think it is a sign of a wealthy society that allows many people to have wastrel periods and turn out okay and do the marriage and kid thing later in life. We live much longer now. Why does this mean more decades need to be dedicated to work and conservative-vision adult things?

      I don’t think there is anything wrong with the period of 18-29 being about exploring.Report

  17. Avatar damon says:

    “But Angelica had failed to complete all the financial aid forms.
    Though Emory sent weekly e-mails — 17 of them, along with an invitation to a program for minority students — they went to a school account she had not learned to check.
    Meetings with faculty advisers were optional and Angelica did not consult hers.
    Another missed deadline cost her several thousand dollars in aid in her senior year. When it came time to declare a major, she had a B-plus average in the humanities and D’s in psychology. She chose psychology….”
    “I post all their grades online during the semester. It displays a running weighted total. Yet many students never check this all semester long and are shocked! at the grade they get at the end.”

    OMG
    Really failing to have much sympathy here. I can understand difficulty with Financial Aide…that can be a mess, but deadlines, schedules, access to electronic BBs/email? No frickin excuse. I think it’s called “maturity”.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to damon says:

      I think this is changing.

      My grades were all over the map in high school. Many were very good but in some subjects like science and math, I was a perpetual C student. Biology was the only science I got a B in without serious effort. I just really liked it. Overall my average in high school was about 83-84.

      I still managed to get into my first choice college in 1998 through a combination of a decent amount of good grades, excellent board scores, recommendations, and extracurricular activities.

      I don’t think this would happen today. The competition is way too select. My top-tier college can probably fill their class-size several times. IIRC someone from Harvard admissions said they can easily make 5-6 Harvards every year.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to damon says:

      Sorry. My response was meant to go to Kim. Not you.Report

    • Avatar Rose in reply to damon says:

      “But Angelica had failed to complete all the financial aid forms.
      Though Emory sent weekly e-mails — 17 of them, along with an invitation to a program for minority students — they went to a school account she had not learned to check.
      Meetings with faculty advisers were optional and Angelica did not consult hers.
      Another missed deadline cost her several thousand dollars in aid in her senior year. When it came time to declare a major, she had a B-plus average in the humanities and D’s in psychology. She chose psychology….”

      It occurs to me now that if an upper middle class white kid did this, she would be considered most likely depressed. In this case, we assume it is due to Angelica’s lack of education.Report

  18. Avatar Kim says:

    In high school, being a C student has very little consequence. You still go to college (mostly), and there’s not much of a problem.
    In college, being a C student means NO grad school (according to the instructors at my local public university, in my field), and a REALLY hard time getting a job (though perhaps not as hard as the person who gets all A’s and F’s).
    To top it all off, upper level courses in college are often graded on grad school measures (A/B/C… F only if you REALLY REALLY do something egregious). So getting a C means “well below average”.

    These distinctions are really important. And the kids who are used to “just coasting” need a quick kick in the pants.Report

  19. Avatar NewDealer says:

    Going back to the ruddlerless.

    Why is this bad? What is wrong or horrible about giving young people the chance of having some kind of pseudo-adult/emerging adulthood period where they can explore a bit, have fun in the city (or whereever), do cool and interesting jobs, etc?

    This used to only be the provenance of the very rich (William S. Burroughs was a trust fund kid and so were many other avant-garde bohemian artists) or the truly misfit, the kind of person who could never hold a 9-5 job if their life depended on it. I think it is a sign of a wealthy society that allows many people to have wastrel periods and turn out okay and do the marriage and kid thing later in life. We live much longer now. Why does this mean more decades need to be dedicated to work and conservative-vision adult things?

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with the period of 18-29 being about exploring.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer says:

      “Why is this bad? What is wrong or horrible about giving young people the chance of having some kind of pseudo-adult/emerging adulthood period where they can explore a bit, have fun in the city (or whereever), do cool and interesting jobs, etc?”

      NewDealer,

      I don’t think it is inherently or objective a horrible or wrong thing. But it is reasonable to question the appropriateness of going into six figures of debt in order to explore.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:

        Okay that is a fair point.

        My issue is with the people who are pushing back about emerging adulthood.

        I spent most of my 20s trying for a career in theatre before deciding it was not going to happen and going to law school at 28. Now at 32, I am graduated, passed two bars, and starting to build my career.

        I get the implication from many people who bemoan “emerging adulthood” that there was something immoral or unethical about attempting for a passion, a career in art, and living in cool urban neighborhoods. The proper way would have been going straight to law school, finding a mater, and being a dad by 28 at latest.

        I don’t see why this is true. I have no problem morally or ethically with someone trying for a career in art or something unusual and therefore putting off the so-called adult things. Nor do I have a problem with people banging out their wild oats in their 20s and having a life that largely consists of work and going to bars on the weekend. I just don’t see it as a sign that Civilization is in decline.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

          Of course civilization is in decline! they aren’t married while they go out and sow their oats.
          [yes, I’m joking.]Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer says:

          I agree with you. My criticisms of “emerging adulthood” would be limited to the following…

          1.) The strain of “emerging adulthood” that is probably better described as “extended adolescence”. I think there is a problem with a 25-year-old who doesn’t have a bank account in his own name or never paid her own bills or who has never been on a job interview.
          2.) Delays in child birth. This isn’t limited to the “emerging adulthood” sect, as it is just as common among people who immediately get started on the “real adult” stuff, putting off family planning until they are further settled in their career. For women in particular, giving birth later in life (I believe after 35 is the current prevailing wisdom) greatly ups the likelihood of certain birth abnormalities; it is also much less healthy for the women. This isn’t really something people should be shamed or criticized for, but it is an issue and a consequence that ought to be considered.

          But, yea, generally speaking, criticizing folks for taking an “alternate path” seems needlessly silly. I do think that is changing, though, at least incrementally in some areas. In my family, I am the third child out of four. I was the first one married (at 27) and the first one with a child on the way (got pregnant at 28, baby due at 29). My siblings, all single, all doing the “emerging adulthood” thing, all between the ages of 27 and 33, see me as some sort of oddity because I’m married, bought a house in the suburbs, and have a child on the way.

          Then again, they’re all hopelessly narcissistic. But I’ve always said that if the path they’ve chosen is what is making them happy and they are not creating negative externalities for others, so be it.Report

          • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:

            “1.) The strain of “emerging adulthood” that is probably better described as “extended adolescence”. I think there is a problem with a 25-year-old who doesn’t have a bank account in his own name or never paid her own bills or who has never been on a job interview.”

            I don’t know anyone for whom this is true including my friends who have serious trust funds and can do whatever they want in life (anyone involved in art gets to know these people.) They all have their own bank accounts and have been on interviews even if the stakes are radically different.

            When I hear people complain about “extended adolescence”, it really feels like they are complaining about young adults with cool, urban lifestyles. These people might have good, professional jobs but there does seem to be a lot of conservative ID that gets unhinged around this. They want 23-year old Google engineers or 25-year old newly minted Lawyers to be married with a kid in the suburbs instead of living in San Francisco and going to bars on the weekend or even a weeknight.

            The cultural politics of this are all rather interesting and it raises interesting questions for what it means to be a liberal, Democracy. A liberal Democracy should have no problem with young people choosing to live in the city and go to bars and concerts on weeknights but it seems to cause us a great deal of moral panic. We want them in suburbs and unable to go out because they have kids.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer says:

              “A liberal Democracy should have no problem with young people choosing to live in the city and go to bars and concerts on weeknights but it seems to cause us a great deal of moral panic. We want them in suburbs and unable to go out because they have kids.”

              I have zero problem with that. Hell, I lived very much that way until recently, and still indulge in that behavior here and there.

              I do know folks who fall into the “extended adolescent” crowd. They don’t necessarily fit all the criteria listed, but at least some. Hell, my brother could be described as such. He’s 31 and still gets his mail sent to our mother’s house.

              But, yes, more broadly, the notion that there is one singular path to success as an adult is just silly.Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to NewDealer says:

      “Why is this bad?”

      Because as you point out, it was rich parents that subsidized avante garde lifestyles. I am fine with parents subsidizing their adult kids however they choose. I am not willing to ask people to subsidize other people’s adult kids though. All you are in effect doing is institutionalizing a lower productivity society.

      We set up a silly system where we conveniently agreed to use the next generation to subsidize the current ones retirement. Then we stopped having as many kids. Now let’s encourage the kids not to work until they are thirty. Sounds like the path to prosperity to me. Oh well, in the end, Alaric was a Roman, wasn’t he?Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Roger says:

        “I am fine with parents subsidizing their adult kids however they choose.”
        I am not. Call me a moralizing prick if you want, but I am bloody well not.

        I somehow think Vince Foster agrees with me. ;-PReport

    • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to NewDealer says:

      Why is this bad? What is wrong or horrible about giving young people the chance of having some kind of pseudo-adult/emerging adulthood period where they can explore a bit, have fun in the city (or whereever), do cool and interesting jobs, etc?

      Nothing wrong with that for a few years. But since university is expensive, and a student doing all that will probably not be getting an awful lot out of their studies as such, it’s better pursued by getting a job than by heading to university. ‘Find yourself’, then study, if the finding is going to get in the way of the studying.Report

  20. Avatar Shazbot5 says:

    Last point.

    One thing that is important to keep in mind is that though Rose rightly points out problems in post secondary education, for all these problems: twas ever thus.

    We all have a tendency to think of the past as a golden age, but it wasn’t, certainly not in education. I suspect they had many listless, unmotivated, or untrained students then too. The percentages may or may not have been different.Report

  21. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Apropos to nothing else, my experience around Bilingual Special EdSpeak translates SES as Supplemental Educational Services. Scratched my head for a while until I worked out Socio-Economic Strata.Report

  22. Avatar Rose Woodhouse says:

    To all, I have deleted a comment above for the first time ever in my tenure at the League that I can recall, including at Blinded Trials. It included a grossly offensive term, and I apologize to readers.Report

  23. Avatar Deena says:

    I seriously love your site.. Excellent colors & theme.
    Did you build this amazing site yourself? Please reply back as I’m hoping to create my own personal website and would like to know where you got this from or exactly what the theme is called. Thanks!Report

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