Thursday, January 19, 2006

There For the Paper.

A Theology student in his mid 30s from Minnesota sends this excellent post in today:

The Illinois journalism professor reflects on interesting differences in the way that contemporary undergraduates absorb and catalogue information. That said, I don't think it has any bearing on the problem(s) described by the Washington professor.

I'm in my mid-30s. I was kicked out of school twice when I stumbled into it straight from high school. I returned a few years ago to 'finish' (more like 'start and finish') my degree. The 15 intervening years made a difference. I'm excited about learning and can't imagine failing. I'm there because the learning is interesting to me, not because college was just the requisite next step in my path to adulthood. I've been stunned by the overall lack of interest, creativity, and ability by the more traditional aged students surrounding me. They don't ask intelligent questions. They don't do the homework. They can't write.

In a 300-level class last year, one student turned in a semester-ending research paper that was five pages long, had no footnotes/endnotes, lacked a title page, and relied on one classroom textbook and two websites for source material. On top of it all, my 12-year-old niece writes more clearly. Yet, this student passed the class. Why don't you professors fail people like this? I'm baffled. Are you afraid to hand out F's? Why?

Getting back to the comments from Illinois.... it's not as simple as information processing methodologies. Can he explain how the differences he highlighted result in such an incredible lack of talent and interest?

From my seat in the classroom it looks to me like the greater problem is that college has become nothing more than a waypoint on the road to a career. The overwhelming majority of companies now ask for a college degree; thus, high-school kids go to college. As the crude cliche goes: they're there for the paper. Ask any college kid what they think of a class and the response almost invariably is "I don't care, I just want to graduate."

It'd be nice if y'all would identify and focus your personal resources on those of us who want to be there: we're paying a lot of money and really want access to your knowledge and your willingness to share it. I love nothing more in school than stumbling across that occasional professor that isn't yet bitter and still gets excited about a student who wants to learn.

I want to spend time learning how you think -- college for me isn't just about absorbing the facts, it's about learning how you professors analyze and solve problems. To do that I need hallway/office conversations. I need a professor who isn't bored and frustrated with the current crop of students. I need a professor who takes the time to actually read my paper and write constructive comments so that the quality of my writing improves.

Bottom line: The existing system isn't going to fill your classes with excited students. So why not direct your attention to the few of us that really do want to learn, please?