On Evolution and Academia
This post is going to sound a little bit harsh, and I apologize in advance. I promise I'm not trying to offend anyone.
If you believe in evolution (I happen to, and think it can coexist with a belief in whatever Higher Being you wish), aren't you disturbed by the way humans are going? We're letting folks with serious genetically passed on diseases live longer (consuming resources) and procreate (propagating said diseases).
What does this have to do with academia or academic librarianship, you say? I'm glad you brought that up. I've mentioned in another post that telling students in K-12 that they are each a very special little snowflake who deserves the best and should never get disappointed is a crock of poo. What I'd also like to mention is that tagging kids via GPS to reduce truancy rates may be missing the point a little bit. The point being that some little monsters should not be in school. (As someone who taught at a high school for half a year, and attended a rather horrid high school myself, I feel I'm qualified to say that.) Stuffing overfull classrooms full of delinquents does nothing for our suffering education system. Oh, it maintains school funding, since public school funding is somewhat based on attendance and bodies in seats. But it doesn't help the teachers who spend more time telling Johnny and Katrina to be quiet/sit down/stop doing crack in back corners/quit having sex in the back row/etc (swear to God, those all happened in my high school classrooms, but names changed to protect the guilty - yay class of '97!) than actually teaching the rest of the kids who went to school to learn, and hopefully make it out to something better. School may me mandatory, but forcing everyone to be in class is not necessarily the best approach.
Going back to thoughts of evolution, there are now a number of ailments and disabilities for which education systems allow more time for testing. As it should be - I have no issue with this in the academic context - more power to those who are coming from a not-so-easy spot and making it through. What I do take issue with is the sense of entitlement we've engendered so that these folks also think it's okay to take extra time and/or screw up in real life with no consequences, or to get a free pass for accomplishing less. Take, for example, a good friend of mine. She is a wonderful person, and works wickedly hard, is brilliant and bright. But she's got severe ADHD. And now that she's out of pharmacy school - where she got extra time on her tests and harangued professors into upping certain grades because she "got stressed and just couldn't concentrate," she is now filling prescriptions. Occasionally she fills them wrong, which I know from another friend who works as her tech and has saved her bacon on occasion. I do not love my pharma-pal any less, but I do not ever allow her to fill my scrips. Ever.
At what point do we say, "I'm very sorry, I know you are brilliant, but you are working with a particular handicap that simply does not make you compatible with this kind of work?" Is that mean? I don't intend for it to be - I ask this is earnest.
At the college level, we see two branches of this sort of coddling at the K-12 level - we see the kids who don't want to be in college in the first place, and are going to make damned certain *you* know this is not their idea. Is it our job to force them to learn to love it? How many times does a recalcitrant student have to fail the intro comp class before we recommend that they might prefer to expend their non-effort somewhere else?
The second type we see are the kids who, no matter how much extra help and extra time they get, are simply incapable of performing at the college level. One professor came to me at the end of his rope. "I've given her extra time on exams. I've met with her on a regular basis for tutoring outside of class, and hold extra office hours just for her. I've even modified her exams per the instructions from the Disabilities Office. What else can I do? She is still failing - egregiously!" At what point - if ever - are we to suggest that perhaps the university is not the right place for this particular student? When this professor mentioned something to that effect about this student, whose genuine efforts at no point reached acceptable levels for a college student, he was told that his extra office hours, revised exams, and tutoring were simply not enough, and he would have to do better. Whaaaa?
Okay, let me stop a moment here. I am sure some of you are already composing comments in your head diatribing about how dare I say some people aren't capable, that everyone is capable if we just love them enough, give them enough extra time, and maybe allow a tutor to write some of their papers for them. (I keed, I keed. But not by much.) I am not talking about booting borderline cases, here. I am as familiar with the digital divide and people who are coming from behind in the education game. What I am talking about is the situation where you have someone who is fundamentally incapable of doing college-level work, or is unwilling to do college-level work. Many professors at public universities are already feeling this crunch, hounded by a disabilities office to do whatever it takes to get these students to succeed. I am all about student success. I'm a reference and instruction librarian, for godsake. I consider it my calling to take students and help them over the rough spots, teaching them the tips and tricks it takes to be successful both at their research and at life in general.
Still, I feel the need to ask, Is there ever a time when you have to gently inform someone that they simply cannot succeed if they can't perform at a college level? My argument is YES. There is. There has to be, if we are to retain whatever value the college degree has left. And not only is there no shame in that, there are a whole lot of worthwhile positions out there that not only don't require a college degree, but often pay more. (Ask my dad, who is still pissed I decided not to apprentice myself to a union electrician.)
I am not arguing that we give up on students wholesale here. I *do* think that we need to have progressive stages of help available, we need early warning systems that work in place, we need administrations that understand that shoving an unqualified student through college is no better than those who push illiterate kids through the K-12 system just so they can have a diploma. We need to make sure there's counseling that doesn't say that a college degree is the only way to be successful in life (wouldn't that just depress someone who is busting their tail to get there and simply cannot?) and counseling for the student along the way, so that when he/she leaves college, it's not with a bill for $25,000 or more, no degree in hand, and no idea what to do.
I mean, we can ignore this, too, which is what we've been doing in higher education, with a wink and a nudge from administrators who want their retention rates to look good. We certainly can wait decades to do anything about it. But where will you be filling your prescriptions? How much do you know about your doctors? Or lawyers? Or teachers? And doesn't the very idea of schlepping people through (in *any* field of academia) who aren't qualified horrify you, even a little bit? What about when the doctor performing surgery on your wife/daughter/son/father looks at you in desperation and says, "In class, I had more time!" What is higher ed evolving into when critical thinking becomes the first casualty to the political correctness of "acceptance of all?" And who can I trust to not murder me accidentally with the wrong scrip?