About the Blog

I will post a new entry every few weeks. Some will be new writing and some will be past work that has relevance today. The writing will deal in some way with the themes that have been part of my teaching and writing life for decades:

•teaching and learning;
•educational opportunity;
•the importance of public education in a democracy;
•definitions of intelligence and the many manifestations of intelligence in school, work, and everyday life; and
•the creation of a robust and humane philosophy of education.

If I had to sum up the philosophical thread that runs through my work, it would be this: A deep belief in the ability of the common person, a commitment to educational, occupational, and cultural opportunity to develop that ability, and an affirmation of public institutions and the public sphere as vehicles for nurturing and expressing that ability.

My hope is that this blog will foster an online community that brings people together to continue the discussion.


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Sunday, June 8, 2008

On Portraying the “Non-Traditional” College Student

Since I began this blog a few months back, we have been discussing the purpose of schooling, particularly, but not solely, public education, K-12. This week, I would like to shift the focus to a different population, though the issue of the purpose of education is still involved.

Several people forwarded to me an article that appeared in the June Atlantic Monthly entitled “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower.” It offers a disheartening portrait of the “non-traditional” (or “remedial” or just run-of-the-mill) college student, a portrait common in mass media, and in high-brow media particularly.

The author, who is identified as “Professor X”, teaches Freshman Composition and Introduction to Literature at a community college and a small private college. His courses are required, and his students, by his description, are people “who must amass a certain number of credits before they can become police officers or state troopers, lower-echelon health-care workers who need credits to qualify for raises, and municipal employees who require college-level certification to advance at work.”

The purpose of the piece is to challenge the notion that everyone should have access to post-secondary education, and the professor supports his claim with a narrative of student incompetence. His students can’t write about Joyce’s “Araby” or Faulkner’s “Barn Burning”. They can’t write a research paper “elucidat[ing] the positions of scholars on two sides of a historical controversy. Why did Truman remove MacArthur? Did the United States covertly support the construction of the Berlin Wall?” They haven’t read a book in common. And so it goes.

The professor doesn’t come across as a bad guy, and he frets over the grades he must dole out. But what is so frustrating to people like me, certainly to those who told me about the article, is that the professor seems clueless about alternative ways to engage his students in the humanities and help them become more effective critical readers and writers. Nor does he seem to grant them much experience or intelligence that could be brought to bear on core topics in the humanities.

What troubles me more than Professor X’s particular narrative of failure is how frequently this type of story appears in magazines like Atlantic Monthly. We’ve discussed mass media in this blog before – and I am certainly not in the business of bashing the media – but it’s telling that such portraits come from academics or visiting journalists whose educational experience is, I’ll bet, quite different from the students before them. Their stance is one of shock or dismay or cynicism rather than curiosity and engagement. And their portrayals help shape public opinion about an issue and a population much more complex than their weary depictions suggest.

It is certainly accurate that a number of people do enter higher education poorly prepared. And we do need to think hard about what the current push for “college for all” truly means, how it can be enacted in an effective way, and whether or not it offers the best remedy for past educational inequality. These are important questions. Articles like “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower” don’t help us answer them.


Anonymous said...

Lest we forget, Michelangelo’s David was carved out of a single piece of discarded marble, marble of such poor quality that it is filled with microscopic holes, according to researchers. Two other sculptors had abandoned it before Michelangelo stepped in.

ladymabelgrex said...

I think several things might be considered here. Our inner city public high schools are bitterly failing our kids. I taught a class in academic writing for students transistioning from Los Angeles public high schools to Cal State L A a couple of summers ago. Those kids told stories of sitting in the halls and of the floors of classrooms because their East L A schools were so overcrowded. Whatever hopes these students had of learning anything were minimal, much less hopes of getting really excited about academic learning. These were students who managed to be accepted into college. What about the hopes of the thousands of kids who never even considered trying? What about the 50% who dropped out before finishing? At the same time, a really lovely complex sat unfinished and unused a few blocks away because of what appeared to me to be utterly corrupt politics. How can these students possibly believe we have any serious interest in their educations?
We need to consider that many of the students in our cities come from cultures with sophisticated, elegant bodies of literature that are not “Araby” or “Barn Burning” and not part of the canon. Garcia Lorca and Mario Machado are world renowned poets who do not appear in the “canon” as far as I know. Pablo Neruda's work is lovely and easy to read in both English and Spanish. Why are we teaching, “Araby” to young men and women whose parents came from Michoacan with third grade educations. My students were warm, funny, and had no academic discipline despite the fact that they were the most academic students in their schools. I attended a small graduation celebration at Cal State LA a couple of weeks ago. Students wept as they thanked their parents for their sacrifices in Spanish and Nahuatl. These young people are real successes of our state college system.
We also need to consider what we really are doing in our colleges and universities. Are we training people to write good memos and make better middle managers, or as many academics seem to assume, are we imparting the ability to think and communicate in some academically acceptable manner? Are we doing both? If we are, maybe we need to recognize that fact. A college degree is worth money, whatever ability to think in a particular manner it may impart. Are we simply teaching people how to follow the rules? That's a valuable thing to learn, but maybe if we really invested in our elementary and high schools, people would not need college educations to learn it.
Finally, people who can count a thousand newspapers by sight or build houses, fix cars, or plumb our bathrooms are very important people who may have no interest in the canon. Why do all students need college prep educations? Why can't we permit people to make a living, raise their families making cabinets and if they want to, they can read the canon in retirement. My husband just finished reading the “Paradiso.” He noted that his fluent Spanish helped him understand the renaissance Italian on the left of the translation. He has no interest in a degree. He just reads because his wife and kids read, and it doesn't seem so esoteric. You doctorate says you're really good at something. So does his contractor's license. He doesn't consider himself an intellectual; he's curious. I'm not sure what I'm saying here, but here in Los Angeles, we live among people from all over the world who want their children to know their own cultures and succeed in ours. They are invaluable people with something real to teach us in a small world if we want to learn it.

ladymabelgrex said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

From the Basement to the Gutter

Q-vole, it's trip that as I read the most recent series of posts, I just finished sending a letter to the Atlantic about that very same article Professor Rose makes mention of.

Orale, you'll have to forgive, but I will take issue with one little thing Profe Mike Rose wrote. I think "Professor X"--Sup with this? Not very democratic, que no, to talk so much trash and then not sign your name to the pedo, wish I could do that-- does come off extremely arrogant. Although the vato was reprehensible, he is all too common, he is very much a University professor. (At least one kind of U Prof anyway.)

Where I chime in with what has been written is that the vato's lack of skills to re-mediate learning is straight up disheartening. Deficiencies? On whose part? All that intelligence and the vato can't seem to fashion a mirror. Chale, a shard of glass would suffice. Forget the basement of the Ivory Tower, this homeboy with his talk of deficiencies is straight out da gutter. (But I'm from there too, so it ain't all bad.)

Still though, moving away from "X" I dig these conversations. It stirs up queries such as: What is "culturally relevant"? I still wonder about the subtext of these questions. Feels like people, underneath it all, are still asking: What should we not feed these little Mexican (or working class) kids? What should we not even try to introduce to Chicana/o adolescents? As if there were some tried and true patchwork Mexican canon, some set of texts that are a "hit" with some monolithic "us." How do you explain, then, the Mexican or African-American or Palestinian kid who vibes off of Araby? Or Beowulf? Or even crazy-ass Gatsby? I think it worth mentioning that what is deemed "culturally relevant" is oftentimes made relevant (this is part of the essence of "culture" que no?) in face-to-face interaction. (Yeah, some texts will never ring true with some kids, but what does being from Michoacan got to do with it, me entiendes? What is implied with that geographic placement? Why can't we simply put canons to the test and see if they truly blow our hair back?)

orale, hasta la proxima

Manuel Luis Espinoza
AKA: Not Professor X
AKA: Friend of dark-skinned brothers and sisters who read Socrates AND Michael Eric Dyson AND Judith Butler, listen to Mozart and Pac--in other words (those of Bhabha), friend of "vernacular cosmopolitans"
AKA: Friend of light-skinned brethren who never doubted whether they should suggest I read Shelley or Steinbeck.

ladymabelgrex said...

Many years ago, I asked a child on the playground a question, and the child looked at me with total lack of comprehension. I repeated the simple question in my poor Spanish and got a flood of language. The little girl immediately relaxed and we were friends. The girl spoke English, but she was lost in that place at that time I've never forgotten the incident. More than 60% of the students in Los Angeles are Hispanic. ( I know some people don't like the word “Hispanic”, but I'm stuck here for a better word.) Many of these children are technically bilingual, but their they speak Spanish at home. More than 80% of the students in the city are other than middle class Caucasians; very many of these children speak something other than English at home. It is commonly known that Los Angeles is a multiethnic city, but we are teaching our kids the same scripted reading program as every other child in the state, in English, treating Spanish speaking cultures as foreign. We need to admit they are not if we seriously plan to keep these kids from leaving school out of alienation and sheer boredom. Spanish is not a second language in Los Angeles. A little boy who came from Korea to my school four years ago culminated speaking Spanish as well as he did English, and he had a Spanish nickname. He was very proud of it.
I got Joyce when I first read him because I grew up singing the Latin Mass with a whole parish of Irish kids led by two Irish priests. My father's parents came from Ireland, and he was obsessed with his right to be “proud you're Irish.” He fought all the way through his childhood because where he grew up, it was not okay to be Irish. I know Joyce called the the Irish the “the sow who eats her own farrow” and why. I know what it means to go through intense religious conviction followed by the Hell of leaving the church and admitting that my Irish American childhood led inevitably to atheism. I know what kind of intellectual snob Joyce was, and I think I know why. Every year, I attend a St Patrick's party given by people who play U2, drink Irish whiskey, wear green, and have no clue who the Irish in this country really are. I am not middle class white, but I am very well educated because the Irish read and talk. Ireland has changed a lot since my grandparents left, and Mexico has changed since my husband's dad left,, but I was brought up by a patriarch and my husband is a patriarch, and we work because I get patriarchal men.
“Beowolf” is wonderful, “Araby” is brilliant, but if we want our children to love literature, maybe we need to start somewhere they recognize. A student who reads “Don Quixote” and learns that it is a world classic, and the first novel in colloquial Spanish might get the Renaissance and thus “The Inferno” more easily. That kid might fall in love. I fell in love with Elizabeth Barrett Browning in high school because I was a romantic young girl. I fell in love with Robert Browning because Elizabeth led me to the Victorians. I really believe that if we give our students seats in real classrooms taught by teacher who have some respect for their students, we can change the world. Comprendo que dice, ese, pero tal vez Neruda puede ensenar los hijos de Los Angeles a leer con gusto y pasion. Excuse my poor Spanish.

Linda AK said...

The Atlantic story definitely falls into that "embattled schools/students" frame that also is located in other places like James Traub's book, City on a Hill, for sure. The issue that I think about, as someone who teaches writing, is how to respond. I like what ladymabelgrex and Manuel Luis Espinoza say here - pointing to other ways to think about students and school. I also wrote a response to the article -- "praising" it (back-handedly) for reinforcing a point that bears repeating: it's important to have qualified instructors who know what they're doing and have support teaching writing classes, especially to students who have been labeled as not as "successful" (however that is defined -- and those definitions vary pretty widely).

Professor X's lament also makes me think about the latest National Commission on Writing report, "Writing, Technology, and Teens" (based on interviews with teens). I haven't yet read the whole thing carefully, but I find the beginning really intriguing. Its findings: "Teenagers' lives are filled with writing. All teens write for school [at least, all they interviewed], and 93% of teens say they write for their own pleasure....but [teens] do not think that a lot of the material they create electronically is real writing..... (i). The teens interviewed for the report also have ideas about how to make school writing instruction "better and more useful" (ii). Perhaps not an attitude that Professor X brought to his work...

American Puzzle said...

I'm reading Lives on the Boundary right now for my PhD comp/rhet exams coming up in August and I just want to thank you for writing this important book. Not only does your work apply to my areas of interest, but your experiences resonate with me in a very personal way, even though our backgrounds are so very different. I was thrilled to find that you have a blog. Keep up the great work and thank you!

tanyawatson said...

I am an education major in a prestigious NC university. I sit in classes with education students and English teacher assistants frequently talking and largely complaining about "underprepared students" and how they are below the bar in terms of reasoning and writing. It baffles me--is not the reason we teach is to teach? We have become so blinded by standardized testing and misled by NCLB that we have forgotten our purpose for teaching. The numbers are so important that we have forgotten to take that one-on-one time and extend alternatives for students to learn. We are standing before our most precious resources--not children, but the learner in general--and applying these one-size-fits-all, quick-fix styles of teaching that benefit teachers and compromise the learning process for students. As we continue to serve old concepts of the traditional student and feed the palettes of his/her education, there is a growing population of students sitting in the back of the kitchen who could open up a remarkably different place setting at the table. Yet we prescribe labels to them and sit them on an already dusty shelf with no interest on what it would take to move them to the next level. If our up-and-coming teachers feel this way, how much patience will the world have?

Anonymous said...

Regarding the comment on Professor X's teaching skills, I think it's worth pointing out that teaching skills are neither required nor valued at the college level. At least, that's the case in sciences and engineering, perhaps I am wrong about other fields. Even if the ability to teach is valued (as I'd expect it to be in a community college), one isn't taught how to *do* it as part of getting a Ph.D.

Deborah Meier said...

Thanks, Mike. It's the central question that got me hooked so long ago. It was so obviously possible that every single kid in my kindergarten class was an "intellectual"--curious, open-minded, and able to tackle abstract ideas--so how come ten years later so few appeared to be? At least in school. That's also why I reread your book, Mike--Lives on the Boundary--so often because it was the first and remains the best statement of the issue and the critical insight into the "solution". Equally powerful is the realization that it isn't an "us" vs "them" issue--"academic" vs "vocational". It's no surprise that you took that one up too! Neither path necessarily reflects a higher order of thought and both can do so. I've finally finished Sennett's The Craftsman. I need to reread it and discuss it at least twice before commenting. Anyone out there read it? Deborah Meier

stephanie jones said...

I love these comments and the discussion...
The Atlantic Monthly article was reprinted in the Atlanta Journal Constitution (where I first read it) this past Sunday. My skin was crawling as I read, and my frustration grew through the end when Professor X uses the Wizard of Oz to demean his students' cultural capital and their intellectual potential.

It's so complex, isn't it? Of course vocational education should be accessible, rich, and valued in our society - and of course working-class and poor students who want (or need) to take humanities courses should have access to those and immersed in rich, engaging pedagogies. But it seems Professor X is laying claim to an old idea: "these kids" just need vocational training. Tracking by social class at its best.

My first instinct is to be critical of the anonymous writer, but I'm also empathetic: he was likely raised in K-16 education that privileged the privileged, emphasized individualism and classist perceptions of "success" and "failure," and left him terribly unprepared to teach anyone, let alone students who sit in front of him and seem a world away.

Professor X certainly needs to find some humility and acknowledge the yellow brick road he has been traveling on has led him to Great Wizards who have done no better to prepare him for the challenges facing him than those who have prepared his students for theirs.

thanks for the great blog.

kinneyfinney said...

Think about any student who presumes to obtain a post secondary education anywhere. Doesn’t that student deserve the best opportunity for achieving their goal? Educating challenging students is not for elitists, wannabes, or inflexible thinkers. College teachers must know how to meet student’s needs, not presume that students have to meet the teacher’s needs. College instructors need to deal with the same issues every other teacher has to deal with, particularly the issue of how to teach to reach all students and still maintain a high standard.

Many colleagues of mine in high school try to escape the issues high school students raise by teaching in college classrooms. The college classroom seems to be their next choice because they think they can command those students to follow their directions or fail. The flaw is in thinking they will finally have a captive audience, there only to learn. The worst graduate school professors I have had, had that very same attitude.

A well-known journalist on the local newspaper wrote about how poorly educated students are today once he tried on the teaching “hat” at a high profile college. He failed miserably and attributed it to the student’s lack of motivation or failed sense of inquiry. In my opinion, he was ill equipped for teaching. He failed to understand the nature of teaching, the importance of activating student thinking. He did not know how important it was to insure the possibility of success for all. He could not structure effective learning situations because he was teaching in a style suitable perhaps when he was a highly motivated college student thirty years ago. Worse yet, he wrote about the abject failure of the educational system to motivate students as though he was qualified to know. At issue is the common belief that almost anyone is qualified to teach, all they really have to have is a desire to work with students.

For colleges to fulfill their missions, they must leave no doubt that they tried to relate to, support and serve their “customers” in the following ways: Invite “poorly prepared” students to participate in and contribute to structuring opportunities that help them develop the skills they need to be successful. Strive to tailor the program to meet the student’s needs. Create and support cadres of students who have experienced past educational inequality to share their experiences together as they grow. Such cadres could help teachers develop dialogue with and for them and learn how to best accommodate students without reducing the challenging nature of college.

Our politicians and government outwardly espouse support for all levels of education while in fact short changing education financially at every turn. This serves to create elitist education by neglecting to fund education for all. Schools at all levels might have wonderful and effective plans to encourage struggling students to learn. They might go the extra mile to create support for them. Unfortunately, small classes, highly qualified teachers, suitable access to technology, appropriate classroom settings and more are all at risk in the current atmosphere of real reduction in spending at all levels of education.

Sara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I love these comments. They are so thoughtful. Why can't we have a discussion like this in our newspapers and other mass media?

Sara said...

I am a thirty-one-year old adjunct instructor of English who works in the Los Angeles Community College District. I teach night classes by choice because it was not too long ago that I remember taking night classes at a community college myself. Like many of my students, I was the first in my family to attend college, and I received no guidance or encouragement from my parents or older siblings. Before even entering the classroom, the idea of going to college—signing up, paying tuition, buying books, applying for financial aid—was an experience that required courage. I worked full-time at retail jobs in order to survive in L.A.; I went to college in the early hours of the morning and the late hours of the evening with the faint hope that something would change, someday I would be freed from working cash registers and feeling like I wasn’t spending the day realizing my potential.
At community college, I became a scholar without yet realizing what the word meant. I excelled in the humanities; I knew immediately that literature was my calling. I sought out books and libraries and pursued interests that had been ignitied in class on my own. Like my students, I did this without the wonderful recognition of being a “college student,” because many, like Professor X, believe that community college is a place where students mainly slack off—or just “a place they landed in.”
What Professor X doesn’t realize is, there is another myth that he is upholding that is just as destructive as the one that says a university education is for everyone: those students who were lucky enough to “spend years” preparing for college are also not guaranteed to be made for college. Having attended both a reputable public university for my final two years of college and a reputable private one for graduate school, I can tell you first hand that many university students also take Introduction to College Writing and Introduction to College Literature “not because they want to but because they must.” As a grad student, I worked as a tutor in the learning center where I frequently encountered students from educated families who simply didn’t care about or understand the literature being assigned to them, who simply felt it painful and confusing to write a research paper adhering to MLA guidelines. As Professor X describes it, “They fidget; they prop their heads on their arms; they yawn and sometimes appear to grimace in pain, as though they had been tasered.” Welcome to a portion of every college classroom across America. Does this mean that I, as a tutor, should have advised my students at the private college to drop out and attend trade school? Lets remind ourselves that these introductory courses are meant to be taught to the general population of students—future doctors, accountants, business owners, biologists, and yes, even police officers—not necessarily English majors.
Many of my students are immigrants or come from parents who are immigrants; some of them (like myself) came from working-class parents and just didn’t have it their cards to be bred for college. Some of these students pass their classes and move onto higher pursuits, and some do not. According to my experience and the words of many of my colleagues (some of them who teach in colleges of first resort), there is and always will be a “Ms. L” who just doesn’t seem to get it, who we know will fail from the moment we encounter her. Whether it’s a problem with computer literacy, grammar, or ineptitude at compiling sources and delivering a thesis for a term paper, those students like Ms. L make our jobs more complicated. However, who are we to claim that Ms. L is truly failing? Will she ever make it to a university? Who knows. Will she ever write a college-level essay? Maybe not. But she may have walked away from my class with a new interest that has been ignited, something she will now pursue on her own because she has been given the tools to do so, something that just may change her life in some tangible way. Yes, it’s true that too many students make it into my college-level classroom (even after taking a mandatory placement test) without the ability to write a complete sentence. Should I inform them that they will be receiving an ‘F’ at the end of the semester? I wish I could. What I do instead is tell them they need help, and that writing (like playing sports and musical instruments) is a skill that requires patience and practice—they may not succeed after a sixteen-week semester, but they can always retake the class.
As a teacher, it is my job to measure the value of each paper that is handed in; it is not my job to measure the value of each person’s education—an extremely private experience, the worth of which is sometimes beyond our ability to measure tangibly (with grades and diplomas).
My first class in college was Geology 101, taught by an eighty-year-old drunken lecher in a community college classroom that wasn’t guaranteed to have chalk, clean desks, or emptied trashcans. This is the place where my love of learning was ignited. I struggled with my grade in that class because I was unequipped for an academic setting. I received a ‘C’ after working very hard, and I might have been perceived at the time as a mediocre student who probably would end up dropping out of college to live out may fate as a retail worker. But even now, over a decade later, looking out the window at the mountains, I see that old man’s face, and I remember the joy I felt from learning about the age of the earth and all of the shaking and erupting it has undergone. I am small and the world is large, and there is so much to know. That is the true value of education, the kind that humbles and empowers; it has a value that cannot be measured by professors, theorists, or statisticians.
Because of this experience (and so many others like it), I can never be Professor X’s “solitary scholar” who drives home after teaching night class feeling “sadder by the mile.” I love to pull my teaching cart out into the dark, smelling the trees and flowers that are now only shadows, knowing that I and my students are tired from doing something worthwhile. I know there is success when students tell me they have found it in themselves to write and read at a level they never before believed they could. For every student that tells me their good news, I know there are also a few who walk away with some kind of silent evidence that their education mattered—something that will make them a more informed citizen or give them some sense of awareness. This silent student could be Ms. L.
One of my favorite texts to teach is Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” because Plato tells my students that everyone has the ability to walk out into the light if they feel the desire and are willing to put in tremendous effort. Maybe you weren’t bred to be a college student, and maybe you will put your head down on your desk when I ask you to analyze Plato’s text, maybe you will even fail the class never having understood its significance. But as Socrates says in his dialogue with Glaucon, “the soul of every man does possess the power of learning the truth and the organ to see it with.” We teachers at the colleges of “last resort” are merely there to point our students in the proper direction.

Sara Mortimer-Boyd
Adjunct Instructor of English

Anonymous said...

I'd like to second anonymous' comment that teaching skills are neither required nor valued at the college level. Not only is there no more than cursory training provided in graduate programs, contingent faculty are treated as utterly disposable. Not only does this demoralize those faculty members, it sends a terrible message to the students. If the schools don't even treat their teachers with respect, why should they feel the schools value them any more?

Erika Szostak said...

I am also an English instructor in the Los Angeles Community College district, and there are parts of Professor X's article that do hit home. One thing is right: the experience of teaching in LA's community colleges can be a struggle for everybody, students and teachers. Part of the struggle, and part of my response to the article, has to do with the fact that having one assessment scale for these students whose skill levels vary so widely seems totally inadequate. I am also currently rather depressed for having failed my eighth student of the semester for plagiarism. When I confronted one student last week about her cheating, she reacted by saying, "I know it's exciting for you to catch someone" (which says a lot about the way some students view teachers in an adversarial rather than a coach-like light). What I told her was that, while it was in fact disappointing - failing a student is almost always heartbreaking - it was also banal because it is such a common occurrence at this point, even despite extremely specific assignment guidelines and a heavy emphasis on process. Apparently, this is rampant everywhere among my colleagues as well. The ease of Wikipedia-cut-and-paste proves to be just too tempting.

What's even more difficult are the students, who despite having obviously improved and having made an almost heroic effort, still just haven't managed to write a fluent paper or fulfill the assignment guidelines. What to do with them? They've improved - and more importantly, they're grappled with the writing process and haven't cheated - but according to the rubric, they've still earned a failing grade. This is one important point that "Professor X" gets to. And I know Mike has been saying it for a long time: our assessment tools need to be recreated/revised/reformed. We do need to honor different forms of knowledge. I'm just not sure how we measure them. How do I differentiate the F student who never bothered to participate from the F student who tried but still didn't meet the guidelines. On a scale of 100, there are about 60 points between them, but both of their report cards bear the same grade. Sometimes this is as disheartening to me as it is to the students.

Also, I must agree wholeheartedly with Ladymabelgrex when she says that even though Joyce & Beowulf are great, perhaps "we need to start somewhere [the students] recognize." When we're dealing with students who routinely report (common comments at the beginning of the semester when I always ask for favorite texts & reading habits) that they hate to read, don't read at all, have never read a whole book or can't remember the last thing they read, then choosing material that they can get excited about should be at the top of the priority list. And that often means keeping our choices (at least the first few) current, fresh, and contemporary. It also sometimes means allowing students to participate in choosing the class reading assignments (within appropriate limits that jibe with the course SLOs, obviously).

Tyler said...

I can't help but comment here. I am a "non-traditional" student who is just finishing up school. There are many students who are similar to the discrition in this referenced article. I am finishing up my core and elctive courses whic I failed to take early on, and last semester I ran across a professor in a community college who deals with this type of student (it is the survey US History course). His love of teaching and passion for his subject turned nearly every one of those kids around - even if it was just for that class, it was something to be amazed at. The same challenge was put in front of him, and he handled it well. Professor X could learn something from him.

Tyler said...

I can't help but comment here. I am a "non-traditional" student who is just finishing up school. There are many students who are similar to the discrition in this referenced article. I am finishing up my core and elctive courses whic I failed to take early on, and last semester I ran across a professor in a community college who deals with this type of student (it is the survey US History course). His love of teaching and passion for his subject turned nearly every one of those kids around - even if it was just for that class, it was something to be amazed at. The same challenge was put in front of him, and he handled it well. Professor X could learn something from him.

James said...

What really makes a short story a good one? What must it have for a reader to want to keep reading? Most readers want to read about a character that they feel they can relate to. Readers also want to finish the story feeling as though they were left with a message, a powerful theme. One story that I think truly delivers both of these key assets is Barn Burning by William Faulkner. The main character in this story is Sarty. What makes this character and story so moving is the predicament Sarty is faced with, and the conscious, difficult decision that he must make which will inevitably change his life with his family forever: does he abandon his blood or fight for the rights of social values and morality ?

Anonymous said...

I have not read the particular article that you mention in this entry, but by your brief interpretation I am saddened to find that Professor X is so cynical and narrow-minded. Professor X represents a number of college instructors that fail to motivate and engage their students, whatever the future career goal of these students. Professor X might consult Robert Probst’s “Reader Response Theory” for some insight.

Tricia said...

Perhaps these students could not write a paper based on some cannonical literature; however, does this mean that these students will not benefit from their college education on another path? I am an English major, who barely passed Calculus and struggled in Chemistry and Physics, but does this mean that I was ill-prepared for college or should not be here at all?
I agree with Mike's proposal that this professor should enact some type of curriculum to help these students with their college writing. Even some high school AP students struggle writing papers in a college environment, as I myself did. I remember being intimidated in my first college English class, where the expectations for paper writing and pressure to write at the same level as peers from all different backgrounds and educations is high.
These students need support from Professor X. The last thing they need is disappointment and having the finger pointed at them for not being "prepared."

Anthony said...

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syd said...

I am a non-traditional student who just received my BA at 40 and will be attending a prestigious grad school next year. I came from a white, middle-class background, although my mom was a single mom and my dad was almost non-existent. I'm not the first in my immediate family to graduate from college, my younger sister was, and my grandfather was a highly accomplished surgeon.

When I entered Community College 10 years after barely finishing high school, I tested into the highest level English essay class. Did I go straight into it? No. Instead, I put myself through a remedial writing workshop. Then I took a few other classes to open my mind to other subjects, such as women's history, botany, anthropology, and the like. I did this because on the very first day of class, the English professor I chose suggested that we take other subjects in order to become familiar with a wide range of subject before taking her college essay class (the first one for admittance to a UC). I dropped her class, and took it a couple of semesters later. She was the toughest teacher I have ever had - really not easy to understand, a bit flighty, a demanding assignment giver, and a brutal examiner. I made myself ill in her classes and cried during finals. BUT I LEARNED. I even learned to like poetry. Not once did she ever treat us as if we could not understand or analyze or write coherently. Not once did she ever suggest, by airs or words, that any of us should ever give up and go the vocational route. I was well prepared for the rigor of UC Berkeley because of this one Community College professor.

Articles and opinions by those like "Professor X" do a huge disservice to all students who, for whatever reason, struggle to attend college, yet have the singular drive to do so and to do very well while there.

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