I was lucky. One year after I finished my undergraduate degree in Subject With Declining Enrollments, Professor X had his career chopped off. He didn’t even make it to a tenure review hearing; several years separated his departure and what he hoped might have been. When I visited campus shortly after his firing, Dr. Y recalled with horror that he hadn’t published a word during his several years at the university.
Fair enough. If your contract requires you to publish, you need to publish or face the consequences. Pesky little legal issue, I know…
She also told me that Professor X was “scaring away students.” Being a naive early-20-something, I couldn’t comprehend what she meant. Dr. X was the friendliest member of the department, a fact that even Dr. Y recognized. On the other hand, lots of students considered Dr. Y to be profoundly disturbing to their psychological health. (I liked Dr. Y, but my regular readers already know how weird I am.) How was he scaring away students while she wasn’t?
I should note that Dr. X’s job description also contained one unusual detail. He provided pedagogical training to the new graduate students who staffed the introductory and mid-level courses. He mentored them, observed their teaching, and designed the curriculum. The homework load didn’t block my social life while the textbook, though being of a halloweenish orange color, could hardly count as ferocious unless the teacher decided to throw a copy at your head. Damn hardbacks.
So how could this friendly little fellow scare away students?
I eventually went to graduate school and had the pleasure of partaking in an initial teacher preparation seminar; in that course, I learned that Dr. X’s instructional methods had become outdated. Big time. That’s not to say I didn’t learn from them. I consider myself fortunate to have gone through the undergraduate system while he was in charge, before the department was overhauled to teach Rocksforjocks instead.
Are the new methods worse? Not necessarily.
Let the words of Dr. Y echo through your head: “He was scaring away the students.” The new methods entertain the students much more (which, in itself, is not a bad thing) and that encourages students to take more courses in the subject. That also helps the professors keep their jobs. Few methods exist for firing a tenured professor, but eliminating a department is one of them. So of course it didn’t seem to matter so much to Dr. Y that Dr. X’s syllabi didn’t meet departmental or university expectations for maintaining up-to-date instructional practices. Suffice it to say that his classes probably inspired much gratitude from local espresso merchants but it’s the academic merchants who are trying to sell their wares.
So, out with the old!
The new methods, despite some legitimate educational advantages and antidepressant side effects, have also helped permit the major to become significantly more fluffy. People graduating with that major today do not possess sufficient skills to tell a prospective employer that they can be of use in the workforce. However, an easy A will attract students to any course and that’s why families sacrifice so much to pay for college. That, and beer pong.
And then you’ll discover a few nefarious aspects. (Yeah… I started with the kid-friendly version.) In a major publication of the American Association for Rocksforjocks Education, a prominent teaching specialist encouraged college Rocksforjocks faculty to make convenient use of placement exams. “Convenient” means letting students skip over as many of the boring introductory courses as possible so that they can get to the interesting stuff, making them more likely to select Rocksforjocks as a major which in turn maintains desirable levels of Rocksforjocks funding as well as (once again) the faculty’s jobs.
And make no mistake about it: students don’t complain about this arrangement. If you inflate their grades in the advanced courses, they’ll never know how unprepared they were. At least while they’re still at the university plunking down all those tuition dollars…
Similarly, the faculty would judge teaching methods based on students’ enjoyment and appreciation of them, not on whether learning actually transpires. Some of the new methods created astoundingly positive effects but they were chosen for the wrong reasons.
But let’s fast forward a little, shall we?
Now that I have finished my education and have been unemployed for a while, I can only growl at what education in my former field has become. Although my skills are up to snuff, employers surely look at my resume and assume the opposite. The new grads can’t cut it, so why would I be able to?
And then I apply for teaching jobs at the high school level. I’m competent to teach more than that one subject but I’m constantly asked about the one I majored in. Even if a school isn’t seeking a teacher for that subject. Today, a job applicant is believed to only be capable of doing what he majored in… even if the resume indicates otherwise. But in my old field, applicants are now assumed to be incapable of performing within the major, for obvious reasons.
Needless to say, I am never going back to teaching Rocksforjocks. Some people get desperate when they’re unemployed and they take any available position. I’m desperate to not inflict the same fate I’ve experienced on any future students. A few would surely benefit from the legitimate information that Rocksforjocks provides but it’s not worth the collateral damage.
Let’s leave the jock’s rocks at the docks. They’re a crock.
I also know from observation that Rocksforjocks teachers in high school and college spend considerable effort recruiting students into their courses. To anyone preparing for college entrance, I’d suggest never enrolling in a course that the faculty is actively advertising. Professors have their own agendas and the associated needs do not always coincide with what will benefit you most as a student. You don’t get to see the behind-the-scenes pressures that school administrations place on your teachers. You should not assume that they are your benevolent advisers, although you will find some who will behave honestly and honorably towards you.
Just like banks and credit card companies, colleges are businesses and you are their customer. If they make you feel happy with their product, they have achieved their goal. Just be sure to maintain that idiotic grin as you’re being ripped off.