Friday, December 26, 2008

What Value Education?

Joanne Jacobs points out some interesting things over at her blog.

She points to LAUSD building an arts school for the untalented.

A quick read of the actual LA Times report shows it's less bad than that - they just allocate 75% of the slots to local residents, and don't want the 25% to overshadow the locals too much during the first year or two.

She points to various people arguing whether college is a waste of money.

Of course, the original article by Zac Bissonnette is based on the assumption that people who drop out before graduation didn't receive anything of value (or don't graduate in six years anyway). While many might tend to agree, especially when talking about Ivy league schools that practice value-free education, I personally found almost every class to be of value.

Working full-time and attending part-time, it took me ten years to get my Associate degree, and another eleven to get my Bachelor's. I wouldn't count any of it as wasted, with the possible exception of one Philosophy class that I couldn't stomach because it wasn't applicable to life in any discernable way.

One of the articles that Bissonnette points to in his article is an Atlantic article by "Professor X" discussing English 101 for adult education, and how the unnamed professor despairs that it is worth teaching, or something like that. Professor X - apparently not the Charles Xavier known by the same monicker - wanders about describing the architecture of his college and the failings of one particular student, but doesn't ever seem to come to a clear thesis statement.

There is a fuzzy one, though. The thesis, well written only from the squishy muddy nose-in-the-air point of view of The Atlantic or New Yorker, is that Professor X feels himself a gatekeeper for some qualities in higher education, qualities he feels cannot be taught to some students, although no one would or should tell that to those students because it wouldn't be nice.

My father was a teacher, though, and he never lost a student. I've been a tutor. The woman Professor X described could well have been the woman I tutored in a Logic class many years ago. She was older, and not particularly quick to learn. In any given assignment, I would show her the obvious conclusion based upon the facts presented, and she would say, "Really?", and admire my intellect and mental acuity.

Then I would tell her, no, and show her how other facts I knew could reverse the conclusions. And she'd say, "Really?" and admire my intellect and mental acuity.

Then I would say, no, and do it again with other facts, however many times I could manage it.

It took most of the semester, but little by little, the wheels got greased and she got it. Logic isn't about truth, but about how you construct arguments, based upon whatever facts you have. And how to deconstruct arguments. And how to evaluate advertising. And how to evaluate politics. And how to evaluate whatever other people call 'the facts'.

And one day I spouted off about something political, and she, instead of admiring my intelligence and mental acuity, politely took my argument apart with facts and logic. I couldn't stop laughing, because she had me cold. That moment, she stepped right up on that pedestal she had me on and told me to move over.

It was the proudest day of my life.

Don't tell me Ms L can't learn. The truth is that you weren't the right teacher for her, Professor X. The minute you decided she would flunk your class, that first day you showed her how to research at the library, you stopped having faith that she could make it.

I never made that mistake with my students. Neither did my dad. And neither he nor I ever lost one.


Alex Moore said...

As a teacher, I've felt like a failure. I just pick myself up again, and try a different approach. Sounds like ProfX is either too full of himself to realize his own failings or, like many in academia, he truly is an elitist. Surprising, right?

love the tutoring story

Dal Jeanis said...

Yep. If I could only keep ten moments from my life, that would be one of them.