Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

May 16, 2008

In the Basement of the Ivory Tower

Filed under: culture, Education — codesmithy @ 9:08 am

The Atlantic has an article called “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower.” The byline is:

The idea that a university education is for everyone is a destructive myth. An instructor at a “college of last resort” explains why.

In the piece, an English instructor who is presumably a “professor” by his pen-name Professor X bemoans the fact that he has to fail a great number of his students. He cites an example of 9 of 15 or 60% of students will fail. Is 60% that unacceptable for a “college of last resort?”

As for the morality of the situation, it should be fairly simple. The only moral dilemma is whether students are initially mislead about their prospects of passing the course. An initial aptitude test to determine their general reading and writing level would probably suffice. As long as they are not misled about their prospects, there is no moral issue. If a student cannot put a coherent sentence together at the beginning of the class, there is little hope of them passing. It just isn’t in the scope of what can be realistically hoped to be accomplished during the class.

The author then relays the story of a hopelessly overwhelmed woman in her 40’s who the author calls Ms. L.

Ms. L. had done everything that American culture asked of her. She had gone back to school to better herself, and she expected to be rewarded for it, not slapped down. She had failed not, as some students do, by being absent too often or by blowing off assignments. She simply was not qualified for college.

At what point had Ms. L. done everything American culture had asked of her? The culture of this American is incredibly results oriented. One gets point for being competent, not because of how hard they tried. Anything less is an insult. By handing out a passing grade, the author is certifying a certain level of capability. So, let’s say the author did pass Ms. L. Let’s say Ms. L. gets a promotion instead of another person who did honestly pass. How would that be fair? Do you want a barely literate nurse treating you, when you have an injury?

Like it or not, colleges are the gate-keepers to our society. It is not “sexist,” “ageist,” or being an “intellectual snob” to tell someone they are not showing the potential to do the work required (as long as it is based on evidence not prejudice).

I sympathize with author’s plight. It is tough to be the destroyer of dreams. However, if success means anything, it is because of the string of failures left in its wake.

Here are some stories of other people who failed.


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