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Eureka: On academic inflation Eureka: On academic inflation
by Akli Hadid
2017-11-11 12:07:02
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The problem is not that people who never read a book end up in lecture halls. The problem is professors are asked to retain as many of them as they can. That's when you become the idiot if you read the book, because the professor is trying hard not to get the majority of students to feel bad. You read the book, make the students feel bad, you're the culprit.

acad1_400What is academic inflation? Let me put it this way. In your college entrance examination, you get lots of points just for showing up to the exam. Let's say 49% of the points just for holding that pen and writing down the answers. It's either that a lot of the questions will be simple and obvious, or that you get points merely for “offering” an answer or “trying” to answer the question. This means that if you get one or two correct answers, you get the passing grade.

Then you go to universities. Professors (I used to be one) are lectured by deans (I used to get lectured on this by the dean) that we should take it easy on the students and that no student should be left behind. No student should be left behind. No student should be left behind. When this resonates in my head long enough, I start silencing the students who know the answers to the questions and start focusing my lectures on students who seem not to know why they are in the lecture hall. I lecture on obvious stuff, more obvious stuff, even more obvious stuff, make it as easy as I can so that the ones who never read books can answer the questions. What's the color of the walls? That thing you're sitting on, what's it called? This is a lesson on trigonometry, but let's focus on simple calculs, let's review the additions first, and by the end of the semester we'll be doing the multiplication tables.

I've seen professors, out of the need to avoid shaming students, simply read notes and give open books examinations on obvious questions. Others who merely ask students to read the book out loud during lectures. Do you read three books a day? You don't belong here! Where do I belong then? How would I convince employers that I was kicked out of the program for being too good for the program? That actually happened to me. I was kicked out of a Ph.D. Program for being too good, which was the official reason. Apparently the President also put me on a Pinko blacklist, at least they should have informed me.

So academic inflation is when teaching, examination and diploma content focuses on the weak rather than on the average. Forget the strong, forget the average. So professors get lectured about student retention, because they want tuition fees for 8 semesters, and if students drop out, the university loses four or five semesters worth of tuition fees.

I once remember going home angry and complaining that as a professor I felt more like a milk cow than a guy who reads books. Let me explain. Professors are assigned students. Students pay for the credits. Each credit the professor teaches is calculated based on how much money he brought in. The more students take his class, the more money he brings in, the higher his score. Doesn't matter if he actually teaches classes or decides to show movies in the class (which a lot of professors do) what matters is how much money his classes made the university. If he fails students and students decide to drop out, the professor is responsible for losing money, regardless of what academic problems he solved or how many students he trained.

How is that different from a milk cow. You feed the cow, make sure it gets some sleep, and try to feed the cow in ways it produces more milk. If the cow's now producing milk, you euthanize it. Professor brings in money, loses money, you fire him. Except that academia is supposed to train students to get their job done in the future. Cows, well, just produce milk. They don't train cowboys on how to get their job done.

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Emanuel Paparella2017-11-11 15:00:25
After some forty years plus of teaching career at both the High School and the College level, I can understand and sympathize with the points made by Mr. Hadid. I once had a similar experience: I was told by a High School Principal that I should go and teach in a college for I was not good enough for his school. I asked him what prevents somebody who can teach the higher level to teach the lower level, and if he had a job ready for me in a college. I received no satisfactory reply to either query.

Indeed, when students begin to dictate what is academically valid and what is not in education, then you have an academic system in the process of self-destruction. However, the reasons for the very unfortunate decline, especially in the US, deserves a better exploration. It’s a veitable complex issue.

I would suggest, that when the liberal arts and the humanities are divorced from each other; when, in fact, the sciences are privileged (the positivistic approach to learning) and education is made just another practical business as any other , then the decline is all but inevitable.

One more observation if I may, yes, one can disadvantage the superior student by lowering standards and teaching to the intellectually challenged, but the reverse can also apply: one can disadvantage the student who needs remedial work by teaching only to the geniuses in the class, those who most resemble the professor… Perhaps all students, at whatever level they are, need to be challenged by a good teacher.

A lazy dean or principal will misguidedly fire the professor as being “too good” for his school…. Even worse, he will fire him for ideological rather than academic reasons. A good dean concerned with the genuine goals of education which are not commercial or purely scientific, on the other hand, will set up remedial classes and thus help the students who are behind on the curve. The geniuses can always take care of themselves, even on their own.

In the US that remedial effort is part of what is called “affirmative action” which some disparage as a leveling of standards and a degradation of education, while others, more wisely in my opinion, opine that without affirmative action the effects of past injustices and disadvantages would not abate and would continue harming the common good. The idea is not to degrade education, but to make it possible for everybody to compete on an equal leveling field.

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