Why my reading assignments are not negotiable.

6 07 2010

My first thought when I read this Boston Globe article about the decline in the studying time of today’s college students was “Welcome to my world!” Nevertheless, I want to fight the temptation to just be snide and write about it here because there are interesting insights in this long piece. Take this, for example:

The central bargain of a college education — that students have fairly light classloads because they’re independent enough to be learning outside the classroom — can no longer be taken for granted. And some institutions of higher learning have yet to grapple with, or even accept, the possibility that something dramatic has happened.

By classloads, I think the author means the classes themselves are light, rather than the number of classes a student takes and if that is “the central bargain of a college education” nobody told me about it. In history class, you have to make students read books and reading books takes time. Since there’s not enough time in a class period to read a book they have to do it outside of class. If students aren’t studying, that means they are not reading books and if they aren’t reading books humanities professors have a problem.

This is from earlier in the article, in an attempt to answer the title question to the piece, “What happened to studying?”:

But when it comes to “why,” the answers are less clear. The easy culprits — the allure of the Internet (Facebook!), the advent of new technologies (dude, what’s a card catalog?), and the changing demographics of college campuses — don’t appear to be driving the change, Babcock and Marks found. What might be causing it, they suggest, is the growing power of students and professors’ unwillingness to challenge them.

Personally, I club students into doing the reading by having them answer specific questions on it. Since they have to read to learn the material, this is not negotiable. In fact, this is simultaneously an excellent argument for not using student evaluations in tenure decisions and for tenure.

I do have some sympathy with this argument though:

Critics say it’s misleading to measure today’s students by the number of hours they spend studying. Students live very different lives than they once did. They are more likely to hold down jobs while attending classes.

I realize this is a bit off topic, but this discussion reminds me of something I read in the NYT last week:

Here in this suburb of Cleveland, supervisors at Ben Venue Laboratories, a contract drug maker for pharmaceutical companies, have reviewed 3,600 job applications this year and found only 47 people to hire at $13 to $15 an hour, or about $31,000 a year.

The going rate for entry-level manufacturing workers in the area, according to Cleveland State University, is $10 to $12 an hour, but more skilled workers earn $15 to $20 an hour.

All candidates at Ben Venue must pass a basic skills test showing they can read and understand math at a ninth-grade level. A significant portion of recent applicants failed, and the company has been disappointed by the quality of graduates from local training programs. It is now struggling to fill 100 positions.

If a college education is getting more expensive, why should the quality of the product be allowed to decline? If it, how long until buyer’s remorse sets in? If those failed applicants outside of Cleveland have college degrees, perhaps it already has.




One response

10 07 2010
Do you colleagues put as much into their teaching as you do? « More or Less Bunk

[…] day because they don’t like the work I’ve assigned, particularly the crazy notion that I expect them to read books. This way they might look me up in advance and leave more room for people who are willing to […]

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