PHDs in Googling?

I picked up Mark Bauerlein’s new book, The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future, a while back and have at long last (barely) cracked the cover. There’s a decent, if not problematic review and reaction to the book and the issues Bauerlein raises in The New Atlantis:

…Professor Bauerlein, who teaches English at Emory University and is a former director of research and analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts, is not always sure just how much a matter of mirth “the dumbest generation” is, or isn’t. After all, it is not really their fault if, as he says, they have been “betrayed” by the mentors who should have taught them better. Yet he seems to agree with Nicholas Carr that what we are witnessing is not just an educational breakdown but a deformation of the very idea of intelligence..As The Dumbest Generation rightly notes, “the model is information retrieval, not knowledge formation, and the material passes from Web to homework paper without lodging in the minds of the students.” Generally speaking, even those who are most gung-ho about new ways of learning probably tend to cling to a belief that education has, or ought to have, at least something to do with making things lodge in the minds of students—this even though the disparagement of the role of memory in education by professional educators now goes back at least three generations, long before computers were ever thought of as educational tools. That, by the way, should lessen our astonishment, if not our dismay, at the extent to which the educational establishment, instead of viewing these developments with alarm, is adapting its understanding of what education is to the new realities of how the new generation of “netizens” actually learn (and don’t learn) rather than trying to adapt the kids to unchanging standards of scholarship and learning. Continue reading

College for All? Failure for Many?

Someone sent me this recent article from The Atlantic Monthly. It’s quite interesting and a good deal of the issues that come up should be interesting to anyone that teaches college. The question that grabbed me was on the author of the article, Professor X, broaches towards the end: Is college really for everyone? Is it actually doing as much good as we think by making a college education a necessity? One could point out to Professor X that er…according to my unscientific knee jerk poll about half (or less than half) of the American population actually holds a college degree. Regardless, Professor X tells us about his or her students, a good many of them can’t string together a coherent sentence and are subsequently perplexed (shocked) by the craptastic grades they are doled out. After all, they have gone back to school to “do themselves and their kids right” (as some of my students have said to me) and equally important, satisfy the demands of the broader culture. Anyway, here’s an excerpt, but the whole article is worth a look:

Sending everyone under the sun to college is a noble initiative. Academia is all for it, naturally. Industry is all for it; some companies even help with tuition costs. Government is all for it; the truly needy have lots of opportunities for financial aid. The media applauds it—try to imagine someone speaking out against the idea. To oppose such a scheme of inclusion would be positively churlish. But one piece of the puzzle hasn’t been figured into the equation, to use the sort of phrase I encounter in the papers submitted by my English 101 students. The zeitgeist of academic possibility is a great inverted pyramid, and its rather sharp point is poking, uncomfortably, a spot just about midway between my shoulder blades.

For I, who teach these low-level, must-pass, no-multiple-choice-test classes, am the one who ultimately delivers the news to those unfit for college: that they lack the most-basic skills and have no sense of the volume of work required; that they are in some cases barely literate; that they are so bereft of schemata, so dispossessed of contexts in which to place newly acquired knowledge, that every bit of information simply raises more questions. They are not ready for high school, some of them, much less for college.

America, ever-idealistic, seems wary of the vocational-education track. We are not comfortable limiting anyone’s options. Telling someone that college is not for him seems harsh and classist and British, as though we were sentencing him to a life in the coal mines. I sympathize with this stance; I subscribe to the American ideal. Unfortunately, it is with me and my red pen that that ideal crashes and burns.