Sunday, May 25, 2008

Professor X Gripes About The Hand That Feeds Him

A recent article in The Atlantic that I’d recommend. “Professor X,” who claims to teach introductory English Composition and introductory English Literature at two community colleges (“colleges of last resort”), claims that “[t]he idea that a university education is for everyone is a destructive myth.”

This article ticked me off for several reasons. First, the author states that he teaches Hamlet. If this were a college of last resort, wouldn’t a wise professor try to use material that is written in modern English? Hamlet is a beautiful play, but it’s Shakespearean prose can be daunting, and I do not think it’s smart to thrust that on part time evening students who are twenty years our of high school, and probably are not planning on taking advanced writing, literature, or theatre courses later on.

Not that we need to give them picture books. Instead of Hamlet, how about Of Mice and Men? Or something by Mark Twain? These students will need all the help they can get – I don’t think it’s wise to give them something so difficult, creating an unnecessary additional barrier at the starting gate. It sounds to me like Professor X is a bit snooty and likes to repeat the Horatio soliloquy to himself in the shower once too often.

The overall thesis of this admittedly fascinating article is that schools extort money from students who are woefully unprepared to complete their studies, much less succeed in class. To Professor X, I submit that there is no other way to know if you’ll sink or swim than by letting go of the swimming pool edge, kicking off the pool wall, and plunging forward.

It is unfortunate that people fail sometimes. But at least they got to try. I do not think that we should stand in people’s way and prevent them from trying. Especially because I would be very suspicious about the self-appointed person (Professor X might be up for the job) who got to decide who gets to move forward and who gets sent back without even the satisfaction of having tried. Just sayin’.

Professor X states that he tries to help his student utilize tutors, etc. But they do not. Well, that's their fault, and their wasted money. If they were so under-qualified, then write a letter of complaint to the Admissions office. Or quit and go teach high school to ensure that those students WILL be ready for college. But I suspect Professor X would think he's above that.

So basically, my cynical side tells me that this article is just a snobby professor (who has a job not quite as prestigious as he'd hoped) lamenting how dumb his students are, and why it is everyone else's fault that they fail. Lovely, though there are some good point to be made.

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