Monthly Archives: February 2012

Rick Santorum and.. who could that be… Satan?

The Church ladyIn the 1980s Dana Carvey played the prudish “Church Lady” who saw the work of Satan everywhere. Unfortunately, it appears that Rick Santorum saw these skits without realizing that they were jokes and the Church Lady looked a little neurotic.

As recounted in some detail in a story by (“In Context: Santorum on Satan“) gave a speech at  Santorum tracing Satan’s assault on American. He noted that in the early days of America (when we had slavery and women were disenfranchised) the nation had a “strong foundation. Then, according to Rick Santorum, Satan saw an opportunity to work his way into American hearts and minds:

The place where he was, in my mind, the most successful and first — first successful was in academia. He understood pride of smart people. He attacked them at their weakest. They were in fact smarter than everybody else and could come up with something new and different — pursue new truths, deny the existence of truth, play with it because they’re smart. And so academia a long time ago fell.

Jon Lovitz as the Devil on SNLOnce embedded in America’s universities, Satan was able to influence the elites who attended universities. Apparently, people who avoided higher education were spared these satanic message. Oddly enough, Santorum seems to believes that Satan waited to control elites through universities at a time at which college education moved beyond elites.

As Inside Education reports (“Santorum’s views on higher education and Satan“) universities are also used by “the left” (Obviously, the left = Satan) to indoctrinate students. In this regard Santorum is overly optimistic when he assumes that students listen to and believe anything we say. If I were to advocate liberal or satanic principles the only response from my students would be: “Will this be on the test?”

He also thinks universities are loony because many scientists believe in global warming. Exactly why we would have a bias toward global warming is not clear. Somehow, the belief that God’s creation should be conserved and treated with respect is foreign to Santorum. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the large corporate donors behind him and his cause.

Conveniently enough, Santorum’s theory of evil and higher education eventually leads us to President Obama. Finally, Rick Santorum has used all the reasoning skills acquired in getting his three degrees to conclude that Obama is a “snob”  for wanting everyone to go to college. [A claim that been proven false.]

Santorum goes on to offer his support to the “good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor that (tries) to indoctrinate them.”A sloppy amateur historian (like Santorum) would hear echos of Hitler in this emotional appeal to the resentments of his audience. I hear echos of southern demagogues like Huey Long.

It’s funny that someone who belongs to group of people (politicians) so often stereotyped as liars desperate to distract others from their corruption would so readily embrace stereotyping.

The Church Lady... Could it be Satan!

Who would spawn such stereotypes?

Who would try to create so much distrust?

Who would place their political ambitions above the unity of the nation?


Could it be…

A book not worth reading: How Hacker and Dreifus have wasted our money and failed us all

I recently bought at copy of Higher Education? by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus as part of my ongoing efforts to stay up on issues related to teaching and how to improve it. I found the book largely useless both as a faculty member and as a parent of a high school senior choosing a school.

Ironically, the book becomes example of what is often wrong with higher education because it uses a lot of opinion backed up by very poor research to promote its own existence.  The author mock administrators involved in student success for doing exactly the kind of analysis that fills the book. Fortunately for the nation, most administrators take their work more seriously than Hacker and Dreisfus who seem to believe that tossing a couple of stories into your opinions creates analysis. I sometimes wondered if the authors were engaged in some kind of subtle parody and were making themselves a kind of Colbert Report on higher education.

Here’s just one example of the problem. The authors say on page 33 that they “joined” a Dartmouth campus tour. They were appalled that the questions were about parking spaces and that the tour did not include a “special lecture by an exciting professor.”

There are (at least) two major problems with their complaint that reflect concerns I felt throughout the book:

First,  the university can not put on a dog and pony show for every tour group. Classroom instruction is not like sideshow performance that can be performed every time a crowd of curious onlookers gathers. Real teaching involved engagement of students that takes time to develop and creating a special lecture designed for an audience that just walked in from the street is an artificial exercise better suited to marketing than education. Also, Dartmouth may not offer such opportunities, but many schools offered opportunities to come to campus and sit in on lectures. I was stunned that the authors knew so little about what is available to potential students.

Second, the campus tour is only part of the research students and parents do before choosing a college. In fact, the college tour is one of the last bits of research people do because visiting campuses takes time. By the time we showed up for a tour we had already done our research on the quality of the programs offered. We wanted to see the dining hall, dorms, and parking because those things were either not covered by sources available or involved things best judged in person. We are not stupid. My wife asked about parking near the end of the tour because it was a low priority that only came up after everything else we had been considered. Anyone standing at the back of the tour group thinking that was our first consideration would have to be arrogant to even think that those questions were our primary concerns. Further, on every campus visit we made there were separate meetings that dealt with academic programs, career goals, costs, etc. By their nature campus tours are about facilities. I understand that a casual observer would not understand this. However, I had hoped that a casual observer would not presume to write a book on the subject without further research.

The bottom line is that the authors consider themselves so much smarter than faculty, administrators, students, and parents that they seldom bother to look beyond their own assumptions. For example, on page 79 they assert a self-evident truth that “The same sophomore who is now basically majoring in beer could be presenting a seminar paper on Moliére’s La Malade Imaginaire.” With assumptions like that, who needs research?

Some of the book’s arguments may be true and I agree with many of their concerns. However, the evidence they offer seldom made me feel certain about their conclusions and I feel certain that the evidence they presented was incomplete or self-serving. Higher education is an important topic deserving of better research than provided by Higher Education? and I consider the book a waste of my time and money.

Seven misconceptions about how students learn

The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog had an interesting piece (“Seven misconceptions about how students learn”) challenging some ideas about teaching. There are not a lot of specifics there, but I thought it did  a good job getting me to think about some of teaching issues.


Learning is waning in higher ed

Cover of Losing Our MindsAnother book is raising challenges to how much learning is going on in higher education. In an interview with Inside Higher Ed (“Q&A with authors of book arguing that learning is waning in higher ed“) the authors of Losing Our Minds raise some serious issues.

These questions are appealing to me because they focus on the value of the education rather than with cost (which is out of the control of faculty members). I’ve grown weary of debates about things I have no control over and I’m much more interested in those things I can do something about.  As Keeling and Hersh point out in the interview, the cost of a college degree should be secondary to the value that students get from the degree.

There’s no question that high costs are a problem. But low value is a bigger problem. No matter what the cost is, higher education is overpriced if it fails to deliver on its most basic promise: learning. Value is low when, as the research shows, too many of our college graduates are not prepared to think critically and creatively, speak and write clearly, solve problems, comprehend complex issues, accept responsibility and accountability, take the perspective of others, or meet the expectations of employers.

Ironically, I’ll be too busy grading this week to read more about reforming higher education. Most faculty are so buried in the day-to-day tasks of teaching that we seldom have a chance to explore ways to improve what students get from our classes.

We need to think beyond our own needs and what we want to do to see what we can to make sure that the efforts of individual faculty add up to a meaningful education that brings value to the life of our students. It’s too easy to allow our course catalogs to be driven by the our interests and not the needs of students.  We often assume that our courses have value and fail to challenge ourselves to reevaluate what we do. I think Losing our Minds and Academically Adrift challenges us to rethink what our own contribution to higher education and we should see what we come up with before politicians find solutions for us.

UT’s Plan to Boost Graduation Rates

Stories in the Texas Tribune (“UT-Austin Unveils Plan to Boost Graduation Rates“), Inside Higher Ed (“Longhorns Who Take Too Long“), and the Chronicle of Higher Education (Sixty Ways to Leave a Flagship, With a Degree, Sooner).” The UT plan could become a model for other schools.

Where phony self-esteem goes to die

Bursting bubbles is no fun.

Doonesbury 12/12/2012

Arizona legislation on classroom obscenity and hiring discrimination

According to Insider Higher Ed (“Arizona debates legislation on classroom obscenity, political discrimination“) the Arizona legislature is talking about protecting college students from naughty words by applying broadcast standards to the classroom. I guess they think that faculty are the source of those obscenities in the classroom.

Another bill would ban discrimination based on political or religious views. Apparently, the hiring process in Arizona isn’t bureaucratic enough already.


Trying to stay excited…

The perfect cartoon for a faculty member getting ready for a week of classes.


No really, letting schools assess themselves works

Claremont McKenna College inflated freshman SAT scores, probe finds” –