Saturday, 31 December 2011

hoax

This isn't a good article or a short one; it's just copied out of curiosity.
It was next to one that's quoted in another blog post here about bad teaching by an economics professor who moved from the US to the UK in the 1960s, taking teaching standards with him. He would have read it. The problem of unhappy students and puzzled teachers applies particularly to sciences and economics I think, with economics students the ones to complain.

The problems are
(1) Presumption that entrance threshold exam scores are low - which was true of the Keele foundation year that I signed-up to in 1983 but not of the main degree course.
(2) Colleges for 20-odds ignoring previous work done as teenagers, which was true of Keele economics department. At the time, social science A-levels were often done by repeated essay-writing from original sources; they weren't bad, but we did a bit about X-shaped diagrams in economics A-level as well.
(3) Presumption that you need to learn or teach theory before practice, starting with X-shaped diagrams in economics for example on my university course, going-on to teach them again in year two as the AD AS model, and again in year three as revision. On this system, Mr Morris Lord Nuffield would never have started repairing bicycles in his parents' garden shed aged 15. He would have stayed-on at school for Physics A-level, then gone to some kind of higher education, and only then be allowed to put all the theory together to repair a bicycle at some age like 25. They would have taught how the wheel worked at A-level, then again in the first year of higher education, then possibly in the middle year, and then they would have explained wheels again to the young Mr Morris as revision.
(4) Government getting interested in pointy things, instead of social insurance which is its main job.

Related: Bad Economics Teaching for the twenty-teens from data on Unistats, 2015 Better Economics Teaching: some off-the-cuff suggestions based on being a student in the 1980s  The British Economic Crisis - a similar book to Robert Peston written in the 80s - Star Courses: the least satisfied, most bored and lowest paid UK graduates, written 2015 Bad Economics Teaching: how someone managed to teach economics from memories of an old textbook at the peak of the worst recession since the 1930s, and tried to cover-up for government causing the recession. Journal Articles by Professor Les Fishman - unbelievable beliefs - UK unemployment 1980s


IS HIGHER EDUCATION A HOAX?

Robert Vincent Daniels - US university teacher - 1960

WHEN A RUSSIAN ROCKET blasted itself successfully into orbit in October, 1957, and launched the term sputnik into the international vocabulary, the reverberations were felt nowhere in the universe as strongly as in the American educational world. Americans, presuming that no one else should ever lead them in technology, were convulsed in a panic of national humiliation. A scape-goat was demanded, and education—traditionally the American's recourse as a cure-all—had to bear the onus. This belated concern with the nation's schools would have been entirely salutary had it been less emotional and more thoughtful, less transitory and more profound. The panic has now subsided, and apart from the John Dewey bogey and federal loans to a few science students, it has left no important change. The real problems, which have long been with us, are still being overlooked.

A curious fact about the sputnik panic in American education was the exemption of the colleges from the pangs of national self-reproach. The high schools have borne the brunt—though not without deserving it. Apparently people assumed—and still do—that we need only get the largest possible number of students through high school and into college, perhaps with a push in the direction of science, and then everything will take care of itself automatically. College teachers may be popularly scorned as soft-boiled egg-heads, but the college as an institution commands unthinking respect. Actually, the true merits are the reverse. College teachers on the whole are able, commendable, self-sacrificing in-dividuals, but the system of college education in the United [p355] States is — unbeknownst to most, except the teachers — in a critical state.

There are at present approximately three million students in institutions of so-called higher education in the United States. The numbers of youth aspiring to join them are growing ever larger, thanks to the World War II birth rate and the ambitions fed by prosperity. If the demand can be met, it is conservatively estimated that, in a decade or less, double the present number of students will be studying at what is supposed to be the college level. Quantitatively this is all that the most agitated sputnik alarmists could wish for.

But in the qualitative respect the prospects are not to automatically bright. Americans seriously deceive themselves if they imagine that the stream of college graduates pouring through the open floodgates means the miraculously expanded production of mature and dextrous minds. What do our millions in college really mean, when the college, betrayed by the boggy foundation of the American high school, sinks to the level of a remedial secondary boarding school? Real education is left to the graduate schools, where the same process has set in. They must expand to give the capable secondary-education products of the colleges an opportunity for genuine college-level study, whether of a general or vocational nature. The waste is colossal, in money, faculty talent, and students' time--everyone is taking years more to reach the level for which his capacities destine him. We have not yet reached the end: as the mass of master's and doctoral candidates multiplies in search of a college education, a brand-new rung has to be added to the ladder—"post-doctoral" training—so that a talented few can get the training as experts that they missed before.

I. Democracy and the Right to Education

The causes of the debasement of standards in American higher education are not hard to diagnose, though the cure [p356] may be difficult. Some of the most cherished assumptions about the "American way of life" must be called into question if real change is to be brought about. Our educational system is professedly operated according to the principle that access to education is something people have a right to. Since it is clear that a democratic society most insist on equal rights for all citizens, it follows from the first assumption that everyone has an equal right to go to college, and that any educational selectivity is "undemocratic." No less an authority than the President's Committee on Education Beyond the High School (mercifully, not on "Higher Education") has declared, "This country will never tolerate the nurturing of an educational elite."

Such a proposition betrays a dubious comprehension of the nature of education, even if it renders the nation's will accurately. The idea that practically everyone can and should be educated equally is an irresponsible perversion of the very essence of education. Do the proponents of the Committe's view actually believe that none should be educated beyond the level to which all can be brought, that the lowest common denominator will determine the limits of attainment for all? Undoubtedly not, for it would require the stifling of all specialized and technical training that rests on superior ability, and lead speedily to national disaster. The Russian earth satellites dealt a heavy blow to equalitarianism in the preparation of engineers and scientists.

The President's Committee more probably had in mind the less far-fetched notion that all students should be educated together in the same system, with the more talented continuing farther. This is the usual practice—everyone swims in the some educational channel, as far as his ability can carry him; at any age level, education is the some for all, with special preferment for none. This position is still a serious threat to educational quality, since it disregards completely the importance of sequence and preparation, not to [p 357] mention the varying learning capacities of different students at the same age.

Many educators seem to feel that all persons at a given age-level should pursue the same course and get the same educational "opportunity." The level of work has to be held down where all can manage it, regardless of their ability or future needs. While it is often the custom in large high schools to offer separate college-preparatory and non-college curricula, to many students aspire to college and its benefits (half or more of all high-school students) that the benefit of selectivity is lost. Very little solid preparation is provided for the students who go on to advanced work, even though they may have the ability to undertake such preparation before-hand; the lost opportunities of the high-school years are tragic. The fault lies with the disastrous assumption that the same education is appropriate for students who are ending their education at a given level, and for those who are going ahead. The idea of separate paths is denounced as undemocratic, without thought of the need which a democratic society above all others has for a good proportion of members who have been well educated.

Unfortunately, our society is already suffering and will suffer still more from a dearth of properly educated individuals. The college gets students who
(1) are unprepared because they have been given a "democratic" education, the standards of which have been watered down to the remedial grade-school level; and who
(2) come in increasingly large numbers with increasingly dubious capacity for achieving the objectives of college education.

With these unprepared and often incompetent freshmen the college has to undertake the simultaneous tasks of
(1) giving them the college preparatory material that they should have gotten before (i.e., the function of a remedial high-school);
(2) attempting to give them the college-type "liberal" education (i.e., teaching them to think); and
(3) imparting vocational career training [p358] to them. Any one of these tasks is enough for a four-year institution, even granting the requisite ability among its student body. In combination, and with the standards of student admission and retention being what they are, the task imposed on the college is insuperable.

No wonder, then, that in this age of mass education the capable student rarely realizes his potential. He fails to get in high school the solid foundation of information and skills which he needs for advanced intellectual effort, and which he is best able to acquire at this age. The college comes too late, and with too little systematic concern for the student's basic mental development. The average graduate retains from his college experience little more than could be taught in high school to superior groups, plus some specialized training (the "major") that is too weak, too haphazard, and too un-related to career goals to be of much use. The specific objec-tive of liberal education in colleges (which, if I may dare to assert it, is to make people into intellectuals) proves to be a shimmering mirage.

II. The Aims of Education—In Reality

This state of affairs has certainly not been willed by educators, whatever their philosophies. It is the result of pressure —pervasive social pressure—which the educators and their institutions are in no position to resist. The perversion of higher education has come about in response to what American society has demanded, and the demands of American society represent a perverted idea of what education is for.

While the possible aims and objectives of higher education are manifold, the main alternatives can be grouped into four areas. People can be trained with primary emphasis on preparing them to contribute to national defense and the technical progress of the country; to contribute creatively to the cultural and scientific heritage of civilization; to develop their individual personalities, capacities, sensitivities, [p359] and interests; or to pursue a career and make money. There are two separate choices here—between the individual and the social emphasis, and between material and non-material objectives. Traditionally, American education has been in-dividual and material in its orientation—training the individual for personal advancement and business success. Of late, public concern has also extended to the social ends of material knowledge, thanks to the challenge which Soviet technical progress has posed to American national power. On the non-material side, however, little is intended or ac-omplished save by accident. The common talk of develop-ing the student as a person is rarely taken seriously, and the cultural tradition survives only because individuals are able to exploit it to the advantage of their careers.

The real purpose for which education is usually sought in this country is personal advancement. The college degree is regarded as a ticket for a life-time ride on the escalator of success. Computations have even been made of the actual monetary value of the degree in terms of the increment of income that it brings in over the years. For the female students, as everyone knows, the important objective is not the degree of B.A., but the esteemed degree of MRS. which customarily follows it. The woman goes to college in order to attach herself to a man who has won a fair guarantee of status and success, also by going to college. What is actually important about college work, from this point of view, is not what is learned, but the badge of status which is acquired, and the friends, contacts, and angles that are accum-ulated or explored. The business firm, recruiting its sales-men or its personnel administrators or its glorified decks—anyone who meets the public—cares not so much for the specific training its candidates have had, as for their college-bred respectability (and perhaps for the general intelligence and responsibility which that presumably carries with it). The college man has the mark of upper-middle-class rank, [p360] admitting him to the careers where prestige is expected and confirmed. It is no accident that the armed services, and particularly the more caste-conscious Navy, were so solicitous for the educational background of their officer corps even in the direst days of wartime.

The difficulties of American higher education are attributable to a curious combination of circumstances. Both our democratic professions and our class-conscious practices impose their contradictory demands. Everyone wants to get ahead, and education is the means to do this (thanks not to what it is, but to what it symbolizes). On the other hand, we insist on the principle of equality of opportunity: the educa-tional means for getting ahead must be open to everyone on an equal basis. It is undemocratic, supposedly, to favor one person with a superior education that gives him the opportu-nity to get ahead, while another is condemned to labor among the helots. The same education for all, the exclusion of none, passing marks for everybody, and the submergence of un-usual and valuable talent because the talented must not be given an unfair advantage in the competitive scramble to get ahead—this is what our national ideology demands of the educational system as a whole.

Relieved of practically all challenge or pressure, college students are all too often a spoiled, apathetic, or devil-may-care lot. They choose their courses on the basis of minimum work and the most convenient time of day; content counts for nothing—which does not matter, since it is so promptly for-gotten anyway. After a year or so some students cannot even remember which courses they have taken, let alone any of their substance. Meanwhile, students most kill time while they serve off their four years. This necessity is admirably provided for by the facilities and activities which the average campus offers. Students enjoy a continuous orgy of fraternity socializing and alcoholizing, punctuated with spectacular mob celebrations. [p361] The colleges lead the whole nation as far as spectator sports are concerned, ranging from mock war on the gridiron to the vicarious eroticism of campus queen elections. With those who actually play the game we are not here concerned, since they are less students than paid performers, honest members of the university service staff, to to speak. The social and athletic side of college is indeed so successful that millions of additional students, who are devoid of intellectual interest and otherwise would simply not have bothered, are drawn by the lodestone of the ivy-covered Elysium. They cannot resist the attraction of the four-year pastoral idyll of academic life, and come surging through the gates to join the big picnic.

But as the student totals are swelled by everyone in search of social status or amusement, there are untoward consequences even for those to whom education is but the ante-room to success. As the number of people gilded with the veneer of higher education multiplies, the market value of a college degree gets watered down. There are, naturally, only a limited number of positions at each level in the hierarchy of success and prestige, but more and more people are getting educations and competing for these positions. Naturally, for any given position the people with the most education have the advantage; as others seek to match their rivals, those with still more education will be preferred. The typist for whom a high-school diploma used to be more than enough now gives way to the girl fresh out of junior college or the secretarial school; the clerk must now have all of college behind him; the office manager who formerly did fine on four years of college must now have a graduate degree in business administration; and so on. In short, the educational price of social and occupational status is being bid up and up.

This is hardly the end. The democratic principle still operates. As it becomes necessary to have more education to achieve a given level of success, the cry goes up to broaden [p362] educational opportunities and lower the undemocratic barriers of prerequisites and admission standards. High school must be made available—and passable—to everyone; hence, high school is reduced to the grade school level. College must be made available to everyone who wants it, or thinks he wants it. Some people think that because they are taxpayers their children have a legal right to go to the state university regardless of their merit. College accordingly sinks to the high-school level. We are witnessing a process of educational inflation. More and more people spend more and more time (and money) getting education that is poorer and poorer, in order that all may compete on a democratic basis for the preferred positions in a social hierarchy. This is the force which is driving American education into the dismal swamp of mediocrity.

III. Consumer Sovereignty in Education

Economists employ in their jargon the expression "consumer sovereignty" to denote the situation in which the nature of what is produced and sold is determined not by some outside power that thinks it knows best, but by the preferences of the buyers - in other words, where the customer is always right. In an all too literal sense, this is the state of affairs in American higher education. Educators have not only lost control over whom they admit and the prerequisites for higher education; they have also lost control over the nature and quality of their own instruction.

The student-customers are accorded free choice of institutions, curricula, and courses. Thanks to this unrestricted selection of educational tidbits in the academic supermarket, no one is in a position to see that students get a balanced diet or the proper amount of roughage. Items which are hard to swallow simply will not move: subjects which are not pabubated for spoonfeeding, but are instead presented in their true nature as difficult challenges, will go stale on the shelf for [p363] lack of takers. For the student it is all the same: the credit hours are totalled up, whether they come hard or easy, and the prestige embodied in the degree or the husband is proudly carried off. College faculties appear to be incapable of making students do that is good for them. Students cannot be driven with any discipline through a course of training that is hard, unpalatable, but in the end rewarding.

The prevailing attitude toward the educational process among educators themselves and especially among administrators in institutions of higher learning is no different from the industrialist's view of his manufacturing establishment. The college is in business; students are its customers; credit hours and degrees are its product. Operations of the enterprise are guided strictly according to the rules of business: strive to boost output and sales (enrollment and degrees); maximize profits (the contributions, appropriations, and prestige which accrue to the institution); endeavor by all means to keep production at capacity, and lower the price (standards of admission and passing) if part of the plant is in danger of stand-ing idle for lack of customers.

Successful operation of the educational enterprise depends, in the last analysis, on the appetite and good will of the customer. Since the customer is always right, nothing can be done which will offend him. The student must be "sold" on his courses. If instructors insist on standards that are unreasonable, the students will go elsewhere, and enrollment will drop. This is disastrous, since enrollment is to often taken to be the supreme test of educational success. Any instructor, department, or branch of a university which tries to make its instruction rigorous is likely to be passed over by the multitude and perhaps forced out of business.

Thanks to this overriding concern about the customers and the enrollment, it is difficult to hold college students to meaningful standards of achievement. Apart from the self-motivated few, no more than to pathetic minimum of work can be [p364] evoked from them. Difficult assignments like the writing of papers cease to be imposed. The test of a teacher is his popularity—which at some institutions is literally voted on by the students: the successful teacher is the clown. Higher education has become a juvenile branch of the entertainment industry.

IV. Academic Entrepreneurship

The blame for the lapse of standards in the colleges does not lie entirely in one direction. It must be shared by the educators themselves, since they are responsible for allowing themselves to be cast in the role of hawkers of educational merchandise. There are extenuating circumstances, to be sure--particularly the impossibility, with the mass of raw material that college teachers have to contend with, of making headway toward the college's traditional objectives. So faculties have found another outlet by going into business. Tremendous energy is often devoted to expanding the enterprise, building the department, developing new fields of instruction. More buildings are demanded; more institutes, more programs, more courses, are added, with little regard for the number or needs of the students, who are only the excuse and not the purpose for all this effort. Quantity rules over all: maximize the enrollment, maximize the budget, maximize the staff, maximize prestige, maximize "research" (for the sake of prestige), maximize power. Such are the governing values of the industrial bureaucracy which administers the modern American factory-university.

In sympathy with the educators thus ensnared in a world not of their own making, I should point out that they seem often to be driven to this behavior by the otherwise totally unreal nature of the milieu in which they work: serious men surrounded by gawking juveniles, going through the motions of an educational operation which has lost most of its meaning. Campus politics are probably so bitter because the faculty [p365] have no other adult arena and the alternative is to lose their minds.

The often dismal state of teachers' morale tragically compounds the damage to higher education. Faced with a near-hopeless task in dealing with their students, faculties have turned away from it altogether, to concern themselves not with education but with the impressive elaboration of their institutions and programs. Courses are given for the sake of the courses and of appearances in the catalogue; students are not the object but merely the excuse. Sometimes the excuse breaks down: Acre was the case of the well-known university which hired a professor (against the wishes of the department concerned) primarily for the purpose of offering a specialized course on a certain exotic area of the world, only to find when the term began that not a single student wanted to sign up for the course! This is just an extreme case of the proliferation of specialized courses and programs, packing and merchandising fragmented bits of useless and soon-to-be-forgotten knowledge, while the fundamental task of educating the hapless, confused, unprepared students is completely lost sight of.

The modern American university is taking more and more students, who demand and receive admission for purposes of their own, and using them for purposes of its own. Neither purpose—neither the students' competition for careers with prestige nor the faculties' drive to build their enterprises—has very much to do with education. The two sets of purposes do, however, dovetail; student and faculty purposes facilitate one another's achievement, while both work to exclude real education from the process.

The trouble is deeply rooted in the underlying values of American society. Education—real college-level education of the thinking process—is neglected because people are not really interested in it, or because other interests are allowed to overwhelm it. The interests and values which are responsible for perverting higher education are, to be sure, difficult [p366] to check: they prevail throughout our society. They are nothing more nor less than the interests and values of competitive success in a world of big organizations. Students and faculties alike have succumbed. The university, in this society whose every facet is industrialized, has truly become a diploma mill.

V. Mass Education Versus Selective Education

If higher education is to mean anything at all, it must become a serious business: the strenuous development of stu-dents with the requisite capacity. Anything else means tremendous waste—as at present the time and money of the average student is wasted in a drawn-out, low-standard education, and as the time and talent of the superior student are wasted by the same thing. Education must be hard work.

Furthermore, the educational goal must itself be stated anew. Education is provided by society for a social purpose. It represents the cumulation of aeons of human effort and experience, which is far out of proportion to any payment the individual may be making for his educational privilege. The purpose of higher education should properly be thought of as the preparation of talented individuals to render as best they can a social service and make their maximum contribution to society.

This position is not incompatible with democracy; it is essential to take this view if both democracy and education are to survive together. Currently education is most often regarded as a right, from which personal benefits accrue. From this foliows the basic fallacy that education must be made available to all on an equal basis. Actually education (particularly higher education) should be regarded as a privilege, carrying with it definite obligations. The aim is not an "elite," but a democratic society whose talented members have both the ability and the sense of obligation to make their [p367] most effective contribution to the material and spiritual de-velopment of the whole. We will get nowhere if we do not recognize wide differences in individual abilities. Differences are especially wide in the particular ability which is (or ought to be) the foundation for "liberal" education—the ability to conceptualize, i.e., to use abstract ideas, to make inferences, to generalize, etc. Hundreds of thousands of students now pursuing liberal arts courses are wasting their time and their parents' or the public's money (except from the standpoint of social success) because their abilities simply do not run in this direction. It is also essential to recognize that the effective training of superior students must begin early. It is too late to wait until college, when even the capable students must lose time in remedial courses. In mathematics, English, foreign languages, and history, foundations must be laid down and abilities trained for many years before. The time for basic memory work expires before the end of the high-school age: students who have not learned spelling, grammar, dates, geography, and the multiplication table by that time will never do to with any ease or rapidity. College cannot really be what it claims to be unless its candidates have been rigor-ously and specially trained beforehand. We most face up to the obvious implications of these natural conditions of the educational process. Education of the college type has to be much more selective than it is now, and the selection has to begin much earlier. It is unfair both to future college students and to those who do not go beyond secondary school to expect both groups to pursue courses which are the same in content or equal in intensity. This means that high-school students most be channelled into more clearly distinguished curricula than at present (or into separate schools where feasible or advisable), and especially that the standards and requirements for the academically-bound students must be radically stiffened.[p368] The immediate future and the problems which it poses for the colleges point to an obvious first step. We now are in a crisis of too much quantity and too little quality, and the prospect is a sudden doubling of the quantity. Both the quality problem and the awesome problem of expansion can be attacked if the colleges simply refuse to expand, refuse to admit any larger numbers of students, keep the excess out by raising entrance requirements—or, more often, by re-estab-lishing entrance requirements. We are at a critical turning point. It is quality or quantity—education or the diploma mill. The choke must be made, and made quickly. The coming increase in the college-age population brings a hidden blessing—the chance to raise standards without the embar-rassing necessity of decreasing present enrollments. If this chance is not taken—if the country insists on expanding college facilities to take care of everyone who wants to be ad-mitted—higher education in the United States, with isolated exceptions, will be done for.

VI. Adapting the Colleges


If we grant the essential condition of holding fast on the en-rollment front, then the creation of a selective, effective, and democratic liberal education will require three major changes. One concerns the problem of mass education in the secondary schools, and how to square this with the need for college prerequisites. The second is the revision of college organization and instruction. The third has to do with society's attitude toward education and the student, and how he is selected and financed. Providing a really effective college-preparatory course at the secondary school level, with separate instruction and higher standards for the college-bound students, appears to be a task of staggering difficulty. There is a temporary remedy which suggests itself when one recognizes that most of what the college does in the first two years could and should have [p369] been done in high school. The solution is to short-circuit the latter by making a general practice of admitting all college-caliber students (measured, one must hope, by a standard higher than the present) into college after, say, the first two years of high school. Then introductory college courses would commence, taught, as they have to be even now, without assuming any prior foundation. The advantage is that two additional years would be gained for serious study. We could take these two years plus what are now the first two years of college and give a reasonably sound liberal education, with-out intruding upon the ground of specialized or vocational study which is now attempted in the college major. The latter, in turn, would be freed from the encroachments of general education, and could and should become a much more serious, effective, and practical undertaking, handled, perhaps, on the intellectual level of the present master's degree. Equally important with student standards and background for the attainment of a genuinely effective system of higher education is the revision of the present organization of in-struction. College curricula are now for the most part hopelessly fragmented and bogged down in the quantity mania of courses, grades, and credit hours. There should be a single basic curriculum: teaching how to think. Thought-processes must be imparted in a systematic and coordinated way in everything the student studies. There is nothing more ridicu-lous than the established practice of dividing a student up four, five, or site ways among as many instructors and having each go to work on him without any relation at all to what the others are doing. Finally, there should be no wide range of electives and specialties until professional training is undertaken. There are certain things which every educated person ought to know about; the faculty knows what these are bet-ter than the student does; and it is these studies which he should pursue as directed during his period of non-professional liberal education. [p370]


The last requirement is simple in nature, if not in application. Higher education is hard work, or should be; it is given in the interests of society as well as the individual, or should be; it should be open to all on an equal basis, with ability the sole criterion of qualification. Granting these conditions, all serious students deserve and must have public support for the pursuit of their education. This can be extended both through liberal scholarships supported by both the national and state governments, and through loans which will be written off in whole or in part in return for such public service work as teaching. The student who has to work on the side to pay his way through college is inevitably sacrificing some of his educational accomplishment, and this defeats the whole purpose of having him in college. Society is training in the colleges its future servants and benefactors; it owes them firm support, and they in turn ought to incur an honorable obligation of service.