Tags: higher learning | college | competency | science | liberal arts

Making Great Institutions of Learning Smaller

Making Great Institutions of Learning Smaller

By Friday, 22 September 2017 04:38 PM Current | Bio | Archive

It seems almost impossible to give credence to current studies that portray staggering percentages of young adults are frighteningly unskilled when faced with the most simple and basic tasks. Close to half are supposedly incapable of changing a tire or sewing on a button, and 30 percent are purportedly stymied by boiling an egg. Such ineptitude is hopefully exaggerated, but yet symptomatic of a population grown accustomed to the carefree existence of a push-button society, yet with many possessing not the slightest inkling as to how the switches operate. The ebb in competence has been relentlessly worsening, seeming to stem from an especially corrosive political tenet of our age: that everything is morally equivalent. We are all constantly disabused to compare barefoot guitar-strummers wandering through meadows with those who arm-wrestle with the most difficult disciplines in science, math, business, languages, engineering and every other profession which keeps the modern world spinning on its axis.

In the 1960’s those who preferred careers in less demanding fields — comedians, mimes, puppeteers, court jesters, trendspotters — invented the widely-disseminated myth of the “right-brained” virtuoso. According to the theory, those among us with right-brained preferences aren’t simply too quick to give up mastering really daunting tasks, aren’t lacking in any way, but are instead the creative and enlightened types. Unfortunately, there isn’t a scientific basis for any of this; it’s bunk from top to bottom. Science dismisses double-talk about dueling brain hemispheres. The idea was spread by popularists who completely misconstrued the work of Nobel Prize winner Dr. Roger Sperry’s work on epilepsy. Neuroscientists at the University of Utah spent two years recently trying to find evidence of right or left-brained personality traits and came to the conclusion (as have all other studies) that the idea is pure nonsense.

At present though it seems no explanation of any kind is offered by those who would rather leave the hard thinking to others. Instead of making pseudo-scientific excuses for failing to face headache-producing matters concerning derivatives, integrals, diodes, tensors and thousands of other admittedly intimidating nuts and bolts of the modern world, even many college students, for example, now just peevishly stamp their feet and demand it all simply go away. The list of colleges and universities in the United States that have surrendered to the rising tide of effortless curricula — abolishing the requirements for even a single moment in a mathematics or foreign language class — is a long and rather astounding one, including once highly-respected institutions of higher learning in America.

Yet, with linear algebra, French verb conjugations, calculus, Arabic script and eigenvectors set to the side, even the frolicking course replacements — chanting, reciting a poem, beating on a drum, expounding about one’s tattoos — aren’t subject to the traditionally rigorous grading standards of the past. Indeed, almost everyone in college these days receives laudatory grades. A recent study in Teachers College Record, found that 43 percent of all grades awarded at American colleges and universities were A’s. Only 10 percent of marks handed out by professors were D’s and/or F’s. USA Today commented appropriately on this study, noting that “over the last 50 years universities created a narrative that excellence was everywhere but failure was virtually non-existent.”

Banishing mathematics and foreign languages from college campuses, intimidating professors into rubber-stamping A’s onto everything thrown at them by students, and filling the curriculum with such vapid offerings as Arguing with Judge Judy, Klingon Culture, Alien Sex, Cyberporn and Society, the Philosophy of the Simpsons, and other mind-numbingly insipid courses isn’t enough. The final chain-breaking act of liberation by students must be to revoke from teachers the authority to do anything but validate and praise them. Hence, the great push currently to formalize the mantra that there is nothing wrong with anyone but just the world to blame for failing to give everyone pats on the back, meaning that there should be no grades at all. At a dozen schools students are actually telling their teachers to put away their scoring rubrics and they’re getting their way. At one such institution where students are convinced that no one should grade their academic performance, Evergreen State College, their inviolability has also given rise to the even more eye-brow raising conclusion that on days of their choosing all persons, including teachers, of a certain unwelcome racial color should be constrained to remove themselves from campus.

Even with degree in hand though, only 30 percent of recent college graduates can interpret a food label correctly; the complexities of calories, grams, servings, and ingredients exacting simply too much mental pressure. That figure is down from 40 percent only a decade ago. In the future we may regret to admit that someone who can both read the cooking instructions and boil the water as well may count as a comparative genius.

David Nabhan is a science writer, the author of "Earthquake Prediction: Dawn of the New Seismology" (2017) and three previous books on earthquakes. Nabhan is also a science fiction writer ("Pilots of Borealis," 2015) and the author of many scores of newspaper and magazine op-eds. Nabhan has been featured on television and talk radio all over the world. His website is www.earthquakepredictors.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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It seems almost impossible to give credence to current studies that portray staggering percentages of young adults are frighteningly unskilled when faced with the most simple and basic tasks.
higher learning, college, competency, science, liberal arts
Friday, 22 September 2017 04:38 PM
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