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Posted on Jul 22nd
re: Blake Lively GOOPed Early (14 comments)

Took one for the team (in the artisanal fudge) and visited the website. They are donating 5% of purchases to Covenant House to help abused kids, which is great (even if it’s only for the first year), but the problem is that it makes the pretentious wankery of the rest of the site look even more out-of-touch (with an $18 “cereal killer” spoon to scoop your own GOOP right back into your GOOPY mouth).

I’m sure there’s a pretentiouspreneur joke around here somewhere.

I missed a trick by not going to law school to become a California child custody lawyer…

Posted on Jul 5th
re: Happy Birthday, America, You Fat Dumb Bastard (77 comments)

That said, “failing better” is perhaps the difference between the majority of students writing coherent sentences and the majority of students not writing those coherent sentences. With the former, I have something to work with; with the latter, well that requires widespread remedial help, and that’s also a major funding issue to provide those classes, when (and you’re right) they shouldn’t have to be provided to any sort of major extent in the first place.

I was more talking about the structure behind the U.K. system that ensures the university level is for those who meet a certain minimum standard of literacy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for more and more of the population getting a university education, especially if, at that crucial stage of their lives, they are given the complex critical-thinking skills they need to help their own children push forward.

I remember having a history teacher who told us on our first day of our A-Level study (at 17) that the structural basis of everything he told us up until that point was, to some extent, incorrect; that history was more complex than facts, that history was full of its own paradoxical opinions, and that our role was to negotiate that in a way that bare facts could not be negotiated. That’s the difference that these kids should be getting at that age, instead of still struggling with basic sentences…

Posted on Jul 4th
re: Happy Birthday, America, You Fat Dumb Bastard (77 comments)

*I mean “associate” degree.

Posted on Jul 4th
re: Happy Birthday, America, You Fat Dumb Bastard (77 comments)

Veronika,

Certainly not discounting some of the data in that study. However, I think what I see when I teach is impact of the difference in educational structure, and the idea of the net being late: in the U.K. we have the movement from Key Stage 3 exams (14 y/o) -> GCSE exams (16 y/o) -> A-Level exams (17-18 y/o), that movement reflecting a gradual specialisation within the U.K. educational system where, by 16, students are already into the associates part of the corresponding American freshman level. At 17, in the U.K., you’ll have already picked 3-4 subjects (down from the GCSE’s 9-10), and, by the Summer of your final year at secondary school will know what you will take as an *undistracted* degree course at university. That is if you make it past the GCSEs, the failure of which will stop your progress to A-Level. I found the GCSEs pretty tough, to be perfectly honest; having several weeks of those multi-disciplinary examinations was easily the most stressful academic experience I have had.

There’s an argument often made that students here in the U.S. are essentially two years behind Europeans when they start university, which is why you have two years of (catch-up?) generalised study, followed by two years of majoring. Both systems should work, of course, and the hot-house of those first two years of college-level work should bridge any gap, but in reality I find that the generalised requirements students face are increasingly being treated as hoops to jump through. The problem is often with who is holding the hoops. With the added pressure of the rising consumer status of students here in the U.S., together with the idea that failing college is an unacceptable anomaly, underpaid professors (many of them adjuncts making $2000 for a 16-week class) do push through kids who shouldn’t have been pushed through to sophomore level; they push them through because the mechanism of graduation rates is heavily and mistakenly used to determine the brilliance of the college, and they push them through because it’s easier to give a “C” ahead of sitting down, trawling through multiple essays, and demonstrating beyond doubt the ways in which an “okay” essay still isn’t just okay enough to warrant that “C”. The problem gets kicked on to me, or another professor, and then students wonder why a “B” or “C” at 101 might seemingly magically transform into a “D” or “F” in a later class. The previous university I worked at in Florida had a far better handle on this than my present university, but was still having to introduce more remedial English classes.

I had a student speak to me yesterday about how he finally understood his score of 7/100 for an unfinished, terrible draft. He told me that he hadn’t been checked through his whole university career by anybody, and I think that goes to the core of what I’m saying about the idea of inferiority – there’s a kind of accepted mirage here at points where a small flash of ability in an essay is often allowed to determine the whole. He’s an able student, but his laziness would have already caught in the U.K. system at 11+ level, Key Stage 3, and then again at GCSE. Failure in the core subjects of English/Maths at the level will, as I said, end your university chances at 16. It’s harsh, yes, and it disproportionately affects lower-income students (of which I was one), but it’s much harder to fool the tri-gamut of the Key Stage 3s, the GCSEs, and A-Levels, than it is to fool the one-stop shop of the SATs. I’d argue that 50% of the students in my class should not have passed the literacy component of the SATs, and I know for a fact that a good proportion of that 50% would not have made it to university in the U.K.

Posted on Jul 4th
re: Happy Birthday, America, You Fat Dumb Bastard (77 comments)

Veronika,

Certainly not discounting some of the data in that study. However, I think what I see when I teach is impact of the difference in educational structure, and the idea of the net being late: in the U.K. we have the movement from Key Stage 3 exams (14 y/o) -> GCSE exams (16 y/o) -> A-Level exams (17-18 y/o), that movement reflecting a gradual specialisation within the U.K. educational system where, by 16, students are already into the associates part of the corresponding American freshman level. At 17, in the U.K., you’ll have already picked 3-4 subjects (down from the GCSE’s 9-10), and, by the Summer of your final year at secondary school will know what you will take as an *undistracted* degree course at university. That is if you make it past the GCSEs, the failure of which will stop your progress to A-Level. I found the GCSEs pretty tough, to be perfectly honest; having several weeks of those multi-disciplinary examinations was easily the most stressful academic experience I have had.

There’s an argument often made that students here in the U.S. are essentially two years behind Europeans when they start university, which is why you have two years of (catch-up?) generalised study, followed by two years of majoring. Both systems should work, of course, and the hot-house of those first two years of college-level work should bridge any gap, but in reality I find that the generalised requirements students face are increasingly being treated as hoops to jump through. The problem is often with who is holding the hoops. With the added pressure of the rising consumer status of students here in the U.S., together with the idea that failing college is an unacceptable anomaly, underpaid professors (many of them adjuncts making $2000 for a 16-week class) do push through kids who shouldn’t have been pushed through to sophomore level; they push them through because the mechanism of graduation rates is heavily and mistakenly used to determine the brilliance of the college, and they push them through because it’s easier to give a “C” ahead of sitting down, trawling through multiple essays, and demonstrating beyond doubt the ways in which an “okay” essay still isn’t just okay enough to warrant that “C”. The problem gets kicked on to me, or another professor, and then students wonder why a “B” or “C” at 101 might seemingly magically transform into a “D” or “F” in a later class. The previous university I worked at in Florida had a far better handle on this than my present university, but was still having to introduce more remedial English classes.

I had a student speak to me yesterday about how he finally understood his score of 7/100 for an unfinished, terrible draft. He told me that he hadn’t been checked through his whole university career by anybody, and I think that goes to the core of what I’m saying about the idea of inferiority – there’s a kind of accepted mirage here at points where a small flash of ability in an essay is often allowed to determine the whole. He’s an able student, but his laziness would have already caught in the U.K. system at 11+ level, Key Stage 3, and then again at GCSE. Failure in the core subjects of English/Maths at the level will, as I said, end your university chances at 16. It’s harsh, yes, and it disproportionately affects lower-income students (of which I was one), but it’s much harder to fool the tri-gamut of the Key Stage 3s, the GCSEs, and A-Levels, than it is to fool the one-stop shop of the SATs. I’d argue that 50% of the students in my class should not have passed the literacy component of the SATs, and I know for a fact that a good proportion of that 50% would not have made it to university in the U.K.

Posted on Jul 4th
re: Happy Birthday, America, You Fat Dumb Bastard (77 comments)

One conclusion we can draw here is that English professors like tits.

Posted on Jul 4th
re: Happy Birthday, America, You Fat Dumb Bastard (77 comments)

Mike,

It’s a regional state research university in the deep south. I’m being entirely truthful about the books: we have a really decent selection of books in my subject (English) up until around 1990-5, and then it just stops. We rely entirely on Interlibrary Loan for the post-1995 books, and our students routinely have to borrow login details from student friends at our bigger state university for a lot of journal access. It’s pretty embarrassing, to be honest, and we are touch-and-go now with accreditation (and that’s why I can’t state the name of the institution here).

I teach in the English Department (which isn’t just literature, but composition as well). The latter is where the main problems occur, mostly because of grade inflation and a unwillingness from professors to fail their students in Comp 101, leading to the situation in the class I’m currently teaching (Advanced Composition), where I’m supposed to be covering advanced rhetoric, but am instead covering run-ons, fragments, basic essay structure, etc.

Not offended by your doubt, don’t worry. I get it – I’d doubt it too if I wasn’t involved in it.

Posted on Jul 4th
re: Happy Birthday, America, You Fat Dumb Bastard (77 comments)

I’m currently a professor in the U.S., having been educated in Ireland and England. I love the U.S., but, I must tell you, your education system IS vastly inferior to the U.K.’s (and Ireland’s). I’m teaching a 300-level course at a “respectable” university, and many (50+%) of my students come to me in their penultimate or final year unable to write what would be recognised as actual sentences. We are talking about not knowing the stuff taught at elementary schools in the U.K. Having taught elsewhere in the U.S., it’s not just a regional problem.

A crushing lack of awareness about wider world events is also evident, often even among those with natural writing ability, and it’s clear that these kids are being screwed from federal level down to local level. It’s very concerning, and the rise of administration positions within universities and schools at the expense of those institutions’ students is becoming a real problem too, with douchebag (and often dumb) administrators getting paid 75-100k+, where they milk universities as a career (and create other non-positions). A good example of this was the building of a $250,000 decorative wall at my university recently, despite the university not having had any new books in the library for over 5 years (and, in my subject, 20 years).

The 1990s has finally found its worst dress.