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What's Wrong With the American University System

  • The Best and the Brightest Led America Off a Cliff
  • Higher ed should aspire to higher purpose
  • Teaching to Student's, Not Industry's, Needs

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz,

Submitted by Evergreene Digest Contributing Editor Will Shapira

Holt/Times Books

Andrew Hacker, who is professor emeritus at Queens College in New York, recalls the day a young political scientist walked into his department to interview for a job. Everything about the man's resume made him an ideal candidate. He was finishing his dissertation at a top university. His mentors had written effusive recommendations. But when the young superstar sat down with the department chair, he seemed to have only one goal: to land a tenure-track position that involved as many sabbaticals and as little teaching as possible. He was not invited back for a second interview.

Hacker and his coauthor, New York Times writer Claudia Dreifus, use this cautionary tale to launch their new book, a fierce critique of modern academia called Higher Education? "The question mark in our title," they write, "is the key to this book." To their minds, little of what takes place on college campuses today can be considered either "higher" or "education." They blame a system that favors research over teaching and vocational training over liberal arts. Tenure, they argue, does anything but protect intellectual freedom. And they'd like to see graduates worrying less about their careers, even if it means spending a year behind the cash register at Old Navy.



The Best and the Brightest Led America Off a Cliff, Chris Hedges,

  • Those who defy the system—people like Ralph Nader—are branded as irrational and irrelevant. These elite universities have banished self-criticism. They refuse to question a self-justifying system. Organization, technology, self-advancement and information systems are the only things that matter.

Higher ed should aspire to higher purpose, Charles Neerland, StarTribune | MN
Graduates need to calculate and compute. But let's make sure they can ponder and dream, too.

Teaching to Student's, Not Industry's, Needs, Rebecca Bauer, English Teacher, St. Paul Central High School, in Minnesota 2020
How pressures from No Child Left Behind and standardized testing have sapped the exploration and creativity out of teaching.  


Grooming kids for jail, not college

  • "We should be preparing our kids for Yale, not jail." Paul López, community activist
  • Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) files suit after first-grader handcuffed

Cindy Rodríguez, Denver Post | CO

Submitted by Evergreene Digest Contributing Editor Ken Mitchell

When I think about the debate over the lack of minority students attending CU-Boulder, or most colleges for that matter, that quip from labor organizer Paul López pops into my head.    

He made that remark after the nonprofit educational justice organization Padres Unidos last year unveiled the results of a study that documented the rising number of students getting ticketed by police in Denver Public Schools because of zero-tolerance policies.    

The report, "Education on Lockdown: The Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track," documented a 71 percent increase in the number of tickets given to students in DPS, from 2000 to 2004, at a time when Denver police saw a 25 percent decrease in juvenile crime.    

Getting a ticket means a student has to miss school to go to juvenile court, yet the report revealed that 68 percent of the tickets issued were for minor offenses that should have been handled by school administrators and parents, not outsourced to cops.    

Ticketing kids for violating the school dress code, uttering a profane word or returning to school to retrieve something (trespassing, to police) is an extension of the same policy that politicians have adopted nationwide to lock up hundreds of thousands of people busted for carrying small amounts of drugs.    

It explains why today one in five inmates in Colorado is serving time for a nonviolent, drug-related offense, compared with about one in 10 in 1991, according to Colorado Department of Corrections statistics.    

That increase helps explain the disproportionate number of blacks and Latinos in prison. Poor kids in urban areas, those who happen to be mostly black and brown, are more likely to get ensnared in petty drug trafficking and get sucked into a criminal justice system for years because of mandatory sentencing guidelines.    

What does jail have to do with Yale?    

Well, if the dropout rate for Latino students in Colorado is 25 percent, and it's 17 percent for black kids, compared with 11 percent for white kids (according to a study of the class of 2003 by the Colorado Children's Campaign) it's a good bet that a disproportionate number of Latino and black kids aren't in the pipeline to college. That may result in their heading into another pipeline: the criminal justice system.    

The vast majority - 77 percent - of inmates in state and federal prisons across the nation do not have a high school diploma, according to a 2003 report by the U.S. Department of Justice.    

Dropping out doesn't mean that youths are headed for prison, but it's what sociologists call a strong indicator.    

"There's been a convergence of the educational system and the criminal justice system," said Jim Freeman, a staff attorney for The Advancement Project, the nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. that helped Padres Unidos with the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse report. Crowded urban public schools, a high turnover rate among teachers who are underpaid and overworked, and low teacher-to-student ratios in those schools make it difficult for students to excel, Freeman said.    

Statistics relating to the dropout rate, the college rate and the prison rate are all connected. They explain why urban kids who make it out and graduate from college talk about not becoming a statistic.    

We need to change these statistics - even if only because it makes more sense to spend $8,000 a year on a kid for 12 years of schooling, compared with $35,000 a year for who-knows-how-long on people in prison.    

Fewer dropouts will mean more kids, of all colors, will head to college - where they belong.    


Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) files suit after first-grader handcuffed, Richard Cohen, Southern Poverty Law Center
All across the nation, schools have adopted draconian "zero-tolerance" policies that treat children like criminals and turn schools into prison-like environments.


Why Cut out the Classroom?

Personally, as a student of a private liberal arts college in Minnesota, I’m shocked to hear the classroom spoken of as something to be removed from the education process rather than something to be enhanced.

Aaron Sinner, Minnesota 2020

On his “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” appearance, Governor Pawlenty suggested a way to save money on higher education through the implementation of new technology.  Pawlenty’s plan assumes that teachers are still using the old ways of thinking about education, which have been replaced, in many cases, with teaching methods far more effective at preparing students for the future.

The governor’s suggestion goes like this: “Is there another way to deliver the service other than a one-size-fits-all monopoly provider that says, ‘Show up at nine o’clock on Wednesday morning for Econ 101’? Can’t I just pull that down on my iPhone or my iPad whenever the heck I feel like it from wherever I feel like, and instead of paying thousands of dollars can I pay a hundred ninety-nine for iCollege?”

The governor’s plan suggests using technology to reduce costs and increase access, which on the face of it sounds great. But it runs in direct conflict with the old adage, “You get what you pay for.”  This plan creates a scenario of cutting costs by using a professor to create the curriculum for the masses, and dozens of graduate assistants to facilitate the actual course work. This cheats students out of the rich experience they would have gained from a seasoned teacher’s vast knowledge.  That’s just one of many downfalls.  Short of this drastic cost-cutting measure, online classes would cost the same as those taken in-class, which is the current case–at some institutions online courses are even more expensive.