Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The swindle

I sometimes feel as though I need to apologise to my students. It's not that I am suffering from impostor syndrome. After five years of teaching, I'm mostly past that. The problem is that I sometimes feel that I am part of a con being run by the UC, an educational swindle. The UC offers something for sale, specifically, an education. Then, in exchange for the students' (parents') money, what is actually given is a summer session class: compressed, accelerated, pared-down, and severely compromised, with a slightly lower-than-average class of students. To be sure, there are some students who are not swindled. The go-getters are perfectly capable of thriving in these classes, and get their money's worth. There is also a class of students who are not after an education, but instead are pursuing a diploma. These students are also not swindled--as long as they get their passing grade, they have also gotten what they paid for.

However at least half of the students are simply not prepared to take the class. Their high school education or their freshman and sophomore classes leave them with inadequate study and thinking skills to cope with the class. As a result, they do not get the education they paid for. They might, if the summer classes were not compressed, or if K-12 education in California had not been gutted. But this is not the case, and the UC knows it, but continues to run the scam.

The UC's scam could be viewed as part of an intergenerational swindle. Michael O'Hare, a UC Berkeley professor, has posted a letter to his students apologizing for his part in this scam. You should go read the whole thing, but it starts:

Welcome to Berkeley, probably still the best public university in the world. Meet your classmates, the best group of partners you can find anywhere. The percentages for grades on exams, papers, etc. in my courses always add up to 110% because that’s what I’ve learned to expect from you, over twenty years in the best job in the world.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that you have been the victims of a terrible swindle, denied an inheritance you deserve by contract and by your merits. And you aren’t the only ones; victims of this ripoff include the students who were on your left and on your right in high school but didn’t get into Cal, a whole generation stiffed by mine. This letter is an apology, and more usefully, perhaps a signal to start demanding what’s been taken from you so you can pass it on with interest.

I can't apologise for Proposition 13, having been too young to vote when it passed, and I have generally voted with the losers in most California elections. Nonetheless, along with Dr. O'Hare, I proffer my apologies to my students.

No comments:

Post a Comment