Thursday, February 10, 2011

Declining education standards

I never thought I would be one of those people. Especially so soon. Back in my day, which is by no means that long ago, there was this notion that not everyone was meant to be an engineer or to get an engineering degree from an accredited university. Apparently, this is not the case any more. I was "informed" today by our special "education faculty" that engineering is changing. That today's students need to be engaged, that they need to have things explained to them 3 different ways because not everyone learns the same way. These statements I don't disagree with, and I do try out emerging teaching methods, as much as possible during TT. I go to workshops. I try to be more enthusiastic than the profs I had that just faced the board for the entire class period and rewrote their notes without taking questions.

This next one shocked me. Over 20% of college undergrads are in contact with their parents 4-5 times per DAY! What college kid that has just moved out of their parents home for the first time wants to talk to their parents instead of enjoying and exploring this ultimate freedom? Who are these parents that want to hear from their kids multiple times per day?

This final one blew my fuken mind. "Experts" agree that toughness is MORE important than being SMART! Holy Fuken Shite! You did not just say that. Since when is trying good enough? I hope that engineer isn't designing nuclear reactors or airplanes. Please, for the sake of humanity, tell me that no one else is taking this crackpot stance on engineering education! I went to a giant public top-tier university. The class average in engineering classes was a B-/C+. Getting a D of any kind meant you had to repeat the course. You have a problem with that, there's the door. I worked my ass off and I liked it. Did I complain to my parents that it was hard and that the instructors sucked? Yes. I'm not perfect. Did I have them call the school and complain? No. Did I ever complain that I DESERVE a better grade for trying? No.

Are all private schools so money driven and appeasing of their money stream? Not to mention the extra kicker, these budget models where the college gets money based on enrollment. Great business model, terrible education model. Why would we ever fail anyone? And don't give me that crap that our students are so awesome coming in that they can't possibly fail at something. Using that reasoning, why bother even having classes? Just give them the degree when the check clears.


  1. "This final one blew my fuken mind. "Experts" agree that toughness is MORE important than being SMART!"

    That's so impossibly fucking stupid.

  2. This post resonates so well with the comment I left over at PLS. I agree with you completely.

    "I certainly agree with your point that using anecdotal evidence in supporting the claim they made is utterly ridiculous. But nevertheless, at least I am pretty convinced that over a last couple of decades, the university education is more and more being seen as a business by administrators and students alike. So for the admin, the degrees are merely the products that you sell to your student customers, while at the same time flogging your revenue generators—adjuncts and those who bring in extramural money—in order to make them work harder and harder. In such atmosphere, some students are smart enough to realize that they can still get the product they paid for while putting in much less effort.

    I can only support this by offering my personal experience. I went to grad school at a university with prestigious undergrad programs (read very expensive), and was involved in some undergraduate teaching. The quality of the programs was truly outstanding, but even the established professors dithered and avoided failing the non-performing undergrad student. I have seen many who got away with that—not because they were not smart, but because they did not put efforts, or in some cases just because they could.

    Again, this certainly is not true across the board, the good ones will always come out top no matter what, but the overall drift is very clear to see."

  3. I don't know about toughness being MORE important than smarts in all cases, but I can definitely see it being as important than smarts once above a certain ability threshhold. Success in science/engineering requires a persistence that not all smart people have. Surely you've known brilliant people who fold at the first failure or challenge? I have certainly seen competent tough people doing better than brilliant not-so-tough people.

    With regards to failing standards, in my department, I haven't seen much of it. We have the same policy (a D only counts for electives), and I have given my fair share of D's and F's without interference. Yes, some students whine, but students have always whined. I certainly have heard stories about pressure not to fail people, but I have not yet seen it in action (thankfully!).

  4. Many years ago when I was a freshman in college, I got my 1st D's in Calculus and Chemistry. There was little emotion involved, I got what I deserved. It didn't help that I had terrible studying habits and was totally unprepared for college (especially engineering).

    All I can say is that I sucked it up, fixed what was wrong in my life and spent the spring semester repeating the two courses. There were other students with the same situations. Many transferred out of engineering into other less taxing majors.

    After I got my act together, I started to do well enough to be able to transfer to UC-Berkeley where I got my ass kicked around by smarter students. Nevertheless, I worked harder and graduated. Part of college education is growing up and part of being an engineer is finding solutions to real life problems. Looking back, I think I succeeded.