Saturday, September 24, 2011

Surprised And Shocked Follow-Up

I recently posted about the struggles some of my students had with an open-book exam. Several readers commented, making an assortment of valid points, which prompted me to think a little more about the situation.

Harper asked: Are these freshmen? Do you ever get contacted by their mothers? While I do have one kid that struggles with organization, even he knows to take the basics to class.
No helicopter parents, thank God. Since it's a required core course, I have a mix of grade levels. There are freshmen, sophomores, and even a few juniors. Most of the juniors are transfers from the local community college. Here's what I think is the underlying problem.

Generally speaking, our public school system is failing to do what it is supposed to do. Back when most of us went to school we learned the basics - the three R's, if you will. We also were held responsible for our behavior and actions (or inactions). In today's schools, the curriculum has been dumbed down and special interest groups have been pandered to (see, for example, this article discussing the recent controversy over textbooks used in the Texas public school system). Students are coddled. If they don't study, or forget to bring their homework to school, they are met with understanding and counseling instead of negative consequences. Thus they learn that it doesn't matter if they screw up - they don't get in trouble. They also graduate from high school woefully unprepared for college.

Community colleges are now basically two-year extensions of high school (at least on the academic side - on the vocational side, they still seem to be doing a good job). At our university we have a one-year remedial program for students with poor reading, riting, and 'rithmatic skills. So even at the university level we are doing the high schools' job to a certain extent.
I think you should capitalize on their failures. Buy some Scantrons and pencils and offer them at a 500% mark up to those that forget. Perhaps the price could go up with each subsequent purchase by the same student.
Several years ago I did that. I would bring extra scantrons and pencils to class. If a student didn't have one I gave them the choice of buying one from me for $5 or running over to the bookstore and back, with no extended time to complete the exam. Of course, they ran instead to the dean and complained.
I explained that I was simply reinforcing what we taught in the business school: buy low sell high, the time value of money, and opportunity cost. Of course that didn't fly, so we came to a mutual agreement that I wouldn't teach that class any more. Now, however, we have a new dean and a new department chair.
I sense a deja vu moment approaching.
Bear said: I'm gonna make my little brother read this, then re-warn him for the 734th time about the dangers of majoring in Beer & Girls during his higher education.
Bear, I would suggest your little brother major in whatever academic discipline he's interested in, and minor in Beer & Girls. That's what I did, and it only took me ten years to get my undergraduate degree.
My parents, however, cut me off after two.
 Old NFO commented: That is pretty @#@&* sad... Glad I'm not gonna be around when this generation takes over (if they can).
The sad part is that these kids aren't stupid, they're just unprepared (see my comments above). Once they're properly motivated and learn that they'll be held accountable, they shape up pretty quick. It's just getting them there that's tough. The scary part is that a large number of this generation will never learn the concept of personal accountability, because they've been raised with a dependency addiction and an entitlement mentality - "the gum'mint will take care of me."
kerrcarto pointed out: Every year (when I rated highways for TxDot) we had to get certified. It was a three day course. Two teaching days and one test day. It was an open book test. I have seen 40 year old men flunk it. I always wondered how the fuck you can fail an open book test, but year after year I watched it happen.
I can't speak to the TxDOT test, but I think there's two immediate reasons some of my students stumbled on the open book test. First, they didn't come to, or didn't pay attention to, the discussions in class where we explained the material. The test is written such that you can't just look up the answers, but must apply the concepts to a specific context. For example, I don't ask them the definition of a transaction processing system. That would take about 15 seconds to find in the glossary. Instead, I ask something like "HEB (a local grocery store) has approximately 10,000 customers daily. Each customer buys an average of 20 items. What type of information system should HEB use to capture and process data about customer purchases?" If they don't know that a transaction processing system is designed to collect and process detailed information associated with high-volume transactions in a short time frame, they'll have a hard time figuring out the answer.

The second reason is that, again as previously mentioned, the students' reading, comprehension, and reasoning skills are poorly developed in the public school systems.
This turned into a longer post than I intended, so I'll stop for now. But the problems with public schools is one of my hot buttons, so I'm sure I'll have more to say at a future date.

1 comment:

JT said...

My kids' school claims to be about turning out students that are ready for college. Check back for a review in about 18 months.

I have typed and deleted pages of response about public schools, but will settle for saying that it is a multi-faceted clusterf*ck.