A Big Disconnect

Posted on October 24, 2015


As I prepared to submit my midterm grades on a course I am teaching online this semester, I tried to remember back when I was eighteen or nineteen and also in college.

Was I treated like we treat students today? We handfeed them, pamper them, watch over them like the proverbial soccer moms, make things as easy for them as possible.

Ok, I am exaggerating, but only a bit. I suspect a lot of you reading this column are teachers, from K-12 all the way through graduate and professional schools. We want everyone to succeed. That is a grand principle. I subscribe to it. No child left behind. Rah!

I also don’t want anyone to become a drug addicted criminal.

Unfortunately, we live in a fallen world. People fail. People take drugs. People do mean things. People are irresponsible and, let me be as delicate as I can in this column, a lot of people in college just don’t give a darn. They are too busy doing other things.

In my role as the instructor, I, of course, have to keep records. Which I do, zealously. I keep records of what my online students do—quizzes, discussions, rabbit trails, intellectual journals, examinations, etc.—and, by extension of the process, what they don’t do.

At this midterm, of thirty who enrolled, six dropped out (about average), thirteen were failing, nine were doing extremely well, and two were there.

So, about one third were hitting on all eight cylinders, getting into the course and requirements with enthusiasm, and it has been a pleasure to interact with them. The course, by the way, is the first half of the history of the Christian church.

The rest seemed to be a space ship to Mars, with stops here and there along the Strip. Their performance leads me to believe they could care less about the class. Perhaps they are working, have a full time job, were pregnant, got stoned, or their computer became infected and died. Some explanations of course are genuine. The rest were probably good enough to fool their parents.

But, as I once told a student, “ok, you have a full time job. Good for you. You also have a full time obligation to this class. Your choice.”
In olden days, those wayward souls just spun out into space, perhaps having learned a lesson, perhaps not.

Today we ask instructors to not only submit grades at midterm, but also to determine why students with bad or failing grades are failing. Have they been in class? When was the last time? Have they ever been to class? Have they submitted assignments on time?

I don’t remember any of this from when I was in college. If I failed a course (I did), no one inquired of my psychological frame of mind, sent me to a counselor, or called my parents in. Are you kidding? I was in Durham, North Carolina, my parents were in New Jersey, and I sank or swam on my own.

In this better than in loco parentis, the theory that the college is taking the role of parents in the welfare of their children?
And, why, when all this energy is devoted to saving and making students feel good, and, presumably, do well in college, it seems that high school graduates of half a century or more ago were better educated than college graduates of today?

The answer is we are overwhelmed with information, and underwhelmed with knowledge. They are not the same.

Asking your smart phone what happened on December 7, 1941 is not the same as having read about it. Or even seen a movie, or a documentary. We can google anything, but there is absolutely NO substitute for leaning about it.

You may ask, what’s he talking about? A million examples come to mind, from, obviously, history, but also from science, religion, politics and just about everything under the sun. You cannot, or will not, master anything by dipping into the subject via google or yahoo or an app on your smart phone.

Do you want your surgeon to stop in the middle of the operation: “Bubba, hold this open while I google where we go next. I’ve never seen that mess,” pointing to your insides exposed on the operating table.

Or the pilot asking his co-pilot: “Hey Steve, google the procedure for a fire in the port side engine, will you? I see a little smoke,” the pilot says as he talks to his co-pilot, looking back out at the engine on fire.

“Sure enough captain. Oh, crap, can’t get a Wi-Fi right now….” And the scene fades away, as does the plane from the radar screen.

You get the point. Now, what to do about this sad state of affairs. Tune next week for the fix.

Published in my OpEd “The Port Rail” as Information, Knowledge, Two Different Things in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday October 18, 2015

Posted in: Life in America