A Punishing Educational Curriculum



                                     by WALTER BRASCH 


With the nation’s unemployment rate hovering about 10 percent, recent high school graduates are escaping reality by going to college, and college grads are avoiding reality by entering grad school. The result is that it now takes an M.A. to become a shift manager at a fast food restaurant.

Colleges have stayed ahead of the Recession by becoming business models, where students are “inventory units,” and success is based upon escalating profit. Increasing the number of incoming units, class size, and tuition, while not increasing teaching and support staff, leads some colleges to believe they are solvent in a leaking economy. Budgets for academics are decreasing; budgets for dorms are increasing. Enrollment in degree-granting institutions is expected to be about 19.1 million in 2012, an increase of about 25 percent from 2000, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.

Desperate to destroy their image as places of scholarship, colleges are using the 98.6 admissions criteria—admit almost anyone with a body temperature. Colleges may claim they admit only students with at least a 3.0 grade point average, which at some high schools is about half the student body, but it’s likely that students with lower averages aren’t recruited because they’re already working as lab specimens.

Across the nation, Developmental Education classes are increasing, with some departments now within the Top 5 in the college. For those who don’t speak “academicese,” that means more students are in college who have basic readin’, ’riting, and ’rithmetic problems.

Nevertheless, there are still a few hold-outs among colleges where students actually go to study, develop their minds, and hope to make great contributions to society. This, of course, in a declining economy, is not acceptable.

At Neargreat Tech, when the Admissions department failed to increase enrollment because most high school grads didn’t want to be associated with geeks, the President convened a Judiciary Review Board to reduce the college’s academic reputation. First in was the class valedictorian.

“Bennish, this is the fifth time this semester you’ve been caught sneaking into the library. This administration just doesn’t know what to do with you.”

“Sir, maybe I could increase my community service and read books to the ill and illiterate.”

“Why can’t you just go to our football games Saturday afternoons, then party and get drunk like a normal college student?”

“Because, sir, we don’t have a football team.”

“Then start one! If it’s as bad as it could be, you’ll have an excuse to drink. Next!”

Next in was a student accused of disturbing the peace.

“Rachmaninoff, your advisor says you’re a pretty good musician, but you only want to play the classical stuff. We’re assigning you to the marching band.”

“But, Dean, I play the piano.”

“Great! The band needs a pianist.”

“Sir, it might be difficult to carry a piano along Broadway. Besides, there are only 20 members in the band anyhow.”

“Even better! Pick an instrument. Banjo. Double bass. Electric guitar. They need everything! Dismissed!”

Next to be called to face a disciplinary hearing was Schopenhauer. “You were seen lying on the grass beneath a tree in the quad,” said the president. “The campus police claim you were thinking. We should give you an opportunity to defend yourself against this egregious accusation. What exactly were you doing?”


“That’s outrageous! You know we don’t like our students to think. What’s your major?”

“Philosophy, sir.”

 “That’s the problem,” the president declared. “Since you’re only a freshman, and probably don’t know better, I’ll be lenient. You are sentenced to a day of writing graffiti on the university’s bathroom walls.” He paused a moment, then snapped, “And don’t let me catch you writing anything intelligent on those walls!”

Later that afternoon, the president met with his staff.

“This isn’t going to work,” said the dejected president. “We can’t catch every practicing scholar on campus. They’re just snickering at our rules. If we can’t stop education, then we won’t be able to raise our enrollment and get performance bonuses.”

That’s when Winslow, a newly-appointed deputy assistant dean spoke up. “Perhaps we need to look elsewhere for our inspiration. What is it that almost every college but ours has?” He didn’t wait for a response when he declared the college needed fraternities and sororities.

“How do we know the students will even want to participate?” asked the president. “Most of our students have no desire to participate in a system that humiliates them, strips them of their individuality, and causes them to walk six abreast down a narrow street while singing off-key.”

Perhaps,” suggested the deputy assistant dean, “we can tap our reserve fund and build a couple of fraternity houses, maybe a sorority house or two.”

“Will that guarantee we’ll get more common students to raise the enrollment?”

“If you build it, they will party,” said the deputy assistant dean.

“Winslow may have a bright idea here,” said the president, who immediately promoted him to vice-president of academics and parties.


 [Walter Brasch bracketed several years as a college professor with work as a journalist and multimedia writer/producer. His current book is Before the First Snow, a light-hearted, yet tragic, look at what happens when an energy company moves into a region, lures citizens with high-paying jobs in a depressed economy, but which may have significant health and environmental issues as byproducts.]


Obama Outpacing Rivals Among Academics, Educators

The Politico has an article up today analyzing political contributions from academic institutions and the education community, a constituency whose political behavior is often taken for granted and therefore typically does not draw much analysis from the mainstream media. The article is based on a study conducted by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics and available on the Open Secrets website.

This appears to be yet another unique area from which Obama draws strength, and The Politico even took the time to come up with a clever title to reflect that:

Professors have a crush on Obama

Barack Obama appears to be winning the faculty lounge straw poll -- his presidential campaign is cultivating academics and pacing the field in collecting cash from them.

Obama, whose website features an "Academics for Obama" page, raised nearly $1.5 million in the first half of the year from people who work for colleges and universities, according to an analysis of campaign finance data by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. And that's 55 percent more than the $939,000 brought in by the next biggest professor's pet, fellow Democratic senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

Obama's nearly $1.5 million figure represents just over 21% of the $7 million total given to all Presidential campaigns from both parties so far this cycle. The education community is an important constituency, especially in Democratic Party politics. Via Open Secrets:

Virtually all the money in this category comes from individuals, as school districts, colleges and universities rarely form PACs. This doesn't mean they're not players in Washington, however. Education interests ranked No. 3 on the list of top industries to Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry during the 2004 cycle, with $8.4 million.

As mentioned in the excerpt above, Hillary Clinton comes in second with $938,700 in donations from education, performing disproportionately bad against Obama among teachers and professors in comparison to total fundraising. The same is true of the $247,411 total that Edwards collected from the "industry." The top Republicans in terms of donations from the academic and educational world were Mitt Romney at $448,030 and Rudy Giuliani at $366,350 (not surprisingly, Democrats do much better among academics and educators than Republicans).

There are a few different explanations for Obama's dominance among scholars. It is generally commented that he comes off as the most cerebral of the candidates on the campaign trail, and not just because he wasn't dumb enough to champion the Iraq war. The way he answers questions--often in great detail and with honest, intellectual justification--has drawn both criticism and praise, because while he can seem both smart and genuine, he can also be long-winded and needlessly indirect. He may simply be viewed as the smartest of the candidates, having been President of the Harvard Law Review and a Constitutional Law lecturer at one of the nation's most prestigious academic institutions. Another possible explanation is that teachers and professors feel a certain kinship with "one of their own," a variation on "identity politics" stemming from Obama's tenure at the University of Chicago from 1993-2004. Also, there is a possibility that the excitement among professors and teachers is partially influenced by the great excitement among the students they teach. Finally, it is certainly possible (and perhaps likely) that professors are supporting Obama for a more implicit reason, or for a combination of many of the explanations offered above and others left unmentioned. Larry Sabato takes a stab at guessing why he is popular at universities:

he seems to have "a special appeal among academics, particularly those at four-year institutions," said University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato.

"Even at places like UVA, which are more conservative than most, it's overwhelmingly Obama," said Sabato, asserting academics see Obama's candidacy as one of change and a test of the nation's tolerance. "You have some feminists who are supporting Hillary Clinton, but that is really the only demographic supporting her, which is quite surprising."

Whatever the case, it seems Obama is emerging as the candidate of the academics. It would be interesting to see how support divides among university faculty and pre-K-12 teachers.

Finally, here's the total figures for contributions from the education industry to each campaign. Note the large gaps between Obama and Clinton and Clinton and Romney.

Barack Obama: $1,459,027
Hillary Clinton: $938,700
Mitt Romney: $448,030
Rudy Giuliani: $366,350
John Edwards: $247,411
Bill Richardson: $214,260
John McCain: $158,590
Chris Dodd: $127,016
Joe Biden: $75,500
Sam Brownback: $23,097
Ron Paul: $20,755
Tom Vilsack: $20,350
Mike Huckabee: $16,700
Dennis Kucinich: $13,600
Tom Tancredo: $6,525
Duncan Hunter: $4,450
Jim Gilmore: $2,300
Mike Gravel: $400
Available  at Opensecrets

There's more...

An academic discipline dies because it is progressive?!?

Cross posted at dKos.

Advance warning: this is somewhat more historiographic and academic than what I usually blog about. The payoff, particularly for activists, is at the end.

I didn't see the editorial when it was published on Friday. I never would have seen it had a friend in the sociology department not forwarded it to me today.

In the pages of the Wall Street Journal, Wilfred McClay, a professor at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and co-director of the Ethics and Public Policy Center's Evangelicals and Civic Life program, published what I think may be the single most anti-intellectual screed I've ever seen from someone claiming to be a legitimate scholar. Considering that this is a man who, in the pages of Commentary Magazine, claimed that the Democratic Party is only driven by opposition to Dumbya and "aging left-wing lions and lionesses," and that it is funded solely by "the most extreme and irresponsible elements in its ranks," that's not much of a surprise, but it's still disgusting.

There's more...


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