This semester I am teaching a First Year Seminar for the first time and enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would. I knew when we dove into my chosen topic (From the Walking Dead to Superheroes: Exploring human challenges through comics) that I would be happy, but I originally saw these early more orientation-course assignments and discussions as just something we needed to do before we could get to the good stuff. Sometimes it is good to be wrong.
Last week’s class blog prompt asking students about their career and life plans really gave me some pause and resulted in my personal blog post (What Career Path?) and once again this week’s class blog prompt has made me think about my own views of our topic – Education and Learning. I asked my students to think about what their education is for. There is the obvious answer (which we addressed last week talking about career plans and paths) but this week I want them to think about the less obvious reasons – the reasons that I am in education and the reasons that I teach. I was even able to weave in our First Year Seminar common text (Don’t Believe Everything You Think) and Morehead State University’s QEP (MSU Clear Thinking = Monitor assumptions ~ Scrutinize evidence ~ Uncover solutions) so I believe I should receive triple-bonus score.
When I am not teaching FYS and directing the Morehead Writing Project, my time, energy, and head space is devoted to the cause of College Readiness (well that and Plants vs. Zombies 2 but that is another blog post). It is no secret that too many of our students arrive on college campuses underprepared. Of course, no matter what the doomsayers and bleating press say, this is not a new problem or worse problem than in decades past.
And yet, in some ways I think the problem is worse. Not for the reasons that are so loudly trumpeted about (terrible teachers, slacking schools, stupid students) but quite simply the focus on tests above all else. Not only is this punitive atmosphere driving good educators out of the profession and sucking time, resources, and spirit away from education (weeks of instruction time lost to test prep and taking and hundreds of dollars spent on test purchases and licensing see High Cost of Overtesting for details), it is focusing on all the wrong things. This testing culture is the antithesis of education and it must be stopped.
Our traditional system of education must be adapted to our new reality which includes a need for creativity, critical thinking, and solutions to problems that we don’t even know we have yet (see Education Today and Tomorrow and A Vision of Students Today) and yet we persist in this factory-model of education that puts students on a conveyor belt with only brief pauses at each teacher’s work station and heaven forbid if someone wants to pull a kid off the belt or stop the line. While we all know and love the factory scene from I Love Lucy, we all know that there is more truth than we like to admit — and not just on the factory floor.
Too many of my students arrive underprepared for college, not because they are deficient readers and writers, but because they have not been taught to question, to criticize, and to think. This is in part because of the K-12 emphasis on testing but also because as a society we tend to believe pseudoscience and the catchy sound bite. I hope my students see that college is for more than credentials. I hope my students realize that credentials are ephemeral but stupid is forever.