Monday, December 23, 2013
Two of the greatest minds in pedagogy recently came together to ponder some of the profoundest educational conundrums of the era. Or, to put it more prosaically, I called up a former student of mine for a chat. I, of course, hold a prestigious tenured professorship at a California community college. He is a lecturer in English at an out-of-state university. No, we are not universally recognized as the leading experts in our respective fields, but we figure that's mostly the fault of other people. Whenever we talk, we quickly reach agreement in our perspectives and opinions. It immediately follows that the many deficiencies in modern education must stem mostly from a failure to sufficiently adopt our preferred policies and emulate our instructional practices. Just listen to us! It's really quite a pity that so straightforward a solution to so many problems continues to languish unrecognized.
However, we should accept the need for a modicum of caution. There is an unfortunate gap in our grasp of the educational enterprise. Upon comparing notes, PiD and I have come to the unhappy realization that our immense intellects have yet to figure out what makes our students go. (Or not go.) It's perplexing!
For example, I told my entire algebra class that our mastery of the quadratic formula meant that we would never again face a quadratic equation for which “no solution” was a satisfactory answer. Solutions would always exist, whether rational, irrational, or complex. Always! Yet on the next exam several of my students labeled some of the quadratic equations as “prime” and solemnly wrote “no solution” in the answer blank.
PiD advised his English composition class that rewrites were a fundamental component of composition and that course grades would rely much more on their diligence in rewriting and improving their essays than on generating sparkling first drafts. As the academic term progressed, several students asked him how to get better grades. “Have you submitted rewrites of all of your essays?” he asked. “We didn't know we had to do that!” they told him. “But the due dates for rewrites are on the syllabus and I send out e-mail reminders as the dates approach!” “Yeah, but we can't know those unless we look at the syllabus or check our e-mail. You should have told us in class.” “But I did tell you in class!” “Well, maybe. But did you check that we were in class that day? I'm too busy to come to class every day, you know.”
A student wrote me a note in response to a problem on the calculus final exam. The problem asked, “What is the area inside the circle r = 3 and outside the cardioid r = 2(1 – cos θ)?” My student wrote, “Failed because I forgot the eq. for a circle in polar coordinates.” Um. Did you notice? The problem said, “the circle r = 3”?
The great minds of the age crumple in defeat.
brain damage. It would explain so much!
If only I had paid more attention back then.