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Re: On Light: Surviving College

----- Original Message -----
From: "Ludwik Kowalski" <KowalskiL@MAIL.MONTCLAIR.EDU>

Most students do not mind spending time on things they like,
or things which they consider important. Last two messages
(Michael and Joel) confirmed that we, the entire educational
system, fail to inspire most young students. How does the
situation differ from what was common 50 or 100 years ago?

Speaking for 35 years ago, I don't remember being greatly inspired to work
hard, but I did feel it was my 'job' at that point in my life to do the work
required to do well in school. There was a sense of purpose, a sense of
obligation (to myself and my parents) that 'inspired' long hours of work
(which never started until 10 PM but often extended to the wee hours of the
morning!) All the assigned problems were done, all the papers done, all the
readings (well most of them ;-) were done, and quizzes and tests required
significant study time.

Even then, with the group of physics majors I hung out with, we 'played'
from dinner until 10 most nights. WE DID NOT go out drinking every
night--hardly at all in fact, and then only on the weekends. We also only
took Friday and Saturday nights off. We had no cars (actually forbidden at
Notre Dame back then) and everyone lived on campus. While we went to movies
and watched some TV, there were no VCRs, not rental tapes, and again (I
emphasize this), no cars to use to run to the mall, to home, to the bars and
restaurants (not that we had any money to do this), or to other
distractions. WE HAD NO INTERNET, no instant messaging, no email to rob us
of hours each week.

I did an interesting assignment with my liberal arts class last year--having
them keep a one day journal listing all the times they encountered 20th
century technology during their day (and then to comment on their dependence
on such technology.) The logs opened my eyes to the fact that these
students are filling their days with activities well outside the scope of
what we would consider academics. There is just too much competition for
their time and attention. Can Colleges and Universities 'turn back the
clock' and provide (force) environments that are better suited to learning?
Probably not unilaterally, at least not without risking mass exodus by the
students. What is the answer? I think Wes has it. If we all demanded more
for a decent grade, then the realities of the situation might be brought to
bear--good grades take time and effort! Can we do this without cutting our
own throats--especially the private schools? Here is where I think North
Central could be really helpful (instead of forcing us into tons of busy
work on assessment). If the accrediting agencies would demand that
grade-inflation be rolled back and that grades reflect actual and realistic
performance (I guess assessment IS part of this), then maybe we would all
have an 'excuse' for getting tough and demanding again!


Richard W. Tarara
Associate Professor of Physics
Department of Chemistry & Physics
Saint Mary's College
Notre Dame, IN 46556

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