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Re: On Light: Surviving College

From: Rick Tarara [mailto:rbtarara@SPRYNET.COM]
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

My experience was not 35 years ago, but rather 26-22 years ago, but this
sounds more or less familiar. Unlike John Cooper I didn't go to an elite
science school like CalTech or Berkely, so it wasn't quite so much of a
sink or swim type situation; meaning the way was littered with bodies of
those that didn't make it, however the effort provided by us students still
was there. Partly there was a lot of pressure from fellow pre-med students
in the basic courses who tended to allow the professor to keep the level
relatively high.

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.

Ditto, I used start studying for my Physics test 2 days in advance and the 3
or 4 days in advance for the final exam. I overheard one of my students as
I was handing out the final exam, commenting to another student" . . . I
don't think cramming for a physics final a fews hours the night before works
. . ."

I guess that most of my students would think it a horribly unreasonable
burden to have to study more than a few hours the night before their final
exam. (I may be exagerating a bit, but it certainly seems this way at

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.

My school was a private university, in the mid-seventies, which means that
many students had cars, and for the one's who didn't (me) there was no lack
of friends to drive you places. Never the less the science majors (or at
least the ones who expected to get A's and B's) spent a lot of time on

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?

I agree that the two big differences are the competition for student time.
We have many students who in addition to the above distractions; spend an
ungodly amount of time working at jobs. 16, 20 and 26 hour work weeks are
not uncommon.

Its not just the private schools that have to worry about cutting their own
throats. My school SDSU (South Dakota State U) is a four year public
land-grant institution and we have all the pressures for keeping warm bodies
that I hear described by colleagues at the public institutions.

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!


AMEN, we are afflicted by North Central as well, and I frankly wonder if its
worth it to be accredited by them.

My on personal take about grade inflation is that it is basically impossible
to fight it; unless everybody agree to fight it, and how would an
accrediting organization enforce the preventing grade inflation; it would
probably be unfair to students to suddenly go back to grading practices of
the fifties; inflation happens gradually and reduction of inflation should
probably happen gradually.

I think a reasonable method (that accrediting agencies could enforce easily
would be to require that transcripts indicate a students GPA as well as a
running five year average (or so) of the average GPA for that major or
program. That way anybody evaluating, seeing that 3.9 GPA compared to the
average of a 3.85 might not be so impressed. An outside agency (like an
accrediting organization, or state legislature) would have to enforce doing
this. It would take an awfully brave school to unilaterally start such a
thing on their own with their student's transcripts.

Just a few hot weather thoughts, not necessarily thought through, but
offered up for discussion.

Joel Rauber