I teach a college class that meets one day a week. With my original roots in education, I am having a great time being back in the classroom, if only on a limited basis…
That is probably why the buzz surrounding the new book “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses” by Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa at the University of Virginia caught my attention, especially since it happened to coincide with the start of another semester. As described in the New York Times article, “How Much Do College Students Learn, and Study?” By Jaques Steinberg, (www.nytimes.com)– “In the book, and in an accompanying study being released Tuesday, the authors followed more than 2,300 undergraduates at two dozen universities, and concluded that 45% ‘demonstrated no significant gains in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and written communications during the first two years of college’.”
No significant gains….that can’t be good.
When I read the article, a few things came to mind. The first — if I were paying college tuition “no significant gains” would not be a comforting thought! And then I remembered a comment that was made when I was briefed before the start of the first college class I was preparing to teach over a year ago. “They really won’t read much.” Which, correctly or incorrectly I took to mean –so don’t assign them much reading; they won’t do it.
There might be something to that comment because also in the above mentioned article was this quote from the book. “…they found that 32 percent of the students whom they followed did not, in a typical semester, take ‘any courses with more than 40 pages of reading per week’ and that 50 percent ‘did not take a single course in which they wrote more than 20 pages over the course of the semester.’ ”
In fact the students in my first class last year did read and they did write. It took a while for a few of them to realize that reading was an important part of a class on ethics. The wealth of information available and the theory and history of ethics requires a fair amount of reading just to gain a passing acquaintance with the subject. And then there was that business sense of mine which would not allow me to deliver to them anything less than the full value for their tuition dollars.
Not one student (in anonymous exit evaluations submitted after grades were already recorded) made a comment that the material was too difficult or the reading too demanding.
In the role of teacher, I am finding that the questions about what I demand of myself and my students are very similar to the questions we ask in business: Is there moral obligation to deliver an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay? Am I delivering to the customer/student the full value for what they were charged for their product, their service or their class?
Are accountability and excellence less important for students and instructors in education today than for businesses or other sectors today?
I think that the following questions are fair questions, no matter if we are talking about business, industry, healthcare, education or government:
• Do I demand excellence of myself? Do I think excellence is a realistic expectation for others?
• Is there a moral obligation associated with my work?
• As a leader do I have an obligation to do my best to create an environment where each person feels included and empowered?
• Does my behavior convey that I place importance on accountability and responsibility?
Excellence—you know it when you see it!
Every December parents and grandparents are treated to the annual ritual of the primary school holiday music program. With two granddaughters in public grade school in another state, my wife volunteered, this past holiday season, to make a mid-week trip to attend their program. She is a music lover, and encouraged our own kids (trumpet, piano, and viola lessons) and now the grandkids, to value music and music education.
She noted that there was a particularly beautiful choral piece performed by the 5th grade choir. The choir director provided a little background on the music, the composer and then mentioned to the audience that it was a “very difficult piece.” At the conclusion of the selection the room was initially quiet, she related “and then the wave of a standing ovation overtook the gym turned concert hall.” The “difficult” piece had been performed flawlessly!
I could not help but reflect when my wife and I discussed the concert after she returned home, that at the heart of this was one music teacher, a leader who clearly believed in excellence, believed that she was accountable to herself and her students to offer her best, and believed that together she and her students were capable of mastering that “very difficult piece” and so much more.
Then I thought of the Greek proverb….WHAT IS GOOD TO KNOW IS DIFFICULT TO LEARN. I think I am going to include that proverb in the college course I am teaching this semester.