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Re: Make sure students will be ready for college

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  • George Thomas
    Lloyd, Pam, Brian, et al....   (More notes from the field ....)   Naturally, after I read your comments and letters below I was reminded of my current....
    Message 1 of 9 , Feb 16, 2010
      Lloyd, Pam, Brian, et al....
      (More notes "from the field"....)
      Naturally, after I read your comments and letters below I was reminded of my current.... interesting..... college teaching gig. You'll find that I even bold-faced and enlarged the statement below on college teachers disagreeing with HS teachers over whether HS gives graduates good preparation.  "Wow!" says it all.
      That "cultural milieu" from which most prison inmate students approach their state-supported college education programs, certainly shapes how they approach the challenges.  Your listing of a sample of the many contradictions which teen- and twenty-something students observe around them is magnified in the prison population.  Often a "good grade" seems to have been coaxed through some form of under-handed cheating, but just as often it seems not.  After all else fails, I simply do what the others do here, and remind them that cheating may give them an extra point or two in average, but they will notice consequences if they try to move on academically.  (Many of the lessons learned earlier clearly contradict my naive, well-meaning sermon).
      But more on the notorious 20-something percent "success-rate": Under their circumstances, and with whatever limitations they have developed individually, it's amazing how well some of them take to college-level learning.  Some of the best students there might go on in life having learned at least as much from their brushes with the Texas Dept. of Corrections and related experiences, as anything they gained from high school.  The genuinely motivated ones seem to really "dig" the archaeology intro class..... (All puns intended).  The students who remained after they learned they would not be learning techniques for digging under the walls, seem to belong in the class.
      Self-disclosure time:  I'm writing my courses and developing them within this system, using prison inmates as my own guinea pigs.  (I can sleep at night, knowing I'm doing the best I can).  Once I manage to find a teaching "gig" in some "normal" community college, I might find it refreshing that there are still some students left who learned much of a healthy "cultural milieu" without the "aid" of some prison experience.  I remember those old, old days, and sometimes I think there's been a Rip Van Winkle experience somewhere in my more recent background.
      Many of them may be smart, but these days it seems nobody has learned how to write!
      Re: Make sure students will be ready for college
          Posted by: "mep1mep" mep1mep@... pmaack
          Date: Mon Feb 15, 2010 6:33 pm ((PST))

      That is a beautiful response, Lloyd. And thank you for the "big picture"reminder of the ultimate goal.  Sometimes I forget, myself.


      From: Lloyd Miller <lloyd.miller@...>
      To: SACC-L@yahoogroups.com
      Sent: Tue, February 2, 2010 10:36:23 AM
      Subject: Re: [SACC-L] Make sure students will be ready for college

      You make a good point, Pam.  If high school teachers obsessed over the realization that they had little control over student learning no matter what they did or didn't do, they wouldn't be able to continue in their jobs.  So, most of them try to teach as well as they can and hope for the best.  I think it's a coping mechanism.

      The Des Moines Register (Iowa's "leading" newspaper) is forever wringing its hands about how to improve education: Pay teachers more?  Get tough and fire more of the bad ones?  Tie teacher pay to student success?  Whatever the topic, it always seems to revolve around teachers.  Rarely discussed is that administrators (with a wary eye toward school boards), not teachers, are the "deciders."

      As anthropologists, we recognize that the cultural milieu in which students, teachers, parents and everyone else exist has a profound effect on education, as it does on politics, religion and other aspects of society.  Our problem is getting non-anthropologists to understand and deal with this.  Several years ago I was able to get a letter on this topic published in the DM Register.  I also wrote a commentary in 1995 on the topic for the AAA's Anthropology News (then called "Anthropology Newsletter").  I'll email a copy of it to whomever would like to read it.  The letter is reprinted below.


      (Published in the Des Moines Register)

      February 14, 2006

      Dear Editor

            In the Register’s recent dialog on teacher pay (2/13/06), both Linda Lantor Fandel and Andie Dominick are right.  Iowa teachers deserve better salaries because their pay is abysmal, and no, higher pay probably will not improve student learning.

            Schools are run by adults and thus reflect their values and behavior.  High school students are astute observers of adult behavior.  They recognize and remember well the contradictions between what adults say and what they do.  They’re told that learning is important but they see exceptions made for the best athletes, and they experience social promotion irrespective of academic performance.  They’re told to revere their teachers but see that teacher pay is less than that of any profession requiring comparable levels of education.  They’re told that such values as honesty, integrity, care and concern for the welfare of fellow human beings and the planet are important.  However, what they see are politicians who lie, corporate heads who cheat and people in power who are grossly incompetent.  Few are held accountable.  Many students decide that personal accountability is just not that important.

            To improve our schools, we must understand that our cultural behavior often has consequences beyond what we intend, and if those consequences are harmful, we need to change the behavior.

      Lloyd Miller
      650 48th St.
      Des Moines, IA 50312

      On Feb 1, 2010, at 7:50 PM, mep1mep wrote:

      > The article is about perceptions.  It doesn't seem particularly surprising that most high school teachers *think* they are doing a good job.  It would be rather depressing to continue a job which produced only a 25 percent success rate, even if it were true.  And from my no-doubt biased community college perspective, I *think* they are a big, hairy mess of deficiencies.  No surprise there.
      > I find it rather surprising that they are passing these perceptions on as somehow "meaningful".
      > ________________________________
      > From: "Lynch, Brian M" <blynch@...>
      > To: SACC-L@yahoogroups.com
      > Sent: Mon, February 1, 2010 2:59:58 PM
      > Subject: RE: [SACC-L] Make sure students will be ready for college
      > Lloyd, thanks for sharing this.
      > It puzzles me.
      > I don't understand not only the so called "disconnect, " but also the
      > mystery around how to figure out what the gap is all about. Here in the
      > community colleges we receive 75 percent of our incoming students (or
      > more) who test in at the level of "developmental reading, writing and
      > math." They can't read or write (or do basic math) at the "college
      > level." Do colleges have mysterious standards that are invisible to
      > those trying to understand things at the high school level? Or do high
      > school students somehow "leak" what they know/learn in the months
      > between graduating and entering college? Can our curriculum be so
      > different from h.s. to college that we can't actually comprehend why
      > students graduation from the former are somehow mysteriously lacking
      > when they enter the former?
      > As I said, it puzzles me.
      > Brian
      > From: SACC-L@yahoogroups. com [mailto:SACC-L@yahoogroups. com] On Behalf
      > Of Lloyd Miller
      > Sent: Monday, February 01, 2010 2:50 PM
      > To: SACC-L@yahoogroups. com
      > Subject: [SACC-L] Make sure students will be ready for college
      > You have been sent an online news article from Lloyd Miller as a
      > courtesy of DesMoinesRegister. com.
      > Article Title:
      > Make sure students will be ready for college
      > To view the contents on www.desmoinesregist er.com, go to:
      > http://www.desmoine sregister. com/apps/ pbcs.dll/ article?AID= /201002010405
      > /OPINION03/2010308

      HIgh school teachers think their students are receiving good college preparation. College teachers disagree. Wow!
      1b. Re: Make sure students will be ready for college
          Posted by: "Lloyd Miller" lloyd.miller@...
          Date: Mon Feb 15, 2010 6:33 pm ((PST))


      As soon as I read your statement, I thought of this essay by Roger Scruton (pasted below).  I was going to write a response, but Scruton says it more eloquently than I can.  I think you'll like this.


      July 13, 2007
      Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged
      By Roger Scruton
      RECOMMEND? (6)
      It is one of the most deeply rooted superstitions of our age that the purpose of education is to benefit those who receive it. What we teach in school, what subjects we encourage in universities and the methods of instruction are all subject to the one overarching test: what do the kids get out of it? And this test soon gives way to another, yet more pernicious in its effect, but no less persuasive in the thinking of educationists: is it relevant? And by “relevant” is invariably meant “relevant to the interests of the kids themselves”.
      From these superstitions have arisen all the recipes for failure that have dominated our educational systems: the proliferation of ephemeral subjects, the avoidance of difficulties, methods of teaching that strive to maintain interest at all costs – even at the cost of knowledge. Whether we put the blame on Rousseau, whose preposterous book Emile began the habit of sentimentalising the process whereby knowledge is transferred from one brain to another, on John Dewey, whose hostility to “rote learning” and old-fashioned discipline led to the fashion for “child- centred learning”, or simply on the egalitarian ideas which were bound to sweep through our schools when teachers were no longer properly remunerated – in whatever way we apportion blame, it is clear that we have entered a period of rapid educational decline, in which some people learn masses, but the masses learn little or nothing at all.
      True teachers do not provide knowledge as a benefit to their pupils; they treat their pupils as a benefit to knowledge. Of course they love their pupils, but they love knowledge more. And their overriding concern is to pass on that knowledge by lodging it in brains that will last longer than their own. Their methods are not “child-centred” but “knowledge-centred”, and the focus of their interest is the subject, rather than the things that might make that subject for the time being “relevant” to matters of no intellectual concern. Any attempt to make education relevant risks reducing it to those parts that are of relevance to the uneducated – which are invariably the parts with the shortest life span. A relevant curriculum is one from which the difficult core of knowledge has been excised, and while it may be relevant now, it will be futile in a few years’ time. Conversely, irrelevant-seeming knowledge, when properly acquired, is not
      merely a discipline that can be adapted and applied; it is likely to be exactly what is needed in
      circumstances that nobody foresaw. The “irrelevant” sciences of Boolean algebra and Fregean logic gave birth, in time, to the digital computer; the “irrelevant” studies of Greek, Latin and ancient history enabled a tiny number of British graduates to govern an empire that stretched around the world; while the “irrelevant” paradoxes of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason caused the theory of relativity to dawn in the mind of Albert Einstein.
      It is worth saying all that, not only because the superstitions to which I refer are so deeply rooted in our modern ways of thinking, but also because those who adopt them will never see the educational value of culture, and will never have a clue as to how it might be taught. What does it benefit ordinary children that they should know the works of Shakespeare, acquire a taste for Bach or develop an interest in medieval Latin? All such attainments merely isolate a child from his peers, place a veil between his thinking and the only world where he can apply it, and are at best an eccentricity, at worst a handicap. My reply is simple: it may not benefit the child – not yet, at least. But it will benefit culture. And because culture is a form of knowledge, it is the business of the teacher to look for the pupil who will pass it on.

      On Feb 2, 2010, at 11:06 AM, Lynch, Brian M wrote:

      > Lloyd et al.
      > In the past few weeks I have been working with a range of "institutional
      > research" people as well as teaching faculty and deans, all in different
      > contexts, around teaching, research, and learning assessment. The thing
      > that is now becoming painfully obvious is that both nationally and
      > locally so much focus is now being put on "student success"... it is
      > where our institutional dollars are going, our "IR" (institutional
      > research) tasks and hiring are focused, our discussions about "national
      > trends" are focused, etc. The problem? Take a look at what is meant
      > by "student success." It is defined in terms of things like student
      > completion rates, graduation rates, cohort completion rates etc.; all of
      > these are based on numbers that, even by their own admission, tell us
      > nothing about what students are actually learning (or IF they are
      > learning)... only that they are "completing" something, and in someone's
      > prescribed period of time.
      > Meanwhile, those who are trying to ask the questions about what our
      > students are actually learning, how they are learning, how we can
      > improve their learning experience etc., are having to do so as
      > "independent contractors," usually outside of any institutional
      > framework, without institutional support, disconnected from the "student
      > success" wave.
      > Something more to consider at the systemic level of things.
      > Brian

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