Sunday, June 02, 2013
Honors as Bait?
Yes, there’s a political benefit. But that’s not the reason to do it. We should do it because the students need, and deserve, it.
But it doesn't exist solely to bring in upper-class white students. And I find it offensive to suggest that a college that is half "minority" is not integrated, particularly when majority-minority regions are not as rare as they once were.
A better question to ask is why a public community college system would distribute resources to its colleges in a way that effectively depends on the racial makeup of those colleges. This is probably a problem only if local property taxes provide major support a state's colleges.
I'm surprised you missed the category error implicit in the discussion of those two papers, particularly when one says that their study only controlled for student preparation "to some extent". Someone should do the simple experiment of randomly selecting applicants to one of those poorly performing colleges and sending them to an elite one with adequate financial support to cover the difference in cost.
address that issue.
[By the way, in SLAC land we're starting to see more transfers from local CCs. A different model from the CC->FlagshipState route most folks assume. My suspicion, based only on anecdote, is that having experiences the smaller classes and learning-centered environment (with faculty primarily focused on teaching) of the CC, they find the undergraduate culture at the big state schools less appealing. As state subsidies dry up, a good financial package at our SLAC (our average discount is 45%) becomes more appealing. Would be curious for your thoughts?]
Because of my once having been a high school student who was part of a pilot study of learning Math a different way and not being placed in the "new way" Math class, I concluded that I was deficient in Math ability. Non-required Math was never part of my major again.
When I was studying the Statistics required for my PhD dissertation, I discovered that I was actually in a matched group analysis design in high school to see if the new Math curriculum was better than the old. I wasn't in the "old way" group because I didn't have the ability to do the "new way". I was actually matched with someone in the "new way" with the same Math ability. No one explained that to me, so as a 16 year old student, I and other students in my junior class viewed those in the "old way Math" as not having Math ability. This conclusion and label we put on ourselves was false. I often wonder how many of us never enrolled in Math again as a result and called ourselves as "poor" in Math.
This is one case and I know it isn't generalizable to anyone but the population affected, but we should consider if labeling some class as "Honors" wouldn't also label students in it as "able" and those not in it as "not able". I would really like to see the same academically rigorous curriculum in all classes. Or if not possible, at least have multiple sections of "Honors" with students who are thought of as "less able or prepared" also encouraged to enroll in "Honors". I believe some students who might not appear to be "able" will meet the "Honors" standards when given a chance and challenged to meet them. How about all class objectives being the same as the "Honors" class objectives?
I think this is the true advantage of sending poor kids to SLACs - they learn the attitudes and habits of the privledged and that attitude of having earned your way, deserving to be there, counts for a lot - perhaps more than preparation. Honors classes would only work if they carried with them a healthy dose of culture and mentoring.
"Shouldn't all classes in a college be stimulating and thorough? To me, labeling one or more classes in a subject field as "Honors" says that the other classes in that subject are not as rigorous or thorough in teaching subject matter or having varied and pertinent classroom experiences."
In a word, "No".
The concept behind Honors classes is "Pertinent to whom?" First semester physics cannot be the same at MIT and the R1 Your State Uni down the highway. The first semester freshman calculus class at Harvey Mudd has the equivalent of a State Uni calc I class as a prerequisite. Honors classes can offer the courses pertinent to various subsets of the broad range of students who attend semi-selective Flagships and non-selective colleges.
One interesting aspect of a small Honors program like the one at my CC is that there are English majors in entry-level Honors math classes and Engineering majors in Honors humanities classes. Each is getting a deeper and broader education than they might have gotten at many universities.
PS - I wonder if there was an IRB looking at that math program you were in. If so, it failed but I suspect it is far too late to complain.
There is also no reason a good instructor with sufficient resources (i.e. not one grading 40 assignments solo) can't add in-class enrichment for more advanced students.
But you run into the same problems you see in gifted education in K-12: it's not inherently a priority in the "squeaky wheel" way; there's rarely funding for excellence; and I suspect if you are a university that *has* honors, you will be less integrated racially/economically if you are looking within classes. A high school can be integrated beautifully by the numbers, and still be racially stratified as all get out within academic tracks. All of which are reasons to implement them thoughtfully, not to skip them.
Good honors programs at CCs make sense for many reasons, but they can't fix racial/SES stratification, and they don't solve the problem that private colleges (as a group) perpetuate by enrolling more rich kids than bright kids.