Thursday, January 30, 2014
What Sector Jumpers See
I get that it would reduce demand for professors of veggies, but would there be an adverse effect on the career outcomes for the students? I suspect not. They may be trying to tell you something.
I agree with you in theory but in practice if colleges just let students through without some measure of "veggies" they would graduate with such poor writing and math skills it would be embarrassing to admit they came from our institutions. Students are often poor judges of their own skills and no one likes doing something they suck at so the students that need the most help are often those least likely to seek it. Analogously, if I let my kids do whatever they wanted, we would have nothing but chicken nuggets and fudgsicles for every meal and they would spend their evenings watching Power Ranges until 11PM while sipping endless pouches of Caprisun. Their teachers and coaches, appropriately, would hold me, not the kids, responsible for their lack of ability to concentrate in school or play on the field. If basic skills weren’t part of the college program, employers wouldn’t blame the students for their lack of skills on graduation, they would blame the uni for giving the incompetent person a degree.
In my experience, the rationale behind frontloading is that those skills are so basic that they inform everything else the student does afterwards. Students without good math skills will never survive their first Chemistry class and without Chemistry, Biology is a no go (I once had a student who could not figure out how many pieces of DNA you would end up with if you cut a circle twice. He could not do basic algebra and could not prepare solutions or calculate dilution factors. He did not pass the class.) Without writing skills, student lab reports become incoherent monstrosities, leaving the grader wondering if there is a lack of understanding or if the student just can’t express themselves well – these states are indistinguishable when looking just at writing alone. If a writing class fixes the problem, there’s no rational reason to not take that first.
That said, colleges waste student’s time if they are already competent. Ideally, you would be able to earn something analogous to the English “O” levels and never have to reestablish your competence in math or writing ever again. Competent students could finish this in high school and zoom through college without having to retake work they had completed in the past. People who experienced an educational interruption would be able to start where they left off instead of starting over. Sadly, this would erode the funding basis for many colleges and departments (thus the explosion of gen ed at the expense of majors classes in the California State University system).
I can see sneaking in veggies by incorporating writing in your subject matter classes but you would have to either pair up a comp person with a subject matter person or do some serious training with your subject matter folks to make that work. Whatever solution you choose, throwing up your hands and assuming that “they’re adults and they will figure it out” is a recipe for disaster for some students. Responsible colleges will never do what you suggest.
However, given the job market today, I also see President Obama's recent point, and I wonder some of these kids are even going to college, and why we encourage them to do so. Even science and engineering jobs are in short supply right now. per the folks I know.
Where I did my undergrad did that. If you could establish that you could write well then you didn't have to take a writing course. Either through AP/SAT scores or a placement test, students could fulfill the math requirement. Of course most of those that did well end up taking more math but at a more advanced level.