E-mail to Robert Schenck on education
Thanks for these, Robert. Ironically the bin Laden is more sensible and accurate, if you ask me.

I'm sure you read the below op/ed column that appeared in the OWH today. Is this just preaching to the wind? I'm going to show my students the AP article that says 75% of near-graduation college students can't do basic literacy tasks; we'll see how they react, if they can look up from their cell phone text messaging. I think I'll even use the below.

Nonetheless, I agree that we are both "conservative" in our belief that people should be able to read, write and think. But bringing this about makes me think of your lament, "What can I really *teach*?"

And as I think back on my own undergrad experience, the students that were willing to interact seriously with writers like those that T. Martin lists were the exception, and not the rule. Are things really changing? I mean to ask. There's an assumption that with progressing technology, the imagined past Valhalla of education is quickly disappearing. Wasn't American education always a place where people just sort of got their degrees, although now there's more emphasis on job placement.

But, I think my assumption that our American culture is one that avoids challenging others' beliefs less than it once did might be accurate. Many of my students come chock full of rhetoric (from church and family, likely) that goes along the lines of, "Everybody's got their belief; people can believe what they want to believe," a position whose relation to the concept of truth seems to undercut the very idea that there could be the truth. JS Mills' "tyranny of the majority" seems to be more readily apparent now than I imagine it was in 1974, when liar-in-chief Nixon got ousted. Even Bob Woodward has turned his coat; he refrains from accurate judgment of obvious idiocy, and a title like "Plan of Attack" sounds credulous, fawning, and praising of authority, power, and violence devoid of thought--like a bad action movie.

So, that's my lament. Does the media talking point that "Americans are idiots / education is failing" affect you?

G-d bless us every one,
Adam Schenck

Published Saturday
January 21, 2006
Midlands Voices: Many universities fail in broadening minds

The writer is a professor of philosophy at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

The World-Herald recently reported that the University of Nebraska Board of Regents has decided to adopt a business model to determine our university system's success.

After a months-long process, here are some of the goals that the regents propose for the University of Nebraska system:

• Provide high-quality, affordable education.

• Build high-quality programs with excellent teaching.

• Be cost-effective and accountable.

At first, this seems like a good idea. The regents ought to establish goals to set the course of the University of Nebraska. The university might well be run like Regents Chairman Howard Hawks' energy company, since it is a place that generates the intellectual energy of Nebraska.

Unlike natural resources that are harvested from the Earth with machinery, the development of the natural powers of the intellect is cultivated by studying the academic disciplines that are necessary for the formation of a well-ordered mind. The aforementioned goals seem to be a reasonable list at which the university ought to aim.

Now to the important question: What do the regents consider a "high-quality education" to be?

Do the regents think all the graduates from Nebraska's universities ought to have a core liberal-arts education that centers upon (1) being fluent in English, (2) possessing the ability to read primary sources in literature, history, economics and philosophy with facility, (3) being conversant in a second language, (4) understanding the scientific method, (5) having a desire to know, which makes them lifelong seekers of perfection in their work, and (6) striving to be moral citizens who are capable of self-examination in the service of the greater good of their community and nation?

If the regents set these as the goals of the University of Nebraska, they would be offering an education worthy of a university. In fact, the University of Nebraska would be going against the flow of modern American universities.

A recent study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that "only 31 percent of college graduates can read a complex book and extrapolate from it." The study found that while more Americans are graduating from college and more than ever are applying for admission, far fewer are leaving higher education with "the skills needed to comprehend routine data, such as reading a table about the relationship between blood pressure and physical activity."

Furthermore, "only 41 percent of graduate students tested in 2003 could be classified as proficient in prose - reading and understanding information in short texts."

If this is true, then almost half the college degrees are meaningless. There ought to be warnings stamped upon the undergraduate catalog: "Students, beware! This university does not guarantee you will be able to read and write. You are responsible for the development of your own mind."

All a person has to do to confirm why only "31 percent of college graduates can read a complex book and extrapolate from it" is to walk through a university bookstore and see what students are assigned to read. After doing so, it is obvious why college graduates cannot understand complex books. They do not read complex books.

Given the students are not asked to read complex books, it follows that their teachers are not reading complex books.

This can be seen in the general studies program offered to students at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, which is, for the most part, a repetition of high school courses. Very few courses use primary sources where students ponder the complex ideas on the nature of man, God, government and freedom, seen in the works of Cicero, Chaucer, Milton, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Newton, Jefferson or Marx, to mention a few.

In fact, there are entire departments where students read nothing but textbooks. Thus, it is not surprising to find college graduates who cannot read and understand "short texts."

However, it is a fallacy to think high-quality programs are developed with "excellent teaching."

High-quality programs are developed by having excellent teachers of subjects before the students. It is wrongheaded to think teaching is an act that is separated from a specific discipline. There are in fact teachers of biology, English, sociology, philosophy and chemistry, upon whom strong departments are built. And these teachers are accessible to everyone at any university where primary sources are read.

The universities of Nebraska do not have teachers; they have students and the professors, who ought at least to be the best-prepared students of the excellent teachers who are being read in their classrooms. Plato, Aristotle, Freud, Einstein, Shakespeare, Curie, etc., are the complex teachers from whom a university graduate ought to have learned.

It is hard to understand how the regents propose to measure excellent teaching without ever enrolling in a class or sitting in on classes and observing how a teacher works his students into shape with the best minds. vvv

Quoting Denise & Bob <bobndenise@cox.net>:

> A passionate, exhilarating rant against ignorant, neo-medieval Christian
> fundamentalism -- by Manuel Valenzuela:
> http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article11609.htm
> Full text of latest Bin Laden tape:
> http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article11615.htm
> Bob

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