In many ways, technology has served us well, but replacing the actual academy or institution with online coursework and degrees could be a mistake.
After years of teaching at various universities and grading papers for fellow professors, I have come to the realization that some students simply need to be taught differently. They require more hands-on education, not less.
There is a vast difference between college freshman term papers and those of upper classmen. Incoherent sentences, misspellings, and an obsession with unreliable Internet sources is a clear sign that educators are at war with laziness.
If I had a quarter for every time I wrote “this is not a sentence” on a paper, I would have considerable wealth.
Our concern is often for the gifted students. Good education means we are offering enough for our best minds. It is better to let the slower students catch up than to have a good student be bored. At least, that is what I was told when I started teaching college courses.
That axiom may be true, but what about those average students who are on the cusp? Students at powerhouse schools like Stuyvesant, Staten Island Tech, Townsend-Harris, etc., are going to be ready for college. Those middle students in struggling schools, however, may benefit from being exposed a little earlier to some basic college courses.
The environment would be better, and professors are already being forced to step back and teach basic skills to many of them anyway. Advanced placement courses for average students seems lopsided, but it could work in some cases.
Renee Jacques recently wrote of eleven possible educational reform considerations, two of which are quite relevant for high school students. Jacques points to the benefit of keeping students with the same teacher as long as possible. It works at the college level.
College students that connect with a professor often re-take that professor a couple of times. As a professor of political science, I’ve seen this work both ways. I know how to reach students who I already know easier than those I just meet.
Another idea that Jacques discusses is the notion of conceptualizing, or understanding why you are learning something. I was never good at math, but when my job called for me to manage budgets for grants, I suddenly became fascinated with math. I saw what the percentages and formulas meant, and that made all the difference.
Why not start students on mock versions of that now? I’ve tried this in the classroom, showing real New York City budgets. Students like when the numbers actually mean something.
Would it be worth taking 20 “middle of the road” students from troubled high schools and putting them in a few basic college courses to see what happens? The environment might be good for them. They most likely would not be great students in college early on, but by the time they graduate high school, they may be ready for prime time.