There was an article last week on HuffPost College by admissions consultant advising parents on how they can back away from their High School Junior and Senior aged kids in the name of independence and self-sufficiency. And then results of a new survey comes out claiming that parents are hovering around their college attending children more than ever. And while I fall to the side of letting kids go and making their own way and their own mistakes, I don’t think that students are adequately prepared to succeed academically on their own.
I’ve written elsewhere how academic freedom in higher education is a bit of a misnomer. And I’m not saying that what I’m about to write about here should fall under the category of academic freedom. But it does fit into the category of faculty members needing to speak up and speak out about what does (or does not) go on academically on campus.
I picked up the student newspaper last week. On the front page, below the fold, was a story on how my school was now focusing on college readiness. In the article were some sobering statistics about the academic level of students we are admitting to the school. But I already knew that. The article, however, only quotes administrators, not faculty or instructors tasked with helping these students overcome their deficiencies in reading, writing, and math. The only mention of faculty is to throw our Education program under the bus, saying that “we” need to do a better job training teachers here.
This article made me mad for several reasons. At the beginning of the semester, a newly-hired administrator in a newly-created position came to talk to us (the instructors who teach remedial writing) about student retention and college readiness. He made a big deal about how his position was created to help us ensure student success. So would we please add some more administrative duties to the five classes we’re already teaching. He was quoted extensively and given a lot of praise for his coordination of the testing innitiative on campus in the aforementioned article.
I know he makes more money than I do as an instructor. He has more job security than I do as an instructor. I know that I have more experience and education than he does. No one in that room was in a tenure-track appointment. Some, like me, were lucky enough to have a full-time instructor position. Others were adjuncts, with low pay, no benefits, and little job seecurity. I’m not attacking him personally; he taught remedial math and lucked into the position because of an angry letter he sent in regards to the last-minute implementation of testing requirements. But when an administrator comes into a room full of tenuously-employed instructors, politely requiring them to do more work, I get my back up.
And while I have my own issues with the faculty of education, I think it is unfair to disparrage the work that they do to train teachers according to madated State and Federal guidelines. The impetus of the article was that our State has signed on to the Common Core Standards innitiative, to better prepare students for college. But until there are clear State guidelines as to how these standards will be evaluated, teachers will be prepared in order to be able to meet the current standards set by No Child Left Behind and now Race to the Top. Teachers are being trained to teach to the test and administer those tests.
Now, what does this have to do with “Academic” Freedom? I wanted to write a letter to the paper, outlining exactly what I said above. But I didn’t. As I have been told by many, I am lucky to have a job, at the same school as my husband, full-time, with benefits, in this area, in this economy. My chair went to bat for me and fought for me so I could be a full-time instructor and not simply an adjunct. But that could change; I’m the last one in and could very well be the first one out. This is a small school and a small community; I don’t want to sabotage my husband’s tenure case because I spoke up. And while I know my words will probably be appreciated by many in the faculty, I’m just just as sure that members of the administration will probably not look too kindly upon them.
So I’m left blogging, semi-anonymously, where my message will certainly reach a larger audience, but an audience nonetheless that is less relevant to the immediate issue at hand. I can blog all I want about the larger issues, but when do I need, when do we need, to start making concrete changes where we work and teach? This is why I should be “free” to speak up about the academic issues that impact me and, more importantly, my students and future students. I’m not doing anything wrong; I’m trying to do what’s right. But that’s not what is expected of me.
What do you think, readers? Send that letter or leave it here in the vaste spaces of the Internet?
I’ll admit it; I was a narrative essay hater. What was the point, I lamented. The last thing students needed to do was to do more writing about themselves. They needed to learn how to do proper research, organize their well-thought out ideas in a coherent way, and draw reasonable and meaningful conclusions. What does writing about themselves have to do with that?
I’ve written about this elsewhere, but I think it bears repeating when trying to explain to students why adapting their writing habits for college or school work is necessary. In the same way you wouldn’t wear sweatpants to a job interview (and, for whatever reason, all the students seem to agree that there is no job where this would be appropriate), nor do you write for your classes the same way as you would write to your friends. Nor do you write the same way for all your classes; each discipline has different conventions that need to follow. This, I tell my students, is why you need to know your rules for using a comma or semi-colon correctly, or how to format your paper following MLA guidelines; each time you make a mistake, it’s like wearing sweatpants to a job interview.
Strange how life seems to circle back in on itself. I commented on a blog post about women and our last names in academia about friends (specially a friend) of mine with whom I did my PhD. I started to think about all of the different people I met and interacted with through my PhD program. I wanted to write a blog post commemorating these people who directly or indirectly had such a huge influence on my intellectual and personal development. What does that have to do with 9/11, you ask. I started my PhD in September, 2001.
My remedial writers often tell me that they love to write for themselves, about themselves; they love to write poetry, journals, short stories, and other forms of writing that expresses how they feel. As soon as they “have” to write for school, they hate it. The problem, then, is not that they can’t write, but they have nothing to write about. The challenge, for me, is to show them first that emotions are not enough and then that what they should be striving for in order to make writing easier is knowledge.
I got into a discussion on Twitter today about writing, critical thinking, and the new Common Core Standards. I have been wanting to write about this for a while, but wasn’t sure how to approach the topic in a blog post. How do I balance my desire to see real change in how writing is practiced in middle and high schools versus my frustration with the sheer number of students who need to take (or perhaps should be taking) remedial writing at the college level. Because it isn’t just about writing; it’s about what the students write about and how they write about it.
I’ll admit it: I have writer’s block. I am suffering from what so many of my developmental writing students complain to me about: staring at a blank page (ok, computer screen) and having no idea what to say or what to write. My writer’s block stems from everything an undergraduate faces when they stare at a blank screen, deadline looming.