The Great Connections Seminar

The Great Connections Seminar
Discussing ethics

Monday, November 29, 2010

Inside the Teenage Brain

If you've ever wondered why adolescents do some of the odd, impulsive things they do, you'll like this article,
"Inside the Teenage Brain." It summarizes some of the neurological findings on brain development and how it reflects in behavior.

For example, one small study seems to show that teenagers rely on an older, pre-mammalian part of the brain, the amygdala, to understand facial expressions, whereas adults use the reasoning cortex.

Most important, the use-it-or-lose-it feature of the brain implies that the earlier adolescents work on reasoning skills, the better.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Why are there Shadow Scholars?

This week the Chronicles of Higher Education featured an article that's been widely read around the internet: "The Shadow Scholar":

"In the midst of this great recession, business is booming. At busy times, during midterms and finals, my company's staff of roughly 50 writers is not large enough to satisfy the demands of students who will pay for our work and claim it as their own.

You would be amazed by the incompetence of your students' writing. I have seen the word "desperate" misspelled every way you can imagine. And these students truly are desperate. They couldn't write a convincing grocery list, yet they are in graduate school. They really need help. They need help learning and, separately, they need help passing their courses. But they aren't getting it."

"It is my hope that this essay will initiate such a conversation. As for me, I'm planning to retire. I'm tired of helping you make your students look competent."

Searing words.

My question: why is this happening? The author puts some blame on professors who can't/won't judge what's going on. Yes, that's a problem, but part of a bigger issue.

My hypothesis: this is a long-term effect of progressive, egalitarian education and  the degree inflation caused by government-financed education. Progressive education teaching methods have left teachers incompetent and students ignorant.  Now that "everyone" must have a college degree to get the most basic of jobs, many academically incompetent students are trying to graduate college, or even get graduate degrees.

For many, many students, learning has very little to do with going to college - getting through and getting the degree does. The Shadow Scholar is one solution.

Many of the ESL students he mentions could be very bright and even succeed in business or other fields that don't require mastery of English. In the big picture, going to college may be a complete waste of time and money for them, as well as other students, except for the fact that they need a degree to get most less-than-basic jobs.

Evidence in the article to support my thesis: business is booming in the recession. Why? The Feds are pouring money into student loans so out-of-work people can "go back to school."

It's a sorry, sorry situation.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Superman's arrived at some charter high schools

 Interesting study of charter high schools in Chicago by the Illinois Public Policy Institute here.

"Waiting for Superman" has put the spotlight on charter schools as an innovation tool. I'd love to see what goes on at some of them myself.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Is High School Making Your Kids College Ready?

 The Chicago Tribune found 8 of 10 public high school juniors in Illinois scoring below the college readiness measures of the ACT test, reported in this article. "The nonprofit ACT company stands by its readiness scores: at least 18 in English, 21 in reading, 22 in math and 24 in science. The top possible score is 36."

This includes students from high schools of high repute, like New Trier, where 94% go to college. Even there, 38% of juniors fell short of the readiness scores.

"In Lincolnshire and Naperville [posh and highly-regarded programs], more than half of juniors scored too low to reach the targets in English, reading, science, and math, though several hundred met three of four benchmarks, usually missing in science."


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Students Don't Know How to Think About Google

Lead research anthropologist for the Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries Andrew Ascher found that students are highlyunskilled in performing searches.

“Student overuse of simple search leads to problems of having too much information or not enough information … both stemming from a lack of sufficient conceptual understanding of how information is organized,” he said. Even computer science students!

Read about his study of their use of Google and other tools in this Inside Higher Ed article.

"“they’re not getting adequate training as they’re going through the curriculum,” he said.

"Asher moved swiftly through a few slides featuring excerpts from interviews with students, each eliciting both chuckles and gasps from the audience of librarians and technologists. “I’m just trusting Google to know what are the good resources,” responded one sophomore biology student."

This alarming result--even among students who are academic achievers is what you get when education focuses on information and testing at the expense of cognitive development and independent thinking.

Another researcher suggested they get instruction on how to do searches. But the real problem lies in the fact that their minds are not conceptually organized--they don't know what is relevant or connected to a topic or idea and what is not. This is the serious deficit of education.