September 1, 2012

The Harvard Cheating Scandal Is Stupid


harvard exam 1.jpgdiscussing it with people in government is fine because it won't help. good luck






CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Harvard University is investigating what it calls an "unprecedented" case of cheating. College officials say around 125 students may have shared answers and plagiarized on a [Introduction To Congress] final exam.

What a scandal that such a thing would happen at Harvard!   "Academic integrity issues are a bedrock of the educational mission."  And etc.

Before everyone rushes to their predetermined sides, can we ask why, when there are cheating scandals, they are almost always in introductory classes?  When the stakes are lowest?

75% of the students in these kind of courses get As and Bs because of Grade Inflation. I'd put big money down that if I used a crayon to draw an elephant and a donkey I'd get at least a B+  with the margin comment, "Interesting take, could you elaborate?"

And yet the students here felt compelled to cheat.  Take a minute away from your self-righteousness and put yourself in their shoes.  Did they not think they could get an A on their own?  Or.... is "cheating" the only way to create the kind of answer that the professor wants?

Let's find out.  Here's the test:



harvard cheating exam.jpg


harvard govt exam question 3.jpg

"Using in-text citations to support your answer" is the standard way academics pretend at knowledge, and it is always a trick, it doesn't allow the reader "a better understanding of your thought process," it is an appeal to authority (Salmon 2006) masquerading as critical thinking (Ennis 1987).  But it sure makes grading easier, here is the answer key: >5 references: A.  3-4 references: B  Etc.

If I gave this test to other government professors not affiliated with the course, I'm sure they'd have good answers-- but would it be "what the professor is looking for?" That's the phrase that alerts you to the fact that the class isn't designed for you to learn but for him to teach.  All for the fair market price of $2000. 

II.


You know what's funny?  If 125 American soldiers all simultaneously broke some military rule of conduct, the noise that would blow out your eardrums would be Harvard professors yelling about how the administration was to blame for creating a culture that facilitated that misconduct.  "This is not the random acts of a few bad apples, this is a natural consequence of the policies of Rumsfeld and Cheney!"  Short memories, everyone?  Not me, I drink to remember, and I drink a lot.

There's your hypocrisy, and it is magnificent in its conscious blindness and unconscious rationalization.  I defy you to find me one single professor that is now asking, "seriously, gang, what the hell kind of operation are we running here where 125 of theoretically the brightest kids in the country-- who can all pass physics and organic chemistry and write novels and play music without ever cheating-- then do it in a $2000 Intro To Gov class we probably shouldn't even be offering?"  Any soul searching?   Deconstruction of the system?  Sleepless night over destroying the lives of 125 kids?  Anything?

Harvard says that it noticed students used similar phrasing and strings of words, which could signal cheating but let me offer a more uncomfortable alternative: the gated community of academic jargon. 

On a hunch, by which I mean a complete and utter certainty, I hit up some of the course professor's academic papers.  Here is the very first sentence in the very first paper I read:

Context is the frontier of participation research.

Right.  7 simple words, have any idea what the hell they mean?  Don't think too hard about it: they don't mean anything.  Professor Platt is eyeballs deep in academiaitis, the jargonization of the meaninglessness of the work.  The move is to make you feel stupid so you don't see this meaninglessness, for example when you're confronted with a paper titled in the following format: X, Y, And Z: 15 To 20 Syllables About Something No One Gives A Damn About, where X and Y are linked rhythmically if not semantically and Z is an abrupt non-sequitor indicative of the writer's atrophied left cerebral hemisphere (Gray 1918). For example:

Boons, Banes, and Neutrals: Contest and Disparities in Political Participation

and

Innovation, Inevitability, and Credibility: Tracking The Origins of Black Civil Rights Issues

Those are both his, I knew they would be there before I looked for them, and I knew this because 125 people simultaneously understood that there was no way out except to "cheat" on a final they were all going to get As on anyway.  I don't blame him for writing like this, for thinking like this: that's how he was taught to think and write (which is why his final exam questions are  incomprehensible), and he would never have gotten his PhD unless he wrote like this, because either you are part of the system, or you are an enemy of the system.   There are no other choices, and he chose a.  Please note a= Assistant Professor.  

So the point here isn't a critique of Professor Platt's academic career, but that he is now paid to teach his sleight of hand illusions to students who find themselves... at a bit of a disadvantage.  "This is how intelligent people think," they're told.  Granted, it does seem complicated.  But the whole thing is a carnival trick, because what the students do not know, what they have not been told, is that it is completely impossible to summarize jargon without appealing to that very jargon; that the moment you try to explain, in simple ordinary English the meaning of the jargon, your whole paper ends up being three sentences.  So what can you do when the question asks for 2-4 pages, other than copy "similar strings of words?"  You could run a po-mo generator, I guess. 

Because I know that some of you over 40 are stupid, I will state explicitly that of course cheating is wrong and it shows a lack of moral character, but I am forcing you to ask whether 125 people simultaneously cheating might be indicative not of a sudden resurgence of Satanism but an outbreak of encephalitis, with Professor Platt as Patient Zero?

This is why I am able to say, controversially but with absolute certainty, that everyone in that class cheated: if they didn't copy off of each other, they copied off of the professor, with no internalization of the "knowledge" because that was never the point of the class.  If you want to try and tell me how those are any different, I'll be at the bar.

So let me make my own counter-allegation: the students aren't guilty of cheating, the university is guilty of entrapment.  Here's what you're not allowed to do: ask a basic question, "Do interest groups make Congress more or less representative as an institution?" and then threaten that "the response will be judged on how well it draws from the course materials to make an argument."  NO.  You could evaluate the answer on its merits or the rigor of the thinking, but whether and how it draws on the course materials is exactly what you do not want-- it facilitates the grading of the essays, sure, keeps everything inside the gates, but it derails learning.  When you write that, you force 125 people to collaborate on the real final exam question: "What does the professor want?"  Apparently, what he wants is an easy way to grade, and you all got caught accommodating him. 

Since this is a government course, let me give you an important lesson in government, one which, unsurprisingly, is never taught:  "It is not the young people that degenerate. They are not spoiled until those of mature age are already sunk into corruption."  That's Montesquieu.  Don't worry, it won't be on the test.



http://twitter.com/thelastpsych


--

Are Law Schools Lying To Their Applicants?










Comments

When they say 'used similar... (Below threshold)

September 1, 2012 5:28 PM | Posted by copperbird: | Reply

When they say 'used similar phrases' etc they probably just mean turnitin reported the essays as plagiarised.

An interesting factoid from my college recently was that the guys who cheated (and got caught) weren't about to get A grades anyway. So it didn't help them that much, clearly if you're going to copy off someone else you'd be better to copy from someone who gets good marks. And they are disincentivised from helping because they know they'll can manage without collaborating and the penalities are high.

So all the unis need to do is keep making sure the good students don't get involved, if the bad students copy from each other it doesn't make much difference in the long run.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -33 (43 votes cast)
sorry, but this explain is ... (Below threshold)

September 1, 2012 5:32 PM | Posted by sid: | Reply

sorry, but this explain is unnecessarily complicated.

"...the brightest kids in the country-- who can all pass physics and organic chemistry and write novels and play music without ever cheating"? false. most of these kids cheat -- they're just extremely good at not getting caught.

these 125 got sloppy and happened to get caught.

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man i wish i could go to th... (Below threshold)

September 1, 2012 6:44 PM | Posted by poopfagington: | Reply

man i wish i could go to the bar with you. this needs some explanation

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Prediction: anyone who does... (Below threshold)

September 1, 2012 7:44 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Prediction: anyone who doesn't immediately, intimately understand this hasn't been through a university in the last decade.

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Saw the cheating headline, ... (Below threshold)

September 1, 2012 7:50 PM | Posted by Max: | Reply

Saw the cheating headline, read the article until I saw "an introductory government class" and proceeded to laugh my ass off. They obviously failed the real test: don't get caught cheating. 125 future Harvard grads not fit for office. They'll make spectacular aides though.

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This isn't really news. In ... (Below threshold)

September 1, 2012 8:44 PM | Posted by GT: | Reply

This isn't really news. In school we all knew to give the professor what they wanted if we wanted to pass the course.

What I found shocking back then was a fellow classmate confided to me that in order to get his MS signed off (he had just graduated with his ME in engineering and I was just starting the MS program) he falsified experimental data to satisfy the expectations of his advisor who already had made up his mind as to what the outcome of the experiments were going to be.

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Yes but don't you think the... (Below threshold)

September 1, 2012 9:31 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Yes but don't you think the fact that "this isn't news" and that everyone knows you're supposed to give teachers want they want rather than actually gain knowledge and critical thinking ability is sort of a problem with college education?

Our whole society knows college is a joke and we all go through the motions because the system says so? Learn to speak Academia speak--Like This- monkeys.... and then you can be good monkeys and write nonsense research that noone evaluates or uses to actually make the world better because it's not even good research. You can learn to think for yourself just like we tell you. It's not just teachers faults. If everyone in our society knows this is the case, then we damn well should care and do something about it. I wish being jaded wasn't so damn trendy.

Everyone knows college is a joke and you go through the motions to get the papers to show you are a good obedient monkey and will give the boss what they want (without thinking) the same as you did your teacher. Hence cheating. I am opposed to cheating anyways, but I'm such a ridiculous moralist it makes it hard to function in this world at all.

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This post gave me a great q... (Below threshold)

September 1, 2012 10:05 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

This post gave me a great quote to tell my father after prefacing it with "here's why you're the asshole and I'm the victim, and NOT the other way around". If you're watching it, it's for you.

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The Unique Selling Position... (Below threshold)

September 1, 2012 10:07 PM | Posted by in columbus: | Reply

The Unique Selling Position of the more elite Ivies is that their student bodies represent the best/smartest students in America. This has never been true, nor is it now. Until recently, the offspring of alums dominated, and Jews were excluded. Soon after that stopped, Affirmative Action started.

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It is a good exam and it re... (Below threshold)

September 1, 2012 10:37 PM | Posted by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

It is a good exam and it requires you to have done the work for the course. This may be what the students did not like about it, or what they found "confusing."

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"But it sure makes grading ... (Below threshold)

September 1, 2012 10:39 PM | Posted by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

"But it sure makes grading easier, here is the answer key: >5 references: A. 3-4 references: B Etc."

Do you grade this way, Last Psychiatrist? If so, you should stop it, and start getting serious.

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Re the prof's papers: they ... (Below threshold)

September 1, 2012 10:44 PM | Posted by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

Re the prof's papers: they don't sound that obtuse to me. Remember, they are in his discipline and addressed to people with similar levels of training to his. That is, they are specialized. One doesn't lecture to freshmen in the way they are written.

Re the question of "what the professor wants" -- the exam is precise, non sloppy, and clear, and my money says he has been explaining what he wants every week for the whole semester. And that what he wants is not a specific answer learned by rote, but demonstration of the use of a set of skills in conjuction with a body of knowledge.

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Finally, Google the Dominiq... (Below threshold)

September 1, 2012 10:52 PM | Posted by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

Finally, Google the Dominique Homberger case at LSU, another situation where the professor, just trying to teach responsibly, was considered too opaque / too "hard."

Truly too hard is either-or an unrealistic amount of total work / total time investment and too much knowledge assumed (i.e. I assume you have the skills to read 100 lines of Cicero, in the original, in an hour and this is only Latin 2). But for some freshmen, their parents, etc., "too hard" means anything that isn't just a list of answers "the professor wants" and that you can memorize the night before the exam.

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Yes but this reinforces tha... (Below threshold)

September 1, 2012 10:52 PM | Posted by monkey: | Reply

Yes but this reinforces that form- using the correct skill set- in relation to the material--- is more important than the actual truth of the matter or using the skill sets that would work the best or framing the ideas/issues/questions in the way that would really achieve good things in the world.

Basically the way great thinkers used to be able to think-- polymaths synthesis various specialties of thinking together and thinking in a multifaceted way-- is forced out of existance. Students are required to NOT use their own ideas or knowledge base or perspective on the material or issue at hand (or nature of the way the material is being taught)

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That's not true -- this is ... (Below threshold)

September 1, 2012 10:59 PM | Posted, in reply to monkey's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

That's not true -- this is a freshman course in which people are being introduced to a discourse of a discipline. Show you get it and have a cogent critique, that's great, although it is very unusual to get that at the freshman level.

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That's not true -- this is ... (Below threshold)

September 1, 2012 11:01 PM | Posted, in reply to monkey's comment, by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

That's not true -- this is a freshman course in which people are being introduced to a discourse of a discipline. Show you get it and have a cogent critique, that is great, although it's unusual at the freshman level.

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Finally: Are you sure they ... (Below threshold)

September 1, 2012 11:06 PM | Posted by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

Finally: Are you sure they passed organic chemistry without trouble? If this test seemed hard, I am betting o-chem would, too.

Also, once again: this test seems precisely *not* to be one where the professor expects students to parrot him. I really think that is the actual problem the students had with it.

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And, re having their lives ... (Below threshold)

September 1, 2012 11:08 PM | Posted by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

And, re having their lives destroyed -- they will discuss this with a committee. The worst thing that will happen is that they will get suspended for a year. Is that really going to destroy their lives?

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Just have to add,I t... (Below threshold)

September 1, 2012 11:14 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Just have to add,
I think it's incredibly sad that anyone can look at those papers of his and say "they don't sound that obtuse." So much of academia and higher learning is about excluding the peons, and somehow justifying the $$$ you spent to get your degree. It's an exclusive gated community, just an intellectual one.

The origins of black civil rights issues? Disparities in political participation? Sound like great papers...a shame only his colleagues are going to read them.

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Mictlantecuhtli, Professor ... (Below threshold)

September 1, 2012 11:23 PM | Posted by Jessica: | Reply

Mictlantecuhtli, Professor Platt?

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Do you feel that all specia... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 12:32 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

Do you feel that all specialized papers in all disciplines should be immediately comprehensible to you?

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Here is an example from rea... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 12:44 AM | Posted, in reply to monkey's comment, by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

Here is an example from real life: one of our graduate students, US educated, surprised to find that people registered as Independents do not get to vote in the Republican primary. Well, the primaries are held within the party. You have to know what current realities are before you bring your original insights to improve them. That doesn't have to mean squelching genius and so on ... and I would say that *not* passing on the tools of a discipline is actually the unfair, elitist, exclusionary act. Then the student can decide what they want to do with them, but they have them.

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In my experience this kind ... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 12:52 AM | Posted, in reply to GT's comment, by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

In my experience this kind of unfortunate thing does happen much more in graduate school than in undergraduate courses.

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No -- it's just that, if yo... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 12:59 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

No -- it's just that, if you are doing advanced research, you can't reinvent the wheel in every single paper. It's like teaching -- you work at different levels, depending on how much experience the students have. You can write different things, in different styles, for different audiences, and presuppose more or less prior knowledge on the part of the audience. It would be nice if the structure of academia currently allowed for more general interest writing, community oriented presentations, etc., definitely. But where you get the interesting new insights to present is still from the research you do at an advanced level. And where, according to job description, you make those comprehensible to people less experienced than you is in class.

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No, but I am a professor, y... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 1:00 AM | Posted, in reply to Jessica's comment, by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

No, but I am a professor, yes.

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As a doctoral-level graduat... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 1:10 AM | Posted by Jessica: | Reply

As a doctoral-level graduate student, I can tell you that only poor writers write with a jargon-heavy style. The most important aspect of publishing is making the information available to those people who are outside of your own office. This exam and the mentioned articles are the perfect example of how not to write.

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Are you in a field that has... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 1:31 AM | Posted, in reply to Jessica's comment, by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

Are you in a field that has any specialized terminology, though? I don't really see the meaningless jargon and awkward sentence construction one finds in graduate student papers in this exam.

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On this:"Here’s wh... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 1:37 AM | Posted by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

On this:

"Here’s what you’re not allowed to do: ask a basic question, “Do interest groups make Congress more or less representative as an institution?” and then threaten that “the response will be judged on how well it draws from the course materials to make an argument.“ NO. You could evaluate the answer on its merits or the rigor of the thinking, but whether and how it draws on the course materials is exactly what you do not want– it facilitates the grading of the essays, sure, keeps everything inside the gates, but it derails learning."

YES. The point of the course is to add to what you know. Hence, the readings in the course materials. On the first day you might give an exercise where people discussed this question without doing any of the reading. But on the final exam, one expects people to have digested the reading - discussion - etc., that went on in the course. If all they have to say by the time of the final is what they would have said on the first day, then that isn't very good. Judging the answer on "its merits" would be really arbitrary for all sorts of reasons, and judging it on its rigor isn't enough (you can do that in freshman writing, I guess, if your rhet-comp program is structured in a certain way, but this was evidently a course on particular material).

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Or, I'd say, there's a diff... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 1:56 AM | Posted, in reply to Jessica's comment, by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

Or, I'd say, there's a difference between using technical language and terminology and writing jargon-laden prose. The book I am studying tonight is an example of the latter case and yes, it's a drag (I keep taking breaks to come over here because it is such rough going). There's good research in the thing, though, so I kind of have to get through it.

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I'm in the field of psychol... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 1:57 AM | Posted, in reply to Mictlantecuhtli's comment, by Jessica: | Reply

I'm in the field of psychology, which I can assure you, can be laden with jargon if people try to act like they know what they're talking about.

I find it awkward that he writes very short sentences that could easily be either left out or combined for less stunted reading.

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Regarding the most recent c... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 2:00 AM | Posted by Father Ribs: | Reply

Regarding the most recent comments; you are presuming that in an introductory course, all the possible learning one "receives" is occurring in the classroom, rather than having new avenues of thought opened to the student, allowing them to look at all the previous and current data streams open to them outside the walls of the class structure, and seeing them with new eyes as transformed by what happens in the classroom.

Is advanced learning supposed to widen or sharpen one's knowledge? In an introductory class?

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"The point of the course is... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 2:27 AM | Posted, in reply to Mictlantecuhtli's comment, by randomstringofnumbers: | Reply

"The point of the course is to add to what you know. Hence, the readings in the course materials. On the first day you might give an exercise where people discussed this question without doing any of the reading. But on the final exam, one expects people to have digested the reading - discussion - etc., that went on in the course. If all they have to say by the time of the final is what they would have said on the first day, then that isn't very good. Judging the answer on "its merits" would be really arbitrary for all sorts of reasons, and judging it on its rigor isn't enough "

What you are talking about is an ideal, but this is often not the case. In most of my college courses the goal was exactly what is described in the article above.

Let me put it this way. I took a course in World War II history, and part of the course was giving a brief analysis (5-10 minutes) of a given theme/set of articles in a weekly discussion. This was done by having students sign up and and 2 or 3 do the short presentation per class. It was 95% summaries, with one or two people giving summaries that included stuff from outside reading. I was the only kid who read the articles, then analyzed them, then critiqued them, and since I was on the before last day, I saw half of my discussion stop what they were doing and start paying attention to me. Not to say that what I did was amazing, but it seemed like they hadn't even considered the idea that they could critique the articles since no one did that or was doing that in any of their classes.

It's difficult to do either, nor do I need any special amount of knowledge. I can make a critique of an article based on what is given to me and judge it on its biases, relation of information, and relevance. I can put it in a greater context, or I can contrast it with another article on a similar point. There are so many ways to do a critique, but it seems I was the only one who even considered doing a critique, and that is precisely because the system encourages you to throw up the information that is given to you.

What you are describing is an ideal of students with 0 knowledge being tested on how well they learned the material during the year. What the article by LP is talking about is the lack of critical thinking that the test represents. Who cares if you read the material and can memorize an argument or two that some other author made? Isn't it more important that you can think critically and evaluate the information that is given to you, and then form your own argument based on the information you have? What I am asking is not something insane, and although I was an exception, it is not because I am more intelligent than my peers. It is simply because the way the system has brought them up encourages them to not use critical thinking.

At least from my experience.

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*"It is NOT difficult to do... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 2:30 AM | Posted by randomstringofnumbers: | Reply

*"It is NOT difficult to do" is what I meant to write in the penultimate paragraph.

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Revealing comments by my fr... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 8:19 AM | Posted by Alleinikov: | Reply

Revealing comments by my friends at the university:

- "If you understand something you fail."
- "Never think in an exam"
- "I just vomit everything on the paper"
- "Don't use coherent sentences"

PS: I did study business.

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Anyone want to bet that the... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 10:03 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Anyone want to bet that the students caught cheating were disproportionately black and hispanic?

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The first question strikes ... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 12:26 PM | Posted by sunny day: | Reply

The first question strikes me as odd, as it seems as if the students aren't learning about the structure of the U.S. government, but rather theoretical models of how the government "should" work. They're really learning game theory.

MOTHERFUCKING GAME THEORY RATIONAL ACTOR BULLSHIT... ahem.

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Unfortunately I've got to d... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 1:57 PM | Posted by John R: | Reply

Unfortunately I've got to disagree with my favorite psychiatric pirate this time. There's a pretty obvious alternative explanation for demanding in-course citations: this is an intro class, and those citations are supposed to be the proof that you actually read the course materials. In an intro class, you're just learning the vocabulary, and that's what's being tested. If this were a senior seminar you might have a point, because that's where that vocabulary developed in intro classes should be leveraged into solid critical thinking, but this is an intro class. If you ask for their own personal theses you just get a regurgitation of whatever Colbert and HuffPo put up last night. Let them develop a new vocabulary and new ways of thinking about things, then get in on the conversation.

Also, again I hate to contradict you because I've pretty sympathetic to most of what you write, despite having no background in political theory etc., I understood that first sentence you quoted perfectly, the first time around. But maybe that's just an indication that the system already has me. =/ (I'm a contrarian for a living, though, so maybe not..?)

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I defy you to find me o... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 2:07 PM | Posted by lovethequestions: | Reply

I defy you to find me one single professor that is now asking, "seriously, gang, what the hell kind of operation are we running here where 125 of theoretically the brightest kids in the country-- who can all pass physics and organic chemistry and write novels and play music without ever cheating-- then do it in a $2000 Intro To Gov class we probably shouldn't even be offering?" Any soul searching? Deconstruction of the system? Sleepless night over destroying the lives of 125 kids? Anything?

I think this is more of a widely recognized problem than you're giving academics credit for. On the other hand, recognition hasn't yet led to a lot of change. Anonymous's Prediction: anyone who doesn't immediately, intimately understand this hasn't been through a university in the last decade was spot-on, but also so depressing. These are the issues I've been chewing on with friends and colleagues and drinking buddies for, yes, the past decade, and it just seems to be getting worse.

Up until now, I've been considering the jargon problem (how do you make specialized work which requires technical terminology accessible to a broad audience) as distinct from the teaching problem (how do we get students to learn rather than regurgitate), but you're right that they're linked, I think. The connection is most clear in higher education, where learning the terminology is confused by students, TAs, and professors alike with learning the concepts. But I had a similar problem when I taught high school English: over and over I would find my students (who worked hella hard) repeating what I'd said in class virtually word for word on exam essays. They weren't cheating; they'd just taken very good notes and studied hard to memorize them; and it wasn't their fault that I thought this missed the point of the enterprise entirely. Just because I'd said the words didn't mean I'd taught them the concepts.

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I have to disagree with you... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 2:27 PM | Posted, in reply to John R's comment, by lovethequestions: | Reply

I have to disagree with you, John R., on the nature/purpose of an intro class. I agree that you can't demand original research and you don't want the student's personal philosophy; but the idea that "solid critical thinking" should only be expected out of advanced students in upper-level seminars--really? Really? The point is to learn the vocabulary of the discipline, sure; but to learn it; which, in my book, involves conversation (and critical thinking, whatever that actually is) from the very beginning.

I recognize that I have a chip on my shoulder about this, but my experience in undergrad was that far too often, students were expected to sit and soak up the ideas for a year or two; then, after we'd ripened for a while, we were permitted to discuss what we thought with the professors in seminars. The problem with this was that those of us who already knew how to "think critically" were pissed off beyond belief about being treated like children, and those of us who didn't come to college expecting to be treated like someone with a brain hadn't actually done much ripening in the intervening time. So most of the conversation was either angry and immature or docile and stilted--which, of course, reinforced the professors' belief that the functioning adults in their classrooms weren't "ready" for actual conversation.

That was more of a rant than I intended--mostly not directed at you, John R.

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lovethequestions - Fair eno... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 3:11 PM | Posted by John R: | Reply

lovethequestions - Fair enough. Replace 'critical' with 'constructive' -- which is what the article is looking for -- and the argument goes through.

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I think intro classes shoul... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 3:20 PM | Posted by Kane: | Reply

I think intro classes should just be about making sure you've read the material.

You can't expect to ever make a meaningful contribution to academia without knowing what people currently believe. If you did you would get a lot of redundancy with loads of people coming up with ideas that have already been examined which is terribly inefficient. In order to see further than anyone has before I think you need to "stand on the shoulders of giants".

As for the jargon it is needed to an extent, otherwise you would have to explain everything from first principals every time and that would give the same redundancy problem as before. I don't want to read everything that has ever been done before every time there is a new insight. The ultimate test of academia should be to further knowledge not to inform the public, most of them don't really care anyway and if they do they can learn the jargon.

I think the problem with the test is that it wants to appear to be a test of your critical thinking which an intro class shouldn't even be aspiring to. It just needs to make sure people have a good grasp on the material.

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The test is demanding in th... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 5:58 PM | Posted, in reply to Kane's comment, by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

The test is demanding in that way and I would not give it in an intro class where I now teach. But it was the kind of test that was given in intro classes where I studied, which was at a couple of public Ivies, where people were ready for that kind of thing, as they are supposed to be at Harvard.

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No, but at a minimum you ha... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 6:25 PM | Posted, in reply to Father Ribs's comment, by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

No, but at a minimum you have to cover what is taught in a class if you take a class. If you also look at other materials, that is great. But in a class on Henry James, if you come to the final and write about James Joyce, alleging that he is also a famous author and that since you are writing about him, you therefore shouldn't have to say anything about what was actually the focus of the course, that's pretty weak (and it is usually a weak form of cheating, too).

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Anyone want... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 6:29 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by in columbus: | Reply

Anyone want to bet that the students caught cheating were disproportionately black and hispanic?

This is a story about how the vast majority of the students in a given class collaborated with one another. If this is most of a single GenEd prerequisite class, then I would gladly bet against you and take your money.

Reading is fundamental.

I've read The Bell Curve, too. But not every issue is about IQ and race.

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I tell my students that mer... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 6:30 PM | Posted, in reply to lovethequestions's comment, by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

I tell my students that mere regurgitation gets a maximum grade of C, and it has to be correct and complete regurgitation to get that. To get a B you have to show you actually understood the material and can work with it, not just that you memorized it, and to get an A you have to work with it *well;* A+ means you did what A people do *and* brought in additional material well, taught me something I didn't know, perhaps.

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No. You could conjecture th... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 6:32 PM | Posted, in reply to in columbus's comment, by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

No. You could conjecture they were all Greeks and athletes, too.

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I attended UCLA and graduat... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 6:39 PM | Posted by Yoshie: | Reply

I attended UCLA and graduated a few years ago. I only met one professor who fully acted like this. There were others that came close, but I would say that for the most part they encouraged undergrads to be original in their answers. The one professor that I was thinking of would even have his essays graded based only on course materials and his lectures. We were not allowed to cite outside sources. If we did not give the same answer that he offered in lecture or that he gave in his textbook that we were all forced to buy, then we would be marked down. No joke. He actually said that he did that for the TAs. They would get confused on grading and what constituted a correct answer, so he wanted to make it nice and simple for them.

However, I had another professor who gave us pages of a list of credible outside sources, and he encouraged us to do our own research and come to our own conclusions.

I actually think that prof's like the Harvard one are outliers.

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Why is it that the students... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 6:40 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

Why is it that the students who are convinced of this do not do well?
If it is so true that what you have to do is second guess the professor and be obedient, why is it that every student I have who does not study and has trouble, is on probation, etc., complains that their problem is that the professors are so inscrutable that they are impossible to second guess?

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Can you give an example of ... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 6:47 PM | Posted, in reply to Jessica's comment, by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

Can you give an example of a sentence from the exam that should be left out, or of how to combine the sentences to make them more elegant?

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Mictlantecuhtli, my comment... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 7:57 PM | Posted, in reply to Mictlantecuhtli's comment, by in columbus: | Reply

Mictlantecuhtli, my comment was rendered incoherent by the removal of my html blockquotes. Judging by your response, what was finally communicated is nearly the opposite of what I meant. The first sentence is a direct quote, and I was attempting to express my suspicion of that assertion, made by the commenter at 10:03.

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Oh! I see now! ... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 9:53 PM | Posted, in reply to in columbus's comment, by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

Oh! I see now!

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I think that the directions... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2012 10:20 PM | Posted, in reply to Mictlantecuhtli's comment, by Jessica: | Reply

I think that the directions he included are written in a very stilted way. For example, who doesn't know that incorrect answers on extra credit questions do not count against you? Such sentences suggest to me that the professor is someone who over-explains simple concepts in class lecture and then creates exams with a different tone, which isn't surprising or rare in acedemia, but is frustrating, nonetheless.

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I've worked as a proctor fo... (Below threshold)

September 3, 2012 9:29 AM | Posted, in reply to Jessica's comment, by Pip: | Reply

I've worked as a proctor for several years, and trust me, there are always students who ask me if it's worse to give the wrong answer than to give no answer at all. It is good practice to explain the scoring system on the exam itself, both to avoid endless questions about it and to hedge against complaints afterwards that it was "unfair" because the student didn't "know" some thing or another about the scoring system beforehand.

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Harvard grad student and te... (Below threshold)

September 3, 2012 11:32 AM | Posted by M.W.: | Reply

Harvard grad student and teaching fellow (biology/gen ed) here. Your speculation that the students "can all pass physics and organic chemistry...without ever cheating" is your error: these students are cheating at anything and everything. I have seen flagrant plagiarism and unsanctioned course-wide collaboration on homework/take-home exams in every class I've taught. I've even found my homework questions posted - and answered! - on internet forums.

Many professors here are reluctant to report cheating to the Ad Board (disciplinary council) because their standard punishment is a mandatory one year withdrawal: an outsize punishment that prevents students from seeking employment and post-graduate education. Since most professors would indeed suffer sleepless nights if, to use your phrasing, they destroyed a student's life that way, they instead deal with the cheating in-house. Typically they'll sit the student down in their office, explain that they've done wrong, and give a low grade on the assignment in question. Students know that all they are risking is a zero on the work they weren't going to do anyway. It's no surprise that cheating is rampant.

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I totally believe this, it ... (Below threshold)

September 3, 2012 11:58 AM | Posted, in reply to M.W.'s comment, by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

I totally believe this, it is the situation at every place I have worked.

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Right. And on extra credit ... (Below threshold)

September 3, 2012 12:01 PM | Posted, in reply to Pip's comment, by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

Right. And on extra credit (which students tend to think is their right and can substitute for regular work) they tend to have the very most outlandish questions about scoring.

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I am sorry you didn't go to... (Below threshold)

September 3, 2012 12:02 PM | Posted, in reply to randomstringofnumbers's comment, by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

I am sorry you didn't go to a better school.

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That sounds like a bad situ... (Below threshold)

September 3, 2012 12:03 PM | Posted, in reply to Alleinikov's comment, by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

That sounds like a bad situation / bad department.

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I think it's more like this... (Below threshold)

September 3, 2012 12:06 PM | Posted, in reply to Jessica's comment, by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

I think it's more like this: if you don't spell everything out in very simple terms, people do not get it or try to find loopholes. This is also why syllabi are now so long, and include instructions with definitions of disruptive behaviors that are not allowed, etc., etc.

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I haven't taught, but I won... (Below threshold)

September 3, 2012 12:42 PM | Posted by sunny day: | Reply

I haven't taught, but I wonder if this rash of cheating scandals has to do with easier detection rather than some decline in morals. Human nature being what it is, I can't believe that students weren't cheating beforehand--but the evidence would be on paper, not on the Internet, and more easily concealed or ignored.

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I am as virulent a racist a... (Below threshold)

September 3, 2012 1:44 PM | Posted, in reply to in columbus's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

I am as virulent a racist as the next internet commenter dude, but come on you are ridiculing yourself here- there is no point in bringing race every where you go, you are just embarassing yourself and good, intelligent and respectable racists

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also just limiting yourself... (Below threshold)

September 3, 2012 1:47 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

also just limiting yourself to blame race for everything is not very interesting, and not as interesting as the articles of tlp. By the way, tlp is against the concept of biology being supreme in human behavior, in the sense that biology may guide us to a certain point but we have the ability to control our destinies.

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M.W.: Exactly. Cheating is ... (Below threshold)

September 3, 2012 1:52 PM | Posted, in reply to M.W.'s comment, by lovethequestions: | Reply

M.W.: Exactly. Cheating is everywhere. And what's more, professors who report cheating are often themselves punished--which is why Alone's technique of holding Platt's work up to ridicule is perhaps not the best way of dealing with this. I recognize that he's using Platt to make a larger point about the academy in general, but what do y'all want to bet that Platt will go down for this and the rest of the system will stay firmly in place?

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The article is idiotic. It ... (Below threshold)

September 3, 2012 2:39 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

The article is idiotic. It looks like a perfectly reasonable test. He guesses that the professor has some kind of "what I want to see" rubric, and frankly, it doesn't exist for questions like that. It's bad students that think that you have to "figure out what the professor wants"; it's good students that discover the point is to write a well-argued essay that addresses the point, and it doesn't matter which side you take about such essays.

He thinks that citing your sources is bad, because it's an appeal to authority? Fancy words for, either, plagiarize-at-will (if you have sources), or unsubstantiated-claptrap (if you have none). Since the essay question asks the student to apply the course readings to the stated problem to make their argument, of course you need to cite them. The typical paper would discuss what different authors think about the stated question, and critically analyze them, building to the student's own well-argued conclusion--which should in turn show an awareness of the ways the authors of the course readings might criticize the student's conclusion, and answer the objections those authors might make.

Would other government professors be able to ace this exam? Unquestionably. (You'd have to give them copies of the course readings, of course.)

Then we have the "hypocrisy". The author says without argument that Harvard types would be very upset if a military institution came down hard on a group conduct violation. But in fact, there isn't any evidence to support that unsubstantiated assertion, which is then used as if it were a fact to argue that the Harvard professoriate is being hypocritical in not granting their own students a pass they way they would grant military cadets. What??

Then we mock the author of the test for starting a paper with the sentence "Context is the frontier of participation research" and wonders what they mean. (Of course, it's ludicrous to think that one sentence should tell you anything in isolation...) But it's easy to say what it means. One presumes there is a thing in the professor's area called "participation research"--that is, research into questions involving political participation. And he says ("frontier") that researchers are now taking context into account in such research more than the used to--or that they should do so more than they have. Was that so hard?

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Truth... (Below threshold)

September 3, 2012 5:28 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Truth

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He thinks that citing yo... (Below threshold)

September 3, 2012 6:01 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Somebody: | Reply

He thinks that citing your sources is bad, because it's an appeal to authority? Fancy words for, either, plagiarize-at-will (if you have sources), or unsubstantiated-claptrap (if you have none).

So, if you don't cite any sources, then your only options are either plagiarism or "unsubstantiated-claptrap"? Do you think that it's impossible to support an idea without referencing someone else?

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I'm starting to think that ... (Below threshold)

September 3, 2012 8:29 PM | Posted by anynomous: | Reply

I'm starting to think that I'm a sucker for having actually done my university work fair and square.

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Large portions of this post... (Below threshold)

September 3, 2012 9:22 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Large portions of this post are oversimplifications, even if the gist is in the right place.

But what about looking at the "incident" (read: the entirety of the university experience) from the other side? Ok, 125 students cheated in order to answer the question "what does the professor want?" and the culture of academia facilitated this approach to introductory courses. True, even if 125 students in Harvard should be able to answer that question in ten minutes at a moment's notice anyway, that the idea of cheating on that test tells me that they shouldn't be at any university, much less this one (cue the obvious: "but those are exactly the kind of people Harvard is looking for!"). But the bigger cultural problem is not the one in the school, it's the one outside of the school--it's the one that leads the supposed principle institution of learning in the world to be full to the brim of people who do not even consider the idea that they are attending this school to learn something, to develop their minds. They enter this school thinking that attending Harvard is Something They Need To Do. They don't even have to come to the conclusion that this is a place where you have to figure out what the professor wants--that's the mindset they enter with, it's the mindset they move through ever facet of every waking second of life applying. And sure, Harvard is willing to accommodate that mindset just fine. But it did not generate it.

The truth is that all Universities--at least in America--exist primarily, if not entirely, as trade schools. You don't learn and grow at these schools (or at least you are not expected to) because that is not why they are there. Introductory courses exist because there are 30000 people on campus and every one of them just wants to be told what to do (until "what to do" chafes against what they have previously been told to do).

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the above post is mine, by ... (Below threshold)

September 3, 2012 9:23 PM | Posted by thestage: | Reply

the above post is mine, by the way

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I take issue with two items... (Below threshold)

September 4, 2012 2:33 AM | Posted by WM: | Reply

I take issue with two items. The first being some strange over generalization of the age group over 40 in a nonsensical comparison. If some people over 40 are stupid, and some people under 40 are stupid. Then why isn't the statement simply, "some of [my readers]." The statement is verbose and I think it's projecting something about you as the author.

Satanism or encephalitis? You make a statement comparing two equally ridiculous scenarios so that you can non sequitur to a rant about internalization. Satanism or encephalitis?

I'm trying desperately to figure out what this says about you but I don't have a psychology degree or a bottle of bourbon.

Don't get me wrong, I'm with you pretty far on the internalization rant. I took "Theory of Art History" in college. But just because some of us were chanting mantras about romanticism and dadaism, doesn't mean there weren't people taking it on board.

Drink just a skosh less next time please?

-Wm

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To Mictlantecuhtli. You sai... (Below threshold)

September 4, 2012 9:27 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

To Mictlantecuhtli. You said:

"Here is an example from real life: one of our graduate students, US educated, surprised to find that people registered as Independents do not get to vote in the Republican primary. Well, the primaries are held within the party. You have to know what current realities are before you bring your original insights to improve them."

Yes. You do.

Let's start with you. What you said is plainly wrong and anyone paying attention to mainstream political news should know it. Whether or not a primary is semi-closed/open depends on the State. If you don't believe me, read Wikipedia.

It very well could be that the student in question came from a state where the primaries were either semi-closed or open. For instance, MA is a semi-closed state, so independents can vote in the republican primary. Hence his surprise. He might insular, but he wasn't wrong.

Hmm. What were you saying about original insights again? :/

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Weakest post in quite a whi... (Below threshold)

September 4, 2012 7:19 PM | Posted by jonathan: | Reply

Weakest post in quite a while. The whole thing is based on assuming that the students were accused of cheating just for using the specialty's jargon.

Or maybe you're just giving us a test to see if we can spot poor reasoning. I passed.

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Sure, although all these pe... (Below threshold)

September 5, 2012 1:22 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Mictlantecuhtli: | Reply

Sure, although all these people were from here born and bred. I suppose it could be confusing since the gubernatorial primary is in fact open. But these observations don't change the larger point which was: getting some basic facts and skills is what lets you form and express genius if you have it. Yes, with bad instruction you can have someone who just wants you to memorize and regurgitate, and a non skilled teacher may not be able to see your brilliant ideas when they are still diamonds in the rough. But it doesn't follow from these bad scenarios that rigor is stultifying per se.

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Your Montesquieu quote remi... (Below threshold)

September 5, 2012 11:24 PM | Posted by Jay: | Reply

Your Montesquieu quote reminded me of an old adage about political careers going from idealism, to building, to cynicism, to corruption.

Idealists have big plans and get their butts kicked repeatedly.

Builders learn to play the game in the service of their ideal.

A decade later, the game has become an end in itself and the ideal long forgotten. That's the cynical phase.

A decade later (or so) the politician realizes that for all of his clout, he's still not making any money. He discovers that it's not too hard to exchange one for the other.

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...and then there is this. ... (Below threshold)

September 6, 2012 12:17 AM | Posted by i_me_mine: | Reply

...and then there is this.

Tyler [Cowen] once walked into class the day of the final exam and said, “Here is the exam. Write your own questions. Write your own answers. Harder questions and better answers get more points.” Then he walked out.

http://blog.sethroberts.net/2012/08/09/tyler-cowens-unusual-final-exam/

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"who can all pass physic... (Below threshold)

September 6, 2012 6:11 AM | Posted by James: | Reply

"who can all pass physics and organic chemistry"

Physics and Organic Chemistry have ways of asking questions to determine whether the student has mastered the material (e.g. "calculate the energy levels of ..."). This is probably impossible in most of the Social Sciences.

I agree with the "lovethequestions" who said that Platt will probably end up being punished. When every emperor in the Department has no clothes, the one who exposes a problem is not only ridiculed by outsiders, but freely offered as a sacrifice by insiders who feel vulnerable themselves.

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I disagree. I think this i... (Below threshold)

September 6, 2012 12:58 PM | Posted, in reply to John R's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

I disagree. I think this is the worst way to get kids to UNDERSTAND material. It's all about ease of grading (though to Prof Monkey's credit he didn't resort to the usual lazy ass way out -- multiple choice). It's about teaching kids to think and write in a way that A) makes it easy to grade, and B) doesn't require kids to DO anything with what they did learn. I don't have to understand a thing about the US government to spit back the answers this guy wants. I need not understand the philosophical background of the founders, I need not know anything about the reasons for such things. If he asks me why there was a First Amendment, I spit out sources and basicly tell him what he wants to hear -- that it's about FREEDOM, not a reaction to the Church of England, the Protestant Reformation, or the reign of Bloody Mary. Even if the point at the time was not having a state running the church.

And I do think this is why we're having a hard time getting kids hired. Most bosses know what the game is. So now they're demanding higher degrees to compensate for the lack of achievement in lower degrees. So now we're on a treadmill and an academic arms race that's rediculous. The idea that it takes 4 years to be competent in any field, but especially technical skills, it's stupid. you need 2 years of college to answer the phone? And you'd need 4 years for middle management. NO, the boss wants you to stay in school so long to prove you are semi-literate. And of course, the schools don't care as they make lots of cash handing out diplomas. So now you spend 10 of the most productive years of your life (18-28) sitting in a classroom learning to NOT think, only to find that since you can't think, there's no need for you in the workforce.

I'd cheat too. If only because the game is counterproductive. If you want to learn to think, get the same materials and read them on your own in a small group of similarly minded people. I'm teaching myself history that way. It won't be a degree, but when I get done, I bet I'd be better equipped to understand modern history than people who get a 4-year diploma by spitting back at the teacher exactly what they wanted to hear.

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Off-topic:I had a ... (Below threshold)

September 6, 2012 11:33 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Off-topic:

I had a dream I met TLP last night at some sort of office. He looked like he was in his early 50's, short gray hair (crew cut), white, thin and tall. He kind of looked ex-military in a way. That is all, carry on.

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* "Using in-text citations ... (Below threshold)

September 7, 2012 9:38 AM | Posted by Larry Winkler: | Reply

* "Using in-text citations to support your answer" is the standard way academics pretend at knowledge, and it is always a trick, it doesn't allow the reader "a better understanding of your thought process," it is an appeal to authority (Salmon 2006) masquerading as critical thinking (Ennis 1987). *

The above quote from this piece is enough to label this piece as pure claptrap.

Only a know-it-all who has mastered nothing more than generating specious arguments would have the temerity to make this argument (and to cite "authorities" to do so).

What is or should be indisputable is that only opinions which cite evidence and the authorities who have mastered the topics in question have any possibility of validity.

*If I gave this test to other government professors not affiliated with the course, I'm sure they'd have good answers-- but would it be "what the professor is looking for?" That's the phrase that alerts you to the fact that the class isn't designed for you to learn but for him to teach.*

Of course, you're supposed to give back what the professor is looking for, otherwise why are you in school? The prof has mastered his/her area and is an expert and thinks like an expert and has the depth of knowledge about the area which students do not have, and if the student wants to master this same material, it will take at least a decade of increasingly challenging effort to accomplish. If the prof and the course and the work is well presented, then the student will learn what the prof is teaching.

Certainly at the beginning level of courses and likely throughout all undergraduate days, the job of the student is quite easily stated. If you disagree with the professor, your job is to determine why and how you are wrong and correct your misunderstandings and figure out why the professor is right!

Maybe if the student really is another Albert Einstein, then I might give him/her a pass on this, but the likelihood is exceedingly remote that that is the case.

*If I gave this test to other government professors not affiliated with the course, I'm sure they'd have good answers*

Of course, they would. And at other than at the post-doc level, all the answers would be similar and it would be obvious to those who've mastered the material. But I'm also certain the other profs answers would not be "good" but "excellent", for they would answer the questions based upon a breadth of knowledge and conceptualizations that no undergrad could possibly have.

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I liked this post. I think ... (Below threshold)

September 7, 2012 4:27 PM | Posted by Ginny: | Reply

I liked this post. I think we're unlikely to see anything like it elsewhere, too.

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"Only a know-it-all who has... (Below threshold)

September 7, 2012 5:03 PM | Posted, in reply to Larry Winkler's comment, by Donny: | Reply

"Only a know-it-all who has mastered nothing more than generating specious arguments would have the temerity to make this argument (and to cite "authorities" to do so)."

Alone was using the citations ironically, no?

"Of course, you're supposed to give back what the professor is looking for, otherwise why are you in school?"

Ummm not to do what you just said.


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Nope, sorry. The point of ... (Below threshold)

September 7, 2012 6:08 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Nope, sorry. The point of reading the materials is to learn the facts. It doesn't mean that the person is right about the issues they raise. I have no problem with the prof demanding that sutdents support their ideas with things found in the readings or even in other sources. My problem is with the "answer that the teacher wants to hear" part. Citing evidence is essential to making a case, no arguments there. But he isn't interested in them looking at the evidence and drawing a reasonable conclusion, he's interested in hearing his own opinion written back to him. That way people grading don't have to waste time trying to follow logic, they just have to see that certain high points of the sample essay that they're using to grade from. If they hit all the same notes, A if they don't F.

I'd rather give them a scenario and ask them to use the readings to make a case for or against based on evidence from the readings. It's harder to grade, but this is supposed to be an elite college, and students smart enough to go to harvard should be able to read the evidence and make a reasonable case based on those readings to argue for or against a position that they choose. Logic is essential for any part of adult life. Too bad that we don't require students to use it ever.

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Dude, that's a total misint... (Below threshold)

September 9, 2012 4:09 PM | Posted, in reply to Larry Winkler's comment, by Matthias: | Reply

Dude, that's a total misinterpretation of the entire educational system. Sure, a professor's a good source of intellectual and informational insight...but he's still a step or two removed from the events, the theories, the situations themselves. He can inform our insight but our analyses must ultimately be our own.

Does appealing to authorities help? Well, sorta. Should you probably incorporate them into an answer? Sure. BUT HERE'S THE THING: The citation shouldn't be used as a simple justification for the student's answer, which is what we often see. It should be used to help root the student's answer within the context of the current intellectual conversation.

You're saying: AUTHORITIES MUST BE RIGHT, SO FUCK YOU, ORIGINAL THOUGHT. The plain truth is that most questions in college courses have no single "absolute" answer: There's too much nuance for that. Professors aren't always right. Students aren't drones; they might see things from a different—more refreshing, innovative, even reasonable—perspective from the professor. And that's a good thing. Accepting uncritically what the professor thinks isn't learning; it's being what academics call a "brainless, bureaucratic bitch."

You might evaluate a topic and find that you come to the same conclusion as the authority. That's fine. But to assume the authority is right by virtue of a degree? That's stupid, and insulting to yourself, honestly. I agree that it's important to learn what the professor thinks, but you need to go one step further. You need to find out what you think, come to your own conclusion. If you don't, you will add nothing to "the discussion."

"College," it's become banal to say, "is about critical thinking." What you're advocating isn't critical thinking. It's mindlessness. Your assumption about the most educated, too, seems misguided. Take the examples of David Brooks (no PhD, but he has the knowledge of one) and Paul Krugman. Two very intelligent guys....who see things way differently. Yes, they both have a very solid foundation. But they didn't just accept what the professors taught; they challenged it and grew from it. They're looking at the same world, same facts, but from radically different perspectives.

We've got to learn from our professors. Education is iterative; knowledge isn't static. If all we do is repeat our professors, we're not learning. We're imitating. We're copies. Duplicates. And we'll remain imprisoned in our same ignorance and orthodoxy until we learn to think for ourselves. So stop waiting. Go. Learn.

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I've read your post! it was... (Below threshold)

September 10, 2012 7:41 AM | Posted by Lara Jade: | Reply

I've read your post! it was really awesome! I'll return your blog again :)

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Great article, disagree wit... (Below threshold)

September 10, 2012 10:18 AM | Posted by ammicha: | Reply

Great article, disagree with the finishing message; yes, ideally an answer would be graded based on the rigour of thought, but the person grading is still Prof. X who thinks in a certain way and has certain opinions. As a student who just wants to get a good grade, I'd prefer a reliable, objective, shallow grading system above a grading system subjected to the momentary opinions and whims of my prof.

Ideally we would have a committee of say, 5 people who each grade the paper based on the rigour and clarity of its arguments, remove the top and bottom marks and average the rest. But of course this takes way too much manpower for an introductory undergraduate course.

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I'm curious, is there a sel... (Below threshold)

September 10, 2012 2:15 PM | Posted, in reply to M.W.'s comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

I'm curious, is there a selection bias at work here? Are college students universally like this, or do certain institutions either select for or cultivate this kind of student?

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Matthias above is using a c... (Below threshold)

September 10, 2012 2:58 PM | Posted by Lester Barnwell: | Reply

Matthias above is using a comment to fluff the great pretender, David Brooks, and the econ-con-man Paul Krugman, both of whom are phonies and not intellectually rigorous original thinkers. Appealing to them as authorities is a useless endeavor unless you point at the authority of fraudulent puffery, in which case both men are true experts.

Pointing at those two men as exemplars of deep, rigorous thinking is a perfect example of what The Bloghost is writing about in the main entry above. I'm not sure I'd want to be congratulated on mindless acceptance leading to parrot status, but I congratulate Matthias on that endeavor.

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I'd like to congratulate Le... (Below threshold)

September 10, 2012 5:23 PM | Posted, in reply to Lester Barnwell's comment, by Matthias: | Reply

I'd like to congratulate Lester on being the dipshit who just reinforced my point. Imagine Paul Krugman, PhD and professor at Princeton, telling his students that the exam responses should be based on the answer he wants. Would that lead students toward knowledge, based on your treatment of Krugman as the econ con man, or parrot status? If that happened, what would we have? More Krugmans. Even based on your bullshit, polemical assumptions, you're still a dumbass. Add that to the fact that I didn't consideer them stand-alone authorities but people who are conferred the label of authorties and who OTHER FUCKING PEOPLE, NOT ME, consider authorities. Yes, they're smart, but not omniscient. You'd make a great college professor, Lester. Join the other inbreds.

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And yes, "consider." A typo... (Below threshold)

September 10, 2012 5:24 PM | Posted by Matthias: | Reply

And yes, "consider." A typo.

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Like, my mind is blown: How... (Below threshold)

September 10, 2012 5:33 PM | Posted by Matthias: | Reply

Like, my mind is blown: How terribly could you misinterpret a lucid post? You're everything that's wrong with pseudo intellectual quacks in this country. Go crawl back in your hole in the ground.

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a harvard tf commented some... (Below threshold)

September 11, 2012 12:20 AM | Posted by lmnop: | Reply

a harvard tf commented somewhere above, but i skimmed the comments and haven't seen a student perspective, so here's my two cents:

big harvard classes have a culture of creating a "study guide" from the course material mixed in with some choice quotes from reading and lecture. usually a bunch of students work together to make one. but often, if the course is offered every year, old study guides get recycled (why re-do the work?). and how hard it is to forward a study guide to any friend/cute-girl/team-mate in class- especially when it's from years ago and you don't have to get anyone's permission to send it- as easy as dragging and dropping the attachment.

and the result? a whole. fuckin. shitstorm.

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its cool that the reason th... (Below threshold)

September 11, 2012 6:25 AM | Posted by crumbskull: | Reply

its cool that the reason this is cheating is because the students all used the same formulation to regurgitate the desired answers

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i always answered test ques... (Below threshold)

September 11, 2012 6:33 AM | Posted by crumbskull: | Reply

i always answered test questions as tersely as possible bcuz i liked to finish early on account of i had so much weed that needed smoking

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like fucking obviously the ... (Below threshold)

September 11, 2012 6:40 AM | Posted by crumbskull: | Reply

like fucking obviously the literal children in your turgid intro classes are using the internet to get their answers as easily as possible, is the message here that it is inappropriate to collaboratively learn? i used to write study guides for kids for classes i wasnt in (because i was asked not to return[on account of it was just so much weed]) and like somehow those study guides are less valid sources of accurate information that a website or book or something?

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Well, I don't care what stu... (Below threshold)

September 11, 2012 6:21 PM | Posted, in reply to ammicha's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Well, I don't care what students want. If we're catering college to "what students want", why not skip over all the boring "learning" part and just hand them a diploma? That's why the kids went to college in the first place -- they want the diploma to unlock the pathway to their dream job. One in ten might have some interest in the actual material, but most kids will be happy to walk to class and find it's been cancelled for the day. Even the ones with mild interest in the material would never dream of reading on their own to understand the stuff that they should be learning.

That isn't good enough if we want the degrees to mean something other than "capable of telling people exactly what they want to hear" and drinking. I don't see how those kinds of graduates are going to do much good. We need leaders and thinkers. We need graduates capable of reasoning and using logic, of taking numbers and using statistics to figure out if the trend means what we think it means. We need engineers capable of more than just making more facebook apps. We need people who know that some stuff on the internet, heck even some things in books are false. We aren't getting them because we don't demand that kids earn the right to go to college or learn anything while they're in college. College is basically High School of the 1950's and the 8th grade of 1900.

In fact, I'd like to see how many of the college grads of 2012 could have entered the 8th grade in 1895. I wouldn't be pretty.

http://www.barefootsworld.net/1895finalexam.html

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Another Harvard student her... (Below threshold)

September 26, 2012 10:03 PM | Posted by Tim: | Reply

Another Harvard student here:

The cheating consisted of copying answers from a single Google Doc that may very well have circulated through the entire class. The students got caught mostly because many of them didn't even bother to copyedit their plagiarized answers, and repeated the same distinctive typos (spaces after commas in numerical figures, for example).

In a class like this, it would be pretty damn difficult to ascertain whether students were copying answers or just regurgitating, word for word, the professor's words or excerpts from the reading (TLP is right in observing that this is exactly what you are SUPPOSED to do in a Introductory Gov class). Except that typos are memorable and when you see the same one occur, time and time again, it is impossible to shrug off as coincidence. All a grader needs is plausible deniability, and these students wouldn't even meet that bar.

I'm absolutely of the opinion that the students should all receive failing grades and be suspended for a year, which is the standard punishment. Say what you will about how common this ethical lapse is, and how justice ought not be arbitrary, etc... these students were still unforgivably lazy, and if they were willing to invest literally fifteen seconds to read over a paragraph for typos, this never would have happened. If a final exam isn't worth 15 seconds to these students, then these students sure as hell aren't worth a college degree, no matter how debased that degree has become.

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It's easy to say you don't ... (Below threshold)

September 30, 2012 3:36 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by ammicha: | Reply

It's easy to say you don't care what the students want - but then whose wants do you care for? The over-inflated ego of the postmodernist professor of literature is not going to teach his students how to think rationally. It's gonna teach them to think the way the professor thinks. So now, instead of having clear standards and criteria for the course, students have to shoot in the dark for the prof's fancy, the benefit to their education being little more than extra jimjams, and less space in the professor's inbox.

The problem, then, you might say, are the teachers - the people who run the courses to begin with. But the implication that critical thinking is somehow a thing that can be captured and objectively taught, or furthermore the implication that a humanity's course, even run by the best of them, should ever hope to /improve/ or /build up/ thinking skills under the pretense that the humanities is a field that constructs structures upon structures like mathematics, is bullshit. There's a reason humanities courses are so hard to grade - they're not supposed to be about pandering to some universal standard of critical thinking - they're about the humanities -- the field of individual revolutions. You're telling the professor to teach a course about what is essentially himself under the guise of Freud or Derrida or Wittgenstein, then asking him to assess their objective competency in the supposed material. Yeah, good luck with that.

If you want to really /teach/ humanities courses, guarantee everyone an A+. Yeah, everyone. Then you can at least be sure the people attending your classes are there to learn something.

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Also, great link. That exam... (Below threshold)

September 30, 2012 3:45 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by ammicha: | Reply

Also, great link. That exam is incredible.

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tell us this...do you hold ... (Below threshold)

September 30, 2012 5:08 AM | Posted, in reply to ammicha's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

tell us this...do you hold a degree in English, philosophy, or cultural studies? (the only "humanity's" [sic] where your comments might be remotely relevant, since in the others postmodernism is practically irrelevant)

no? didn't think so.

"The problem, then, you might say, are the teachers - the people who run the courses to begin with. But the implication that critical thinking is somehow a thing that can be captured and objectively taught, or furthermore the implication that a humanity's course, even run by the best of them, should ever hope to /improve/ or /build up/ thinking skills under the pretense that the humanities is a field that constructs structures upon structures like mathematics, is bullshit."

actually, what you said is "bullshit" -- because the humanities are nothing like mathematics, nor do they claim to be. their focus is on critical analysis - not at all like mathematics. your comparison is faulty.

"There's a reason humanities courses are so hard to grade - they're not supposed to be about pandering to some universal standard of critical thinking"

have you ever graded a humanities course? how do you know that they're difficult to grade? did you just assume that because the answers are not clearcut that it makes them ungradeable? the humanities are not about getting the "right answer" -- and they shouldn't be, since only in mathematics, physics, and chemistry are things so clear cut. they're about constructing arguments that are sound and valid, and evaluating the arguments of others based on this metric. this is not that difficult a metric to judge, in spite of your protestations to the contrary.

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Some time in the Pleistocen... (Below threshold)

September 30, 2012 10:00 AM | Posted, in reply to ammicha's comment, by rincewind: | Reply

Some time in the Pleistocene era, I graduated from Duke with a BA in English Literature, during the darkest days of postmodern deconstruction and all the other trends of academic masturbation, so I'm well acquainted with ammicha's complaints about the ambiguities inherent in evaluating students' progress in an inherently subjective subject. And, with all the best will in the world I have to say, "If this bothers you so much, you should stick to Physics, but if you want to learn English or History or Philosophy they you need to learn the language, and customs and thought patterns prevalent in that field."

There's a secret to succeeding in an English degree: you can always get at least a B+ by simply regurgitating what the professor wants to hear. Any English major worth his salt learns this during Freshman year and can use it to cruise through that year and Sophomore year, leaving that much more time for partying.

But there's a deeper secret to an English degree, and you don't learn it until much later: grinding out those B+ papers is tedious and boring. Some time during Junior year you find that you have a strong opinion about Shakespeare's alleged homosexuality, that doesn't match the lecture notes, or any of the casual references you've seen, and you decide that it will be much more fun to defend it than to go out drinking again. Congratulations, your education has begun. You will learn that some Professors are closed-minded dilletants and you'll start avoiding their classes; but you'll learn that others are open and eager for a dispute, and you'll gravitate to them. As your skills in academic dispute grow, the grades will improve until you can reliably crack the B+ barrier.

At least, that's my experience, supported by an informal survey of old classmates and acquaintances. So it's not much use to bemoan the imprecision of the humanities or the jargon of the Professors. You're entering their turf now, and it is your responsibility to learn from them as much as it is their responsibility to teach you.

[A side note to English Majors reading this: hang tough - not all of us are flipping burgers and waxing cars.]

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From the original post:... (Below threshold)

September 30, 2012 10:19 AM | Posted by rincewind: | Reply

From the original post:

"So let me make my own counter-allegation: the students aren't guilty of cheating, the university is guilty of entrapment"

Sorry, but this is complete nonsense. I've read through the original post, the comment string (skimming some) and the Boston Globe's coverage, and, as far as I can tell, the excuses and challenges devolve to:

"The instructions were unclear about what we could and couldn't use."

"But everyone does it."

I can't take either of these seriously. For the first excuse, the proper response to unclear instructions is to get them clarified, not to use them as an excuse for cheating. For the second, this is no more convincing than when I tell the highway trooper, "Look, all the other cars are speeding, why don't you stop them?"

These, and other excuses are bankrupt on their face, because they fail the test of common sense. These Harvard students are products of over a decade of competitive examinations, and they know the ground rules: you do your own work, or you cite the source of your words, opinions and thoughts.

Sorry, but they were cheating. They knew it, the professor knew it, we know it, and attempts to muddy the water just make the situation more pathetic.

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I upvoted your response, be... (Below threshold)

September 30, 2012 7:23 PM | Posted, in reply to rincewind's comment, by ammicha: | Reply

I upvoted your response, because it's a valuable contribution, but there is one aspect of your post that I'd like to pause at for a moment: "If this bothers you so much, you should stick to Physics, but if you want to learn English or History or Philosophy they you need to learn the language, and customs and thought patterns prevalent in that field".

"If the sorry state of the education in the field bothers you so much, stick to Physics."

That's a pretty deep hole we dug ourselves right there.

I think I have some credibility here commenting on both ends of the fence; I majored in Phil & Maths. I "know" essentially what it takes to get a good grade. Hell, I'm the best cock sucker there is - grad w/ the equivalent of summa cum laude where I live (rest assured, the maths did not help). I can also tell you that when you meet these supposed open-minded profs, and write your supposed contrarian essay, and get an A+++ on it, you haven't done a single thing to escape the grading mainframe that's essentially their ego, and what their ego thinks of you. Because they don't think of you as an equal, or of your essay as something that is meant to fundamentally challenge their beliefs (and why should they? you're the student, they're the prof, and your education is all about them). Your essay is always going to be evaluated according to their standards, according to what they understand is "proper critical thinking" - it's never going to alter them. You can't escape this fact, and it's not something you should try to change.

And I think the point you might've missed in my post was, that this is not a bad thing. Because you don't study the humanities the same way you do maths. It's not a field where the quality of critical thinking can be effectively assessed or quantified. It's a field about individual revolutions - about people, in this case, the people who are meant to teach you.

So where's the problem? The problem arises when you ask these people, not only to teach you, but to evaluate you. Evaluate you on how well you fit into their norms, into their perception of what "critical thinking" or "understanding" means. And when these evaluations affect (and in some cases effect) your chances of getting a job, or getting accepted to a PhD program, or what have you, you can rest assured no student is going to seriously put effort into original thought or self expression as a result of being challenged by prof X's class.

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"I can also tell you that w... (Below threshold)

September 30, 2012 10:06 PM | Posted, in reply to ammicha's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

"I can also tell you that when you meet these supposed open-minded profs, and write your supposed contrarian essay, and get an A+++ on it, you haven't done a single thing to escape the grading mainframe that's essentially their ego, and what their ego thinks of you. Because they don't think of you as an equal, or of your essay as something that is meant to fundamentally challenge their beliefs (and why should they? you're the student, they're the prof, and your education is all about them). Your essay is always going to be evaluated according to their standards, according to what they understand is "proper critical thinking" - it's never going to alter them."

this is all just opinionated noise, not argument -- what do you mean by "the grading mainframe that is essentially their ego"?

why do you want to "alter" your professors? the point of a humanities education has little to do with whether you manage to "alter" your instructors or not. why must an essay necessarily "fundamentally challenge" a given professor's beliefs? why the worry about whether you are their equal or not? when you're doing an undergrad, you aren't the intellectual equal of someone who holds at least one, and probably more than one, PhD.

your post sounds like sour grapes because your instructors didn't like you/your ideas enough -- they didn't like your ego enough.

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I don't know what all this ... (Below threshold)

October 1, 2012 6:51 AM | Posted by thestage: | Reply

I don't know what all this crazy bitching about how hard it is to get a good grade in the humanities because woe is the undergrad who is able to discern what flavor of postcolonial feminist linguistics her current professor is currently favoring. Here's the truth: if you have some idea of how to write a paper, and then proceed to apply that idea in a manner that does not result in the worst thing yet created on this earth, you're going to be fine. They call it inflation because the numbers go up, not down. summa english grad right here, real PhD material--here is my patented technique for getting an A on literally everything I ever turned in as an undergrad: briefly, arduously convince yourself to slightly overcome the inertia that defines your miserable existence, so that you might entertain one idea in your atrophied skull that does not relate to how your idea better relate to what the professor said. unless writing bad papers is my singular talent (a distinct possibility, granted), I do not think this is a ridiculous requirement.

And when I TA some of you in a couple years, it will be clear as day just who hates themselves a little more than they hate me. the grading will not be difficult.

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It's easy to say you don... (Below threshold)

October 1, 2012 8:15 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

It's easy to say you don't care what the students want - but then whose wants do you care for? The over-inflated ego of the postmodernist professor of literature is not going to teach his students how to think rationally. It's gonna teach them to think the way the professor thinks. So now, instead of having clear standards and criteria for the course, students have to shoot in the dark for the prof's fancy, the benefit to their education being little more than extra jimjams, and less space in the professor's inbox.

I want students to have to do more to earn their degrees than merely spitting the study guide at the teacher. Having courses that allow you to pass by simply doing that means that really you aren't educated at all. We need students capable of checking up on evidence, of explaining answers in their own words, of taking bits of evidence and coming to a rational conclusion that can be backed up with facts. I think college -- especially courses taught like this -- are actually counterproductive to creating the kinds of college grads we need to build the 21st century. We've created college educated yes-men, we haven't created thinkers.

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Well, perhaps my crack abou... (Below threshold)

October 1, 2012 8:18 AM | Posted, in reply to ammicha's comment, by rincewind: | Reply

Well, perhaps my crack about sticking to Physics was the teeniest bit arrogant. You're right to call me on it, and I withdraw it with apologies.

But I don't really follow the rest of your argument - the part about escaping the "grading mainframe that's essentially their ego." It seems to me that, if you really want to escape the evaluation (grading) process, then college is the worst place you can possibly be because, with a few exceptions, modern education is all about regular evaluation, and the teachers are doing the evaluating, and there's absolutely nothing that the student can do to escape this.

I'll stipulate that some fraction of the professors are completely closed minded and not willing to listen to contrary ideas from the students: all you can do is learn to avoid them. (I suspect that the percentage of closed minded professors is about the same as the percentage of jerks in the general population, but I could be wrong.)

But for the others, here's the way I see it. I'm sitting in his classroom because he is an expert in some branch of knowledge, and I want some of what he can teach me, so I'm already the supplicant. Now, I expect him to meet me exactly halfway in the education process - he needs to explain the dominant ideas, the important authorities, and the jargon; but I need to learn them, adopt them, and use them, because that is part of the knowledge. So it doesn't bother me that part of my grade reflects my use of the authoritative references, or a knowledge of the terms of art, because that is what I asked him to teach me.

As for his grading me out of his own ego, I understand what you mean but I guess it doesn't bother me so much. I would have said that he was grading me against his own knowledge of the field and I wouldn't expect anything else.

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Thing is, I have no objecti... (Below threshold)

October 1, 2012 8:32 PM | Posted, in reply to rincewind's comment, by ammicha: | Reply

Thing is, I have no objection to the prof evaluating you from his own perspective (how can you take on another?), I object to the pragmatic consequences of that evaluation. Your grade in your degree decides whether you pass or fail the course (thus have to repeat it), whether you're likely to get accepted to an MA program in a given university or not, whether you're likely to get a job or not. If the evaluation itself was simply meant to help the student get a better grasp of his mastery of the material, that would've been fine - but consider how much more grades mean.

When the money's on the line, not a single student is going to risk doing something that's really out of the norm (what I meant in my previous response was that even contrarian opinions are usually 'of the norm' and thus aren't a particularly good example) that he knows is going to displease the TA. Sure, they'll have some degree of self expression, they'll be to some extent contrarian, but the grade is always a deterrent - because it means so much - they'll never do something really 'extreme'.

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I really cannot relate to t... (Below threshold)

October 2, 2012 1:41 AM | Posted by Larry Winkler: | Reply

I really cannot relate to the statements of those saying or intimating that the students opinions on matters taught in an undergrad course are just as valid as those who have mastered the material after years of study. It's quite perplexing. It also speaks to employers who constantly comment on the arrogance of today's college graduates who think far too highly of themselves and their meager, yes meager, knowledge of material yet behave as though their opinions are somehow sacrosanct.

Even undergrads can and should attempt to bring the methodology and thought processes that masters of these areas bring to problems to new and different problems. In fact, it is the diversity of student experience, ethnicity, culture, and language that can advance and add texture to an area. It is critical. But for all but quite advanced undergrads, these attempts at creative synthesis of an area's methodology will fall far short of the quality that would be routine within the profession.

Unless I'm reading the comments incorrectly, most here assume they are equal to if not better than the professors who are teaching them. Quite incredible.

I find A. Einstein's statement appropriate here: The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.

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Okay, now I'm going to swin... (Below threshold)

October 2, 2012 8:08 AM | Posted, in reply to Larry Winkler's comment, by rincewind: | Reply

Okay, now I'm going to swing around and take ammicha's side for a while. (Hey, it's a blog, consistency is optional.) As I think I said earlier, grinding out those safe, formulaic, B+ papers becomes really boring. You reach a point where you say, "I know I'm still a rookie, but I'd like to know just how far I still have to go. I think I have something to say this time - I'm going to try to write something like the the sources I've been reading." Unless you're delusional, you know that you're not going to impress the professor and your first attempt will seem very naive to him, but aren't you curious to know whether you can at least play in the minor leagues?

If I can paraphrase ammicha's argument, some professors set the grading bar so high that no rational student is going to take the risk. If a given paper is fifteen percent of your final grade, you just can't afford to use it as an experiment. To make matters worse, some professors don't recognize or respect an attempt to stretch yourself and will punish attempts to express your own ideas in scholarly form. As a Sophomore, I submitted a paper trying to do a Freudian analysis of the relationship between Prince Hal and Falstaff. (It was painfully naive and I would probably burn it if I could find it again.) But the response was something like, "Don't try this again until you know what you're doing. C+" It doesn't take many experiences like that to condition you out of further experiments.

(This professor eventually became one of my best teachers. He could be a jerk, but he could also be an inspiration.)

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Safe, boring, formulaic pap... (Below threshold)

October 2, 2012 10:01 AM | Posted, in reply to rincewind's comment, by Larry Winkler: | Reply

Safe, boring, formulaic papers might be closer to C, but I get your point. I do expect profs to understand and grade based upon where the student should be on the curve from beginner to master. Your example of receiving a C+ for the Freudian analysis of Prince Hal and Falstaff seems abrupt and unhelpful if it wasn't accompanied by substantive direction for improvement; it may have been deserved not for the creative attempt, but that, at the time, you had not connected and used Freudian concepts correctly or failed to support your arguments citing the text or similar problem. C+ may have been deserved.

I take it your ego was not inflated by the grade, and there was no question that you may have fallen quite short of the expected mastery of the subject from the level expected of a sophomore.

Perhaps from him you learned the need for grit in the face of challenges and that, in fact, you came through the adversity to success. The best education you could have received.

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This reminds me of when I w... (Below threshold)

October 12, 2012 9:58 AM | Posted by Simon: | Reply

This reminds me of when I went to university (Cognitive artificial Intelligence) and completely lost interest during the years and passed most of my exams totally unprepared by just writing down a complicated set of very hard to understand semantically abstract sentences. Most of the time my answers would be graded about half-correct and the odd question that inspired me to write something mildly coherent about made it possible to score more than 50% most of the time, to the total disbelieve of my fellowstudents who studied their asses of, never skipped the classes I almost never went to and couldn't understand the questionary at all. Which was besides the point I then also pointed out. I never did finish any of the 3 studies I tried though, deeply disappointed with the level of education I encountered in my life. I guess I should have tried mathematics a bit more. But, I'm happy now, I also drink.

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These comments reminds me o... (Below threshold)

October 12, 2012 11:56 AM | Posted by Larry Winkler: | Reply

These comments reminds me of interesting research on educational outcomes from undergraduate college. The general tendencies seem to be the following: Students enter believing there is right and wrong, and they hold the right (level 1). If taught correctly and with others holding diverse and equally unwavering positions, over the course of education, they may enter into the phase where everyone's opinion is equal including that held by professor(level 2). The next stage (level 3) is learning the need for evidence and critical thinking and realizing not all opinions and evidence are equal and there is solid evidence for some positions and nothing worthwhile for others. Level 4 requires the student as they approach mastery to choose from among the solidly based positions, and attempt to further those positions until evidence mounts to persuade otherwise.

Research shows that most undergrads leave the university in Level 2. This is both a failure of teaching and a failure of the student to do the work necessary. So many comments on this blog illustrate either the desire to or ability to game the university system and find fault with it. Yes, if you really don't want to get a real education, you can fool the system and undeservedly get a degree -- you can get away with it, and many here have proudly said as much.

Early in college, the responsibility to become an educated person is perhaps split 50-50, but towards the end of college, 90% is the student's responsibility. A college degree may mean nothing at all, but is that really the universities' fault. Character of the student and the society needs to count for something.

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Agree that the decision to ... (Below threshold)

October 12, 2012 12:32 PM | Posted, in reply to Mictlantecuhtli's comment, by Larry Winkler: | Reply

Agree that the decision to use "jargon" is dependent upon the receiving audience.

I'm concerned in general about the pejorative use of the word "jargon". Making fields of expertise available to non-experts requires one not to use "jargon". The problem is in many cases, many fields use regular "English" words to mean field-specific things. At best, "jargon" used in fields have only a metaphorical relationship between the same word in others fields and in regular English usage.

I'm not making myself clear, even to myself, here. The use of jargon by undergrads probably hides ignorance of such word's field-specific meaning, whereas in the hands of an expert communicating to experts, the communication is clear. However, I have witnessed too often writers, within the same paragraph, using the same word in both the expert mode and normal mode, resulting in arguments that are confusing at best, and specious at worst.

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<a href="http://chronicle.c... (Below threshold) I have enjoyed reading the ... (Below threshold)

December 19, 2012 6:53 AM | Posted by Alias1632: | Reply

I have enjoyed reading the comments more then the article. Thanks all.

Let me offer a line of thought that has been missed;

If you have a take home exam that has anything like "correct answers" you have to assume your students will seek the best source available. Therefore, you have to accept that what you are really doing is testing their internet/social fluency.

Unless you yourself had terrible internet/social skills (and even then you should have taken at least one educational methods course before they allowed you to teach and that course REALLY should have covered this), you certainly should be aware that any test that has been used before or allows enough time for a guide to be developed during the testing period WILL have a guide.

If a guide exists and all your students find and use it then what you have learned is that they are all either proficient at using the internet or socially adept; they all found a source that answered the questions at hand exactly. Good job kids!

If your goal was to determine actual fluency rather then internet/social skills, you might want to choose a testing format that excludes using these skills: like not a take home exam (yeah, that means someone has to proctor) or maybe one without "correct answers" (unfortunately, this is not compatible with "easy for the TA's to grade").

It seems to me a larger issue is the fact that at Harvard you had a professor with some combination of:

1. Too many students for him to properly evaluate
2. Inadequate education in educational methods
3. Poor critical thinking skills
4. A helping of plain old lazy

Don't get me wrong. Kick them kids to the street for their crimes against academia! It won't be a big deal. It will be a valuable and constructive lesson that will allow them to grow and build character.

Just make sure the university has its certification pulled for a year as well. It won't be a big deal. It will be a valuable and constructive lesson that will allow it to grow and build character, and maybe work on educational methods courses ...

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This!I have spent ... (Below threshold)

December 31, 2012 5:46 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

This!

I have spent most of my life trying to get to university because to study at university (and to pass with a good grade) shows that you're intelligent.

Except, I've realised that it's not. It's just a hoop jumping exercise! I will graduate in a few months and what have I learnt in my past three years? That if I want to get a good grade, I need to find one academic saying something, contrast it with another academic and agree with one or the other. That's it.
That's what I got for 20G.

I'm angry with myself for allowing myself to get ripped off (and continuing the course, despite wanting to quit) but I'm also angry at all the opportunities that only appear with an university degree.

Now I'm exhausted and I have about 6 courseworks, 1 exam and 7 Multiple Choice Questions to finish.

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using in-text citations to ... (Below threshold)

February 2, 2013 7:52 PM | Posted by joe: | Reply

using in-text citations to support one's claim that in-text citations are simply a way to demonstrate authority and to appear smart? someone's irony detector was having an off day.

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If that's all you do, then ... (Below threshold)

February 9, 2013 5:10 PM | Posted, in reply to joe's comment, by Dovahkiin: | Reply

If that's all you do, then you're not making a case. Again, no problem with supporting an idea with a few quotes or facts in a paper makes sense. What i think the point of the inclusion of the fake citations was about is more that students tend to STOP there. They aren't using the facts and quotes as a springboard to making a case, they're using the citations AS THE CASE.

So if I argue that TLP is right by quoting 5 guys and doing nothing else, it's not really an argument, it's quote/fact mining with transitions, and it doesn't fool people who recognize those tricks. It's not much better than people who try to sound impressive by using the thesaurus and the search/replace function in MSWord to change a sentence into a conglomeration of buzzwords that say very little. Tricks are cute, but I think we do students a disservice if we allow them to get away with using tricks rather than forcing them to get by without the tricks.

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In the words of Neil degras... (Below threshold)

April 14, 2013 11:56 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

In the words of Neil degrasse tyson, the root of the issue is that grades are valued higher than learning, which is a fundamental reason as to why students continue to cheat.

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I agree that many universit... (Below threshold)

April 15, 2013 4:43 PM | Posted by Richelle: | Reply

I agree that many university classes, especially intros and general eds, are pretty much designed to create easy work and/or a sense of self-importance for the professor without actually challenging students in ways that matter. The "challenge" created by such courses is a false one: you get an A (and why does it even matter?) by rote memorization, by churning out what is expected of you, by playing into the system. It is pretty ironic that these 125 students supposedly trying to cheat the system were actually doing precisely what it begs them to do by virtue of how it is set up.

However, I see a problem with the author's stance in another post, one about hipsters, as it relates to this one. He can scoff all he wants at the English major (and who are we kidding? I do too; I study the real literary discipline, Comparative Literature), but the supposedly "useless" humanities degrees he is so willing to dismiss are the ones typically fighting against the systematic anti-education of other "academic" fields that favor complicity over creativity, hollow jargon over critical thinking, etc. That's not to say there are no humanities classes, departments, or colleges that don't end up being horribly uninspired and just as guilty of asking the students to be sheeple. But by and large, if you want critical thinkers and good writers, you won't as readily find them in the more "marketable" university programs.

So the real question is: how can we criticize incidences like this while simultaneously laughing at all the people who ARE trying to get a real education, even if it means a less clear vision of their future job security? I refuse to believe that universities are merely self-congratulatory (read: pointless) or that their only function is/should be to prepare people for careers. The whole reason this author can even think deeply enough to notice and write about (albeit somewhat sloppily—he should get an editor) these underlying ideological structures and fundamental social problems is likely related to critical thinking skills he learned while at a university. So let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

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I think it comes down to th... (Below threshold)

April 15, 2013 6:56 PM | Posted, in reply to Richelle's comment, by Dovahkiin: | Reply

I think it comes down to the "hackability" so to speak of these degrees and programs that make both problems a big collective problem in educational culture.

What degrees in general are marketed as is "if you have one, you'll make more money". Not necessarily true, in many cases, and that's the first trick. But part of the reason why is that in too many cases, having the diploma doesn't correlate well with having the skill set, which is what the article addresses here.

It comes down to a few problems, most of which are structural. The first is that since we're culturally egalitarian, the very idea that some people would not be allowed (or even not be able to pay for) a degree is unthinkable. Which means that schools are not checking for basic ability before a student begins. This might be less so at Harvard, where unless you're legacy, you face a strong selection process. But most colleges are not like that -- if you graduated high school, you will be able to attend the University of Homestate.

Which leads to the second problem, when you send a bunch of functional illiterates to college, you have to restructure the courses so that at least 75% of them pass. Ideally, at least for the front office, everyone passes, because hey, they've paid for the courses, and if they pass they sign up for more. However, I think the professors still have enough pull to have failure be a possibility, but one that you almost have to try for. Now, how do you get 75% of a class that can barely read and is unable to think to pass a course on history? You do exactly what this guy did -- let them take home the test and thus open up the possibility of using notes, textbooks, wikipedia, and so on -- and PRESTO, everyone passes. Of course they still have to pretend this matters, because if not, the fraud is in the open. You can't admit that college is not a test for knowledge, so you have to put on a show about being shocked SHOCKED that students cheated on a take home exam.

All it really shows is how hackable the degree is. The tests you take to get the diploma are hackable in the sense that you can get a degree in many subjects without learning to think deeply about the subject or converse on the subject without reverting to tricks to do so. The tricks are obvious enough -- one of the big ones is "quote mining" in which you pretend that you understand an author by quoting him every time that he says something that sounds like what you want him to have said. Or you use the common buzzwords and terminology to say things that sound about right, even though you really couldn't give a basic definition of said terms without having to look them up. Talking about BOB and LISA is not the same thing as knowing what those terms mean. Quoting Plato does not mean that you have the foggiest notion of what he was talking about. But such are the tests -- using buzzwords and quoting the texts you should be digesting are now a good way to graduate with a diploma. Note that none of that requires you to know anything about the subject at hand.

I've called people on it, and it's pretty bad in some places. I like to debate politics (ok I like to debate anything, it's fun), and I can always tell when someone doesn't know what they're talking about. They tend to all use the college tricks, quoting someone who sounds like they're saying something you want them to say, and throwing around terms that they cannot explain. I'm sorry, but unless you can explain to me what "chained CPI" means IN YOUR OWN WORDS, you cannot possibly expect me to believe you when you say it's not a good way to keep SS benefits in line with inflation. You don't know what CPI or Chained CPI ARE, you can't tell what the difference between them is, and since you don't know any of that, you can't really form an opinion on why Chained CPI is inaccurate or why CPI is more accurate. (Full confession, I'm not an economist, so I have only a basic grasp of CPI issues, and I need to do a bit to catch up) My point is not to pick on economics majors, I've seen it in other places, but to point out the common tricks -- people learned how to fake it, and it's in part because of how we structure education. When students are asked about a term on a test, at least the ones I've seen, an almost direct quote from either text or notes is good enough. When asked to defend something, quote mining is good enough. So people are tricked into thinking they know stuff they don't. In other words, they think they earned a degree by learning stuff, but they really "hacked" their way along by fooling the TAs into thinking that they knew stuff when they didn't know it.

I think the big picture answer is to make the tests honest enough to be impassible without being able to come up with explanations for the material on the spot, and to be able to put quotes into a context and to defend a point using materials without having to quote mine to make the point by having other people in your source material make the points for you. they should be used to support and explain, not to make the point. In science or computers and math, it's always simpler, if the math doesn't work or the program doesn't run, you didn't get it.

I'm still in favor of apprenticeships and similar ideas, mostly because of the difficulty of "hacking" an apprenticeship. An apprentice who does not pick up the skills isn't going to graduate.

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American educational system... (Below threshold)

September 11, 2013 7:07 PM | Posted by Padalko: | Reply

American educational systems need modernization as well as renewal of the stuff. There students pay particular attention to key aspects of motivation in education. We ultimately will prefer sample papers website for the new generation. In a democratic society higher and tertiary education should be a common thing but the reason to get it should be closely determined and studied. We need presentation of our own views being approved.

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"This isn't really news. In... (Below threshold)

December 26, 2013 2:19 AM | Posted by J: | Reply

"This isn't really news. In school we all knew to give the professor what they wanted if we wanted to pass the course."

I don't know. That's likely. But there are alternatives. If the professor expects hard work and discipline (and writing extra essays counts as hard work) then you can disagree with their pet theory. My favorite professor thus far was an Africanist teaching modern literature. We'd butt heads in class but she respected that I cared about the class and I respected that she was good at teaching it.

I expect a lot of professors are like this and are either used to having their profession validated or don't feel their students validated them enough. They're all too human too...

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"However, I see a problem w... (Below threshold)

December 26, 2013 2:44 AM | Posted by J: | Reply

"However, I see a problem with the author's stance in another post, one about hipsters, as it relates to this one. He can scoff all he wants at the English major (and who are we kidding? I do too; I study the real literary discipline, Comparative Literature), but the supposedly "useless" humanities degrees he is so willing to dismiss are the ones typically fighting against the systematic anti-education of other "academic" fields that favor complicity over creativity, hollow jargon over critical thinking, etc. That's not to say there are no humanities classes, departments, or colleges that don't end up being horribly uninspired and just as guilty of asking the students to be sheeple. But by and large, if you want critical thinkers and good writers, you won't as readily find them in the more "marketable" university programs."

This is pretty true. And I am an English literature major. I was talking to a business major friend of mine once. I brought up Freud. He said "well that dude was fucked up." Little did he know Freud's relative is responsible for modern-day consumer marketing?

Ah, the liberal arts...

And comparative literature isn't offered as an undergrad course at my university. At least I'm not a creative writing major... Guy I know is in 80 grand of debt for that degree... poor guy.

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THIS... (Below threshold)

January 4, 2014 12:46 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

THIS

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