Monday, July 30, 2012

College Students aren’t learning shit (?) [by anon]

There is a study out, a fairly influential study, that reports that students who go to college are basically not learning how to think any better by the time they graduate.  This study is the basis for the recent book, Academically Adrift.  I finished the book over the weekend and now the ringing warning, “The ship is sinking!” keeps flashing in my head.
There are big problems with higher education.  Here are a few, and I’ve gathered these from such books as Academically Adrift and my own observations.  This is not exhaustive.
1.    Well done research studies cannot be ignored.  The awesome learning us faculty thought was happening on our campuses is not happening.  In fact, there might not be any substantial learning going on at all.  Some faculty will just poo-poo the studies of Academically Adrift and say that the have some problems with their methodology.  This one faculty person said that to me a couple of days ago, but that’s avoidance.  Wake up faculty!  You cannot ignore good evidential findings.
2.    Most faculty are hired to teach, though few, if any, of them have had any training on how to teach.  K-12 teachers have had tons of training.  College teachers – zero.  Is that the dumbest thing ever?!?!?!??  Maybe it makes perfect sense that students aren’t learning how to think any better.  Us faculty probably aren’t the right ones to teach students since we’re probably not teaching well.
3.    Faculty are hired to educate students, but teaching is only a part of what we’re supposed to do.  It depends on the school, but there is usually considerable research and service [read “committee work”] demands.  So while a faculty member’s time should be spent overwhelmingly on teaching and improving one’s teaching, there are other hurdles to jump so that we aren’t fired.  Unfortunately, the major criterion for getting tenure and promotion at UWW is research.  One has to have the right number of publications or else get ready for a great big, “NO!” when it comes time for your tenure decision.  The irony is so few people actually read what one publishes, but at UWW, we have over 120 students a semester of whom we have the chance to educate.  Research does nothing for the education of students, whereas our teaching is paramount.  Service can be hit or miss depending on what one is doing.  But lots of “service” can be busywork.
4.    Tenure is a problem.  While it was instituted as a way to protect the academic freedom of faculty, it has become the bed of which lazy professors can lie.  For many professors, once they get tenure, they take it as license to take it easy on improving their teaching and engaging in any research.  They view tenure as protection from getting fired, even if their performance slips to sub-par.  Tenure is a big problem.
5.    University athletics are a problem.  Do bigger and better sports teams and the millions of dollars spent on those programs help education at all?  Absolutely not!  Whatever profit is made goes right back into the sports machine.
6.    Schools focus on better, glossier buildings, better workout facilities, and state-of-the-art residence halls all to appeal the consumerism of students.  Tons of money is spent on the frivolous, when most of that needs to be reinvested in improving education.  Did I mention that studies are showing that students aren’t learning how to think better?
7.    Most people (students, faculty, administration, parents, politicians, and business people) view higher education exclusively as a substantial job-training program.  They don’t view higher education as a place to be challenged, a place to find your commitments, an arena to grow wiser and develop cognitively, a way to find your passions, or the means to become a more interesting person.  There is a difference between “training” and “education.”  The latter is so much more appealing, but it is losing favor with everyone because of the market.
8.    Tuition is increasing, thus student loan debt is increasing.  P-R-O-B-L-E-M
There are more problems – you know there are more problems (e.g., grade inflation, student apathy, easier classes…).
I’m thoroughly overwhelmed now.  The ship is sinking…the ship is sinking…

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Different parental treatment = different morals? (by anon)

I don’t know if parents truly realize this, but I have noticed the different way they treat siblings and in my case older sister versus younger brother. Growing up I went to Racine Christian School from Kindergarten to Eighth grade, well my parents pulled my brother out right after his fifth grade to attend Bullen Middle School in Kenosha, a public school. This is just one way that my parents have shown I am there test dummy. My point is that the way they have treated me differently than my brother has made us both very different whether for the good or bad.

Through sports I had a common interest with my father while my brother is smart and into gaming he related more to my mother. All throughout my life my brother and I have been complete opposites due to the way my parents brought us up differently and in both our eyes we have seen it unfair. Besides our middle schools being completely different I played sports in middle school and high school while my brother did not. I always had to do chores when I was younger in order to keep my toys and to earn an allowance, my mother still cleans my brother’s room to this day and my father cleans up my brother’s dishes in his room.  

Then I went all the way through with confirmation at my church, but my brother was pulled out early once again. I went to a regular public school while my brother has attended a technical public high school. Before I started driving I had to practice driving our lawn mower, my brother has had to cut grass once.  I had to have a job as soon as I turned 16 to pay for my gas for the car my parents bought me, while my little brother just turned 18 and is just now having to work for the first time. At my skinniest in high school my mom was always getting on my case about what I ate, but my brother was not treated the same.

So in the end, my parents have not really paid too much attention to how differently we have been treated, but still to this day my boyfriend Anthony and I can see how I am treated very differently than my younger brother is by my parents. I have learned from this and I hope to not do this to my children because I feel I have better morals, values, and greater responsibilities than my younger brother has ever had when I was his age.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Calling out atheists! (by anon)

This post is a call to all atheists, agnostics, and other non-Christians, to wake up and realize the truth. First, I am a strong Christian believer. The Bible is the only foundation for all knowledge and truth and all understanding of right and wrong. I believe Jesus saved me many years ago, I love Jesus for this and I live my life, with Jesus in my heart, always. Knowing that I am saved makes me a better person, because even when I feel so angry I could hurt someone or break something, or when I feel so sad I could just give up life and kill myself, I think of Jesus and how I am saved, and continue strongly, knowing that God has a plan for me.

I have faith in the Bible, not in science. I'm not trying to blast science, it's just that with all the science in the world, we'll never understand the wonders of God and His creation to their fullest. Look out at the night sky, and just think about how anything this extraordinarily perfect and lovely came to be. To think that we can explain all of this with science and technology, without a mention of God being the creator, is terribly misguided. All those people out there spreading scientific theories about a God-less universe, take scientists to be gods. Everyone who believes in the theories formulated by scientists is no better than someone like me, who believes in the words written by men who have written the Bible. And for those of you who believe the words of philosophers from many years ago who try to explain away religion and God, you're no better than I.

Why would one want to believe that humans are worthless? That when we all die, we'll all be dirt, and that's it? No one can live a fulfilling life believing in these things. Humans mean something in the big scheme of things, and we have a purpose, yet so many people are out there ignoring it. I don't want everyone I know, especially my friends and family, to go to hell. So I must shine on and be a light for God, and I must show people the way. When things get rough and I feel weak, I pray and ask the Lord for help. I get guidance and support. Non-believers, how can you think you're so great and knowledgable, and live life without guidance? Humble yourselves, understand what Jesus has done, and live with Jesus in your heart.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Professors should stop complaining (by anon)

Every professor I have constantly complains about students not coming to class.  Don’t professors understand that this is college and students have the freedom to choose whether we want to come to class or not?  I understand that professors want to teach to large number of students but if only half of the students show up for class then it’s the students fault.  Not like the professors are being paid by the number of students that show up to class every day.  The students have already paid for their education and if they miss half of the classes then it’s their own fault and their waste of money.  Therefore, the professors should give extra credit for the students that do come to class every day.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Ethics and religion (by anon)

I was directed to a "youtube" video when I searched the name Lawrence Krauss on the internet at the recommendation of a philosophy professor. I watched this video with great interest as it explains a possible scientific reason that "there is something instead of nothing." By this I refer to the existence of existence itself. Life, the Universe, and everything as some would like to say it. There were links to related videos, of which I selected a debate involving Christopher Hitchens. I immediately fell in love. This man could command his wits in a rational and entertaining way that I envy. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, I urge you to seek out any of the debates which he took part in regarding religion in order to remedy this. ) The point of his arguments was this: religion is not only wrong, it is immoral.

Struck by the fact that I tend to agree with what he said (in many, but not all cases) I re-examined my own status in society. I am a single parent. My daughter is now the tender age of five years. I recently gave up drinking, and in my search for alternative behaviors I began to attend church as well as Alcoholics Anonymous. I found people who were supportive and who did not spend much time drinking there. The church served a purpose for me and at times I found myself embracing the spiritual side of the proposition. Since beginning my philosophical studies I have found it a good resource of people who are willing to entertain obscure and improbable propositions about the nature of reality. In light of Christopher's words I have found myself increasingly apprehensive of the possible manipulations that I may have been exposing my daughter to. Upon reading some of Mr. Hitchens' personal history I am put a little at ease in that he himself was the subject of religious indoctrination, but I also am yet on my guard as he seemed to be an exceptional intellectual and not of any garden variety. This intellect may have offered some natural protection from bigotry, and intolerance. 

So, am I visiting an injury upon my daughter? Is it better to cut my ties with this organization and flee to some other place? The answer is not clear to me. Hitchens makes a very convincing case, to which I would have something to add. If the atrocities that have occurred and do occur in the name of advancing religious beliefs are real, then how can I or anyone in good conscience build anything moral upon the back of such a development? What I mean is that the current position of the Christian church has been made possible by cruelty, fascism, racism, sexism, murder, rape, you name it, and yet the members of that church work to support the product of those horrible facts. This is tantamount to condoning the obove mentioned actions.  Can I then in good conscience participate in this? It is hard to justify. The only justification I can think of is that terrible things have been done by many other types of groups, but the problematic idea Hitchens has successfully argued here is that religions grant justification to these actions through the proposition of supernatural directives. It's like saying that the end justifies the means. The end being the comfort the current proponents of a religion receive, and the means being the entire history of attrocious behavior that led up to the current manifestation.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Do you know you are? (by anon)

I’m testing out a thought.  Bear with me as I fumble through it.

The question, “Who are you?” seems simple enough to answer.  I ask it, you give me your name, and we are all happy.  But if I ask myself, “Who am I?” just stating my name doesn’t say much.  So I say my name.  Big deal.  I am “Jim.”  But saying “Jim” doesn’t give me any insight into who I am, my self.  In this case, there really isn’t much in a name.  And now to go back to the first question, “Who are you?” it doesn’t seem that saying your name makes me happy anymore.  So what if your name is “Helen.”  That is only a designation by which I can refer to you.  That does not tell me who you are, your self.  There is no insight given as to who you are.

Am I my body?  In a trivial sense, of course I am.  We are material beings.  But that kind of answer doesn’t answer the “Who am I?” question, it answers the “What am I?” question.  “What” and “who” have very different meanings.  If I answer “my body” or even “my spirit or soul” as a dualist might say, those answers only deal with the composition of personal identity and not the selfhood of personal identity.  I want to avoid making a category mistake and stay focused on the “Who am I?” question.

Maybe I am my past, my history.  I’ve done plenty of things.  I’ve gone to the Grand Canyon, got an education, dated a bit, wrote some papers, did some experiments, had some pets, etc.  Are all those things what make me who I am?  I’m not satisfied with that kind of answer.  Talking about my history might in some way give a glimpse into who I was, but why must that have bearing on who I am now?  It need not.  Thus, I’m moving on.

Couldn’t I say that I am what I do?  If I am a professor, I could say, “I am a professor.”  Someone else could say, “I am a student.”  But that alone isn’t enough.  I do all sorts of things throughout the day and throughout my life, but just because I do those things, it doesn’t mean that I self-identify with them.  I brush my teeth every day – “I am a teeth brusher.”  Do I consider that something insightful about my self?  No.  Many people have jobs of which they cannot stand and would hate to be self-identified in those roles.  So we need to go deeper.  While what we do matters, it is not what I consider to be essential (it is more a matter of why we do what we do – keep reading).

Part of the problem in why it seems so hard to answer the question, “Who am I?” is that we start looking inside as if the answer is “in there” somewhere just waiting to be uncovered.  But what if that’s just the wrong way to think about it?  I’ll let you know what I’m getting at.

My self is grounded in that which I am passionate about.  In those things I am passionate about, I have a profound interest in them, I have an investment in them, to be more precise, I have a commitment to them.  As such, my self is grounded in my commitments.  I am my commitments.  If a person lacks any passion for anything and has no commitments, that person would lack a self.  The person would be “empty” if you allow the metaphor.  That empty person could do many things like work and go to school, but without any investment, that person (or we) wouldn’t have the slightest clue as to who that person is, because there is nothing to knowWe know ourselves through our commitments.  I know who I am through those things I am committed to.

This makes sense to me because how else could we know ourselves?  We need to relate ourselves to something in order for us to know ourselves.  In our commitments, we externalize ourselves in a process I have started calling “selfing.”  We are relating ourselves to ourselves in another (for those of you who took PHI 364, you’ll catch some Kierkegaard here).  When I see what I am committed to, I see that that is what I am passionate about and can then relate myself to myself through that understanding – in other words, I know myself through that commitment.  But because those commitments will always involve something outside my self, I (as a self) am always related to another.  Thus, I relate myself to my self through another.

For instance, I am passionate about student learning (yes, I am a professor).  I am genuinely committed to {students and their learning}.  Every commitment has the same kind of structure of being committed to something outside oneself, and whatever is in-between {} would be the object of that commitment.  My objects of commitment in this case are students and their learning.  Therefore, my self includes students and their learning; they are involved in my “selfing.”  They are a part of who I am.  That is but one of my present commitments, but it follows then that I would know more about myself the more commitments of my own I understand.  Thus, when we understand our commitments, we understanding ourselves – we are knowing ourselves.

Of course, our commitments change.  And so we change too.  The self is not a static thing, but it itself is a relation.

One thing I like about this view is that the self is not some mysterious thing many people want to make it out to be.  It is very understandable. Your self is not a function of your name, your body, your history, or simply what you do.  Your self is a function of your commitments, that which you have bound yourself to.

So if this all made sense, the question is “do you know who you are?”  Figure out those things you are passionate about, and you are beginning to get a good glimpse of your self.  I guess the next question would be whether you are happy with what you find.