To fund my interminable holidays I normally work at least two jobs. My secondary position, working as a professor’s assistant, is convenient and my pay is predictable. Despite its convenience, I do all work online and can thus work as effectively in Dorchester as I can in Sydney or even California where the job is actually based. However convenient it is it is still tedious. Terribly, terribly tedious. My responsibilities comprise the tasks that the professor would rather not do such as marking papers, research papers and online course discussions. The professor is not especially fond of internet-based learning and is frequently overwhelmed by some of the technical aspects of online courses. After years of using that particular company’s software I’ve grown proficient in it and assume many responsibilities. Recently, I’ve also started to assist her in marking homework for her online German courses. It isn’t always very time-consuming. Really, I’m only very busy for a few weeks each year.
This position allows me to get a sense of what passes as academia and education in the second decade of the 21st century. Mostly, it inspires as much confidence as Irish town planning. Over the years I’ve held this position, I start my seventh in January, and I have read thousands of papers. In that time I have also kept an informal journal of the most utterly absurd things students have written. Hardly a term goes by in which students fail to provide me with more entries and this term has been no exception.
The two comments that were most horrendous were “There are 225,000,000 people in California who speak Hawai’ian” and “the Portuguese are the descendants of 19th-century French-Canadian farmers who migrated to Europe in search of a better life”. Such comments are steeped in a profound hilarity; yet, I cannot laugh. Were these comments intended to be taken in jest, as parody, they’d be absolutely brilliant. Alas, they are not. A well-balanced sense of grievance, a chip on each shoulder, similarly marks many student assignments. “The white man did this”, “the Europeans did that” – strident assertions with no effort made at recognising context or complexity in human societies. Earlier this term, for example, one student wrote that “White Americans” are the descendants of English settlers. Well, a few, perhaps – there are far more Americans of Hunnish and Hibernian extraction, for example, than English. Really, less than 10pc are of English extraction. Another student wrote that no “white” people were ever pressured to stop speaking their “native” language. Never mind those Huns, Norwegians, Swedes, Gaelic-speaking Irish, Poles, Russians, Italians, etc who were expected to integrate fully into American society, especially after the end of the Second World War – clearly this, and they, are of no consequence. Never let facts get in the way of a good screed, innit?
Over the years the quality of work has continued to decline. There is rarely serious thought put into work submitted. Most do not even know how to think critically. Assignments that are intended to encourage students to analyse topics and put things into context become the semi-literate rants of the self-elected victims and the self-righteous self-loathing. Many students no longer have even the most rudimentary grasp of English grammar, sentence structure, mechanics or spelling conventions. Americans have struggled with this for some time. Even the best writers have a bizarre fear of the letter “u”, a strange fondness for “z” and a tendency to forget the second “l” in many words. Their grammar is also generally off, but it is at least somewhat intelligible if serious effort is put into it.
With each passing term I dislike my job more. More and more students are lost causes, wastes of time. They are proud of their ignorance and hone it at every chance. Cretinism is now seen as a virtue, the lowest common denominator is celebrated as the paradigm of achievement and there is nothing nobler than being an ignoramus. This brave, new mentality manifested itself last term in the form of a student who wrote several extended diatribes to me and the professor. She wrote a brief history of the Portuguese language which, to her credit, she at least acknowledged as being Portuguese in origin. Much to her demerit, she failed to actually discuss the evolution of the Lusitanian tongue dedicating much of her work to extraneous details such as Portuguese cuisine and traditional dancing. They’re both interesting, of course, but not relevant to the topic. She also failed to acknowledge the existence of Brazil and Lusophone Africa. She argued that she should receive a high mark because she spent several days writing her assignment. She failed to realise that any work that barely acknowledges its topic and ignores entirely the fact that some 93pc of it takes place elsewhere did not merit even the marginal mark that the professor insisted on giving her out of a natural sense of Swabian charity rather than any insistence on rigour.
25 thoughts on “Cretinism, Thy Name Is Academia.”
I presume when you say school you mean university?
Are these idiots on a two year community type course or a proper 3/4 year degree?
Why are they not failed and given the boot?
Do they actually graduate?
The boy said the same thing at 28/29 when doing his PhD. He was obliged to supervise engineering practicals of undergraduates. He said most of them weren’t safe with a screwdriver let alone precision instruments! he couldn’t understand how the whole thing had gone so far downhill in barely a decade.
CO: said institution is a community college, fully accredited, that issues only two-year certificates. They presumably completed a basic education and passed the exams they are required to sit with high enough scores to take university-level courses. My experience working at a regular university for two years was only marginally better. Under half actually graduate as they cannot pass their required courses.
I am not inclined to show leniency to cretins, but the professor who has full authority and can over-rule me at any time, is more sympathetic. I am only allowed to assign failing marks to those who submit works that are plagiarised or roughly half the required length. The worst I can assign to the travesties that manage to meet technical requirements is a “C”. What I want to write is “You must have been using Caesarian Section as you’re too stupid to have found your way out of your mother’s birth canal” but the professor would be marginally peeved if I actually did that. They simply cannot do better as they enter colleges and universities with nothing resembling a proper education.
In the United States, at least, many do not obtain the same education that people did thirty years ago unless they complete a four-year-degree. A six-year-degree today provides only a marginally better education than they would have received in a high school 60 years ago.
At university I saw hideously unethical behaviour on the part of administrators. Septic birthrates have declined as well over the past few decades and there are fewer young Septics to waste space in universities than there were before. The cost of university education has increased as much as the quality has declined. To save their skins and justify their sinecures they rely more and more on bringing students in from other countries. China is a major source, as are India and Saudi Arabia. Affluent parents care more about “building face” by sending their children to American universities than they actually care about the quality of their children’s education. They have to pay many times as much as students attending university in their states of residence would, so universities give them preference. At the same time, they also pressure professors to pass them often over-ruling assigned marks to ensure that parents continue to pay their fees. They are often clueless and unable to function, but dosh is of greater import than ethics. As a result, everything is dumbed-down.
In the grammar school era in the UK – which I had the privilege to enjoy – learning involved exercising the memory muscles. Homework often meant learning words, facts and detailed argument by heart. And I think this the aspect of education which modern methods omit. Apparently we shouldn’t burden children by demanding mental effort. Multiple choice questions are a test of something perhaps but not knowledge.
Self-criticism has also vanished from the syl labus, so that so often we witness people failing to check their work or apply the idiot test, just to see if their conclusions are remotely plausible. And the click and print world encourages mindless activity which passes for work.
Hello Christopher, I could not help wonder if you used the phrase, ‘My responsibilities comprise the tasks’, deliberately in order to thrill Janus.
More to the point, a Spectator article about Jacob Rees Mogg’s put down of David Dimbleby, led me to a 1960s documentary about Eton. If ever one needed convincing about the dumbing down of society in recent years, this will do the job.
Incidentally, Steerpike’s opening sentence will serve to get Janus hot under the collar.
Not sure what happened to the Eton video. Try this.
Sipu, Thanks for the video, it was quite entertaining, certainly shows how far BBC documentary standards have slipped in the last few decades.
Nice to hear English spoken well in that half humorous deprecatory fashion.
Sipu, how could you?! Typical Spectator. And just when I was flushed with pride at C’s compliment. 😡
The Etonians I have met have been good chaps. And so they should be, I hear people say…
As evry fule noe, ‘thine’ should read ‘thy’ in this context. 😎
christophertrier “……I am not inclined to show leniency to cretins,….”
You’d have fitted right in at my old training ship. They showed no leniency whatever to cretins….not that the cretins got wiser for it.
Good morning Janus.
I believe that the correct phrase is ‘as any fule kno’?
JM, one sits corrected. Thine will be done, innit?
Christopher: After over forty years working in high tech industries, first as a research chemist then as an advanced development engineer, I have sat on many, many recruitment interview boards. I noticed how the standard of interviewees has declined steadily over the years. It was not so much that the actual interviewees were less intelligent, but they had been increasingly badly educated. In the end, we mainly interviewed people who had been to a grammar or private school and/or had attended a Russell Group university.
I put this down to the liberal lefty education establishment and their “prizes for all” equality agenda. The only solution I can see is to re-introduce selective grammar schools nationwide, reduce the number of degrees awarded, return the less academic “universities” back to being polytechnics, and start far more vocational tertiary education as discussed in a previous post. Also, anyone awarded a PPE degree should be banned from politics!!
FEEG, on the principle that wars are to important to be left to generals, operations to surgeons, symphonies to musicians, education to teachers… Etc.? 😷
Teaching isn’t a skill like surgery or being a musician. Educationalists would like us to think it is but it isn’t and never will be.
I was talking recently to a former colleague who went on to be deputy head at another independent school. She found that if she received thirty applications for a teaching post, roughly twenty of them could go straight in the bin. The worrying thought is that the twenty binned may go on to find a post in a state school. FEEG is right, especially about PPE.
Janus: Mrs FEEG worked as a school administrator for a while. She would confirm that most teachers, except those in private education and grammar schools are more concerned about conforming to the PC norm than actually educating their charges! Jazz is quite correct.
There’s a lot of boll***x about here just now.
If you’ve ever tried to teach groups of human beings you soon feel the need for guidance on the best way to handle the challenges. That’s called training.
PPE is a fine educatiion, not a qualification for employment. But the idea of education asa valuable grounding for life is so yesterday obviously.
I too agree with FEEG’s solution.
Not that training is any better of the less educated. I used to train my own waitresses, amazing how many who said they knew the job didn’t have a clue. I found a lot were unemployable, tattoos, piercings, refusal to remove vulgar jewellery, refusal to remove nail varnish of garish colour etc etc.Most never got past interview stage.
I never let anyone loose on the customers until they were ready and then they had to run as second string.
Janus: objectivity is a thing much threatened. In the 1960s a handful of Marxist professors started to challenge it. After the 1980s its existence was denied by many and this dominates the educational establishment’s thinking. Rigour, a facet of objectivity, can no longer exist when what one feels or how one perceives something to be counts more than being correct or incorrect.
Sipu: thank you for the links. Akshully, I have a self-invited guest to contend with. I am coping with the help of Glendronach and Gin Tonics.
Jazz: it matters less that they did or did not get any wiser for it than it does that they weren’t told that they is speshulzzz.
I agree with those who say that polytechnics should be restored to their rightful place. Plumbers, electricians, etc. might not have the loveliest titles but they generally earn enough to live comfortably and have secure employment prospects. Many universities should simply be shut and most programmes should simply be binned. Personal curiosity can be sated on one’s own pound.
In the 90s I interviewed a new Poly graduate who had studied ‘Business’. He was so full of himself I challenged him to visit some retailers in the relevant biz and write a report with his observations and ideas. Talk about enough rope! He hanged himself and would probably have drawn and quartered himself if I’d supplied the tools. He couldn’t write or find out what the biz was vaguely about, let alone come up with sensible thoughts. A graduate! 😳
C, rigour was a much-quoted quality during my education. Other boring criteria like logic and relevance also kept the party clean. What are the key words these days?
J: “comprehensive”, “progressive”, “balanced”, etc.
Mother’s milk and apple pie, as we were wont to remark.
After 20yrs (if you include the training ship) at sea and 25 years in aviation I’ve had all hell trained out of me by good and bad instructors. I couldn’t begin to tell you all the attributes of a good instructor, except to say that you can tell in the first ten minutes. Any way I would say that a good instructor has at least the following qualities.
1. Thorough knowledge of the subject.
2. Good sense of humour.
3. Willingness to let the student screw things up…..nothing teaches faster than a mistake.
4. Relaxed demeanour, except when a student is taking the p1$$ in which case instructor should default to tyrant mode instantly.
There’s probably a lot more, but I reckon that if you lack even one of the above your students will suffer.
Jazz, another vital quality: empathy.