Thursday, June 15, 2006

Students and the Consumer Model

I recently took a look at, and noted the "rate-my-professor" feature there. I am also aware of other web-sites of this sort.

What students seem to like about professors is "easiness" and "high grades". In other words they want to waste their money and come out of college with as little education as they entered.

In my own experience, more in the North East than in Florida I admit, students have made comments which seem to imply that they are entitled to high grades because they are paying for their education.

Rate-my-professor type sites, along with the grade-inflating requirement of course evaluations all point to the ever greater adoption of a destructive consumer model of education.

The model for education is that of teacher/student. There is no need for another one. It is a sui generis model of great antiquity. I reject then any claim that students have a right to service based on a consumer model.

On the other hand, the model of professors offering something to a few select students who should be thankful for the privilege comes from another time and place [Oxford, in 1920 perhaps].

In the modern US, most colleges are not selective, and a huge proportion of the population attends college. This allows a relatively huge professoriate. Without the students at the non-selective schools, the entire system would be massively smaller, and the Ph.D pumping-stations would have nowhere to locate their graduates. For all that faculty complain about unprepared students, the hard fact to admit is that the US college system only provided jobs because it admits so many students who are not really college material, and who at one stage would probably not have even been able to graduate high school.

Students these days do not come with three years of high school Greek, two years of high school calculus, and a quoting knowledge of Shakespeare, and a fervent desire to learn for learning's sake. Perhaps they never did. But when we look at tests such as early twentieth-century NY State Regents exams, we are amazed at the requirements of the examiners.

There is no use bemoaning this change in student preparation. When students did come so prepared, there were a few thousand professors in toto. We all benefit from a more open system: faculty members get jobs, students learn useful job skills, and a fair number of them, with good teachers, do actually go on to read books later in life [otherwise just what is happening in all those huge new Barnes and Noble stores?]

On the other hand, I have come across faculty who tell "consumer-oriented" students at state-schools that they (the students) are being paid for by "tax-payer's money" and should shut-up and be grateful. I find this just as reprehensible as the students' claims. Leaving aside the terrible turgidity of talk about "tax payers money" [as far as I know, the state prints money, not taxpayers, and the state gives money value.]

When, to begin with, did students stop being tax-payers of the states in which they live? Sales taxes are paid by all. Moreover, why should state university students be treated any differently than students at private schools?

I realize I may be being snippy here, but in my opinion all teachers need to take two attitudes into the classroom. First, a willingness to be unpopular with students by demanding the most they can give. But just as important is a sheer love of the students and what they are trying to do. Some students may be unprepared, some may be lazy; but many are going through life crises of almost unimaginable proportions and yet they are still trying to better themselves economically and educationally. That demands respect, just as much as it demands strength to make sure the student achieves his or her goals.

1 comment:

Trey said...

I encountered something a bit worse in the same genre in a private secondary school. It was every bit a consumerist model. Students, or more precisely their parents, were customers and teachers employees in the same sense one works at a Quickie Mart. There was quite a bit of grade inflation, but I was OK with that. The students I was dealing with should have only been measured mostly on effort… and so that’s how I weighted. There was at least one instance, however, when an administrator forced another first year teacher to change her grade from an F to a D by giving the student extra credit well after the end of the quarter. When the student turned in his extra credit plagiarized, the grade was still changed at the insistence of the vice-principal. We were also told point-blank not to let any final GPA’s fall within a couple points of passing if the kid was to fail.

The issue I dealt with most often though was behavior. The ethos of “The customer is always right” that worked so well when I was at Publix was also in effect inside the classrooms. I had students threaten me and when I sent them to the office, I was chastised for pushing them into an emotional corner. I had a student bolt out of class and out of school after calling me a bastard with a very similar response from the administration. I was merely sucking up funds, the student was coughing up almost ten grand a year. Ten grand goes a long way in a school in the red with only two-hundred students. I fret over the long-term implications of how these students, and others, perceive personal responsibility in the future.

"The Marxist Case for Family Values" is a similarly themed column I published in the Spinnaker years ago.