Dec 26 2013

Some mid-year thoughts on college graduation

Category: college,education,higher educationamuzikman @ 2:33 pm

For those of you who have recently run the gauntlet and graduated from college, first of all my most sincere congratulations. it is a milestone in your young lives and something for which you can look back upon and always feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. It is no small thing to invest so much time and (in some cases) so much money to achieve a goal. And like the many who have gone before you, you discovered that the closer you came to the finish line the more obstacles were thrown in your way. But you did it. you navigated the maze of requirements, you jumped through all the hoops, you endured the red tape, you completed the journey successfully.

Anyone who has completed a college degree program knows the feeling of frustration and annoyance at the seemingly endless last-minute minutiae that crops up and seems to want to cling to you and pull you down like swimming through seaweed.  It seems as if only half the battle was completing the course work and the other half was going 12 rounds with the academic bureaucracy in a bare-knuckled fight.  But that also lends to the feeling of victory and relief when you do finally have your diploma in hand.  You fought the man and won!

But there is a percentage of grads who seem to be annoyance-driven.  Every road block, every late fee, every form to fill out, are all a personal affront to them and they cannot wait to wreak social media revenge by airing each and every complaint as loudly as possible to as many on the web as possible.  Our virtual culture certainly provides for ample opportunity for that very thing.  But those words do carry a certain amount of weight and do affect the reputation/perception of the institution and those who work there.

I’d like you to consider something from another perspective.  There are a few of us, known as faculty and staff, who have walked that journey with you.  We have invested in you and we have gone the extra mile for you, sometimes in ways you cannot know and without your knowledge.  We do it because it is our job.  But more that that we do it because we want you to succeed.  We want you to like amazing, wonderful, happy and fruitful lives.  We do it because we care about you, plain and simple.

So in the midst of your electronic “taggings” of annoyance, pause a moment, perhaps take a moment and consider this.  it is likely your entire tenure at the college of choice was not 4 (or more) years of endless irritation and frustration.  (If it was, then one must call into question your judgment and why it is that you stayed and spent all that money…)  I’ll bet anyone reading this can remember a kindness shown to them, some individual attention given to them, some wise counsel, a word of encouragement, a pat on the back in the hallway or a listening ear over a cup of hot coffee.  For those who extended such kindnesses it is somewhat painful to read your frequent posts, made up almost exclusively of contempt and disregard, as you walk out the door.  It isn’t that we want your posts to instantly become filled with thanks and appreciation, trumpeted all over social media, frankly most of us would be roundly embarrassed by such a thing.  But we do want you to remember the good with the bad, and to hold onto a little appreciation of what you have been given by those who have only your best interest a heart.  Remember that long after your frustrations have become distant memories, we’ll still be there, and it is encouraging to us to know that we do not labor in vain.


Feb 07 2011

“Properity gospel” for Christian institutions?

Much is made of the centrality of sacrifice in the Christian life, and justifiably so. Christ’s own life on earth was one of individual sacrifice and service, and not only on the cross, though that is the preeminent example. Simply being incarnated was a sacrifice (Philippians 2:5-9), and his very manner of living was sacrificial, in that he never married and had a family but instead lived for others, took risks of many kinds at various times for the sake of doing his Father’s will and speaking the truth, and so on.

As individuals, we are all called to sacrifice in one way or another for the sake of Christ and the gospel, though it’s a mistake to assume that everyone should live sacrificially in the same ways. One may choose to live simply and have greater financial freedom to give more (though all should give some), another may choose to give greatly of time and service (though all should do this some), and another may choose a lifestyle of great self-denial of one kind or another (though all of us must deny ourselves in some ways), all for the sake of doing God’s will. Few are called to sacrifice all. What seems fairly clear is that a person who has sacrificed nothing, not time, not finances, not manner of living, is likely to be a person who is not listening to God’s whispers, and probably a person who has not closely read the scriptures.

Yet some churches and para-church organizations seem to operate as if it is God’s will for them never to suffer or risk suffering, and never to choose a path that is hard and uncertain, or one that is likely to earn some degree of disapproval from the world, especially the secular world. Some para-church organizations operate as if their leadership believes in a sort of “prosperity gospel” for their organization (even when they deny that as a proper perspective for individuals), assuming that their role is to manage their organization with the same professional risk management as they would apply for any secular organization. And this risk management is fine, up to a point.

The “prosperity gospel” approach to a church or para-church organization is that somehow it can just get bigger and bigger, more and more popular, and it will all be because of God’s blessing. This may work for a time. And God may indeed be blessing certain efforts of the institution, while at the same time some of the institution’s apparent success may be coming from “playing it safe,” maintaining “good public relations,” even innovative business practices and good luck with market demographics or placement. Unfortunately, it can be difficult for people in an organization, including its leadership, to really know what measure of an organization’s apparent success is due to God’s blessing of its efforts, and what proportion is due to good business practices, smooth marketing, or just plain good luck. The temptation, of course, is to ascribe all success to God’s blessing, especially in public pronouncements.

Of course, it doesn’t always work that way. The assumption that God will increase the institutional strength and vigor of any organization that is doing His will is itself evidence of “prosperity gospel” thinking, not scripturally sound thinking about the nature of sacrifice for Christians, and Christian organizations. Even a cursory reading of the New Testament and church history reveals many instances of people and groups (institutions) who appear to be following God’s commands, but who suffer in various ways, sometimes almost in a “no good deed goes unpunished” sort of way, which is of course, the intention of Satan. The point is that apparent prosperity in the world is not proof of God’s blessing. Indeed, it is a sort of heresy to assume so.

I will develop this line of thinking further in future posts.

The next post in this series is here.

Sep 14 2010

Chris Christie takes a teacher to school

Category: education,election 2010,governmentharmonicminer @ 9:49 am

Jun 21 2010

A Bubble in Higher Education?

Category: college,economy,education,higher education,universityharmonicminer @ 8:36 am

Glenn Reynolds: Higher education’s bubble is about to burst

It’s a story of an industry that may sound familiar.

The buyers think what they’re buying will appreciate in value, making them rich in the future. The product grows more and more elaborate, and more and more expensive, but the expense is offset by cheap credit provided by sellers eager to encourage buyers to buy.

Buyers see that everyone else is taking on mounds of debt, and so are more comfortable when they do so themselves; besides, for a generation, the value of what they’re buying has gone up steadily. What could go wrong? Everything continues smoothly until, at some point, it doesn’t.

Yes, this sounds like the housing bubble, but I’m afraid it’s also sounding a lot like a still-inflating higher education bubble. And despite (or because of) the fact that my day job involves higher education, I think it’s better for us to face up to what’s going on before the bubble bursts messily.

College has gotten a lot more expensive. A recent Money magazine report notes: “After adjusting for financial aid, the amount families pay for college has skyrocketed 439 percent since 1982. … Normal supply and demand can’t begin to explain cost increases of this magnitude.”

Consumers would balk, except for two things.

First — as with the housing bubble — cheap and readily available credit has let people borrow to finance education. They’re willing to do so because of (1) consumer ignorance, as students (and, often, their parents) don’t fully grasp just how harsh the impact of student loan payments will be after graduation; and (2) a belief that, whatever the cost, a college education is a necessary ticket to future prosperity.

Bubbles burst when there are no longer enough excessively optimistic and ignorant folks to fuel them. And there are signs that this is beginning to happen already.

A New York Times profile last week described Courtney Munna, a 26-year-old graduate of New York University with nearly $100,000 in student loan debt — debt that her degree in Religious and Women’s Studies did not equip her to repay. Payments on the debt are about $700 per month, equivalent to a respectable house payment, and a major bite on her monthly income of $2,300 as a photographer’s assistant earning an hourly wage.

And, unlike a bad mortgage on an underwater house, Munna can’t simply walk away from her student loans, which cannot be expunged in a bankruptcy. She’s stuck in a financial trap.

Some might say that she deserves it — who borrows $100,000 to finance a degree in women’s and religious studies that won’t make you any money? She should have wised up, and others should learn from her mistake, instead of learning too late, as she did: “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life slaving away to pay for an education I got for four years and would happily give back.”

But bubbles burst when people catch on, and there’s some evidence that people are beginning to catch on. Student loan demand, according to a recent report in the Washington Post, is going soft, and students are expressing a willingness to go to a cheaper school rather than run up debt. Things haven’t collapsed yet, but they’re looking shakier — kind of like the housing market looked in 2007.

So what happens if the bubble collapses? Will it be a tragedy, with millions of Americans losing their path to higher-paying jobs?

Maybe not. College is often described as a path to prosperity, but is it? A college education can help people make more money in three different ways.

First, it may actually make them more economically productive by teaching them skills valued in the workplace: Computer programming, nursing or engineering, say. (Religious and women’s studies, not so much.)

Second, it may provide a credential that employers want, not because it represents actual skills, but because it’s a weeding tool that doesn’t produce civil-rights suits as, say, IQ tests might. A four-year college degree, even if its holder acquired no actual skills, at least indicates some ability to show up on time and perform as instructed.

And, third, a college degree — at least an elite one — may hook its holder up with a useful social network that can provide jobs and opportunities in the future. (This is more true if it’s a degree from Yale than if it’s one from Eastern Kentucky, but it’s true everywhere to some degree).

While an individual might rationally pursue all three of these, only the first one — actual added skills — produces a net benefit for society. The other two are just distributional — about who gets the goodies, not about making more of them.

Yet today’s college education system seems to be in the business of selling parts two and three to a much greater degree than part one, along with selling the even-harder-to-quantify “college experience,” which as often as not boils down to four (or more) years of partying.

Post-bubble, perhaps students — and employers, not to mention parents and lenders — will focus instead on education that fosters economic value. And that is likely to press colleges to focus more on providing useful majors. (That doesn’t necessarily rule out traditional liberal-arts majors, so long as they are rigorous and require a real general education, rather than trendy and easy subjects, but the key word here is “rigorous.”)

My question is whether traditional academic institutions will be able to keep up with the times, or whether — as Anya Kamenetz suggests in her new book, “DIY U” — the real pioneering will be in online education and the work of “edupunks” who are more interested in finding new ways of teaching and learning than in protecting existing interests.

I’m betting on the latter. Industries seldom reform themselves, and real competition usually comes from the outside. Keep your eyes open — and, if you’re planning on applying to college, watch out for those student loans.

May 26 2010

It’s time to take action! Part ONE

Category: education,environment,government,healthcareharmonicminer @ 9:34 am

As slick spreads, so does frustration

The White House is being pounded for not acting more aggressively in the month-old oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The administration is hitting back, mostly at BP. Louisiana is threatening to take matters into its own hands. The truth is, the government has little direct experience at either the national or state level at stopping deepwater oil leaks, and few realistic options.

“As the administration is being pounded,” eh? This is “pounding?” I invite the writer of this particular opinion piece to go back and review the press coverage of Katrina. Now, that was an administration getting pounded.

With the oil flowing and spreading at a furious rate, President Barack Obama has accused BP of a “breakdown of responsibility.” He named a special independent commission to review what happened.

But the administration seems to want to have it both ways, insisting it’s in charge while also insisting that BP do the heavy lifting. The White House is arguing that government officials aren’t just watching from the sidelines, but also acknowledging there’s just so much the government can do directly.

The problem here is that the administration is having a hard time being seen as doing something. 

When somebody didn’t have health coverage at a price they were willing to pay, the government could DO something.  What it did is incomprehensible, incoherent, and incompetent…  but it’s going to be a few years before the degree to which this is true is manifestly undeniable, so, for now, some people give the feds credit for at least having done something….  though the numbers of such people appear to be dropping daily.

Is somebody out of work?  Hey, the government is spending billions and billions and billions on makework projects (did you know you can create a $50,000 per year job for only half-a-million bucks of federal money?), unemployment benefit extensions, and shovel ready projects of all kinds (I have dogs…  so I have a few shovel ready projects I wouldn’t mind federal funding for…  and they’d do about as much good for the economy).

Are some children mentally disabled?  Let’s create a federal law that imposes on the states an enormous bureacracy whose net effect is to send an army of expensively educated people with Master’s degrees to work in small classes (or even private lessons!) trying to teach 3rd grade arithmetic to 15 yr olds who have no chance of ever remembering a significant amount of the instruction, let alone using it for anything.  Let’s make federal laws that force states to create educational policy by lawsuit, so that one parent sues under new federal law, and the entire state’s approach changes, very expensively, as a result.  And let’s remember to reserve names like “mean-spirited” and “cold-hearted” for anyone who thinks perhaps this isn’t a wise use of public resources.  In the meantime, let’s continue to complain about how financially strapped the state and county education establishments are.

At least we’re trying to do something.

So, just to get in the spirit of things, tomorrow (or the next day), I’ll be posting some suggestions for things the Obama Administration could do immediately to stop the Gulf oil leak.  Not that I’m promising any of them will actually work.  But one of them might….  and we have to try, don’t we?

May 14 2010


Category: education,higher education,humor,musicharmonicminer @ 8:20 am

This is a crosspost with MusicalGod.

May 05 2010

Spending more and getting less?

Category: education,government,politics,societyharmonicminer @ 8:43 am

They Spend WHAT? The Real Cost of Public Schools

Although public schools are usually the biggest item in state and local budgets, spending figures provided by public school officials and reported in the media often leave out major costs of education and thus understate what is actually spent.

To document the phenomenon, this paper reviews district budgets and state records for the nation’s five largest metro areas and the District of Columbia. It reveals that, on average, per-pupil spending in these areas is 44 percent higher than officially reported.

Real spending per pupil ranges from a low of nearly $12,000 in the Phoenix area schools to a high of nearly $27,000 in the New York metro area. The gap between real and reported per-pupil spending ranges from a low of 23 percent in the Chicago area to a high of 90 percent in the Los Angeles metro region.

To put public school spending in perspective, we compare it to estimated total expenditures in local private schools. We find that, in the areas studied, public schools are spending 93 percent more than the estimated median private school.

Citizens drastically underestimate current per-student spending and are misled by official figures. Taxpayers cannot make informed decisions about public school funding unless they know how much districts currently spend. And with state budgets stretched thin, it is more crucial than ever to carefully allocate every tax dollar

At the link above, the article introduced here is available (scroll down on the page to see it).   If you care about how your tax dollars for education are being spent, it’s required reading.

The problem with public education is NOT too little money allocated for it.

Apr 04 2010

Are you getting what you’re paying for?

Category: education,Group-think,higher education,leftharmonicminer @ 8:01 am


The High Cost of College and What it Does to Your Children

Each fall, nearly two million American students will leave for college for the very first time. Their education will cost $12,000 a year for a public university and up to $50,000 for a private one. Scholarships and grants reduce the cost for most families, but still, the Wall Street Journal reports that the average student leaves college with $23,186 in debt.

Nationwide, the total cost for this transaction is somewhere between 25 and 40 billion dollars per year.

At least families are getting their money’s worth.

Or not.

A recent study confirms what many parents have long suspected: going to college can make kids forget what’s important and embrace values that are counter to what they learned growing up.

Before I share this study’s results, let me say this to parents: leftist professors don’t feel sorry for you. As far as they’re concerned, you’ve been oppressing the masses to get that money anyway, so it’s deliciously ironic that you not only turn your children over to the indoctrinators, but that you fork over 50k to 200k and for the privilege of doing so.

Don’t take my word for it. Here’s what the late Richard Rorty, one of the most prominent philosophers of the 20th century, said on the subject:

“I, like most Americans who teach humanities or social science in colleges and universities … try to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic, religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own … The fundamentalist parents of our fundamentalist students think that the entire ‘American liberal establishment’ is engaged in a conspiracy. The parents have a point … [W]e are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable. We are not so inclusivist as to tolerate intolerance such as yours … I think those students are lucky to find themselves under the benevolent Herrschaft [domination] of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents …”[1] [editor’s note: sorry for all the ellipses, but it’s hard to summarize Rorty’s windblown rhetoric].

When it comes to reshaping values, liberal universities know precisely what they’re doing. And the reality is that about four out of five students walk away from their Christian faith by the time they are in their twenties.[2]

The Indoctrination Plan:

What your child won’t learn at college: a sense of citizenship. In February, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute released its annual report entitled, “The Shaping of the American Mind.” ISI researchers studied students’ knowledge of basic citizenship questions, along with 39 issue-based propositions and found that college graduates are dangerously ignorant of basic civics.

For example, fewer than one in two college graduates know that the phrase “We hold these truths to be self evident…” is from the Declaration of Independence (10% actually think it is from the Communist Manifesto).

What your child will learn at college: liberal radicalism. According to ISI, college graduates are significantly MORE likely to believe in abortion on demand and same sex marriage, and significantly LESS likely to believe that the Bible is the word of God, that prayer should be allowed in schools, and that anyone can succeed in America with hard work and perseverance.

Mar 10 2010

Public school vs. homeschooling

Category: education,governmentharmonicminer @ 9:29 am

Here is a great article on the differences between public school and home school when it comes to teaching history… and other things.

The article makes several valid points, and I encourage you to read it.

Parents aren’t specialists in the areas that high school teachers are, and so theoretically they can’t teach as well, according to critics of home schooling. The article points out that frequently the teachers of many subjects aren’t specialists, but are simply moved into a particular course because of the needs of the school, regardless of their own preparation. And I know that does happen, because I’ve seen it and experienced it myself.

But, bluntly, the fact is that too many teachers can’t teach effectively in the area that is their purported specialty.  And their school systems usually can’t get rid of them, even if they want to.  The only way to fire a teacher, short of criminal acts on the part of the teacher, seems to be when the state is broke, and can claim “financial exigencies.”

I have known some great public school teachers.  I know some now.  But I’ve also known some pretty bad ones.  They are all still teaching, as far as I know.

Public school has become a giant political correctness factory in too many places.  It virtually always indoctrinates in a left-leaning direction, sometimes radically so.  If your child is assigned to an incompetent teacher, or simply a doctrinaire leftist one, there is not much you can do about it, all too often.  I’ve tried.  And failed.

Some of our kids have had some decent teachers in the public schools.  But they are swimming against the tide, and there is no way for even a competent teacher to avoid the political correctness that masquerades as “critical thinking” in the schools.

And there is no way for even a good teacher to do much about all the social/political nonsense and experimentation that goes on in the schools today, that wouldn’t have been tolerated 30 years ago, because much of it is mandated by the state.

That’s why we are a home-schooling family.

Feb 20 2010

Gun free zone failure number 60?

Category: college,education,guns,higher education,societyharmonicminer @ 9:07 am

The other kind of IED (intermittent explosive disorder)
Much more at the link.

The New York Times says that a faculty member at the University of Alabama killed 3 and wounded 6 others after being denied tenure at the biology department. Circumstantial evidence suggested that she was upset at what she believed was unfair treatment. The suspect apparently “had told acquaintances recently that she was worried about getting tenure”, and the NYT quoted one source as saying “she began to talk about her problems getting tenure in a very forceful and animated way, saying it was unfair.”

I’ve been to some tense faculty meetings. Meetings with outcomes that had the potential to really change people’s lives who were involved, in one way or another.

So far I haven’t had to duck and cover because somebody started shooting.  But it is starting to seem that the only people who respect the “gun-free zones” on campus are the victims.

Maybe I should start ordering my hoodies to be Kevlar-lined.

Just in case a deranged post-modern prof who gives feminist readings to medieval French poetry happens to go postal.

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