I taught part time for several years at a major state university, and full time for two years at the community college level. I last taught almost a decade ago. I found much, though not all, of the author's account of his experiences to be consistent with what I experienced. The author believes that most students have the consumerist attitude that because they're the ones paying, it is the teacher's responsibility to teach them, not their responsibility to learn. I would put it a little differently. The overwhelming majority of my students were quite indifferent to whether they learned anything. Their consumerist attitude wasn't so much about trading money for learning as it was trading effort for grades. They wanted to pay the least in effort for the highest grades they could get. Why do 50% of the reading if you can get the same grade by doing 10%? Why torture yourself writing a term paper if you can obtain one over the Internet? Why learn the material you're to be tested on if you can just review old tests that your fraternity keeps on file for this instructor? To put more effort into a class than you absolutely have to would be as pointless to them as paying $2 for a loaf of bread that costs $1. Learning doesn't enter into it. The author laments the way the TV generation students need to be constantly entertained, to have their micro attention spans indulged. That was somewhat true when I was teaching, and I think it might well have gotten worse since. A friend of mine once made an interesting point about this. He noted that if you talk to students, or if you listen to the conversations they have with each other, when they have anything positive to say about a teacher, by far the most common term of praise you'll hear is "funny.Read more ›
One day a colleague loaned me a copy of "Generation X Goes to College", and ruined my night. Desensitized by long exposure to poor students, impelled by my own need to survive, and inundated with propaganda from the community colleges, I had begun to doubt everything I knew. Community colleges give you the best possible education. An A in Chemistry 101 from one is just as good as an A in Chemistry 101 at Cal Tech. Yeah, sure. Lazy, unmotivated students who find "1984" incomprehensible do better at universities than top high school graduates. OK, I believe it. The most highly qualified college instructor has a master's degree from a second-rate university. People with Ph.Ds from top schools are stupid and bad teachers because, well, they just are. Right. Research makes you dumb. Excellence is elitism. Bad is good. Lies are truth. I didn't fight it any more. I had gotten comfortable, or at least, less uncomfortable. As I gave lazy, unintelligent students As for memorizing and regurgitating a few facts, I was happy in the sure expectation of being rewarded with the immoderate praise I routinely find on my teaching reviews. I pushed away the knowledge that I had been co- opted. Sacks' book woke me up, reminded me that excellence is not elitism, and lies are not truth, and made me too angry to stop reading until I finished every page. Sacks has written an important and courageous book, but one that did not go nearly far enough. Sacks deserves praise for exposing the scandalous truth about the exceedingly poor quality of most community college education, but his analysis of the reasons for this "dumbing down" focuses almost entirely on the least guilty: the students.Read more ›
Was this review helpful to you?
Everyone with an interest in the present and future of higher education in America will find this book to be at least interesting, and for many, dismaying and perhaps frightening. Most college teachers, I think, will find many things to which they can relate. I found the chronicle of Sacks's college teaching experience so similar to the kinds of things I have experienced as an educator that I couldn't put the book down.
The first part of the book is a tale of Sacks's experience teaching journalism at "a large suburban community college in the West," which he refers to only as "The College." Prior to being hired there, he was a Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist. For various reasons, he had doubts about his future in that profession, and when a teaching job presented itself, he decided to give it a try. Whatever ideals he had about the teaching profession were quickly replaced by "confusion and bewilderment" brought on by the behavior and attitudes of Generation X students.
Sacks began teaching with the assumptions that students would read the assigned material, take notes, attend class, and turn assignments in on time. He also assumed that "C" represented average work. He very quickly learned that not only were these assumptions unfounded, but that in order to achieve tenure, he would have to play a different game. He came to realize that what these students wanted, for the most part, was to be entertained rather than educated. And that they believed that just by paying tuition they were entitled to a grade of "B" or higher whether or not they did any significant work. If these conditions were not met, he would receive negative student evaluations. And student evaluations were the main evidence cited in tenure decisions.Read more ›