UC Crisis Continued

I can’t get this off my mind, though I wish I could. That’s hard to do when it’s staring you in the face.

I unfolded this morning’s LA Times to see a picture of students at UCLA protesting fee hikes. One is carrying a sign that says, ” California….#1 in Prison Spending #48 in Education.” I think that’s true; and it’s something to ponder. I don’t know how we got into this situation. I guess I wasn’t paying attention.


               But apparently, the fee hikes will take place. Up 32% by next fall, tripling the cost of UC education since 2000. 32% equals $2,500 dollars, meaning that overall students will pay $10,302 in fees. Then, for many, add in books, room and board; that’s estimated at around $16,000. For a grand total of about $26,000 per year.

That’s nothing, I know, compared to many private schools. But the UC is not supposed to be private institution. It used to be a way for the less affluent to get a quality, affordable education. Obviously it is becoming less affordable, and at the same time the quality is going way, way down.

All of this has palpable affect upon the classroom teaching experience. My students seem distracted this quarter; attendance has been very variable–not up to the usual levels. Part of that is the flu. I have a lot of sick people; one student broke her elbow. Another has bronchitis. And many are now working. I asked one class, are you working, and three quarters of the hands went up. I know of two students in my classes who are working full time and one of these told me she is taking 19 units.

People are being graduated–or so they tell me–$20,000 to $30,000 in debt.

When I was in college–those many, many years ago–I was in college. I read, I wrote, I took the tests. I over did it, I know. But I studied a good 40 hours a week. While I was in college I thought college was my job.

A 2006 study of the UC undergraduate experience found that UC students study on average 12 hours a week.

All of this enters the classroom in the form of students; it alters their relationship to me and my relationship to them

I don’t know what to say about it really, except that it makes me sad. 

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

That’s the title to an article by Nicholas Carr that appeared in the July/August, 2009, Atlantic.

A student in my research paper writing class turned it up, and I read it.

Carr doesn’t conclude that Google makes us stupid. But in the course of making his argument, Carr recounts how his own reading habits have changed the more, over the years, he has used the internet. Sadly–or not–his experience parallels my own. He can speak for both of us:

Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

I have read perhaps three or four books from start to finish over the last five years. The last time I did I was on vacation and away from my computer. It was on the Middle Ages and I rather enjoyed it, especially the part about Magellan and his sad end.

But mostly now if the argument is complicated or requires “de-coding” or is more than four or five pages long I start getting irritated and frustrated; and this from a guy who once read Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind from beginning to end, and almost enjoyed it. Looking now at that or Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, I wonder how I ever did it, and doubt very much that I could do it now.

The way I would put it–and I think Carr puts it this way too–is that the net has turned everything into information. Sure you could read the Phenomenology of Mind, but why on earth would you want to do, when one can’t find all sorts of Cliff Notes summaries of the thing, and, heck, many of them are pretty accurate (as summary) but not of course the experience itself. The experience itself is pretty amazing. Hegel lays down a line of reasoning, follows it out completely, pulls you completely in, then pulls the rug out from under you as he makes a dialectical leap of some kind, and you are forced to re-assess all the assumptions that got you to that point of departure. This sort of experience simply does not show up in Cliff Notes info bits.

What though–if one wants to know what Hegel said–would be point of this experience. It doesn’t show up as something can be turned into an info bit. The point of this kind of experience of reading is the experience itself and that’s about it.

So what’s being lost exactly. I don’t know. But I think the net may have a good deal to do with the way students write these days. They have been immersed in the net for years. Information is just a click away. The experience of reading is not. That may go part way at least as an explanation for the constant teacher complaint: students cannot follow or write themselves a sustained argument.

The Dumbest Generation

Trying to get my head around the affect of the digital age upon young people, I picked up The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes our Future by Mark Bauerlein, a Professor of English at Emory. Based on my calculations the students I am teaching at this moment–born in1989, 90, or 91–are on the cutting edge–if that’s the right phrase–of Bauerlein’s dumbest. For every one kid you might read about in the Ivy League who studies him or herself into a stupor or constant panic attacks, Bauerlein argues, there are thousands who don’t study at all and don’t know diddly.

While I think Bauerlein is aiming for something deeper than a mere information deficit model of dumbness, he starts with that exactly: look at all the stupid things these kids don’t know. Like, as aired on the Jay Leno show, “Where does the Pope live?” And the young person doesn’t know. Or what was the last book you read, and the young person doesn’t know and seems even confused about what a book might is. I have taken these sorts of how-dumb-are-you-quizzes myself and I always miss a couple of them even though I do have a Ph.D. and am pretty well educated. I can’t remember the Second Law of Thermodynamics to save my ass, and I assume it’s a pretty important law. Though not as important as the First, which I also don’t know.

OK, so this is a defense of my own lousy education, but I don’t think knowing the “facts” is all that important. What does it take to know the facts–well, first you have to be around people who know the facts, or in a situation where facts appear, and usually you have to repeat a fact a couple of times to remember it, and that gets to the core of it. Information dumbness or smartness involves the old gray matter only at the level of memory. A very, very important thing–no doubt–but not the stuff of intellect (one might say). I grew up with guys who knew the name of every damn part of a car engine (because they lived for cars) and who could give a damn who John Adams was.

And this gets to another point. Who the heck gets to decide which facts are important (as an indication that one is educated). The educated? I don’t know but this seems sort of like a circular reasoning or a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s pretty easy for the educated to dream up a raft of questions that the uneducated don’t know the answers to. And really who is to say that what the “uneducated” do know is not as important as what the educated know. This is simple “classism, and let’s face it education–and whether one gets some of it–has a lot to do with which class a person is in.

Once I taught a writing class that tied to a political science class. The Professor on the first day quizzed the students about what countries belonged to the EU. After, a student came up to me, with alarm written all over her face who said she thought she should drop the class because she thought Europe was a country. OK, so how does one get to be 19 years old and not know that Europe isn’t a country. But what the heck. No big deal, I said. Don’t drop the class. Now that you know Europe is not a country, tell me the names, I said, of some of the countries in Europe. And then she named off a whole pack of them.

Facts are easy. I am not about to conclude on the basis of those that my students belong to the dumbest generation.

If it’s not one thing…

Classes started last week.

Both of my sections had 25 or more crashers. All the seats in one class were full and I had a student sitting on the floor by the door.

That had never happened before.

Also, I had a sheaf of emails already received from students asking to be put on the waiting list, with stories of a kind I had not previously heard. One student wrote that unless he could get my class, which he needs to be able to take classes in his major, that his parents were arguing he should not attend at all.

I found it pretty upsetting to have to kick out those 25 crashers in each section. But all the people enrolled in the classes, except one, showed up on that first day.

This is the sort of thing that is bound to happen when classes are cut; and they are being cut all over campus because of the UC Budget Crisis.

Thankfully the authorities had sent an email to all students saying that the problems with classes were not the fault of instructors like me. So nobody got angry with me, at least not directly to my face.

That was the first day of class. The second day of class, they all showed up apparently completely exhausted; this was most true of the 3:30-4:45 section.

If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

The day before classes started the laptop I bought to use as part of my teaching died. I borrowed one of the laptops from the Writing Program, but I don’t know how long I will be allowed to keep it.

If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

Last night before going to bed, I checked the weather on the net. I do that every night. We live right on the fog line and the temp can fluctuate significantly. They said the temp was going down to 51 at night and then I mistakenly clicked another link and found:


I was happy that it was not a tsunami warning or watch, merely an advisory. Still, I went to sleep thinking I might wake to a flooded house. We live less than a mile from the Pacific.

But I am happy to report the downstairs was not flooded when I woke and remains unflooded.

I am exhausted.

Another Impossible Profession

Here I am gearing up for another year of teaching writing at UCSB. I think this will be year 30.

In 1980, I finished my dissertation, “Romantic Thought: Education and Alienation.”

That could be the title of my autobiography as a teacher. Looking back I see how much the reading I did for the dissertation has informed my thinking about teaching and education.

I continue to think about it and recently came across the following by Carl Rogers from an essay, “Freedom to Learn.”

a) My experience is that I cannot teach another person how to teach. To attempt it is for me, in the long run, futile.

b) It seems to me that anything that can be taught to another is relatively inconsequential and has little or no significant influence on behavior.

c) I realize increasingly that I am only interested in learnings which significantly influence behavior.

d) I have come to feel that the only learning which significantly influence behavior is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning.

e) Such self-discovered learning, truth that has been personally appropriated and assimilated in experience, cannot be directly communicated to another.

f) As a consequence of the above, I realize that I have lost interest in being a teacher

That about sums it up, for me too, though I don’t think I have completely lost interest in being a teacher or at least in trying to figure out what one might be.

Meanwhile, T. Adorno speaks of the teacher as the executioner and school as the scene of executions.

4.0 ?

I have trying to figure out for some time how it was possible for students entering UCSB to average a 4.0 GPA or better.

Today I talked with a guy whose daughter is just finishing high school.

Turns out that in courses called Advanced Placement the grade scale does not run: A = 4; B = 3; C = 2 and so on. That’s the old 4 point scale, the one I grew up with.

No, they use a 5 point scale because the AP classes are supposedly so much tougher than regular courses of the same kind that it was considered “unfair” that an AP “A” should be equal to an “A” for the non-AP course.

Thus in an AP course, an A = 5; B = 4; C = 3 and so on.

OK…now I get it, why so many students enter with a 4.O; they all take AP courses and plenty of them.

I can’t say how this pisses me off.

Seems to me the educational system is doing the same thing as the insurance companies; they are cherry picking the best and leaving the rest to rot.

This strikes me as institutionalized elitism and inequality.

The guy said his daughter took a “regular” chemistry class and got an A; it was the easiest class she ever took, he said.

Just what kind of education are the non-AP students getting?

I am sure there’s more to this than meets my casual glance. I am probably over-reacting.

Still the more I learn…the less I want to know. 

UC Crisis and Education

The financial crisis now hitting the University of California is the worst I have seen, and I have been teaching at UC Santa Barbara since 1980.  Certainly there have been other down times during this period but nothing like this.

I am particularly concerned about the effects of the proposed budget cuts upon the quality of undergraduate education.  That—high quality undergraduate education—is supposed to be one of the mandates of the UC system, but I fear that it is (and has for a long time) going to get the short end of the stick as financial adjustments are made for the current crisis.

Classes are being cut; instructors, especially lecturers, are being laid off.  Class sizes are sure to increase, and if teaching assistants are also cut back, large lectures will no longer have sections.

Students will still be expected and feel the pressure, for financial reasons, to graduate in four years, but with these changed conditions that will be increasingly impossible.

If you are currently a student in the UC system or have been (especially if you are at UCSB) I would appreciate hearing your thoughts on the crisis and any reflections you might have on the quality of instruction you received or are receiving.

For a little background on the crisis, you might check out: "I am for option 4."