A few days ago I posted a comment on a Times Magazine article about teaching math (by Elizabeth Green). Today, Joe Nocera published an op-ed on Ms. Green’s forthcoming book that the magazine’s article was excerpted from.
To readers of this blog, there is nothing new in my commen, which is copied below. I do think that it is a positive development, though, when people begin to question whether students are being taught well in colleges, something that Ms. Green’s article does. (See here for a link to her article.)
Ms. Green is on the right track when she sees our teaching problems starting in college. But, as a former math professor, I can guarantee that little will change until there is a realization that our whole system of higher education has become corrupted.
Teachers, especially high school teachers, need to know their subject(s). But most of them don’t learn it in college because of our corrupted system.
Here are two ways that these corrupted values dumb down our high schools.
Colleges have learned to see “students” as “customers” and cater to the “wants” of the majority of those “customers”. Many “customer wants” are in conflict with “student needs”. The needs lose.
(An example of this is the story (on my blog) of how Wash. U. in St. Louis wanted me to dramatically dumb down a critical course in engineering. A dean of “academic integrity”, after finding out about student cheating, emailed me that he was concerned about “retention” and didn’t want to “discourage” the students.)
Secondly, this corruption has led to the granting of unqualified doctorates. (There is a story on my blog of such a case.) Many of these go on to be professors at schools that teach…yes, teachers. Those teachers don’t learn much.
(There is much more that I have seen and written about on my blog, inside-higher-ed .)
We need to take Ms. Green’s reporting as a strong indication that colleges aren’t not only not teaching teaching; in many cases, they aren’t teaching much of anything.