This morning I accompanied our grade 11 & 12’s on an experience college day. It should have been an excellent morning, and it was. Until Sociology 100. The topic the professor chose to speak on was the sociology of higher education.
He began by outlining that 100 years ago, only 3% of the population attended university. Now about 40% of young adults attend university, during their early 20’s. 40 years ago only about 7% of students received A’s, now it’s about 40%. The average mark in the 60’s was a C, now it’s a B+. It’s not that students have gotten smarter. It’s that marks are inflated by teachers, and they don’t mean anything anymore. That if you’re an A student, you’re probably actually not. And then he drew the bell curve. I’m serious. He then recommended that students recalculate their marks, if they have A’s, based on C being the average.
Furthermore, for those students planning to go to university, it’s not guaranteed that this will help them think better or learn much either. Most professor’s don’t really care about their students education. Instead, most professor’s get paid because of their research and publishing, rather than their teaching.
So you can understand the mess that I have to straighten out with my students tomorrow.
The moment he stated that my student’s grades were meaningless, one of my students spun around and looked at me with alarm. I mouthed the words, “you’re fine” to her, but every once in awhile she would turn around and look at me. As soon as the professor was done, she got up, walked across the aisle, and sat down right beside me.
I looked at her and said, “What was the mark on the first essay you ever wrote for me?” It was 60. She remembers because it’s the only mark she’s ever gotten like that. And it was shocking. After that mark she worked incredibly hard, drafting, editing, and rewriting, using the feedback that she’s been given. She’s become a proficient, fluid writer over the past three years, who can critically evaluate a text. The last mark she received from me was a 90.
I honestly couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and I became angrier and angrier. The bottom-line of this class was your teachers are lying to you, you’re not nearly as smart as you think, in fact, most people are only capable of C’s. And today’s system doesn’t require much hard work, like it did during the 1960’s.
Maybe I missed the memo, but I wasn’t aware that the 1960’s were the golden age of teaching.
Everything this professor said flies in the face of what I believe and how I teach.
I’m not saying that there aren’t problems with our current educational system. There are. We’re in the beginning of an educational revolution. And revolutions tend to break more things than they fix right away. We have an educational system predicated on the industrial revolution; instead, we need one that addresses the knowledge and innovation age that we’re in.
He stated facts like 40% of university students are disengaged from their learning. I don’t doubt that, but it’s not because they’re not “cut out” to learn, it’s likely because their listening to a lecture that is teaching them content they can find on Google in 3.5 seconds, for the purpose of an exam, rather than engaging them in authentic learning.
Additionally, I don’t lie to my students. I don’t pretend they have skills that they don’t. I’m pretty upfront with what they can, and can’t do, and what they’ll need to be able to do when they graduate, which is why I teach my students about 21st century skills, and what the world they’re graduating into really looks like, so that they realize how much they need to learn. And they do learn.
Maybe this professor isn’t aware of inquiry, collaborative and project-based learning and the deep, authentic learning experiences it creates, which tend to result in students being better than “average”. Maybe he isn’t aware of the work of Michael Wesch:
Or Ken Robinson:
And if I missed the memo on the 60’s being the golden age of education, somebody, please, let me know.