Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2015 Issue

Is This Why We Learn?

Dorothy in Kansas.

This story may not be about books. Then again, it may be totally about books. While some people may buy “books by-the-foot” to display with no intention of ever reading a word within, books were invented to transmit information. They were designed to teach, and we read them to learn. Consequently, this story relating to teaching today is chilling to those who believe that learning is about more than just a ticket to a higher paying job, with no earthly purpose beyond this.

 

A bill recently was introduced in the Kansas State Senate that was marked up and edited by the Committee on Ways and Means, presumably meaning the senators are taking it seriously. It is called “An act concerning postsecondary educational institutions; relating to degree program transparency.” It requires colleges to provide a single-page prospectus on each of its degree programs, evidently intended for prospective students. It is designed to summarize the most important things students need to know about a college and its programs before making a decision to attend.

 

You might expect this prospectus to include the courses offered, perhaps a brief syllabus of their content. Maybe it would tell you which courses are required and what electives are available. Perhaps it would provide brief resumes of professors. It might list some of the books you will be reading, or pose some thought-provoking questions to test the depth of your interest. Maybe, maybe, maybe, but the answer is no. Here are the features of an education worthy of making it to the program's prospectus, at least according to some Kansas senators:

 

1. A description of the program, provided nothing therein “shall contradict, mitigate, or otherwise explain any of the statistical information” in the following sections.

 

2. The average number of years it takes to get the degree.

 

3. The number of years expected to get such a degree.

 

4. The cost per year to obtain the degree, including tuition, room and board, books, and fees.

 

5. The total investment (financial, not mental) to obtain the degree (subtracting average amounts for grants and scholarships).

 

6. The average amount of time between graduation and securing full-time employment.

 

7. A graphical representation of the salary distribution of those who obtain the degree.

 

8. The percentage of students who become employed in the field of the degree.

 

9. The percentage of graduates who are employed within 6 months of graduation.

 

10. A chart that displays the number of years required to recoup the cost of the education, based on formulas that include interest rates and such. Here is the formula for determining this: N=(-log(1-((R*A)/P)))/log(1+R). Care to guess how many members of the Kansas State Senate have any idea what this means?

 

While some school districts in Kansas have announced they will be closing early for the summer because they don't have enough money to keep the doors open for the full school year, this bill authorizes colleges to give graduates up to $100 each to fill in their surveys.

 

Far be it from me to diminish the importance of these financial considerations. As Madonna once told us, we are “living in a material world.” But to retrace our musical heritage to Peggy Lee a few decades earlier, “is that all there is?” Is there nothing about learning, thinking, and knowledge worthy of making the Kansas legislators' Top 10 list? Should we stop reading literature, philosophy, science, and theology books and read nothing but books about how to make more money and get a better job? Is that all there is? Everything on the senators' list pertains to money, money, money, and if something else matters, it is down there at #11 or lower and not included on their list. Sadly, Dorothy, this is Kansas.

 

N=(-log(1-((R*A)/P)))/log(1+R). What would Shakespeare have to say about that?


Posted On: 2015-05-01 12:30
User Name: midsomer

I do disagree about paying students $100 for the information. However you write "money, money, money" as if money is a bad thing. It's neither good nor bad. Money is a tool. Fortunately or unfortunately some people are simply born with enough money that the questions above do not pertain to them. For the rest of us those questions are important. We have bills to pay and a limited amount of money to do so. Should we saddle students (or their parents) with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt to get a degree in philosophy, literature, etc when there are virtually no applicable jobs available? How many would actors with theater degrees are busing tables? It's a personal choice that I will not make for an individual but they should have all of the necessary information available to make an INFORMED decision about their future. The arts are important but having food on the table and a roof overhead are more important.


Posted On: 2015-05-01 15:41
User Name: old_sbduk

Weekly, if not daily, we are faced with a series of news stories about the low employment rate and reduced career expectations of young people, who at the same time are facing a crushing mountain of college tuition debt. Is it really such a bad idea to give rising college freshman some sense of how likely they are to be able to make a living from their chosen field of study? And are colleges, and departments within the colleges, and programs within the departments proscribed from also circulating the type of information you favor (required and elective courses available, faculty bios, likely texts)? Why not give prospective students as much information as possible--after all, we do want people to make enough money that they can spend at least some of it on books.


Posted On: 2015-05-01 16:34
User Name: blackmud42

The author has acknowledged that money is an important thing. He just says that it is not the only thing. The proposed bill would require colleges and universities to spend enormous sums merely to demonstrate the obvious. Does any incoming university student not already know that a major in accounting offers better job prospects than a major in philosophy? I doubt it. If there is such a person, he or she will soon be made aware of that reality from conversations with professors and fellow students. The authors of this bill know the price of everything and the value of nothing. I say God bless all those theater majors waiting on tables. Our world needs its dreamers.


Posted On: 2015-05-01 16:38
User Name: Bkwoman

I was sitting on a bench at a university quad one day and sitting close to me within hearing distance was a cadre of about 6-7 boys and girls. Their English was abysmal, loaded with double negatives, obscenities, the F word, and discussions of everything but their classes. Sadly, almost everything in this country is about money, but most especially education. They cut the budgets to schools and social programs that help students, even though the people who attend the schools will be running the country in a few years. My daughter will be spending half her life paying off school loans, and she can't find a job in her field which is urban planning. You'd think, if you look around most towns and big cities that they need someone to plan them, wouldn't you? Colleges are paying too much for fancy buildings and their administrators, and their hierarchy is generally pretty screwed up. The elephant in the room is overpopulation, which no one wants to talk about, so there are too many kids with too few schools. How about lots more trade schools to teach kids something useful, like mechanics, plumbers, roofers, carpenters, and of course, computer geeks? The trade schools could even have libraries and teach a few courses such as English without the F word or double negatives.


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