Busy day here at the ranch, but there’s lotsa news and views in the education world. Read on to hear more about online education, the availability of technologies like pencils and crayons in some Colorado classrooms, and the aggressive pR0nification of student life at some elite colleges:
- Via Inside Higher Ed, It turns out that you can’t fool more than a third of the general public all of the time, but college presidents are much, much better at fooling themselves. According to a Pew Research Center study on “The Digital Revolution and Higher Education,” here’s the verdict on “[t]he Value of Online Learning. The public and college presidents differ over the educational value of online courses. Only 29% of the public says online courses offer an equal value compared with courses taken in a classroom. Half (51%) of the college presidents surveyed say online courses provide the same value.”
- But of course, it’s possible to have “Excellence Without Money,” right? The State of Colorado and a “scholar” at the Hoover Institution argue that money can’t possibly fix the problems we have with P-20 education. They’re shocked, shocked at the implication that money has anything to do with the quality of education we offer through our schools and universities! (Funny how money fixes problems for banks, and car manufacturers, and hospitals, and no one ever patronizes them by calling it “throwing money” at their problems.)
- Meanwhile, back in Colorado’s rural elementary schools, here’s just one fourth-grade teacher’s lived experience: “Some of the most compelling testimony for the plaintiffs came from Matthew Keefauver, a teacher in Cortez who choked back emotion at times describing how poor his students are and how his district doesn’t have enough resources to help them. The free lunches and breakfasts at school are frequently the only meals they have, he testified. ‘They actually race to the classroom in the morning for breakfast because some of them are so hungry,’Keefauver said. He paid for his fourth-graders’ field trip to a local archaeological center out of his own pocket. ‘It’s kind of an expensive thing, but I started a business on the side literally to use some of that money to enrich things in my classroom,’ Keefauver said, explaining that herbs he sells at the farmers market also buy pencils, crayons and other items his kids’ families are too poor to buy themselves.” Who do these fourth-graders think they are, demanding expensive technologies like personal PENCILS and their own CRAYONS for their classrooms, and luxuries like field trips?” Cortez had better examine Mr. Keefauver’s test scores to ensure that his students are making their Adequate Yearly Progress, because clearly it will be all his fault if they don’t.
- And finally, via commenter Shaz, we have a lament from Lisa Belkin about the pR0nification of college life that even high-achieving women collaborate in. (Ariel Levy wrote about this in much greater detail in Female Chauvinist Pigs a few years back, as some of you may recall.) Much as I agree that the absence of young feminist outrage is disappointing, this seems like nothing new in feminist history. Nineteenth-century suffragists were also appalled by the middy-blouses and the co-ed badminton and bicycle-riding in vogue among their New Women granddaughters and daughters; New Women were shocked by the bared-knees, jazz music, and petting enjoyed by their flapper daughters, who were in turn shocked by (and maybe a little envious of) the miniskirts and birth-control pills enjoyed by their daughters and granddaughters. Having been a college student in the 1980s and early 1990s, I recall quite clearly conversations about how my generation saw itself as “postfeminist” and we were accused of blowing it again already, according to the Second Wavers. (Does anyone else remember those conversations about whether Madonna was feminist or antifeminist? That sure was big back in 1987, along with our hair.)
My bet is that college students today will end up mostly just embarassed by their behavior (not to mention their hairstyles!) in ten years’ time or less, when they enter the paid workforce and rediscover why all that feminism they should have learned more about might be useful when they see how the world outside of schools and universities operates. The success that young women have had in the past fifty years in going from a minority to a majority of college and graduate students shows how successfully the world of education has levelled the playing field, by and large, for women and men. The first meaningful experience with discrimination most young women have will occur after they enter the workforce and see men with less education and less experience paid more and promoted ahead of them. (This is not to say that our students don’t experience or haven’t witnessed sex bias–rather, that the first time sex discrimination hits home tends to be in the workforce and not at school. As Belkin’s article suggests, until one sees the material effects of discrimination, those 7,000 years of patriarchy can seem pretty theoretical.)
But pantomiming gang rape in a formal entertainment meant to honor high-achieving Princeton grads? Srsly? Here’s my so-not-with-it, ridiculously predictable condemnation of the fun that college kids these days like to have:
Late last spring, Princeton hosted 1,300 alumnae for a weekend celebration of progress called “She Roars.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor was there. (Justice Elena Kagan could not attend.) So was Meg Whitman, former chief executive of eBay, and Wendy Kopp, chief executive and founder of Teach for America, as well as two members of Congress, a few best-selling authors and heads of corporations and universities. The first night, student a-cappella groups performed, and for one song the all-male Nassoons serenaded one lone member of the all-female Tigerlilies, who pretended to have wandered, lost, onto the stage. Keeping the rhythm, the men pantomimed unzipping their flies and thrusting their pelvises. In an essay in The Christian Science Monitor soon afterward, the singer Tina deVaron, who was in the audience, compared the performance with mimed gang rape, and told the story of her own rape by a fellow student when she was at Princeton in 1973. What the performers onstage that night saw as ribald fun, she wrote, was at the root of statistics like “one in four women will be sexually assaulted on a college campus.”
The response to Ms. deVaron was as mixed as that to my student interviewers. Many readers were appalled and wondered where these students’ parents had gone wrong. Others saw it as no big deal, and even suggested it was a response to the prissiness of earlier generations, who saw every male and female interaction as symbolic rather than fun.
Now, that’s just tacky at best, and outright aggressive when one considers the eminence of the audience and the history of coeducation at Princeton. (Would Princetonians put on a show for high-achieving male grads that pantomimes raping men?) But what the hell do I know? I just turned 43, and I keep forgetting that gender and sexuality have no history and sex was invented sometime in-between Nirvana’s Nevermind and the final episode of Friends.