Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The World's Oldest Profession

Inspired by a terrific post on the Advanced Placement program from my favorite Zenith University student blog (correctly in my view, they oppose the AP, as well as everything else that makes high school such an anxious drag), the Radical wants to take up the challenge. What annoying behaviors will we who teach at Selective Liberal Arts Colleges (otherwise known as "SLACs") soon be navigating? What false information will we be forced to dispel? Misinformation for which we cannot fault the students themselves? That I am charging directly to the account of the pressure to get into college that has been created by SLACs like Zenith and their buddies in the Ivy League, and reinforced by slavish private, public and parochial schools? Read on for the Radical's pet peeves during first year advising:

1. The International Baccalaureate. I had a relative in an IB high school, in a state that is somewhere in the 40's in its national ranking in the quality of its higher and secondary education. From ninth grade on, the students were told that they were doing "college level work." What this meant, in United States History for example, was that they had to memorize hundreds of pages of a textbook every week and take long tests on the "facts" therein. OK, so even if you are coming to my survey from the United Nations International Baccalaureate School in New York -- guess what? you still haven't taken a college course. You have taken a high school course that is either really time consuming or maybe really good. Or maybe both. But it's a high school course. Tell me you took the United States survey at the University of Michigan while a senior at the public school in Ann Arbor and I will start listening. I would bet you dollars to doughnuts that the same number of people who go to International Baccalaureate programs become hookers as the proportion of the general population who choose that path independently of having tested into an IB program. Although the hookers with IB diplomas might speak a second language, I will grant you that.

2. Helicopter parents. Why are they so called by we educators? Because they.....Hover! When the student who is your advisee does not get into a course s/he wants to take, these parents call:

a) you, the advisor;
b) the class dean;
c) the provost;
d) the president of the college;
e) all of the above.


Now I would argue that although they probably had tendencies in this direction already, to paraphrase Simone de Beauvoir and Monique Wittig, helicopter parents are made and not born. They are like this because they are sure that if they take their eyes off the mark for a second, their child will not get what s/he deserves. Why do they believe this? Well, because in most high schools, it's true. My observation is that every time a high school administration turns around it is enforcing some stupid district, state or federal rule such as: you can't take AP Calculus IV because you don't have enough PE credits to graduate, so you have to take swimming instead. And if you don't take all the AP credits available to you at Whitebread Manor High, in Whitebread New Jersey, where the competition for Brown and Zenith is so intense you can taste it in the water, you will probably not get into any college at all and will have to become a hooker.

3. Any sentence that begins "I can't get a C in this course because..." and ends:

a) I'm going to law school;
b)I'm going to medical school;
c)I'm going to business school.


This too is not the fault of the student: it is the fault of every gatekeeper that student has met so far, and the gatekeepers that their panicked parents have become, who have warned that student that one bad grade will bring a whole world of pain crashing down on the entire family. Possibly the whole town: it's hard to know for sure how extensive the damage will be. And that instead of becoming a lawyer/doctor/businessman, this formerly promising young person will have to become a hooker.

Not that there is anything wrong with becoming a hooker, in my view. I'm a feminist after all. It's just that most parents I know don't see it as a desirable outcome. Do your own research: ask a parent who has decided to drop by to be part of the first year advising process. It's important if you are a scholar to be clear about who thinks what, and why, and not just take my word for it.

By the way, did anyone but me read in the Education Magazine of The New York Times a week ago that the University of Chicago is hellaciously easy to get into? Who knew? Is it Chicago? Is it the lack of sports teams? Is it the fear of being swept up by Obamarama? Enquiring minds want to know. And check out this AP story published in the New York Times, about "a disheveled package" delivered to Eastern Illinois University. "The stuffed and stained envelope was strange enough that police officers alerted the bomb squad," the reporter writes.

It turned out to be a college application.

24 comments:

Holly said...

Actually, a post about your experiences with Wesleyan helicopter parents would be hilarious, I dare say, uproarious. I went to a pretty crappy high school and never knew just how much a parent could get involved in their kids' lives until I started my own college admissions process. Whenever I went on a tour (which was something no one from my high school ever, ever did since they all knew they were going to a PA state school), no kids would ask quetions, always the parents. My mom always got really depressed because she felt like such an underachiever, not having gone to college herself and not knowing what to ask. I remember the worst offending school, in my opinion, was Middlebury, but at none of the schools I visited (which ironically did not include Wesleyan) did the parents refrain from dominating the discussion.

So I'm sort of obsessed now with what some education sociologists are calling the parentocracy of college admissions. But as a student, I only get a glimpse into just how pushy parents could be once their kid gets in. It's like a really poorly kept secret that professors always seem to allude to.

Gah, I have such strange obsessions. Like other people's parents...

Lesboprof said...

Yeah, just as bad as being a hooker is being a person with a degree in my professional discipline. When I go to recruitment events for prospective students, the parents eye me as a threat and do all but push their children by, shouting "avert your eyes!" Yes, apparently everyone's child is destined for law school, med school, or business. Too bad there is all that advanced writing, science, and math to take in those fields!

anthony grafton said...

Great post, great responses. As to Chicago: it's always been relatively easy to get in (this was certainly true back when I went there in the 60s), but also relatively hard to graduate, thanks to the quarter system, a demanding curriculum, less grade inflation than elsewhere, and the absence of some of the support systems available at comparable schools. I also suspect that the Common Core which has long been a signature trait of the school, though more labile in fact than as symbol--it's much changed since my day, as it had changed between my brother's time and mine--deters a lot of applicants.

Chicago is fantastic--and much more so now than in the 60s. But Hyde Park, where the U of C crouches by the lake, lacks the mass of upscale chain shops and restaurants that now surround Penn and Columbia. And if you're busy at UC it can be hard to get away and enjoy the city. Getting in doesn't show that you beat out nine other highly qualified teenage student/athlete/leaders, and certainly gives you no social credentials at all. The only reason to go there--now as then--is that you enjoy an obsessive, highly intellectual place.

Much of this may change over the next years, as the UC administration tries to remake the school into a more attractive and normal place. David Kirp describes earlier debates about this in Shakespeare, Einstein and the Bottom Line, and a recent Times essay claimed that the student body has begun to change dramatically (I was sceptical: the blog Nobody Sasses a Girl in Glasses, which I recommend, offers a fair amount of evidence that UC remains UC).

For the moment, at least, UC remains a happy exception to the reigning admissions mania.

Bardiac said...

At my school, you'd also get the students begging to get into X class. We've cut classes over the past ten years in response to cuts in budgeting, but students don't make that connection (how could they?), and just want their class.

For lower level classes (capped at 35), I average 5-10 email requests to overload in. (My undergrad had similar problems while I was there, but no email to make requests from afar, so the people I knew just waited another semester.)

Anonymous said...

To Bradiac above...

you sound bitter that students might actually want to take your class?

Tenured Radical said...

anonymous:

I don't read that as bitter, and if you read bardiac regularly you wouldn't say that: regardless, I read the comment as sympathetic. What bardiac is saying is that classes have been cut, students don't know why and have no control over it, and so they do what they can to game the system by making personal requests. Which actually is awful for the teacher in a way that's hard to recognize if you haven't been one: to know you are either turning down a student who is really interested who you would like to teach, or doing a third again as much as the shlump in the ofice next door who isn't popular.

TR

GayProf said...

I really hope that universities take a hard-line stance against helicopter parents.

And, for the record, I would love to hang out with hookers.

adjunct whore said...

i LURVE the i can't get a C because....medical school is the most common in my classes.

i gave a student an A- once and she berated me for weeks about how it was unfair, i'd ruined her chances to become a doctor, etc.

i never thought to suggest hooking.

Edward Carson said...

I consult, write, and have conducted some reserach for the College Board. My grad and under grad work was in European Studies, but I also teach AP US History. Because I teach at an independent school, I am lucky to teach a number of very bright and stressed out students. Yes, many of my students take 4 - 5 AP courses.

Funny, but the best say they do it not for credit, but for the best transition into college.

I also serve on the AP European History Development Committee. We (3 high school and 3 college faculty members) research and construct the AP European History course, as well as write the national AP exam. For the most part, I find high schools to be...well...I will not say; but, I think all courses should be taught at the level of AP. Oh, I hate parents.

lil'rumpus said...

So THAT's where I went wrong...the IB courses I took in HS were for hooking! No WONDER the admissions folks at most places I applied to didn't seem to recognize the program :)

Of course this was in 1987...I have to say at that point, the IB courses were, in fact, at times even more challenging than some of the entry level college courses I took in my first year....but maybe that was because I went to hs in an excellent district in MN.

Irie said...

Hmm... There's more money in hooking than teaching... Benefits suck, though.

Anonymous said...

li'l rumpus:
Right there with you about the lack of recognition for IB courses. Luckily, that's changing. At my (unnamed) institution in a rocky mountain state, we give 8 credits for each AP class, which means we count it as TWO college courses! Makes me crazy.

Taking both AP and IB exams/classes, I can say that there is no comparison between the two programs. (Full disclosure: I have an IB diploma). And yes, they are high school classes, but they are European-designed high-school classes created to give students a high quality education that will get one into a prestigious European university, most of which require at least a year of US college for regular admission. So if you're talking to someone who has an IB diploma, it IS like taking college courses, and they're a heckuva lot harder than intro level courses here or at the LAC I attended.

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