Thursday, August 11, 2011

What Are Students Being Taught?

A couple of days ago Cooperative Catalyst published a Steve Miranda post that told the story about a student's effort to get into Harvard.

Miranda had informed students "that they should not expect a rubber stamp A on their report card."  That announcement produced the following predictable results.
One student approached me after class and said, “Wait, Miranda, are you saying that there’s a chance I might get a B in this class next semester?”
I replied, “If you do outstanding work like you’re capable of, then I would expect you to earn an A.”
He bolted out of my room and came back about 20 minutes later with a paper for me to sign. “Sorry Miranda, no offense, but I’m dropping the class. I’m trying to get into Harvard and I can’t risk getting a B.”
Miranda then reports that the student got into Harvard but found the result discomforting because once Harvard accepted him, he had no new goal and no way to relax.  Miranda goes on to back up his anecdote by linking to and excerpting this New York Times article about the college application process.  The Times reports,
Students preparing to apply to college are increasingly tailoring their summer plans with the goal of creating a standout personal statement—250 words or more—for the Common Application in which to describe “a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.” Specialized, exotic and sometimes costly activities, they hope, will polish a skill, cultivate an interest and put them in the spotlight in a crowded field of straight-A students with strong test scores, community service hours and plenty of extracurricular activities.
Today, the Los Angeles Times publishes a "most athletic" list.  The article reports,
The Times talked to several sports historians and many of them had more difficulty naming contemporary athletic athletes than figures from the past. Because kids today are groomed to be great at a single scholarship-earning sport, historian Richard Crepeau said that questions of athleticism are harder to answer.

"At one time this would have been a fairly simple matter," Crepeau said. "Just go to those who had, or who were capable of playing at the elite level in several sports.

"[But] in modern elite sport across the board there is such attention to training and conditioning that being athletic is nearly a given." [emphasis mine]
Both sports and education seem to have a similar process and send the same message: specialize and look for the glamor.  The kids seem to be mastering the philosophy well.  Perhaps someone is having them recite this mantra as a mnemonic: don't learn or play; just earn and pay.

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