Coffee heat rising

Art: A New Venture

Drawing1roseSo I signed up for a drawing class at the Shemer Art Center, a city-operated museum and artists’ center in a historic home in the ritzy Arcadia district.

My friend La Maya, who has considerable talent as a painter, started taking classes there some years ago. Since then she’s studied with artists from all over the world, and she’s really developed to the professional level.

I don’t expect to accomplish any such thing. But I did once draw and paint when I was a young thang — took lessons from an artist up in Wickenburg for awhile. But I’m not very good.

That notwithstanding, I happened to drive by the Shemer a few days ago and thought…why not?

It’s not real cheap: $175 for five weekly three-hour sessions. But it surely isn’t as much as a vacation. And I haven’t gone on a vacation for many years, indeed. So: think of it as a kind of mini-vacation, and the price doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Drawing2poppyWhile I was still teaching at the Great Desert University — lo! those many years ago — I took a drawing class at Phoenix College. Not very successful: the instructor left something to be desired, yet some of the young things were so talented and so far beyond what was offered in the course that I felt totally out of place. Nothing was presented that I didn’t already know about, the assignments were uninspiring, and the one skill that I could have used some help with — perspective — was glossed over.

PC charges $86 per credit hour. For a three-credit course, that’s $258, plus a $15 “administrative” rip-off, for a total of $273. Makes the Shemer course sound like a bargain…except that a three-credit course running over a full semester meets three hours a week for 16 weeks. That’s three times as long: $175 x 3 would be $525.

To take such a course at the Great Desert University apparently would cost so much the administrators dare not make it clear. Searching through a half-dozen Web pages, you discover that they charge “$480 to $543 per credit hour,” for godsake. But whereas the junior college inflicts only one extra rip-off on its students, GDU lists ELEVEN of them, among them a gouge for those who take more than an approved number of credits before graduating, the usual gouge for the athletic department levied on everyone whether they’re sports fans or no, a cryptic “financial aid trust fee” whose nature is about as clear as mud, and a brand-new “resident surcharge fee” imposed in response to the idiot legislators’ having cut state funding to the university.

Huh. No wonder my son doesn’t want to take an MBA there. He could get one from Stanford for less cost, and get a decent degree, too.

So anyway, the cost of the course is midway between a community college’s and the endlessly annoying university’s. In fact, I could take the equivalent of a full semester-long 3-credit course at the Shemer for less than GDU would charge me to take one credit.

What a place.

At any rate, this will blow away the new budget, which allows for all of $15 for entertainment. Ohh well. Just have to spend less on a few other categories. I guess.

Got a Kid Going to College? Read This

If your kids attend a college or university — or if you do — you need to read this book.

IMG_3006College students or their parents face endless tuition increases. Do you know what their tuition is buying — and not buying?

Sixty to eighty percent of college instructors are not professors at all. They’re underpaid, often marginally qualified part-time adjuncts. In the brave new world of academe, few American students get what they pay for when they arrive at college. Meanwhile, graduate programs churn out thousands of would-be college faculty with master’s and doctoral degrees, few of whom ever land full-time jobs in higher ed.

Full-time faculty are systematically being replaced by part-timers with no office, no computer, no phone, no insurance, no retirement, no representation, and sub-minimum wage pay.

This book explains the consequences, short- and long-term, of replacing professors with part-timers and chronicles one adjunct’s semester in America’s largest community college district.

For a handsome print copy, inquire in the comments section below — be sure to leave a real email address so we can get in touch (will not be shared!).

Check out all the offerings at Plain & Simple Press here!

Considering Grad School? 8 Things to Think About

Come on over to the Plain & Simple Press blog, where I just posted eight guidelines for people who are considering graduate school, especially a Ph.D. program. Or any degree that might lead to a job in higher ed.

Cruising Amazon for another purpose, I happened to run across a book on the same general subject as Slave Labor, apparently (judging from the comments) one whose author shares my jaundiced view of academe.

This led to a rumination: Do I regret having acquired a Ph.D.?

Well, yes and no.

If I had put the same amount of energy and time into climbing the corporate ladder as it took to jump through the Ph.D. hoops, by now I’d own Phoenix Magazine, my first employer in journalism. Or when my boss left Arizona Highways, I could easily have acceded to the throne…and believe me, I’d still be there today, had that been the case.

On the other hand, it did help me get into a few decent jobs, and at Highways it let me enter at the top of my pay grade. And ultimately, I did end up with a full-time, decently paying job in academe, even though it wasn’t on the tenure track. I got an offer for a tenure-track position…declined, because I didn’t want to move to South Carolina. Certainly not for $10,000 less than I was earning here!

If I had it to do over again, I would choose a different discipline: one that would open more doors to employment and that would pay better.

Such as…?

For the mathematically challenged: a doctorate in educational administration will get you into an assistant or associate deanship or a vice-presidency at any number of colleges and universities. At the Great Desert University, these are decently paying, 12-month jobs, and some of them are even non-exempt. Obviously, such a degree would also buy entrée to a for-profit, proprietary school, if you don’t mind ripping off students even more extravagantly than GDU does.

For those who can handle courses in statistics: the Ph.D. in economics renders you eligible for all sorts of national and international jobs in corporations, governments, and nonprofits. Think high-level banking jobs…

A Ph.D. in psychology will let you hang out your shingle as a psychologist and also qualify you for other jobs outside of academia. These are rather more difficult to find than one would like. However…if you combine an M.A. in psych with an M.A. in nursing, presto-changeo! A psychiatric nurse-practitioner! Nurse-practitioners in general are highly sought after, and those with a specialty can easily earn six figures.

For those whose eyes don’t glaze over easily: a Ph.D. in accountancy. At GDU, a brand-new, fresh-out-of-grad-school assistant professor can come on at six figures. Noooo problem.

Microbiology could be promising: government jobs, and possibly some corporate jobs in agribusiness, environmental science, public health, or genetic engineering. Back in the day, I would cheerfully have majored in microbiology, except that women were not welcome in the sciences. Conspicously not welcome. Fortunately, that has changed.

It’s something to think about. Preferably before you start a program…

Would I Have Done This? Would You?

Y’know, sometimes I look at what my students do, often out of simple self-defense in a world fraught with absurd bureaucratic demands, and wonder if I would have done the same thing as a freshman.

Would I refuse to buy the textbook for a college course I was paying to take? If I did buy it, would I refuse to read it? Would I turn in a paper that was copied whole cloth from the Internet (or, in my day, from a magazine or book)? Would I beg for an exception from the no-late-papers rule because I had a full-time job and was taking 18 credits? Would I need to be taught how to acknowledge a source in-text?

Well, off-hand the answers would be No, Probably not, No, Not a chance, and No.

BUT…on reflection…

The truth is, there’s really no comparison between today’s student’s experience and my college experience a half-century ago.

In the first place, I did not take English 101 and 102, the two-semester iteration of the high-school English that apparently does not “take” for most Arizona kids. I didn’t go to school in Arizona, thank all the Gods and Goddesses that be: California schools, even the lesser schools of southern California where my parents moved after three years in San Francisco, went so far as to teach basic literacy and basic expository writing. My SAT scores got me into a one-semester substitute for the advanced dumbbell English most students had to take, and that was a course in modern literature — it wasn’t a composition course at all. So it should be noted that there really was no comparison. With that in mind, let us consider:

Would I refuse to buy the textbook for a college course I was paying to take?

No, certainly not. In the first place textbook publishers did not gouge students upwards of $80 for what really are nothing more than $20 trade paperbacks. So buying a semester’s textbooks did not mean I’d have to skip paying the rent that month.

And in the second place, it never even occurred to me not to buy a required textbook — or even one of the optional texts. Of course you bought the text. What would be the point of taking the course at all if you didn’t buy the books?

I remember being absolutely shocked when a third-year student bragged, in the moments before a particularly boring history class convened, that he  hadn’t bought the course textbook and that in fact he had never purchased a textbook for any class in his major, and he had a B+/A– average.

Tellingly, he was an education major.

Speaking of that history course…

Would I refuse to read a textbook that I’d bought?

That history course was taught by a dry, monotone professor who required a heavy, thick, equally dry and monotone textbook. It’s hard to make history boring, but this guy did it. That book was the most tedious piece of published anything I’ve ever read this side of a journal article in higher mathematics.  It was almost unreadable.

I didn’t refuse to read it — I tried to read it. But if he’d sat me down and asked me what I’d read, he’d probably have concluded the answer was “nothing.”

These comp textbooks are similarly boring and tendentious. They’re excruciating to read, and I know the subject matter. No. I live the subject matter. And I find them perfectly awful.

I would not have read it because, at the age of 17, when I entered college, I knew all this stuff. I had been writing sourced (i.e., cited and documented) expository papers since the seventh grade. By the time I left high school, a textbook like the ones we require for today’s freshman comp courses would have nothing to offer me. I certainly could have passed a 2015 freshman comp course without ever looking at the text.

Being the little doobie that I was, I probably would have looked at assigned readings. But I wouldn’t have studied them carefully, because I would have considered it a waste of time.

However…it must be remembered that for today’s students, the material is not a waste of time. Many, many high-school graduates entering your comp courses will tell you that they have never written any researched paper in all the 13 years they spent in Arizona’s K-12 schools! Some will tell you they’ve never written a piece of exposition at all. Any piece of exposition, like “what I did on my summer vacation.” They do not know how to find research sources. They do not know how to distinguish, in terms of credibility, between something they read on Faux News and something on the same subject that emanated from the New England Journal of Medicine. They cannot recognize when they’re indulging in a fallacy. Some of them don’t know what the word “fallacy” means. As many as a quarter of them do not write in coherent paragraphs — they can’t organize their thinking in rational blocks of copy.  About a third to a half habitually write in fragments and fused sentences.

Although the average American high-school kid did not score in the 99th percentile on the SAT’s verbal section, nevertheless a good 80 percent of them were capable of writing a coherent paper without a lot of basic grammar and logical thinking errors.

So: not a fair comparison. Quite.

Would I turn in a paper that was copied whole cloth from the Internet (or, in my day, from a magazine or book)?

No. I was too scared to pull a stunt like that. Nor did I need to: I knew how to find information and how to synthesize it from several sources into a single coherent argument. I left high school knowing how to do that — it was as natural as breathing.

Over the decades, a sea change in attitudes toward honesty has taken place. People in general — including young people — have discovered that it’s very easy to get away with things. Keep a straight face and no one is likely to question you, first because most people are too busy to be bothered and second because few instructors want to go through the hassle of flunking you out of their course for plagiarizing.

That’s a function, I think, of the number of bureaucratic rules that now afflict us all. We have restraints and demands coming at us from all directions. And one of the things people have figured out is that nothing much happens if you quietly neglect to obey. Or that the chances that you’ll be caught out and hassled are relatively low.

I knew a young woman who indulged in a fair amount of insurance fraud. She’d become expert in navigating insurance claims and would even offer to help her friends maximize collections. A couple of times, her scams were pretty damned transparent. But you know what happened? Nothing. She collected. She got not one but two houses completely rebuilt (questionable whether the fire that burned down the second house was actually a fraud or a genuine attempt on the part of her psychotic husband to murder her — probably the latter, IMHO, but that was never proven). Neither of these people — the crooked wife or the equally unethical demented husband — have ever had to account for their scams in any meaningful way.

Young people aren’t fools. Students can see this stuff going on. And when they attempt their own small frauds, they learn the same thing: getting caught is a very, very long shot.

If I’d been functioning in this environment, who knows what I would have done? It’s a different social ethic altogether.

Would I beg for an exception from the no-late-papers rule because I had a full-time job and was taking 18 credits?

Never would’ve entered my mind. You did not challenge your teachers. Or your parents. Or a cop. Or a principal. Or the IRS dude. Or anyone else.

The kid who asked to turn in a major paper three days late did so not once but twice — she actually came back after I said “no” and tried to change my mind.

But once again one has to ask: is there really a comparison here?

Except for reading texts to a blind student once or twice a week, I didn’t hold a job during the entire four years of my undergraduate training. People didn’t. No one expected kids to go to school full-time and also go to work. For a student, your job was to study. That’s what you did. You didn’t go out and sell furniture or wait tables. The very idea would have been frowned upon.

And sign up for 18 credits? Are you kidding? Sixteen units was considered a heavy load. I doubt if the university would have allowed me to take 18 credit hours in a single semester. I would have had to get some kind of special permission to pull it off, and you can bet that if an adviser had a clue that I was working on the side, no such permission would have been forthcoming.

Tuition at public universities was almost free. Families did not have to damn near bankrupt themselves to send a kid to college, and students were not saddled with a lifetime of debt to get a degree that is now considered indispensable for white-collar employment.

Blue-collar jobs that would support a family existed in those days, so a college degree wasn’t regarded as non-negotiable for entrée to the middle class. For that matter, the middle class still existed, too…

So again, there’s really no comparison. College kids were not subjected to unreasonable demands or exploited mercilessly. They didn’t have to work as wage slaves while they were trying to take classes, and so they didn’t have to beg dispensation to turn in assignments late. And instructors were full-time faculty on the tenure track, not wretched part-timers juggling two, three, or four mini-gigs to put food on the table. So they could afford to fit an occasional late paper into their workload.

Would I need to be taught how to acknowledge a source in-text?

Sure. We used footnotes back in the Dark Ages.

But the principle driving the practice was the same. And I’d been using footnotes since the seventh grade. No one needed to take my little hand and sit me down and explain to me what sources to cite, when, where, or why. Today’s  poor little things haven’t a clue.

How’z about you? Would you refuse to buy the textbook for a college course you were paying to take? If you did buy it, would you refuse to read it? Would you turn in a paper that was copied whole cloth from the Internet (or from a magazine or book)? Would you beg for an exception from the no-late-papers rule because you had a full-time job and were taking 18 credits? Would you need to be taught how to acknowledge a source in-text?

They were the best of students, they were the worst of students…

Ohhhhhh 🙁 moannnnnnn

The Eng. 102s’ final, endless research paper is in. We have four days in which to grade the monsters, and then I have to post grades on the district’s system. Meanwhile, another set of papers from the wannabe magazine writers is pending — a “brite,” the shortest of short-form journalism.

The magawriters’ efforts will be easy, and besides, there are only about 10 students remaining in that class.

But the 102s…hevvin help us, MOST of them have hung in there through the entire semester. That’s got to be some kind of a record, because by the end of a term a third to half of classmates have dropped a typical community-college course. So it’s GOOD, in one way: somehow we’ve managed to keep them on track.

But…what, really, is ON that track?

I made a little chart dividing up the classmates by the quality of their writing skills. The idea is to grade the weakest writers’ papers first, so as to get the truly, truly awful stuff out of the way while the brain is still relatively fresh. Then plow through the mediocrities, which can be as or more difficult than the bad stuff to grade. And finally have downhill skiing after you’ve reached the point where you can no longer bear to look at the things.

So. We have the “Best,” the “Worst,” and the “Others.”

Or we could say, the “Excellent,” the “Dreadful,” and the “Mediocre.” Or…the “Good,” the “Bad,” and the “Ugly”….

Under the “Best” rubric, we have six classmates, one of whom is really a very good writer. The “Worst” number five. And the “Others”: seven. Only two students have failed to turn in a paper, and one of those fell under the wagon wheels some time back. Neither of them were among the “Worst.” That means, yes: here at the end of the semester we still have to read, assess, try to comment intelligently upon, and apply a grade to five unintelligible pieces of illiterate drivel.

So far I’ve read a paper whose author attempted to organize the entire 2500 words into two paragraphs. I’ve read a 2500-word “research” paper without a shred of documentation. And just now I’m about to take up one in which I entered FIFTEEN corrections in THREE sentences before I gave up and went to bed last night.

What, seriously, am I supposed to do with a student who’s doing the best he or she can but still makes an error about every second word?

Yeah, I understand that some writers who do that have learning disabilities. And I do understand it’s not their fault, whether their brains are wired in some unique way or whether they’re simply victims of Arizona’s half-assed educational system. But that doesn’t change the fact that they’re in my course, and I can’t very well flunk a quarter of the students in any given section — I wouldn’t keep my job long if I did that. And it doesn’t change the fact that these people — maybe as many as a quarter of our “graduates,” such as they are — are going to end up in some hapless employer’s business.

That’s right: 5 out of 18 is more than a quarter of the class: 28%.

And it’s pretty typical.

Postscript: As I was fiddling with this post, one student asked me to let him/her completely rewrite an abysmally failing paper (answer: No) and another asked me to accept NINE late papers because s/he’s had such a tough time this semester (answer: No).

Holy shit.

Annals of the Floored and Flabbergasted: Back Office Staff Edition

This morning I get on the phone to an assistant in the gynecologist’s office, to whom I’m trying to explain, for the THIRD time today (not to her, but to two other folks) that because it looks like I’m headed for a mastectomy, a medical oncologist advised me to consult with a plastic surgeon before that comes to pass,  and so I would like a referral to a plastic surgeon who knows what s/he’s doing.

She doesn’t quite follow. It’s a complex series of thoughts, after all. So I explain (again) that I need to talk to a plastic surgeon before I get scheduled for a probable mastectomy.

Says she:

“Is that in the pelvic area?”

{thought balloon: you ARE one of my students, aren’t you?}

“No, honey, mastectomy has to do with your breasts. They’re going to chop off one of my boobs.”

“Oh. How do you spell that?”

Ha haaaa! Is that hilarious or not?  And just think how hilarious it is that medical offices are populated with folks like this, ready to take care of your every health need…