govandteachers

Blaming Government for Teacher and Scientist Failures in Integrity

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The article, “Governmental policy is wrecking science,” makes some interesting points but is fundamentally in error, because government policy is only a small part of the problem. Government is depending on scientists and teachers to police students and each other regarding scientific and academic integrity.  To a harmful extent, scientists and teachers are failing to effectively carry out this trust.

govteachingCatching plagiarism has gotten much easier in the past few years due to automated detection software.  Students are having a hard time fooling it. Most scientific publishers are using it now.  But it only works if teachers use it.

Catching fake data is often straightforward, but it requires paying attention and running a few statistical and possibly other tests. Back in 2008, my wife and I caught errors in a biomechanics paper and published a reply because it was obvious in the graphs that the data violated the Work-Energy theorem. My wife and her colleagues recently published a comment pointing out data dishonesty in an important bone paper. Something smelled fishy, so she asked me to read it. I agreed and encouraged her to dig deeper. She dug up the Master’s thesis with the original data and uncovered the sleight of hand. In 2010, I caught an atomic physics paper that had copied several paragraphs verbatim (without attribution) from one of my papers from the 1990s. Instead of a retraction, the editors let it slide with a corrigendum and citation after the fact.

We also caught errors in the weight-length data at Fishbase.org and published a paper on it in 2010 or 2011. In this case, my wife alerted me that something was afoul, and some cadets at the Air Force Academy made a project out of it under my oversight.  The database editors villified us for pointing it out, but they have since gotten a lot better at error checking and correction. We later traced most of the errors to a single source: one of the most cited handbooks on freshwater fisheries biology.

Similarly, we caught a number of both scientific and statistical errors in a 2011 Fishery Bulletin paper on magnetoreception in fish.  The editor published an erratum correcting the statistical errors, but declined to publish our comment pointing out the unsupported claims in the abstract and other scientific errors.  There was no suggestion our comment was wrong, but the journal simply has an editorial policy of not publishing comments that bring to light scientific errors in their papers.  Refusing to publish corrections for clear scientific errors is a failure of scientific integrity that falls on scientific authors and editors rather than government.

Not every correction needs to happen in the public arena. When erroneous or falsified data have been published, then a public correction is appropriate and may be the only way to prevent propagation of the error. However, sometimes a correction can be made timely to avoid a public error. For example, my wife was reading a paper in her field of research that was available online in “pre-print” form prior to publication. She noticed an error in the results tables and contacted the primary author privately in case there was time to correct it before others in the field would be evaluating and applying the results. Happily, in that situation the author thanked my wife and confirmed that there was time to correct the error prior to final publication. Within research groups, we can help each other by evaluating data critically – not to undermine any individual but to help maintain both scientific integrity and the reputations of all involved by sharing the goals of correct results and appropriate interpretation.

However, colleagues and I have also had numerous situations where we’ve pointed out scientific or academic error or misconduct and nothing was done. In addition to having letters to journal editors ignored in cases of clear published errors, there is also a battle for integrity in the schools.  The absence of negative feedback has the effect of training students in poor behavior early on.  We learned of a student texting answers to other students during a science test. The student admitted doing so, but refused to name others (recipients of the texts). The department of the North Carolina public school refused to investigate further or attempt to find out who benefited from the cheating. Not even the admitted cheater received any consequence.  We’ve seen a pattern of failures in academic and scientific integrity in North Carolina (such as the UNC athlete cheating scandal).

When I taught at the Air Force Academy, things were handled better. Even if the process failed to bring a disciplinary consequence to the student, an academic consequence could be brought by the instructor and department head by meeting a more-likely-than-not standard of evidence. The Math department head always supported a teacher recommendation of a zero for cheating on any graded event.

When I ran a cadet research program, I terminated cadet participation in the research program immediately and permanently when it became clear that a student had faked data or otherwise committed academic dishonesty. Even when a superior (not in the math department) recommended a gentler approach to allow for a “learning experience,” I terminated participation in the program, because I thought a firmer response was needed to bring the lesson home and protect the integrity of the program.

I have a sharp eye for data, and I run a number of statistical and common sense checks on student data and analysis. I may be the only professor I know who repeats student analysis at every step in most projects under my supervision. I have developed a good sense for what “too good to be true” looks like and what kinds of uncertainties can be expected given the experimental conditions and sample sizes. In my mentoring of science projects, students know from the beginning that I have zero tolerance for violations of academic and scientific integrity, and that I am double checking their data and analysis closely.

It is interesting to note that the original article cites Ernst Haeckel but fails to note his well known fraudulent embryo drawings.  I recall stirring up controversy in a guest lecture to a biology class in the last decade by pointing out their modern day textbook was still using the errant Haeckel drawings.  The drawings and the associated recapitulation theory have been considered in error for over 100 years, so it is something of a mystery how they can appear in modern textbooks without hordes of teachers and scientists objecting.

If you teach laboratories, what consideration have you given to making it harder for students to fake data?  I mentor a number of students on ISEF-type research projects and undergraduate research, so I get their feedback frequently on how their lab science classes are going.  Some of their teachers are really getting out in front of scientific integrity by designing lab experiments with an auditable data path from the original execution of the experiment to the graded lab report. This approach is analogous to requirements some journals and funding agencies have that data be published in a repository.  In some cases, lab instructors are even requiring students to take pictures while executing experiments.  It’s much harder to fake data if there are time stamped data files with the original data as well as time stamped pictures of the experiment in progress.  Sure, someone will be smart enough to fool any accountability system, but putting a good system in place keeps students from thinking they somehow have tacit approval to manufacture data, because they don’t just need to fake the data, they need to intentionally subvert the accountability system.

It’s too easy to blame the government.  They have entrusted matters of academic and scientific integrity to the diligence of teachers and scientists. We should all be doing our part in our respective areas of work to maintain integrity.  How many scientists and students have you busted in the past decade?

 

 

I grew up working in bars and restaurants in New Orleans, Louisiana, and viewed education as a path to escape menial and dangerous work environments, majoring in Physics at LSU. After being a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship I was offered graduate research fellowships from both Princeton and MIT, completing a PhD in Physics from MIT in 1995. I have published papers in theoretical astrophysics, experimental atomic physics, chaos theory, quantum theory, acoustics, ballistics, traumatic brain injury, epistemology, and education.

My philosophy of education emphasizes the tremendous potential for accomplishment in each individual and that achieving that potential requires efforts in a broad range of disciplines including music, art, poetry, history, literature, science, math, and athletics. As a younger man, I enjoyed playing basketball and Ultimate. Now I play tennis and mountain bikes 1000 miles a year.

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  1. Vanadium 50
    Vanadium 50 says:

    I think your Air Force Academy examples are the fault of the government.  Who runs the Air Force Academy anyway?

    A cadet cheats, he or she should be expelled.  Period.  If you allow cheaters to get commissions, pretty soon you will have cheating on nuclear missile proficiency tests and officers certifying there isn't a live nuclear warhead on an aircraft when there was.  Oh, wait.

  2. Dr. Courtney
    Dr. Courtney says:

    I think your Air Force Academy examples are the fault of the government.  Who runs the Air Force Academy anyway?

    A cadet cheats, he or she should be expelled.  Period.  If you allow cheaters to get commissions, pretty soon you will have cheating on nuclear missile proficiency tests and officers certifying there isn't a live nuclear warhead on an aircraft when there was.  Oh, wait.

    I agree completely.  Expulsion should be and usually is the result of being found guilty of cheating by the cadet honor system.

    But servicemen should not be denied due process anymore than any other citizen.  The burden of proof in the cadet honor system is beyond a reasonable doubt, and the fact of guilt must be established by a jury of their peers.

    Academic consequences are viewed more as a civil penalty.  The standard of evidence is merely the preponderance of the evidence, and there is no need to show the cadet intended to gain unfair advantage.  Having Windows calculator open during a math test (an unauthorized resource) or having apparent uncited and copied text in a report can be addressed by the faculty and the department head and given a zero before the wheels of the cadet honor system really get going.  In many cases those prosecutions stall due to the challenge of proving intent to gain an unfair advantage.  That tends to be hard when many tools equivalent to Windows calculator are authorized and it is very believable that it was just an honest mistake.

    The service academies are much more serious about academic rigor and integrity than any other institution of higher learning my wife and I have seen in the US.

  3. Drakkith
    Drakkith says:

    It is interesting to note that the original article cites Ernst Haeckel but fails to note his well known fraudulent embryo drawings.  I recall stirring up controversy in a guest lecture to a biology class in the last decade by pointing out their modern day textbook was still using the errant Haeckel drawings.  The drawings and the associated recapitulation theory have been considered in error for over 100 years, so it is something of a mystery how they can appear in modern textbooks without hordes of teachers and scientists objecting.

    I wonder how many teachers and scientists even know about this…

    If you allow cheaters to get commissions, pretty soon you will have cheating on nuclear missile proficiency tests and officers certifying there isn't a live nuclear warhead on an aircraft when there was. Oh, wait.

    Indeed. Though in that latter case I think it was more laziness/complacency than something resulting from cheating. Though I suppose you could argue that someone who cheats is much more likely to be lazy/complacent.

  4. HAYAO
    HAYAO says:

    Very nice insight indeed.

    I'm from Japan so I don't really know the system in the States, but I certainly agree that the government barely has any contribution to the integrity of scientists. Things have gotten quite strict in Japan since the incident of former Dr, Obokata from RIKEN with her paper in nature that got retracted later for plagiarism, falsification, and some other scientific misconduct.

    The thing is, however, that I understand some of her claims and justification. Don't get me wrong, I think she should be punished well and be stripped of her Ph.D. title because she basically fooled everyone in the world ever since her Ph.D. thesis. However, she was pressured quite a lot to produce good results and was somewhat indoctrinated by her superiors to lead to wrong conclusions. More or less, this is actually rather common in Japan.

    The thing is, the "seniority" system in Japan is indeed intimidating for some students and lower ranked academic posts and it does encourage some sort of scientific misconduct at certain level of intimidation from their superiors. In fact, academic harassment is so common in Japanese academics that student often find themselves on an edge of a cliff.  At this level, I am not surprised that one of these victims will try falsifying data to protect themselves.  This is why I think it is full responsibility of the teachers or the superiors to keep this from happening, and should it happen in actuality they are the one that needs to be punished in some way. This is also why I can't necessarily fully blame the students and scientists for their plagiarism in a situation like this because what they need is protection, not punishment. Even the most honest person can do wrong in a extreme situation. There are some fundamental structural issues in Japan that needs to be fixed before we can carry out punishments.

  5. Dr. Courtney
    Dr. Courtney says:

    I wonder how many teachers and scientists even know about this… [Ernst Haeckel's well known fraudulent embryo drawings]

    That's a good question.  It may be we are seeing a second generation effect where the laziness and lack of skepticism of one generation just passes on the material from the textbook to the next generation.  My habit has been to consult a number of secondary sources and check into things with multiple sources, and sometimes a few quick calculations when things don't jibe with consistency checks.  It's like I have a second processor in my mind always running consistency checks with existing information.

    To some degree, this came naturally, but I owe a lot to my graduate mentor, Dan Kleppner.  He was a running example of consistency checks and back of the envelope calculations relating to much of the scientific information he came across.  That's the approach that helped me catch an error on the title page in Chapter 9 in Fundamentals of Physics (Halliday, Resnick, and Walker, 8th Edition, p. 201).  The caption and related text attributed brain injury resistance in Big Horn sheep to the horns.  But running the numbers showed the textbook example to be unrealistic, and experimental evidence showed hornless sheep are no more susceptible to brain injury than horned sheep.  We wrote a paper on it:  Sheep Collisions: The Good, The Bad, and the TBI.

    For me, comparing predictions with experiment is just how real scientists should think (always).  Things should seem fishy when it is not being done.  Noticing the absence of this in a lot of the work on hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, we graphed a comparison of the theory vs.experiment ourselves and found a significant mismatch, shown in the figure taken from Predictions Wrong Again on Dead Zone Area – Gulf of Mexico Gaining Resistance to Nutrient Loading.    We also caught NOAA publishing an errant figure on this topic.  Since we were familiar with the real hypoxia maps, it was immediately obvious to us that the NOAA figure was wrong, and it did not take too much digging to find out NOAA had used a 2004 map showing turbidity claiming it was a 2013 map of hypoxic bottom water.

    One source I often check is Wikipedia, not because it has perfect accuracy, but my experience has taught me that students will go there more than any other outside source, so I like to know what they will find.  In the case of Haeckel, the Wikipedia pages do a pretty good job pointing out the errant embryo drawings.

  6. Dr. Courtney
    Dr. Courtney says:

    Indeed. Though in that latter case I think it was more laziness/complacency than something resulting from cheating. Though I suppose you could argue that someone who cheats is much more likely to be lazy/complacent.

    The military academies have redundant mechanisms in place that are more effective than anything I've seen in place at other colleges and universities at keeping cheaters and the lazy/complacent from graduating.  At the military academies, not graduating means no commission, because the commission occurs in military ceremonies within a few hours of graduation (an academic ceremony).

    There are four basic ways a student can be removed from a military academy: 1) an honor code violation 2) failure to meet academic standards 3) failure to meet military standards 4) failure to meet fitness standards.  If a student happens to avoid expulsion due to cheating, he is still likely to be removed for failing to meet academic standards, because cheating is often a response to poor academic performance related to laziness and complacency.

    Faculty can write comment cards on any student at any time, and they must write comment cards on any student in their courses earning a C- or below.  Checking the box "retain" or "do not retain" is mandatory.  I recommended most students performing poorly in my courses not be retained, because they were simply too big a risk to justify another $50k per semester of taxpayer money trying to get them to graduate.  95% of the students for whom I recommended "do not retain" did not make it to graduation (and commissioning), including all of the students involved in any honor cases. Most were gone for academic reasons or due to voluntary separation (resignation) before their honor cases were even completed.

    I've always felt much better about the character and education of officers commissioned through the military academies than those coming up through ROTC or OTS (Officer Training School).  These alternate commissioning sources lack the redundant mechanisms to weed out the bad apples.  Institutions that hire all their graduates tend to be better at quality than institutions that do not.  Officers coming through ROTC and OTS are unlikely to be better than any other STEM graduate with regards to their training in scientific and academic integrity, because these commissioning sources are depending on the teachers and scientists in academia to do it….

    If you think the military academies should be doing it, you should do it to, because almost any STEM graduate can become an officer through OTS.

  7. Dr. Courtney
    Dr. Courtney says:

    Very nice insight indeed.

    I'm from Japan so I don't really know the system in the States, but I certainly agree that the government barely has any contribution to the integrity of scientists. Things have gotten quite strict in Japan since the incident of former Dr, Obokata from RIKEN with her paper in nature that got retracted later for plagiarism, falsification, and some other scientific misconduct.

    The thing is, however, that I understand some of her claims and justification. Don't get me wrong, I think she should be punished well and be stripped of her Ph.D. title because she basically fooled everyone in the world ever since her Ph.D. thesis. However, she was pressured quite a lot to produce good results and was somewhat indoctrinated by her superiors to lead to wrong conclusions. More or less, this is actually rather common in Japan.

    The thing is, the "seniority" system in Japan is indeed intimidating for some students and lower ranked academic posts and it does encourage some sort of scientific misconduct at certain level of intimidation from their superiors. In fact, academic harassment is so common in Japanese academics that student often find themselves on an edge of a cliff.  At this level, I am not surprised that one of these victims will try falsifying data to protect themselves.  This is why I think it is full responsibility of the teachers or the superiors to keep this from happening, and should it happen in actuality they are the one that needs to be punished in some way. This is also why I can't necessarily fully blame the students and scientists for their plagiarism in a situation like this because what they need is protection, not punishment. Even the most honest person can do wrong in a extreme situation. There are some fundamental structural issues in Japan that needs to be fixed before we can carry out punishments.

    Thanks for your insights and views regarding the situation in Japan.  It is hard to suggest that the practical details should be the same in other cultures as in the US.  The goals should be the same (scientific honesty), but if the cultures are very different, then the paths and methods might be much different.

    In the US, there are occasional claims that pressure to succeed can be blamed for scientific and academic dishonesty.  I do not buy that at all.  My wife and I have been at top 10 schools, military academies, big state schools, lower tier schools, liberal arts colleges, and high schools.  Sure there is pressure to succeed, but nothing that cannot be accomplished with hard work without resorting to dishonesty, cheating, or faking data.

    Without fail, instances of cheating and faking data are attributable to several causes:

    1. Laziness.  Researcher or student procrastinates and then gets squeezed for time.  Moral compromise in faking data or other dishonesty originates in desire to take a shortcut.

    2. Greed.  One scientific outcome is more likely than the others to make a product look good, secure funding, or support desires of an important client.  Data failing to support desired outcome is disregarded and/or data supporting desired outcome is fabricated.

    3.  Power: Desired public policy change. One scientific outcome is more likely than the others to support a desired public policy change.  Data failing to support desired change is disregarded and/or data supporting desired policy change is fabricated.

    The scientific dishonesty can often be more subtle such as:

    A. publishing data agreeing with a model in journals and with press releases, while keeping data in disagreement under wraps or harder to find.

    B. publishing data supporting desired policy change (or funding) quickly while delaying data not supporting desired policy change (or funding)

    C. careless or willful misuse of sources: making overly broad or different claims than those well supported in citations

    D. Focus on one possible causal factor while ignoring other possibilities

    E. Confusing failing to find support for a competing hypothesis in an experiment with disproof of that hypothesis

    F. Publishing conclusions without a clear path and access to the raw experimental data and analysis that supports those conclusions.  Without the data, it is a dishonest appeal to the authors' authority rather than a scientific result.

  8. Dr. Courtney
    Dr. Courtney says:

    Generally,  I think the focus needs to be on rewarding the good ones for giving their academics the full effort that it requires than trying to police a very small minority who invariably don't seem to be able to give anything an honest effort regardless of what you do.  When cheating and dishonesty make it to the forefront,  it can spoil the academic experience,  but I don't know that there is any simple way for a dedicated teacher at the university level to deal with such a thing.  The job of the university professor is difficult enough-they shouldn't need to take on the role of disciplinarian.  At a well run university or place of employment,  the cream will usually rise to the top,  and when it does,  it is a win-win for everyone.  Even if a teacher finds themselves surrounded by cheaters,  their best approach might be to lead by example.  Continue to be honest in everything you do,  and try to see the glass as being half full even when it is half empty.

    Awarding academic credit that was fraudulently achieved is as fraudulent as the cheating itself, but it does keep the money flowing in without rocking the boat.

    If academic credit is meaningful, and the paycheck for teaching is truly earned, there is considerable diligence due to prevent cheating and other forms of dishonesty. 

    Pretending that ignoring cheating is "leading by example" is cowardice and fraud.  It is impossible to ignore cheating and pretend to "Continue to be honest in everything you do."  This is cheating the taxpayers paying for the accredited degrees and the employers who are depending on some level of quality in those earning academic degrees.  It is no better than police who ignore abuses of power within their ranks (but do not abuse power themselves.)  It is no better than doctors who ignore malpractice among their colleagues (but avoid malpractice themselves.) 

    The education students must have IS the work product of the professor.  Passing students without due diligence regarding product quality is like shipping automobiles without due diligence that the cars work as advertised.

  9. Fervent Freyja
    Fervent Freyja says:

    Though I suppose you could argue that someone who cheats is much more likely to be lazy/complacent.

    Or they feel entitled.

    Over a dozen members from one of my universities athletic teams were cheating on both lab and lecture exams in one course. I went forward, with plenty of reason and some evidence. The 2nd lab group had tried to get me to tell them answers to the open-answer lab exam and I was straight out told they were texting answers to each other not long after. Weeks went by, nothing happened to them, except that it only became even more and more obvious. So, one day, when one of them basically outted themselves while reviewing lecture exam results, I couldn't help but say something to the class to let them know was going on. I got into trouble, not the cheaters. *I* was reported to that dean for my behavior. He really didn't take anybodies side on it, it was more about the way I reacted to that and a few other occasions. I admit that I behaved inappropriately and overreacted, even made some faculty members cry (from another incidence). But, since I keep getting into trouble for things like that, I'm not saying anything ever, ever again. Ever. Let them cheat, I don't care anymore what they do. F it.

    My lab partners & I were recently comparing prior courses and teachers. They said that one teacher had always been easy for them, I insisted they had been challenging for me and thought they were either nuts, or something must be wrong with me! Just this last week, he starts talking to the group about 'googling test keys'  for an exam in this course and the other one admits to doing it too, as if there is nothing at all wrong with that! So, I'm thinking, "oh, I see now"! That's why it was so easy for them! Never pay attention to someone who brags about an A, not all of them are earned equally! There is something wrong with the way they think! They seem to instantly think of short-cutting it without even attempting to learn the material first! If I'm not doing well, then I will either amp it up or drop the course! Someone who cheats isn't interested in learning, they don't see it as important or as if anything is wrong with cheating at all!

  10. Dr. Courtney
    Dr. Courtney says:

    I don't see a simple solution to it.  @Dr. Courtney  above,  seems to think it is up to the educators to police things,  but I think this problem could be far bigger than any one of us.  If basic morals aren't instilled into people at an early age,  I think we are all going to pay a huge price for it.  By the time they reach college age,  it is very hard to change anything.

    But high school teachers can use the same excuse, blaming the quality of the students they are getting on junior high school, and junior high can blame the elementary schools.  Everyone blames the parents.  If an auto company makes bad cars, are struggles with materials and parts suppliers sufficient excuse to sell the bad cars?  Then why is the quality of the input material an excuse to keep cashing paychecks from the taxpayer and passing students who have not learned?

    Some time ago, a core group of STEM teachers I am close to decided that regardless of the quality of the students that arrived on the first day of class, we alone were responsible for the quality of each and every student to whom we awarded a passing grade.  Integrity demands that each student awarded a C must be proficient in at least 70% of the learning objectives, 80% for a B, and 90% for an A.  Not that grading is an exact science, but this core group of teachers decided that to the best of our professional abilities and judgment, we would design and execute courses where the only passing students would be proficient in all the things downstream teachers or employers would reasonably expect them to know based on our course descriptions and syllabi.

    We learned to judge how we were doing not by student evaluations or success rates in our classes, but how well students who passed our classes performed in downstream courses for which our courses are a prerequisite.  Our student success rates in downstream courses have been phenomenal.

    It is really as simple as this, but I would be lying if I pretended it was easy.  In many places, a simple attempt to execute the above two paragraphs will have students, other faculty, and the administration at war with you shortly after mid-term grades come out.  When individuals from our core group of STEM teachers who stick to this plan start a new teaching job, we have less than a 50% chance of being retained the second year.  In some cases, teachers had the second half of contracts paid in full after being removed from the classroom and being replaced by shills who would work something out to pass the vast majority of students regardless of how much they have learned.  But for us, it is the Golden Rule.  Since we recognize the mistakes and failures of other teachers and other institutions passing such poor quality students on to us, we would be hypocrites if we continued the trend and just passed them on to others.  Students must earn their grades, or it ends here.

    This core group of STEM teachers talks frankly about academic rigor and our intentions in the interview and hiring process.  In exit interviews, these faculty members have been told by deans things like "a lot of people from the northeast talk that way, but we expect them to change once they see how things are really done here."

  11. Vanadium 50
    Vanadium 50 says:

    , a simple attempt to execute the above two paragraphs will have students, other faculty, and the administration at war with you shortly after mid-term grades come out

    True that.

    There is a bifurcation in university philosophies.  A small number – not all in the northeast and not all the ones in the northeast – see the student primarily as the product.  A much larger number see the student primarily as the customer.  There the value proposition is "you borrow a ton of money, give it to us, and we'll make sure your classes don't interfere with beer, sex or football, and after four of five years we'll give you a credential".  The problem is that this credential is dropping in value faster than the Venezuelan Bolivar.  Employers are seeing a difference in value between a Category A school degree (not all Ivy – I would put places like Carnegie-Mellon and Carlton in that category) and a Category B school degree.

  12. Dr. Courtney
    Dr. Courtney says:

    True that.

    There is a bifurcation in university philosophies.  A small number – not all in the northeast and not all the ones in the northeast – see the student primarily as the product.  A much larger number see the student primarily as the customer.  There the value proposition is "you borrow a ton of money, give it to us, and we'll make sure your classes don't interfere with beer, sex or football, and after four of five years we'll give you a credential".  The problem is that this credential is dropping in value faster than the Venezuelan Bolivar.  Employers are seeing a difference in value between a Category A school degree (not all Ivy – I would put places like Carnegie-Mellon and Carlton in that category) and a Category B school degree.

    Nailed it.  I've felt like the voice of one crying in the wilderness for over a decade now.

    Science and Engineering Education: Who is the Customer?

    This is by far my most important educational paper.  No one will publish it but arXiv.  No one reads it, no one cites it, no one hardly cares.

    This is the most important educational issue of our time.

  13. Vanadium 50
    Vanadium 50 says:

    The question I have is why don't these students see learning as both a challenge and an adventure?

    Because they're teenagers.

    I once felt that people should not in general be allowed to go to college straight out of high school.  If they felt they were exceptionally ready, they could petition for it.  However, if you take a look at the Category A schools, they all demand this.  They may call it an essay or an interview, but that's what they are doing.  Students who say "I'm happy to learn, so long as it doesn't cut into my time for beer, sex and football" tend not to be admitted.  MIT requires this – from four people!  (Applicant, two teachers and usually the interviewer)

    This is the most important educational issue of our time.

    Why?  We used to have a society when a small fraction went to college and a large faction did not.  We are evolving towards a system where many people go to college, but only a small fraction learn anything and the remainder go to a 4-year long state-subsidized party.   We can surely argue whether subsidizing people to attend Faber College or its real world counterparts is a good use of society's money, but what is the actual harm in four years of wrapping themselves in bed sheets and pouring grain alcohol over their heads?

    I think the only real dangerous proposal is mandated graduation rates.  If the federal government mandated that 90% of manufactured cars had to be sold, no matter how many defects they had, there would be an outrage.

  14. Drakkith
    Drakkith says:

    The question I have is why don't these students see learning as both a challenge and an adventure?

    Because they're teenagers.

    I'd go one step further and say, "Because they're people and the vast majority of people do not work like that."

  15. Dr. Courtney
    Dr. Courtney says:

    Why?  We used to have a society when a small fraction went to college and a large faction did not.  We are evolving towards a system where many people go to college, but only a small fraction learn anything and the remainder go to a 4-year long state-subsidized party.   We can surely argue whether subsidizing people to attend Faber College or its real world counterparts is a good use of society's money, but what is the actual harm in four years of wrapping themselves in bed sheets and pouring grain alcohol over their heads?

    I think the only real dangerous proposal is mandated graduation rates.

    The administrators who force teachers to pass students who haven't earned it are making those mandates to increase retention and graduation rates.

    But I should have been clearer in my earlier post, when I wrote, "This is the most important educational issue of our time" I mean the general problem through all grades of passing students who have not met the requirements promised to the accrediting agencies, etc.  I think you interpreted it only in terms of college.  My earlier statement that

    a simple attempt to execute the above two paragraphs [not gifting grades] will have students, other faculty, and the administration at war with you shortly after mid-term grades come out

    This applies equally strongly in high schools today as it does in college.  About half of the STEM teachers who lost their jobs for refusing to compromise academic integrity were high school teachers, not college professors.

    But if college professors would only pass the students who truly master the material and earn their grades, this would exert tremendous downward pressure on the high schools, jr highs, and elementary schools to improve imparting honesty, skills, and work ethic.  I recall my 4th grade math teacher spanking me in the hallway for lying about completing my math homework.  She always told us we'd be digging ditches if we didn't learn math.

    But since most K-12 teachers today have graduated from colleges that gift grades, they no longer believe that honesty, hard work, and mastery of the material in the syllabus and course descriptions are really required to succeed in college.  Consequently, even though they are guilty, their consciences do not see a problem sending along students who are unprepared for what should be coming next, because they no longer have the convictions of my 4th grade math teacher.

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