Saturday, October 28, 2006

College and Intellectual Rape

These days, many college educators have obvious political bias in the material they offer in the classroom. Often, this bias makes or breaks a student's grade. The student can choose to fight the bias and risk their grade or the student can write and perform to the bias, saving their grade but losing thier personal integrity. Is this right? Should students be forced to adhere to views they do not support? Should students be penalized for failure to agree with a professors point of view?

I am not talking about right and wrong here. Obviously there are disciplines such as math and science where answers are definitive. There are cut and dried responses that don't provide wiggle room for opinion. An example would be "Abraham Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address." Where the bias can sneak in is often with what used to be called liberal arts. Social sciences, history, literature, philosophy and even psychology can be manipulated through reading lists, lectures and expectations to create a student outcome that is defined by whether or not the student sticks to the expressed code. Is this a true liberal-in this conjecture it means free-education? Should professors not be held accountable for teaching a wide range of views rather than simply loading the course with reading that supports a narrow view?

I have had former students come back and tell me that they have experienced this in upscale private universities as well as state institutions. Regardless of the source, these schools are supported by federal dollars in the form of grants and scholarships. As faithful stewards,these institutions have a legal obligation to provide the best education possible. I am not sure that trying to indoctrinate students under the guise of education fulfills that obligation. In many respects this is a type of invasion. Many professors are using their personal bully pulpits to force students into taking views they cannot and do not hold for the duration of the class. If they were using similar methods to promote illegal activity it would be called brainwashing. But the force of the method, the resistance of some students and the outcome of resentment and fear resemble rape more than any other crime. How can we as parents, as taxpayers allow this to continue?

I am not supporting any sort of pogrom of professors based on political litmus tests. But I am recommending that universities and colleges be pro-active in the way they monitor their teaching staff. They need to demand reading lists, syllabi and lectures that expose students to the entire spectrum of intellectual thought, not just the limited range of liberal or conservative politics. By definition a university is expected to provide a "universal" source of knowledge, if we continue to limit our students by only telling them half the story, they in turn will produce increasingly flawed and limited solutions to the problems our nation and world will face in the future. Half the truth is half an education. We deserve more for our money.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Why IKEA Is Just Another Big Box Store

First of all, I like IKEA. I like the idea of good design and reasonable prices. I don’t even mind the do it yourself shopping. There are people out there who laud IKEA as the perfect example of what modern companies should try to emulate. Many people-captivated by the trend, modernistic trappings and the Eurocentric (i.e. Scandanavian) aesthetic sense strive to attain some sort of mystic materialistic nirvana through the tight organization of their worldly goods. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But on the other hand, I think we have magicked up the whole IKEA mythology way out of proportion to reality. I know that those who make pilgrimages to distant IKEA’s in search of a Billy bookcase or a Stronfors mattress will pummel me with tersely worded missives, but I want you to remember all the vile things you have said about Walmart and after reading my story, ask yourself if the IKEA image is way out of proportion to its reality.

Today…my daughter, a hardworking student whose life revolves around a ridiculous cycle of school, work and rehearsals moved into a new apartment in August. She’s tall. And the twin bed from her girlhood bedroom wasn’t really a good size for her to sleep in. Either her legs stuck out or she rolled out of bed. Not a recommended way to get a decent night’s sleep. She had saved her money, shopped online and through the IKEA catalog and found the bed of her dreams. It looked like an antique wrought iron bed. Looking for store hours, she came home and we headed to the store. We shopped for two hours buying all the cute sheets, comforters, etc. that would jazz up her room. We had to buy it today because this is the only day she is ever off of work. So we reserved the bed and mattress and waited for my husband to come home so we could pick up all the stuff and travel with her back to her apartment 50 miles and probably 90 minutes away depending on traffic and put things together. We hung around our house for a couple of hours then headed back to IKEA. We went down the aisles selecting the headboard and such accoutrements as it would require. When we went to check out, everything was peachy. We simply had to go over to the Furniture Pick Up desk and get the mattress and we would be on our way.

Not so fast. The clerk looked at the receipt and told us that it would be ten minutes. My husband went to move the van into the loading area. We waited ten minutes. Then twenty. Then twenty more. Finally, the clerk called the number and told us that “because people were in the aisle, we would have to return at closing-nine o’clock-or tomorrow.” Now if you live in town, and have a way to transport this stuff, that wouldn’t be an issue. If it was out of stock they would have told us so when we checked out and we could make a decision from there. But instead they waited thirty minutes to make a decisions. My daughter tried to tell them that she didn’t live in town and only had today to get this bed and in fact that was why she chose to go to IKEA rather than a conventional furniture store. The clerk was adamant. My husband, ever the salesman, goes in to intervene and gets a “manager guy” who tries to suggest that they could deliver it. The original problem is that she is in school from 8 until 1, at work after than and in rehearsal after that. Once again, that was the reason we went to IKEA. They did offer free delivery, but with nobody to let them in, it would be an invitation for theft. And when she asked if they could give her an idea when they would deliver, the manager guy said “we’ll call you before we come.” I don’t know about you, but I can’t take a day off work to wait for deliveries and I know that my daughter can’t miss a day of classes during midterms. The manager wouldn’t budge or help or ever go down the aisle and look. Heck, my husband worked in a warehouse-give him the keys to the forklift and he’ll move the stuff. But nobody wanted to make the call to make things right. For lack of willingness to go down an aisle, close it off for ten minutes, IKEA lost a nearly $600 sale.

But that’s the point. If you sell in enough volume, customers don’t matter. Customer service is already on a downhill slide, and right now everyone is so in awe of IKEA, being all European and cool, that they don’t see it for what it is. It’s another Big Box store. It’s just like Lowes and Walmart and SuperTarget. But because it’s the darling of the glitterati and wannabes, the shortcomings of their customer service is sometimes overlooked.

This isn’t the first time I have seen the shine go off the silver at IKEA. A good friend of mine, who’s daughter worked there for one week, found them to be slavedrivers with little concern for their employees.This kid wasn’t a slacker, she’s an honor student with a strong work ethic. But she couldn’t take the reality of IKEA vs. its image. Is this the image we have of the Happy Socialist Countries that exist in Scandinavia? I thought everyone worked cooperatively for the Common Good. Or that’s the theory. What is amusing is that the same folks that would erupt in protests over a SuperTarget or God forbid, a Walmart, in their neighborhood, will welcome IKEA with open arms. But don’t be fooled, it may claim to have this warm, family feel, but underneath, it’s just another Big Box store with all that implies negative and positive.

P.S. Does anyone know of a furniture store that actually tells you when they deliver and that delivers to Denton for a minimal charge?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Just for Fun.

So here's my rating on Intellect vs. Knowledge. I don't know what this means, but it looks impressive.

You are 68% knowledgable and 92% intellectual. Excellent! You have a powerful mind backed by a good amount of knowledge. Keep cracking books and nothing can stop you.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

More Trouble Brewing In Texas Education

With the new implementation of what is popularly known as the "Four By Four" plan for graduation, there are some ominous signs on the horizon. This plan is a way to basically force all high school students to take four math classes and four science classes in order to graduate. The stated purpose is to produce, or as the Father of State Educational Testing H. Ross Perot likes to say, programming kids into tomorrow's future workers. Excuse me for a minute while I wipe away the mental images of the silent film-"Metropolis".(
This means that ALL students have to take Algebra, Geometry, Algebra II and Pre-calculus as well as Integrated Physics and Chemistry(formerly known as Earth Science), Biology, Chemistry and Physics. Originally, the classes were designed to be aligned to help students achieve by offering math and science classes that complement each other. Right now in our state, and in most states, there are a good number of kids who have difficulty making it through math and science as required right now. They often veer after Geometry into Math Models due to deficits in math skills. This class will not count towards graduation from what I can understand of the mandate right now. Many students also have hurdles with Chemistry, yet are expected to conquer the more mathematically and theoretically challenging course of Physics. So what gives. There are several possible results.
1. Students rise to the occassion, pass all the classes and go on to become good little workers.
2. Students pass more than 50% of the time, the rest retake the classes delaying graduation.
3. Students pass less than 50% of the time, and after retaking a class drop out and get a GED. (This lowers the schools AYP and brings down the wrath of the education department on the district with lowering funding, increased scrutiny and possible loss of jobs for teachers in spite of doing the best they can with what they are given in the way of students.)
4. Students view the schedule with dismay and dropout proving to be a burden upon society.
5. Stressed students, forced into educational situations they cannot handle, act out in class in a variety of ways, including increased violence, students depression and parental interventions.

I don't know what the answer is, but I know that children are not machines. Making kids take classes that they cannot handle intellectually is just as insensitive as expecting a blind child to take driver's education. I don't know if other states are approaching math and science with such a heavy handed approach, but in the meantime, we have kids that cannot read and write. Shouldn't that be of as much concern as producing future engineers for the uses of industry? Or better yet, since many of the successful students have become adept at the skill of what I like to call Regurgitative Thinking, wouldn't it be nice if our kids could read a book, or solve a problem in a new way without relying on the previous trends, programs or paradigms? I don't think what this nation is suffering from is a lack of math students, I think what we are suffering from is a lack of students who like to learn, who express themselves in creative ways and who value knowledge. And that isn't something that any mandate from any government is going to be able to address or cause to happen. And I doubt making higher requirements will make any of these kids better students. They will just learn the tricks and forget them when they walk out the door. If you don't believe me, talk to some college professors and find out how they are having to teach the elements of reading and writing to their freshmen classes.