Saturday, February 13, 2016

For our Honors scholarship candidates, a piece of unsolicited advice

You know that place on the application where it asks you to write about the achievement you're most proud of? Consider not using it to tell us about your 4.0 GPA.

Tell us about that cool science project you did. Tell us how you're always starting novels and you finally finished one. Tell us how you got promoted to manager at your job. Tell us about the first meal you cooked by yourself. Tell us how you took care of your grandmother when she was dying. Tell us about the time you protested that awful policy at your school and succeeded in getting it changed. Or tell us how you didn't succeed, but you still think it was the right thing to do.

Tell us about something real. (Numbers on a transcript are not real.) Tell us about something that will stay with you. (Your 4.0 will not stay with you. One muffed test, or one cranky teacher, and it's gone forever. You will not miss it.)

If you must tell us about your grades, tell us about how you blew off ninth grade geometry for half a semester and panicked when you realized your midterm average was a 47% and your parents were absolutely going to kill you when they found out, and then you buckled down and turned yourself into a geometry machine for the next nine weeks and managed to bring your final grade up to a hard-won C. And that was how you realized you were actually good at math when you could be bothered to put in the time and effort.

Oh wait, that wasn't you, that was me. (They let me into college anyway. They even let me be a professor, eventually.) And it happened back in 1991, before parents could check their kid's grades online every single night and find out about every missed homework assignment at once; back when teachers could assign an F and make it stick.

I think I see the problem here...

Monday, February 8, 2016

How to comment on an online news article about higher education: a helpful list of rhetorical tropes

1) Refer to everything outside of higher education as "the real world," with the implication that colleges and universities are somehow unreal.

2) Refer to all students who express opinions you dislike as "coddled." As nobody ever uses the word "coddled" any more to describe anything except These Kids Today, this is a particularly useful way to create the impression that their ideas can be discounted automatically.

3) Describe all professors as left-wing Marxist tenured radicals. (Unless, of course, the news story you are commenting on is about the latest "disruptive" innovation or technology, in which case it should be taken as read that all professors are hide-bound conservatives who refuse to change anything ever. In either case, their opinions can safely be dismissed.)

4) Mention Saul Alinsky a lot. Nobody has the foggiest idea who this is, so he can be used as a convenient shorthand for All Things Vaguely Menacing, and you'll sound super-smart while you're doing it.

5) Pick a random arts-and-humanities course with a normal title, such as "Existentialist Philosophy" or "Eighteenth-Century Literature," and refer to it as a "major." Demand to know where all the jobs are for the eighteenth-century literature majors, and express your sincere concern that they need to be saved from themselves.

6) Pick a random arts-and-humanities course with a somewhat odd title, such as "Taco Literacy," and hold it up as an example of Everything Wrong With Every University Ever. Do this in the comment threads on stories that have nothing whatsoever to do with this particular course. (Or, in general, cherry-pick the strangest and most extreme example you can find of anything, treat it as a typical example, and shoehorn it into the comments on stories that have nothing to do with that thing.)

7) Refer to all fields of academic inquiry that focus on people other than white men as "Grievance Studies," and declare them to be intellectually and morally bankrupt by definition. If you do this often enough, and loudly enough, you will be excused from having to explain how you know this.

8) Ah, hell, you might as well declare all fields that end with "studies" to be intellectually and morally bankrupt by definition. If you are feeling particularly generous, you might make an exception for Religious Studies, Classical Studies, or International Studies ... no, on second thought, you've never seen any job ads with any of those fields in the title of the position, so it's safe to say they're all equally pointless.

9) Assume that liberal arts colleges, liberal arts majors, a liberal arts curriculum, and political liberalism are all exactly the same thing.

10) Conflate "holding an unpopular opinion" with "being a member of a minority group," and, in general, fail to distinguish between categories-based-on-opinion-and-belief and categories-based-on-identity. This will allow you, for example, to accuse people who disagree with you of hate speech, or to call for affirmative action for people who do agree with you. If anybody calls you on this, mention look, a squirrel! Rachel Dolezal.

ETA: 11) When citing examples of wasteful university spending, be sure to mention climbing walls. Never any other sort of sports or recreational equipment. Always climbing walls.

... I need to stop reading the comments, don't I?

Monday, February 1, 2016

political bafflement

Why has being anti-French literature, anti-Greek-philosophy, anti-anthropology, and anti-non-vocational-education in general suddenly become such a popular conservative talking point?

Aren't these the very fields that have the most to do with preserving the knowledge and traditions of the past? What, exactly, do these people think they are conserving?