Guest Blog–Zoe Carpenter of The Nation

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (postgazette.com)

Discouraging news today as the war on liberal arts, especially the study of literature, continues. Let’s make it possible for students not to be challenged or stretched by their education. Path of least resistance to a meaningless piece of paper. What are the hardest subjects? Let’s make it possible for students to just skip those bugbears.

It’s just getting worse folks.

I used to think that people in power just didn’t understand how writing literary analysis helps to lead  students into higher levels of thinking. Now, I’m not so sure. Could it be that the powers that be don’t want students to move into levels of higher thinking? Thinking people, after all, are much harder to control, aren’t they?

Oh, well, I must go back to grading my American Literature I and British Literature II course work and developing practical, yet exciting, exercises to help my students learn active reading and deeper research skills while I still have a chance.

Lord, I’m just too tired to deal with it today, so I’ll let Zoe Carpenter speak for me through an article from 2015.

http://www.thenation.com/article/how-right-wing-political-machine-dismantling-higher-education-north-carolina/

And another great article from Dr. Loretta Jackson-Hayes, a chemistry professor at a liberal arts institution:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/02/18/we-dont-need-more-stem-majors-we-need-more-stem-majors-with-liberal-arts-training/

 

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Another Idol

Governor McCrory and the Bulk of Politicians in Raleigh,

I will never believe you when you say you care about the Middle Class of North Carolina.

I will never believe you when you say you take action for the benefit of all North Carolinians.

I will never believe you when you say you are concerned for family values when you seek to take away spousal medical insurance coverage from state employees, limit their options and possibly drastically increase out-of-pocket expenses for standard care.

I will never believe you if you say you care about any average North Carolinian. And you certainly don’t care about the poor–that lazy, undeserving rabble. Your actions ever since you have been in office scream that you care about one thing and one thing only–the Almighty Dollar. You worship it but you choose to sacrifice others–rarely yourselves. I imagine your spouses have their health care covered. I imagine your political aides’ jobs have not been cut. I imagine you still receive regular wage increases.

It seems, Governor McCrory, that your salary is ranked 20th in the nation. Do you know where the median salary of a North Carolina educator ranks? 47th, according to National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S Census Bureau, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and other groups. That’s right. 47th.

What you have been doing to educators, while sacrificing other state employees that you claim to care about, including law enforcement personnel, is nothing short of punitive. You punish us because our goal is to educate, even those who cannot afford it (how dare we?). You punish us because we cost you money and do not add gold to your coffers. You punish us because we tend to be liberal in our politics. You punish us because we speak out for the sake of students as well as ourselves. You punish us because your real wish is to privatize education–to make yet another social institution a money-making machine. You don’t care about quality education. There is something else that rules your hearts.

Maybe you did care about the people of this state at one time, but things have obviously changed. And so, what Belle said to her former fiance, Ebeneezer Scrooge, I say to you:

“Another idol has displaced me; and if it can cheer and comfort you in time to                      come, as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve.”

“What Idol has displaced you?” he rejoined.

“A golden one.”

Again, No Time But Must Post Something

Prop poster

Mock Propaganda Poster Inspired by Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (Pinterest)

I’m in the midst of grading my brains out here at the end of the semester, but I don’t want to let any more time go by without posting something because the current state of liberal arts education, especially at the community college level in my state, demands it. Thank goodness there are others who feel the way I do. So until I’m able to do some more research, I’m posting this great article by Gary Saul Morson, professor of Slavic Languages and Literature at Northwestern University.

As a literature instructor I was a bit taken aback at first, and a little insulted, but then I read on, and he has some great things about the importance of college level literature studies as well as sensible ways to engage students in literature classes.

Article by Gary Saul Morson from Commentary Magazine

Who Are You?

California_09 007

“Who Are You?” –These are the words of a text message I received recently in response to a work-related request. I responded back, “Katie Winkler.” No message came back. It was a little thing and was not meant to offend. It’s not important in the grand scheme of things, but it is symbolic of the way I feel sometimes as an instructor at a community college.

Who are you to ask questions about the college’s policies and procedures developed by those with little or no educational background?

Who are you to request materials to support the recruitment of students at a college with declining enrollment?

Who are you to question the expenditure of nearly a quarter of a million dollars on an initiative that many studies show leads to little improvement in retention and completion rates?

Who are you, Katie Winkler?

I am an instructor who comes in early and stays late, even though I am not required to. I am an instructor who works on the weekends grading papers and writing instructional material for my online class because I’ve been interrupted throughout the week by non-instructional tasks, reports, and meetings when I wasn’t teaching and preparing for my seated classes. I am an instructor who tries to answer student e-mails within a few hours of receiving them, even on the weekend.  I am an instructor who works throughout the summer on my classes, even though I am not being paid because I want my students to have the best possible experience while keeping an insane grading load manageable. I am an instructor who cares.

Who are you, Katie Winkler?

Even though you have worked at an institution for over 20 years, people still ask you how many of those years were full-time as if your adjunct years were of no value. You are asked to take minutes as soon as you walk through the door for your first meeting on a new committee when the room is already full of other people. Your integrity is questioned concerning your instruction, your travel, your compensation and your intentions. You are accused of being uncooperative in open meetings by people who rarely communicate with you except to criticize you. You are frequently chastised by members of support staff for mistakes you make in filling out forms that have little to do with actual instruction, even though the procedures for filling out said forms are unclear. You are asked to make your own appointments when you have questions of support staff. You are often interrupted on a whim, without regard to students who might need your assistance. You are an instructor who is forced to send maintenance request to get toilet paper and hand soap in a bathroom frequented by students but no one else. You are a little person with little power who is considered to be of little worth and quite a thorn in the side of many because you demand to be heard on behalf of yourself, your colleagues and your students.

But who are you, really, Katie Winkler?

You are respected by your immediate supervisor, your close colleagues and your students. You are a gifted instructor in class and online who regularly holds 75% to 80% retention rates in online classes. You have made a positive difference in the lives of your colleagues and students. You are a good collaborator who is willing to learn and adapt to new methods and technologies for the sake of your students.

You are dedicated, determined, knowledgeable, well-read, kind, long-suffering, stubborn, assertive, whiny, strong-willed, caring, cooperative, impulsive, decisive, intelligent, self-effacing, witty, maternal, greatly flawed but self-assessing and driven to improve.

Who are you, Katie Winkler?

You are wife, mother, writer, actor, preacher, counselor, nurse, adviser, editor, chef, reviewer, director, mentor and friend.

You are a good teacher.

Sometimes I just have to remind myself.

Another Guest –Hey, I’m busy reaching my writing goals for the summer

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I’m busy with my fiction and playwriting, but here’s another great guest article. This is from The Atlantic–“The Coddling of the American Mind” by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt–interesting read. It comes through an organization I support called FIRE–Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. They support and promote free speech on college campuses–even speech the general college population doesn’t want to hear. I like that about them. They are quoted in the article, which is about the pervasiveness of political correctness on our campuses that is quenching free speech and maybe even harming the psychological well-being of students.

Here’s the link: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/the-coddling-of-the-american-mind/399356/

Guest Blogger James Hogan on the State of Education in North Carolina

I’m in Alabama visiting with my mother and brother and helping them get ready for my older brother and his family visiting from Germany, but this article by James Hogan, re-printed by Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post is worthy of a read.

Here’s the link:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/08/07/north-carolinas-step-by-step-war-on-public-education/?postshare=7261439154188373

Katie Goes on a Tear

liberal arts

Classical Liberal Arts

Recently a posting about the cost of education in America compared to countries that offer “free” education got me really going on a tear for some reason. Some of the comments by people I know, like and admire, made me realize how many misconceptions people have about a liberal arts education. First of all, I understand people’s frustration with the current state of higher education in America–it’s a case of paying too much for too little. However, it isn’t entirely the learning institutions’ fault, though they certainly share the blame.

No, the biggest reason behind the failure of our high schools, colleges and universities is that we, as a people, do not understand the true nature of a liberal arts education and therefore devalue it. Listening to some administrators, students, their parents and the general public, I conclude that most people view getting an education as a means to an end–getting a job. Many people seem to think that when they, or the government, pay tuition that they are basically purchasing a diploma, certificate or degree that they need in order to become employed, like purchasing transportation or clothing or anything else that makes work possible.

See, I’m still on the warpath, but I’ll get over it. I’ll have to in order to keep my sanity. It did help to vent on the hapless people who commented on my comments on Facebook, and I thought some of my points were pretty darn good, actually, so I’m going to re-print them here.

Point #1–There is something to be said for providing high performing high school students with at least the first two years of college, like in Georgia. It’s not free–students have to work very hard in high school to maintain a B average to get a Hope Scholarship. Getting an education is the goal–not getting a job. We need citizens who know how to read and write well and most importantly how to think critically. We need to give people an incentive to truly learn something in high school, and we need to give parents an incentive to push their kids to do well in school. We could do this if we adopted something like what Georgia has.

Point #2–Getting an education is about more than getting a job–it’s about learning how to think critically and problem solve and be autonomous, not under anyone’s control except God’s. It’s power to the powerless, it’s learning how to appreciate art and literature and music. It’s about making life better for yourself and the people you love. We have lost our way; we have forgotten what a real education is, and we have substituted it with this paltry idea of mere job training. Show me a person who is truly educated–and I don’t mean has a degree–I’m not talking about degrees, and I’ll show you someone who has a career that fulfills him or her. And if that thinking person doesn’t have a job, then he or she doesn’t want or need one. (A bit hyperbolic but I was fired up)

Point #3–We need to start realizing that education is for everyone and start making our middle and high schools places of real learning again. I don’t think everyone needs a four-year degree. I think we need to start coming up with alternative ways for people to get their education, but the biggest concern should be helping people see the value of an education–of learning how to read with real comprehension, to write clearly and effectively, to use modern technology to do meaningful, practical research. Diplomas, degrees and certificates are meaningless unless people are learning skills like problem-solving that will benefit them no matter what they do for a living because more than likely they will be changing careers and jobs more than once in their lifetime, so they need to learn skills that will help them adapt to new work situations quickly–they need to learn how to critically think–we still have that in this country but it’s quickly being lost to this idea of utilitarian education that has been proven (just look at the results of the Industrial Revolution)–it’s called a liberal arts education and it works but only if the public understands the value of it, and right now liberal arts education is under fire and too many people don’t see its value. That is a crying shame.