The Discovery Institute doesn’t like smart college students

| 11 Comments

Those crazy rascals behind Expelled have some new games they want to play: they’ve put out a casting call for victims of persecution. It’s a pitiful plea, but it will probably net a nice collection of complaints — because it’s true. We do reject Intelligent Design from the academy, from science, and from science education, and there’s a very good reason for that: it’s the same reason we reject astrology, alchemy, creationism, haruspication, necromancy, ornithomancy, and witchcraft from our science courses. Because they aren’t science.

expelled_flunked.jpg

Taylor Kessinger gets it. He’s a junior at the University of Arizona who wrote a nice, lucid opinion piece for the school paper.

Continue reading “The Discovery Institute doesn’t like smart college students” (on Pharyngula)

11 Comments

I am beginning to wonder if these idiots aren’t starting to capitalize on some political trends we have been seeing on campuses in recent years. There are some common stories that I am hearing from colleagues at professional meetings suggesting that these trends are getting worse.

On a number of campuses there are some very ill-prepared students who have discovered deans and other administrators who fear loss of revenue if students drop classes when they find themselves in over their heads. These students write to department heads and deans to complain about instructors who hold to the syllabus and expect students to meet course expectations. Even the parents of these students are getting into the act. Complaints start coming in after the first day of class when the only things that happen in class are the usual administrative processes of handing out the syllabus along with a brief overview of how the course will proceed.

The tragedy is that the administrators and deans demand a certain “pass rate” in order to maintain enrollment because they really are under financial pressure. What then happens is that poor students get passed on to subsequent courses and more and more of the students in these advanced courses are unable to meet even the minimum requirements of the course (as many as two-thirds of the students can’t even handle the earliest prerequisites, yet they are expecting to pass). Of course, they use the fact that they passed the prerequisites as ammunition that the professor is too hard or being unfair. These aren’t just poor instructors who are being attacked; I am aware of many excellent professors who have years of experience and a track record of excellence who have come under these kinds of attacks. Students bail out of courses with instructors whose accents they can’t understand and then start attacking their new instructor who presents material superbly.

Part of the argument plays on the “customer satisfaction” shtick. While it is true that poor instructors can disrupt a student’s education, most of these student complaints are way off the mark because many of these students have no idea what their chosen field requires of them and what it is that they must know and be able to do. I have seen cases in which students in engineering programs complain that their instructors expect them to learn to use their graphing calculators (I thought a techno phobic engineering student was an oxymoron) or that they are “lecturing using mathematics” (an actual quote).

What is interesting is that the e-mails to the deans and department heads are quite revealing about the level of education of these students. The grammar is poor, and they further reveal that they have no clue about the level of course they are in. Yet the deans and department heads take them seriously and have “concerned discussions” with the instructors of these courses.

I suspect it has a lot to do with the political atmosphere on these campuses. Once a certain threshold of political ridiculousness is accepted, there seems to be no going back without extreme pain. It is in these kinds of environments that the Discovery Institute’s propaganda starts to take root and thrive. As colleges and universities come under increasing financial pressure, corners are cut, remedial programs are eliminated, and political pressure of this sort becomes more effective. Deans and administrators who succumb to this kind of pressure are driving out their best students and instructors and subsequently turning their schools or departments into complete farces (just like the Discovery Institute).

Mike,

Good point. Now we need to ask them why an ambiguous “dissent” statement signed by ~0.1% of biologists is no longer enough, and why we now should listen to “persecuted” students instead. Of course we know why. They simply can find more of them. So PZ says:

“How stupid do they think people are to fall for that?”

My estimation is that 70% of Americans, high school age and above, are perfect candidates to be scammed by ID, not because they are stupid, but because the want feel-good sound bites, not a science that has no political agenda.

That ~70% includes ~20% hard core fundamentalists who would defend any argument, however poor, that denounced “Darwinism.” Another ~30% who reject evolution but could change their minds if they had the time and/or interest to listen to mainstream science - & mainstream religion. And another ~20% that accepts evolution (or what they think is evolution) but has fallen for the “it’s only fair to teach both sides” line.

Mike,

That was interesting. I can see how such a “catastrophe” would be hard to recover from.

But isn’t the remedy inherent in the problem? The same litigation or consumer empowered culture that support tearing down quality measures supports implementing them, as the under-endowed students and their parents, as well as remaining students and their parents, have reason to demand a correct judgment and its beneficial economical consequences.

I.e. wouldn’t all students be interested in fair and publicly supported grades to take to their respective future education or employment? The question is how to activate such an interest before it is too late.

Maybe it is the old cheaters vs main population situation, but with litigation (too uncritical complaint procedures) as a nasty feedback loop. Cheating takes advantage of litigation, and litigation takes advantage of everything.

(Hmm. I can easily come up with wild and hare-brained ideas that could perhaps interfere with some of these processes, but no general fix. For example, if schools were willing to handle complaints with a formal procedure say for bailing class, and a refundable on success cost associated with each handled complaint. As I said, wild and hare-brained. :-P)

But isn’t the remedy inherent in the problem? The same litigation or consumer empowered culture that support tearing down quality measures supports implementing them, as the under-endowed students and their parents, as well as remaining students and their parents, have reason to demand a correct judgment and its beneficial economical consequences.

Torbjörn:

Indeed! I have seen instances in which just such legitimate activism has taken place, and it is a wonderful sight to behold. There was a case where some bright students were goofing off and had convincing themselves that the instructor wouldn’t flunk all of them. When he did, parents and other supporters of a strong program spoke up and supported the instructor. The result was that these students were shaken out of their stupid game-playing and became a group of highly motivated and successful students.

I think the appearance of the more stupid activism on campuses (such as those activities of the ID/Creationists) is an indication that there are weaknesses perceived in the administration and in the program. Whenever there are ideological administrative decisions made that weaken a program, these ideological activists are immediately aware of an opportunity to capitalize on it. So the appearance of an active ID/Creationist group on campus may be an indication that they perceive they have found some political support necessitated by financial pressures. They are analogous to the canary in the coal mine.

Mike, that was the most thought provoking post I’ve seen on PT this month.

too bad there aren’t “Molly Awards” round these parts.

Mike, your comment reminds me of a time when I was a postdoc and taking a tutor group of undergraduates. One essay that got handed in for me to mark was rather poor. I did my level best to be fair (to the other students as much as to the essay’s author) and it ended up with a mark that was kinda low. My supervisor then instructed me to “adjust” the mark, because the department was “not permitted to fail students on written work” (as opposed to exams or practical work, I guess).

And this was not some two-bit fly-by-night diploma mill, it was a reputable university.

Ichtyic, I can agree with that, and besides provoking it is a fresh area. I think a “Steve Award” would be an excellent idea.

Nigel D Wrote:

My supervisor then instructed me to “adjust” the mark, because the department was “not permitted to fail students on written work” (as opposed to exams or practical work, I guess). And this was not some two-bit fly-by-night diploma mill, it was a reputable university.

Nigel:

I have heard that even tenured faculty members are coming under these kinds of pressures. I don’t know how extensive it is, but the schools have historically been considered good schools.

Part of the ideological drive behind this may be that the schools are now trying to educate more people and attempting to meet them where they are. But I think the ideological mistake is in presuming that the needs of unprepared students can be met in the regular courses. This then raises the expectation that all sorts of ill preparation can be addressed in the regular course work, including the expectation that sectarian views against evolution should be accommodated.

In my experience, pressure like that only works if it can stay hidden. It’s like blackmail. If you were to fight them, you’d win but it would take a lot out of you. I’ve had a few family experiences where administration tried to make family members back down (much to the chagrin of the administration).

What’s interesting to me is all the times faculty - tenured faculty at that - do back down. It probably seems unremarkable.

“Hey Bob, a lot of rich parents get uptight about writing grades. Can we make sure to only flunk out the poor performers on exams and not have it come back to us in the form of bad pr?”

“Yeah Joe. I see your point. It’s a shame. You’d hope they could write if they’re going to be doctors but eh- they’ll flunk the exams too probably.”

And no one even notices the fulcrum.

Mike Elzinga Wrote:

Part of the ideological drive behind this may be that the schools are now trying to educate more people and attempting to meet them where they are. But I think the ideological mistake is in presuming that the needs of unprepared students can be met in the regular courses. This then raises the expectation that all sorts of ill preparation can be addressed in the regular course work, including the expectation that sectarian views against evolution should be accommodated.

Too true.

Lowering standards to get more passes just devalues the resultant qualification.

I’m not sure how much comes from pressure from parents or students and how much from financial considerations. In the UK, I suspect mostly the latter and very little of the former.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by PZ Myers published on October 27, 2007 6:32 PM.

Science v Intelligent Design: Miller v Behe was the previous entry in this blog.

Science v Intelligent Design: Public Retraction v Dembski is the next entry in this blog.

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