Friday, October 13

No College Left Behind?

To the Editor:

From the perspective of someone who teaches at a public university and has two children in public schools, I dispute Eugene Hickok’s assertions in “No Undergrad Left Behind” (Op-Ed, Oct. 11).

It would seriously weaken the intellectual quality of universities’ curriculums to subject them to the principles of educational administration — restrictive and bureaucratically driven norms and agendas — that have arisen in the wake of the No Child Left Behind Act.

I would hate to see universities duplicate the plight of public schools, where determined and creative teachers are hamstrung by a tepid common curriculum designed by a committee insensitive to the needs of any given classroom or the talents of any given teacher.

Is there a parent in America today who hasn’t noticed that the schools’ mantra has become “teaching to the test”? Mr. Hickok’s ideas threaten to stifle the intellectual vitality, for both faculty and students, of American higher education.

Randy Malamud
Atlanta, Oct. 11, 2006
The writer is a professor of English at Georgia State University.

To the Editor:

While it is distressing that a large number of college seniors failed a civics literacy test, it is not the university’s job to remediate for the failures of No Child Left Behind. The job is to develop skills in critical analysis and communication.

Stating that higher education is “seriously out of touch with much of America” is code that a majority of academics happen to be liberal. Critical analysis defies indoctrination by the left or the right.

While I spend about 250 hours a year in the classroom, when class preparation, assessment of papers, advising of students and working with students on independent research projects are added, I can account for at least 50 hours any week that I am working at my job.

To add more classroom hours would take away from the time I spend truly educating my students.

David Statman
Meadville, Pa., Oct. 12, 2006
The writer is a professor of physics at Allegheny College.

To the Editor:

Eugene Hickok writes as though the No Child Left Behind Act has solved the basic problems of K-12 education. All he needs is the banner shouting “Mission Accomplished.”

No Child Left Behind has never been seriously financed, and K-12 education remains in a deplorable state because the boomer generation has abandoned the World War II generation’s willingness to tax itself and create the best educational system in the world.

Poor and working-class people pour out of this rickety system unprepared for college and, indeed, for life. Conversely, students who end up at the better universities can pass those civics exams and graduate on time. They’ve taken so many Advanced Placement courses they’re sophomores before the flowers of their freshman year bloom.

The America the tax revolt has spawned is not pretty. It’s two economic worlds, separate and unequal. Excellence costs money; mediocrity is cheap. It is time to get back to basics, though not the basics conservatives imagine.

Melissa Macauley
Evanston, Ill., Oct. 11, 2006
The writer is an associate professor of history at Northwestern University.

To the Editor:

I question Eugene Hickok’s understanding of colleges and research universities.

Our workday doesn’t end when we finish teaching. We also conduct research, advise students, read each other’s drafts and participate in committee work. A fair amount of our research is used to help with real-world problems.

Mr. Hickok questions the value of a course on the history of comic book art. I’m not a comic book historian, but even I know that Art Spiegelman’s work on the Holocaust and on 9/11 is important, as is Pogo’s classic statement, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

If a professor who researches issues in bankruptcy ethics can come up with examples of why we need to study such ideas, shouldn’t a former key player in American educational policy be able to do so as well?

Nancy B. Rapoport
Houston, Oct. 11, 2006
The writer is a professor of law and the former dean of the University of Houston Law Center.

To the Editor:

In arguing for reform in higher education, Eugene Hickok makes a telling comment. He writes that higher education “is a culture that cherishes independence and freedom” but one that is “seriously out of touch with much of America.”

Maybe what needs reforming are those institutions that no longer cherish independence and freedom, rather than those that do.

Why is the right wing so fearful of independence and freedom? Indeed, those who speak in the service of conservative interests want to “reform” cultures of freedom and independence into cultures of policing and surveillance. This turns the notion of reform on its head.

If it is true that the culture of higher education is out of touch with much of America, how and why did America lose touch with its culture of freedom and independence and what can we do to get it back?

Eric J. Weiner
West Orange, N.J., Oct. 11, 2006
The writer is an associate professor of education at Montclair State University.

To the Editor:

While Eugene Hickok expresses some responsible criticisms of the current state of higher education in the United States, he insists on raising the oft-repeated canard about faculty spending too little time teaching.

I would respond more fully to such silly claims if I did not have more than 150 exams and papers sitting on my desk awaiting grading.

Edward Grossman
Chappaqua, N.Y., Oct. 11, 2006
The writer is a professor of mathematics at City College, CUNY.