Teaching is not telling

There’s one thing that hasn’t changed in higher education despite student complaints. The reliance on lecturing prevails (“A Perennial Question: What Makes a Good College Teacher?” The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, Aug. 20).

It’s the widespread belief that telling is teaching. Yet all research confirms that this is the poorest way to educate.  Students remain passive listeners while professors drone on.  All attempts to point professors to the benefits of pedagogy are vehemently resisted. Nothing will ever change as long as research is the No. 1 factor in granting tenure. 

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College is no longer a good investment

When few young people had a bachelor’s degree, it mattered little what they majored in.  But today, it’s an entirely different story (“What Is College Really Worth?” The Nation, Aug. 18).

Degree inflation means that only those majoring in STEM will likely find a decent job.  By the time, they pay off their student debt, it’s questionable if they made the right decision. I realize that the pecuniary value of a degree should not be the only consideration, but graduates have to pay their bills.

Learning to think deeply and critically can be achieved without a degree.  In fact, the best argument for college is that it is the most convenient place to learn how to learn.  It is not an absolute determinant.

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SAT and ACT no longer hold sway

The usual argument for retaining the SAT and ACT for admission to colleges and universities is that they need some uniform way to judge applicants (“The Case For Bypassing The SAT And ACT,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 13). There is some truth to that because of grade inflation.  But many years ago, Bates College found that when it made test scores optional, there was very little, if any, difference in performance between submitters and non-submitters during the freshman year.

I still believe that is the best evidence for ditching both tests.  Of course, the College Board, which administers the SAT, argues otherwise.  After all, the SAT is a cash cow.  That’s why the College Board persists in claiming that the SAT is a strong predictor of college performance despite evidence to the contrary.

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California is correct in teacher Covid-19 rules

To ensure that schools start on time with in-person instruction, California correctly requires all teachers to show proof of vaccination or submit to regular testing (“All California Teachers Must Be Vaccinated or Tested Weekly for Covid-19, The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 12).The move is long overdue.

I’m sure, however, that the new policy will wind up in the courts.  But when public health is involved, they have ruled in favor of restrictions over individual freedom. Nearly 90 percent of the California Teachers Association is already vaccinated, with the likelihood that the new rule will increase their numbers.

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College doesn’t pay off for Black students

The latest evidence that college is not for everyone is seen in the median net worth of Black college graduates (“For Black Americans, College Hasn’t Closed the Wealth Gap,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 9).  Over the past three decades, it has dropped to less than one-tenth the net worth of their white counterparts.

College has long been sold as the best way for Blacks to amass wealth.  But the evidence shows that has not been the case. In fact, I question if a college degree results in a wage premium for most young people. So much depends on the college major.  When debt accrued for tuition, books etc. is taken into account, it actually doesn’t pencil out.

So many young people of all races would be far better served pursuing a vocational course of study, coupled with an apprenticeship.  They would be quickly hired and free of student debt.

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Students sue colleges over vaccine mandate

Although courts have ruled in favor of states when public health is involved, some students assert that they have a constitutional right to attend college in person and unvaccinated (“Universities Face Student Lawsuits Over Covid-19 Vaccine Mandate,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 7).

I hope they lose.  They have a civic duty to get vaccinated despite what they argue.  If they want to refuse lifesaving medical treatment for themselves, that’s one thing, but it’s quite another when their refusal poses a threat to others.

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Smaller class size is a good idea, but not now

Teachers unions have long pushed for smaller class size arguing that it improves learning.  That may be true, but now is not the time to do so (“Class warfare: Slashing NYC class sizes across the board is a bad idea,” New York Daily News, Aug. 6).

The United Federation of Teachers in New York City is using Covid as an excuse to slash class sizes. It is going to turn off even those parents who support teachers unions.  Let’s not forget that unions were responsible for totally shutting down in-person instruction.  Parents have not forgotten that. 

I support teachers unions, but I think they are risking whatever good will they have by making unreasonable demands.  Smaller class size now is an example.

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College degree is a dubious investment

With the average tuition and room and board at four-year private colleges up 800 percent since 1980, it’s time to ask if a bachelor’s degree is worthwhile (“Book Review: Two on Student Debt,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 2). That’s particularly so when graduates are only modestly wealthier than those who never went to college in the first place.

I keep coming back to “The Sheepskin Psychosis” by John Keats that was published in 1965.  Keats said that college is merely the most convenient place to learn how to learn; it is not an absolute determinant. He correctly charged that we have been wildly oversold on the value of a four-year degree.

If more young people and their parents had read Keats’s book, they would be spared the financial crisis they find themselves in. 

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Ultra-Orthodox students are shortchanged

Despite New York State law requiring religious schools to provide an education substantially equivalent to that provided by public schools, yeshivas continue to be non-compliant (“Ultra-Orthodox kids deserve better,” New York Daily News, July 30).  They view secular education as irrelevant to their way of life.

I believe in parental choice as long as it does not violate the law.  The right of parents to direct the education their children receive goes only so far.  The courts have held that religious beliefs do not trump the law.  For example, when Christian Scientists withheld medical treatment for their child and the child died, the parents were criminally charged.

When children cannot read or write, yeshivas need to be held accountable.  Unfortunately, politicians have been reluctant to shut them down because of their support at election time.

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Meritocracy and diversity are at odds

Affirmative action is back in the news because the Supreme Court once again will consider its role in college admissions. The argument for its continuation is that meritocracy and diversity can simultaneously exist (“Can Affirmative Action Survive?” The New Yorker, July 26).

I disagree.  The two are fundamentally at odds.  Perhaps in theory, they are possible, but in reality they are not.  The California Institute of Technology has long admitted students solely on the basis of their grades and test scores, with no preference whatsoever given to racial minorities, athletes, legacies or development cases.

As a result, Asians constituted more than 40 percent of Cal Tech’s undergraduate student body at last count.  I see nothing at all wrong with that outcome. Asians are the most qualified to handle the rigorous academic work based on their academic track record, and deserve to be admitted accordingly.

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