Thursday, January 20, 2011

Academic Charade

Hot Air tips us to a pretty depressing article in USA Today. At least it'll be depressing if you're shelling out $30,000 to $40,000 a year for your kid's college expenses:
Nearly half of the nation's undergraduates show almost no gains in learning in their first two years of college, in large part because colleges don't make academics a priority, a new report shows. Instructors tend to be more focused on their own faculty research than teaching younger students, who in turn are more tuned in to their social lives, according to the report, based on a book titled Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. Findings are based on transcripts and surveys of more than 3,000 full-time traditional-age students on 29 campuses nationwide, along with their results on the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a standardized test that gauges students' critical thinking, analytic reasoning and writing skills.

After two years in college, 45% of students showed no significant gains in learning; after four years, 36% showed little change.

Students also spent 50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago, the research shows.

"These are really kind of shocking, disturbing numbers," says New York University professor Richard Arum, lead author of the book, published by the University of Chicago Press.

He noted that students in the study, on average, earned a 3.2 grade-point average. "Students are able to navigate through the system quite well with little effort," Arum said.
Other details from the book included the following:
•35% of students report spending five or fewer hours per week studying alone. Yet, despite an "ever-growing emphasis" on study groups and collaborative projects, students who study in groups tend to have lower gains in learning.

•50% said they never took a class in a typical semester where they wrote more than 20 pages; 32% never took a course in a typical semester where they read more than 40 pages per week.
A graph accompanying the article indicates that typical students spend 75% of their time either socializing or sleeping and only 7% of their time studying. The graph indicates that students spend 9% of their time in class but even that time is often spent sleeping or surfing the web on their laptops.

Part of the problem, perhaps, is that there are so many schools competing for students from a shrinking demographic pool, now that the boomer generation has passed, so schools are admitting a lot more applicants that really have no business going to college. When schools dilute the intellectual quality of their student body they invariably dilute the expectations they have of those students and that, in turn, dilutes the academic standards to which those students are held.

This, I fear, sends a subconscious message to students that the school is not really serious about academic rigor, that the school and the student are engaged in a kind of kubuki dance wherein the student pays his money, puts forth a modicum of effort, and the school for its part grants him a degree at the end of the performance.

College for many is not a place for the cultivation of the life of the mind or to achieve excellence in some academic discipline. Rather, it's a place one goes to purchase a credential that will give one entree into the job market. Both sides maintain the pretense that the top priority, at least for the school, is intellectual development, but both sides also realize that in fact they're involved in a protracted business transaction. And along the way college provides lots of opportunities for fun and frolic.

Thankfully, not all schools have bought into this model, and not all instructors in the schools which do go along with the charade, but it does seem to be an overall trend.

Hundreds of Dead Babies

Haven't we often been told over the years that we must keep abortion legal because if we don't women will be seriously harmed and even killed in "back-alley" abortions? It appears that legalizing abortion is no guarantee that back-alley butchers won't still be plying their grisly trade:
A West Philadelphia abortion doctor, his wife and eight other suspects are now under arrest following a grand jury investigation.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 69, faces eight counts of murder in the deaths of a woman following a botched abortion at his office, along with the deaths of seven other babies who, prosecutors allege, were born alive following illegal late-term abortions and then were killed by severing their spinal cords with a pair of scissors.

“I am aware that abortion is a hot-button topic,” said District Attorney Seth Williams. “But as district attorney, my job is to carry out the law. A doctor who knowingly and systematically mistreats female patients, to the point that one of them dies in his so-called care, commits murder under the law. A doctor who cuts into the necks severing the spinal cords of living, breathing babies, who would survive with proper medical attention, is committing murder under the law.”

Gosnell is facing charges of murder in the third degree for the death of 41-year-old Karnamaya Mongar. Mrs. Mongar died on November 20, 2009, when she was overdosed with anesthetics prescribed by Gosnell. He is also facing seven murder charges for the deaths of infants who were killed after being born viable and alive during the sixth, seventh, or eighth month of pregnancy. Gosnell is also facing numerous other charges.

Gosnell is suspected of killing hundreds of living babies over the course of his 30-year practice. However, he is not charged because the records do not exist.

DA Williams said Gosnell made approximately $1.8 million in one year alone performing the procedures.

Four of the suspects, some improperly licensed according to officials, also face multiple counts of murder for allegedly killing the newborns. All of the suspects are now behind bars after warrants were served overnight.

A search of Gosnell’s office, called the Women’s Medical Society, revealed that bags and bottles holding aborted fetuses were scattered throughout the building. Jars containing the severed feet of babies lined a shelf.

Gosnell, a family practioner, was never certified as an OB/GYN. He is accused of re-using unsanitary instruments and performing procedures in filthy rooms. Some of the rooms had litter boxes and animals present at the time of the operations.

Investigators also said Gosnell allowed unlicensed employees, including a 15-year-old high school student, to perform operations and administer anesthesia.

The grand jury investigation revealed that, for over two decades, government health and licensing officials had received repeated reports about Gosnell’s dangerous practices. However, no action was ever taken, even after the agencies learned that Mrs. Mongar had died during routine abortions under Gosnell’s care (see related story).

Dr. Gosnell, who has practiced in the West Philadelphia neighborhood for decades, is also the target of a federal grand jury investigation into illegally prescribing prescription drugs. Investigators say during a search of his home, they found $240,000 in cash.
Lots of questions present themselves in the wake of these horrific discoveries: It appears that the Pennsylvania health authorities knew what was going on, or should have, and did nothing to stop it. Why? Because abortion is a "hot-button topic"? Because abortion is such a precious "right" that nothing must be allowed to limit it, not even the horrors perpetrated in the offices of Dr. Gosnell? Will the derelict bureaucrats in the Pennsylvania state government be prosecuted or at least fired? Why does the DA sound so apologetic about having to prosecute this monstrous man? He sounds like he's enforcing a law that he doesn't personally like and wishes he could ignore.

Finally, why isn't this shocking story getting more play in the media? Gosnell could well be the worst serial killer in American history. Is it that his victims were mostly infants and we've reached the point where we're ambivalent about killing infants? Is it that if they made too much of this people would be reminded that our President twice voted in the Illinois senate to make infanticide legal in precisely those situations in which Gosnell committed it? Surely if it had turned out that Gosnell was a Republican or tea-partier the media would be all over it.

Anyway, I imagine the P.Z. Myers' of the world are wondering what all the fuss is about.