21st Century Scholar http://21stcenturyscholar.org a progressive look at education Thu, 14 Jul 2016 08:00:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 Tested: An Interview with Filmmaker Curtis Chin http://21stcenturyscholar.org/2016/07/14/tested-an-interview-with-filmmaker-curtis-chin/ Thu, 14 Jul 2016 08:00:30 +0000 http://21stcenturyscholar.org/?p=11723 tested01Filmmaker Curtis Chin gained notoriety for his documentary “Vincent Who?” about Vincent Chin (no relation), an Asian American killed by Detroit autoworkers who blamed him for the loss of their jobs. They conflated this Chinese American with the rise of the Japanese auto industry.  It was a turning point in the lives of Asian Americans.  As Frank Wu wrote in the New York Times:

“The killing catalyzed political activity among Asian-Americans — whose numbers had steadily increased since the 1965 overhaul of immigration laws but who then represented only about 1.5 percent of the population — as never before. “Remember Vincent Chin” turned into a rallying cry; for the first time, Asian-Americans of every background angrily protested in cities across the country.”

Chin has turned his focus onto education.  In particular, he focuses on the divisive topic of standardized testing.  In Chin’s new film Tested, the documentary follows students who battle to gain coveted seats into some of New York’s top schools.  This raises concerns of achievement among the city’s diverse dwellers.  As the Tested website points out:

“The gap in opportunities for different races in America remains extreme. Nowhere is this more evident than our nation’s top public schools. In New York City, where blacks and Hispanics make up 70% of the city’s school-aged population, they represent less than 5% at the city’s most elite public high schools. Meanwhile Asian Americans make up as much as 73%.

I had a moment to interview Curtis Chin about his latest project.

How did Tested come about? What made you interested in standardized test scores as a subject matter?

After the success of my first film, I was looking for a follow-up film that dealt with similar issues of racial justice and equality. That’s when I read this article in the New York Times about the racial disparity in New York City. I was also interested in the way Asian Americans were portrayed in all the discussions. I felt there was a lot of misunderstanding about our community and why education is so important to our community.

You follow a dozen kids.  How did you choose the students involved?

We worked closely with the schools and prep programs. We also spread the word to our circle of friends. We specifically asked people not to recommend the students they thought would pass, but more importantly, who would have an interesting journey over the next year.

Did anything surprise you when making the documentary?

I was surprised by how open the families were to being filmed. I guess they felt this was their opportunity to share their stories.

For those working in K-12 policy or education, what do you hope they get from your film?

For us, the film looks at how these different families approach public education, but more importantly how public education approaches these different families. There are a lot of stereotypes out there that need to be challenged and dispelled.

What’s your next project?

I am working on a memoir called, “Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant.” It’s all the life lessons I learned growing up in the family restaurant founded in Detroit by my great grandfather in 1940.

Watch the trailer:

Reconceptualizing the Credit Hour in Colleges and Universities http://21stcenturyscholar.org/2016/07/05/reconceptualizing-the-credit-hour-in-colleges-and-universities/ Tue, 05 Jul 2016 23:18:07 +0000 http://21stcenturyscholar.org/?p=11718 musicLately, I have been thinking a great deal about the first two years of undergraduate education, as I plan to conduct an ethnography on developmental education and college writing centers for my dissertation. Ultimately, I believe that a few institutions may try to reconceptualize the credit hour in an attempt to better capture student effort and performance.  While the credit hour system is certainly an imperfect measure, I wonder if any proposed solutions are inherently better.

For example, some have called for a credit system that is based “how many hours the average student must spend to accomplish the various tasks in a course module.”  Such a solution sounds attractive, but it potentially is just as problematic.  First, a student-centered system may work for introductory-level classes, but as a student progresses, it becomes nearly impossible to quantify their level of involvement in a given assignment, much less a specific class.  How does one quantify the hours an upper-level undergraduate student spends in a chemistry lab, working on a thesis project?  How many hours should an “average student” in a history seminar spend in an archive?  Mature students are not supposed to refer to an artificial credit system to gauge how many hours they should spend on a given task.

Others have argued that some classes should be given far more credit than others, with the assumption that an economics class, for instance, requires more work than an physical education class.  Frankly, I find such comparisons to be rather glib (and a bit insulting).  Any field of study can be difficult, if a professor chooses to introduce sophisticated content and a heavy reading/research workload.  We all know that two professors can teach the same class, yet one can be much more demanding than another.  In the past, extremely intelligent students who aspired to medical school found my music appreciation exceptionally challenging.  If a student has little experience with actively listening to music and identifying rhythms, timbres, and pitches, a music appreciation class may require as many – if not more – hours of studying than biology or chemistry.  Many would advocate the standardization of course content across a curriculum, but that infringes upon professional autonomy and academic freedom.  It would also ruin one of the wonderful, dynamic aspects of the undergraduate experience – the unique expertise that each professor can bring to the study of a subject matter that is a focus of their research.

Even common course numbering systems are prone to more problems than many would like to admit.  Students from two-year colleges are regularly denied transfer credits at four-year universities under the assumption that a class is “more demanding” at the four-year level.  Also, a common course numbering system masks serious discrepancies in the ways classes are taught.  Students regularly get credit for content they have not mastered; as a result, they frequently become lost in upper-level coursework where those prerequisites are necessary.

None of the above is meant to throw water on potential improvements to the imperfect system of the credit hour.  I just feel it is necessary to point out the pros and cons of nearly every proposed system.  One reason why education is so frustrating (for some) and exhilarating (for people like me) is this interplay between downsides and benefits… and the need for continued critical interrogation and contextualization.


Critical Issues in Higher Education http://21stcenturyscholar.org/2016/06/24/critical-issues-in-higher-education/ Fri, 24 Jun 2016 08:00:39 +0000 http://21stcenturyscholar.org/?p=11711 shutterstock_55757374This summer I’m creating a syllabus for a course that hasn’t been taught at my institution before but has been named “Critical This summer I’m creating a syllabus for a course that hasn’t been taught at my institution before but has been named “Critical Issues in Higher Education.” Over the course of one quarter, for 3 hours a week, the plan is to give undergrads an inside look at the most pressing issues in higher education—or at least that’s my plan. When I started thinking things through and writing things down, I began to wonder, what isn’t a critical issue in higher education today? It seems like we’re dealing with a lot. Read Inside Higher Ed or the Chronicle or turn on the television and there is something influential happening on campuses across the nation. So here are the 10 issues I’ve come up with in no particular order.

1. Campus safety (Sexual assault, shootings)
2. Campus equity and inclusion (Race, gender, sexual orientation)
3. Athletics
4. Non-traditional students
5. The professoriate (Academic Freedom, tenure, non-tenure track faculty)
6. Leadership and governance
7. The purpose and mission of higher education (public good, private good)
8. Rising cost of higher education
9. Campus demonstrations (Place of political messaging and protest)
10. Transfer time and time to degree

These are by no means exhaustive but it is my hope that by using current events to highlight some of these issues, the course would spark dialogue that will bright light to potential solutions and maybe even encourage some young minds to pursue a career in higher education. How do we make higher education a place where all students are able to feel safe, are treated equitably, and obtain an education that will help them in life and career and at the same time recognize that they share a campus with faculty, staff, and administrators who also endure various issues that impact student education? Maybe at the end of the course, those who are currently living the experience will have come up with a great answer, or at least, helped me figure out how to reshape this list for future courses.

On “Useless” Liberal and Fine Arts Degrees http://21stcenturyscholar.org/2016/06/21/on-useless-liberal-and-fine-arts-degrees/ Tue, 21 Jun 2016 16:29:36 +0000 http://21stcenturyscholar.org/?p=11706 music_class_0Recently, I was entombed with approximately 100 people in a swelteringly hot Boeing 737 that was languishing on a runway for what seemed like hours. As time slowly and miserably progressed, I could sense the tensions of the passengers running high.  With each new bead of sweat, my patience was certainly wearing thin.  Normally, in such situations, I use work as a distraction.  But this particular flight was already my third of the day, and I was mentally too exhausted to revise essays or read papers.  Mindlessly clicking through the folders on my laptop, I searched for a way to improve my disposition through distraction.

I found a recording of Roger Norrington and the London Classical Players performing Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony. The Eighth Symphony is certainly not one of Beethoven’s most famous works, and I have even known talented musicians who denigrate it as an inferior work.  However, I was lucky to study the work with a brilliant music theory professor during my undergraduate education at Colgate University.  Jay Swain’s knowledge of Beethoven was a revelation to a young musician, like myself at the time, who was primarily attracted to performance due to the technical challenges and theatrical possibilities offered by dramatic composers like Liszt and Rachmaninoff.  In contrast, Dr. Swain revealed a world of convivial humor in which the conventions of sonata form were intentionally subverted through harmonic gaffes, blatant dislocations of meter, and bold rhythmic displacements.  The musical exposure I received in his class profoundly changed the way I listen to and appreciate music.

Within seconds, I had completely forgotten the lousy atmosphere of the plane and was fully immersed in the Eighth Symphony.  Individuals sitting nearby likely thought I was becoming a touch insane as I giggled while the violins completed a tortuous stepwise modulation of the first movement’s second theme to C Major… only to have their hard work undone by a mindless repeat of the melody by the woodwinds.  By the fourth movement, I was openly laughing, thoroughly immersed in the insanity of the full orchestra’s frequent dissonant C-sharp intrusions, the timpani’s insistent (and insipid) octave pattern that insistently reoriented the orchestra to the tonic, and the continuously-inventive ways Beethoven managed to thwart the anticipations of the audience during the coda.

As a result, I may have been the only person who thoroughly enjoyed the airplane’s endless delay on the tarmac.  During the 40-odd minutes I reintroduced myself to Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony, I was blissfully unaware of any surrounding issues or concerns.  Aside from this one instance, I find myself regularly indebted to Dr. Swain for his ambitious and intense curriculum.  Every day, he orally grilled us individually on the rudiments of music theory, sparing us no embarrassment as he openly interrogated our rapid recall of chord inversions, progressions, and modulations.  He dispensed complex scores that required hours of work and revision, given our novice abilities at musical analysis.  He assigned readings by Charles Rosen and Leonard Meyer that initially seemed inscrutable, considering the authors’ erudition and scope of knowledge, but paid off dividends years later as I was able to share my knowledge of music history and theory with students at Western Carolina University.  Regardless of whether or not each of us continued on with careers in music, we received a crash course in late-18th and early-19th century classical style that enriched our lives ineffably.

Rarely a day goes by when I do not feel appreciative of the broad liberal arts education I received at Colgate.  Whenever I am writing, watching a show on HBO, reading a newspaper, or listening to music, my undergraduate coursework inevitably serves as a valuable resource for comprehending historical references, contextualizing current events, and appreciating cultural differences.  It has also sharpened my concentration immensely, making me a much more active listener and consumer of information than I otherwise would have been.

For this reason, I find it difficult to understand much of the rhetoric concerning the “uselessness” of liberal and fine arts degrees.  I recognize as well as anyone that many students have a difficult time finding employment in today’s job market.  When I was a visiting assistant professor of music, I regularly explained to students that they had to highlight their advantages – the discipline required to practice 6-8 hours a day; the quantitative skills necessary to understand music theory; the insane attention to detail and expectations of perfection that are consistently demanded through juried performances.  To be frank, few students on any college campus work as hard as music performance majors.  When you have given two-hour, memorized performances of technically- and artistically-demanding instrument music in front of sizeable audiences, a fifteen minute powerpoint presentation is a breeze.

And yes, loan debt is a terrible burden.  However, students in liberal and fine arts degrees are far from the only students struggling to pay back loan debt.  In fact, I sense an inordinate amount of hypocrisy in the arguments of many who decry the liberal and fine arts.  Why are the same voices not complaining about the massive amounts of unpayable loan debt caused by for-profit institutions that offer supposedly workforce-ready degrees?  Why are the ridiculously-expensive Master’s degrees in professional fields that – by the way – are responsible for at least 40% of contemporary student loan debt[1] not subject to increased scrutiny?  When students with business degrees from Regional State College lack the networking opportunities that a business student from Harvard or USC enjoys, should they not be looking to broaden their education in an effort to distinguish their skillsets?  If job hopping is the “new normal” in today’s workforce where employers are reluctant to invest in workforce training and employees demand the freedom to explore careers, isn’t a broad education necessary?[2]

More than anything, though, I find the cynicism with which many frame their argument against the liberal and fine arts repugnant.  Is the world really so cutthroat that we can’t find five measly hours a week for art, drama, or even recess in our schools?  Does the value of every activity have to be instantly quantifiable, lest it elicit criticism from self-appointed sentinels for being a waste of time and resources?  Can there not be space for growth and reflection during college, or even beyond the age of twenty-one?

The liberal and fine arts have become a convenient strawman in too many discussions about education, workforce development, and efficiency.  If we eliminate everything in higher education that does not evince an immediate financial profit, our colleges and universities will become as inert and sterile as a stranded airplane full of tense passengers who are obsessively worried about their immediate futures.


[1] http://www.wsj.com/articles/loan-binge-by-graduate-students-fans-debt-worries-1439951900

[2] http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/191459/millennials-job-hopping-generation.aspx

Orlando and the Potential We Will Never Know http://21stcenturyscholar.org/2016/06/17/orlando-and-the-potential-we-will-never-know/ Fri, 17 Jun 2016 08:02:59 +0000 http://21stcenturyscholar.org/?p=11691 akyraMeet Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old, African American who had graduated from high school a few weeks ago. She was college bound on a full scholarship—truly young, gifted and black.  And she bled to death on the bathroom floor of Pulse night club in Orlando.

Her high school website said:

Akyra was a superstar who was a leader amongst her classmates and teammates. She was an honors student whom graduated third in her class, and a 1,000 point scorer on t on the Lady Burrs Bastketball team. Akyra recently signed a letter of intent to play basketball at Mercyhurst College.

Looking at the ages of the people who died in Orlando, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of them were so young, doing what young people do: clubbing. Going out, dancing, socializing is an important part of developing the young adult mind.

Many years ago, when I worked in AIDS, many of the people I encountered died young—less than 40 years old. I wondered what the world would be like if those young people had been allowed to mature.  I’m sad at the deaths in Orlando for a number of reasons.  One of them is because of the scholarship, the art, the activism, and of course, the love that we will never see. The loss of potential cannot be measured.

This blog has written many posts about the importance of increasing the number of black and brown students into higher education.  It has also talked about the importance of incorporating an LGBT presence in schools.

The violence–specifically gun violence–experienced in Orlando is shocking.  Yes, this blog has also written about gun violence, too.  What we have not talked about is the futures we will not see.

In Akyra, we potentially lost a college educated black woman and an ally to gay people (she chose a gay night club and her mother approved.  Listen to the NPR story here).

In reading about the deaths in Orlando, I couldn’t help but feel the loss of what could have been:

Luis Omar Ocasio-Campo, 20: “He was a dancer…”

Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22: “…worked as a telemarketer while attending the University of Central Florida.”

Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32: “…established the gay-straight alliance at his high school.”

Kimberly Morris, 37: “…moved from Hawaii to Florida a few months ago to help her mother and grandmother.”

Cory James Connell, 21: “…a student at Valencia College and hoped to become a firefighter…”

Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19: “…student at Southern Technical College in Orlando.”

Martin Benitez Torres, 33: “…was studying to become a pharmacy technician at Ana G. Méndez University.”

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25: “…studied health care management at Ana G. Mendez University in Orlando.”

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50: “A professional dancer, Dejesus specialized in traditional folk dance of his native Puerto Rico.”

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33: “…worked at OneBlood, a blood donation center, since December 2011.”

Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49: “…had 11 kids, beat cancer twice…”

And on and on and on.

We lost 49 people. The possibilities that died with them we will never know.  This goes for the children at Sandy Hook and the students at Virginia Tech or UC Santa Barbara or Umpqua Community College.  All that potential–gone.




Do Teachers Ever Really Get Time Off? http://21stcenturyscholar.org/2016/06/14/do-teachers-ever-really-get-time-off/ Tue, 14 Jun 2016 08:00:38 +0000 http://21stcenturyscholar.org/?p=11686 summer“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” This is one of my all-time favorite quotes by American writer, Henry James. I often think of these words on the Summer Solstice, also known as Midsummer, which is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. It usually takes place around June 20, 21, and 22 and it occurs when the tilt of the Earth’s semi-axis is most inclined toward the sun.

For ancient civilizations this day was of great importance. It was an important day in the agrarian calendar where crops and seasonal cycles needed attention. It was also a day of spiritual celebration of light over dark – basically life over death. The ancient Egyptians, Chinese, Greeks, Romans, Mesopotamians, and Native Americans to name a few all celebrated the Summer Solstice. Many cultures marked this day with both celebrations and sacrifices. In the modern world celebrations still occur though with significantly less thought to spiritual and agricultural concerns.

In society today, the Solstice signifies the beginning of summer filled with beach days, surfing, barbeques, lounging poolside, camping trips and so forth. It is a great time of year usually marked with vacations and the warmth of the sun. It also signifies that K-12 schools have ended for the year with students and teachers around the country enjoying some rest and relaxation. But wait? Do teachers ever really get time off? I remember being a classroom teacher and people would often say “You don’t work too hard; you get three months off in the summer.” Well, no not really. In Hawaii the school calendar has been extended and summer has slowly dwindled down to a mere six weeks. For many six weeks may sound like an eternity but this is the norm for vacation time for most workers in Europe. My cousins in France get five to six weeks vacation each year and they take all of it!

I recognize that the average American who gets a measly two weeks vacation a year (if they are lucky) probably has little to no sympathy when a teacher complains about six weeks of vacation, but let’s look at summer vacation from a teacher’s perspective. Here is what I experienced as a middle school teacher. The last day of school is usually filled with celebrations and many goodbyes. My classroom is a mess. I have to clean it up and final grades need to be submitted. Who knows how long that will take? Cleaning up a classroom at the end of the school year is not just a matter of clearing off the top of my teacher’s desk. It also means packing up books, taking posters off the walls, organizing student materials, throwing away old stuff, cleaning out the closets, and so forth. It is basically spring cleaning in June.

When I was a teacher I was required to do so because each summer the floors were waxed and walls were washed. The administration would also do a final walk through to check me out. I had to get approval before I could leave and begin my vacation. Oh wait, and now the principal has decided to relocate my classroom and I am moving from the first to the third floor. There may only be one or two janitors who can help the teachers move and surely my husband will not take time off of work and hurt his back to move my boxes of materials. So there goes another few days of my vacation. Darn it!

Finally after everything has been done, I walk into the office and drop off my classroom keys. Summer has finally started. Oh wait, I need to earn some professional development units so I can move up the payscale and increase my salary. The class starts on Monday morning and it is an eight-week term. Should I or shouldn’t I? What is more important? Going to the beach or making more money next year? No brainer. I have got to get in those units. I will travel somewhere next summer. Perhaps I will, if I can afford to.

I know for some this may just sound like a teacher complaining, but have you ever worked as a classroom teacher with teaching upwards of 200 students each semester? It is simply exhausting. Teachers need some down time too in order to decompress and spend some quality time with family and friends. Teachers work seven days a week during the school year. Weeknights and weekends are packed with prepping and grading since there is no time during the school day. And let’s not forgot chaperoning school dances and participating in other extracurricular activities all of which occur after the end of the school day. And in all honesty, most teachers I know are still in “teacher mode” even in the summer.

Good teachers are always planning, developing new lesson plan ideas, and learning new instructional strategies in order to ensure student engagement and success for the following school year. Good teachers care and never truly check out for the year. By the time teachers begin decompressing after a long school year, they get the letter in the mail announcing the beginning of the new school year. Summer is already over and it is not even the end of July. Yes, folks. In Hawaii teachers go back to school before August 1st.  So, to all of my teacher friends enjoy those precious few summer days and celebrate the Summer Solstice as did ancient civilizations. It is a magical time of year. Enjoy and embrace the warmth of the sun and leave the vortex of teaching behind if even just for a few days.

Thinking through the Relationship between Diversity and Innovation http://21stcenturyscholar.org/2016/06/07/thinking-through-the-relationship-between-diversity-and-innovation/ Tue, 07 Jun 2016 08:00:44 +0000 http://21stcenturyscholar.org/?p=11678 Graduates taking picture of themselves

Recently, I had the fantastic opportunity to help out with an online diversity class for the USC Rossier Ed.D. program. Although the students were mostly from the United States, they had life experiences from various parts of the world and were currently working in Singapore.  Hence, their views on diversity were inevitably shaped by the Singaporean government’s unique political dichotomy.  On the one hand, Singapore encourages individuals from different cultures to integrate in a meaningful way by enforcing ethnic quotas in public housing estates.  Such a policy is actually quite powerful, since approximately 85% of the population lives in public housing.  On the other hand, the Singapore education system has a well-deserved reputation for being overly-focused on high-stakes exams, the transmission of knowledge, and STEM fields.  This education reinforces the ethos of meritocracy and workforce development that pervade the economic and social culture of the city-state.  The development of critical thinking and creativity is largely neglected.

As the course unfolded, it became apparent that our conceptualizations of diversity in higher education are deeply lacking.  They tend to essentialize individuals in ways that exclusively focus on ethnicity or gender and presumptions of like-mindedness based on these inherent characteristics.  To be sure, research on inherent diversity indicates that companies actively promoting diverse hiring practices have substantial financial returns.[1]

However, we should also be careful not to gloss over the abilities, experiences, and strengths that each individual possesses.  A more comprehensive view of diversity should also include acquired characteristics, such as knowledge of the humanities and significant, prolonged experience with foreign cultures.  In fact, studies show that multicultural experiences are positively correlated creative abilities like insight learning, remote association, and idea generation.[2]  Therefore, a primary reason why many countries with impressive test scores (e.g., China and Singapore) fail to innovate at the same level as the United States has to do with this acquired diversity.  Once again, researchers have demonstrated that companies that hire employees with a strong combination of both inherent and acquired diversity not only exhibit higher levels of innovation than other, less diverse companies, but they are also 45% more likely to grow market share within a year and 70% more likely to capture a new market.[3]

The United States educational system has traditionally emphasized the value of a broad-based education.  Unfortunately, much of the rhetoric surrounding education today seems to not only dismiss such an education as antiquated and inefficient, it fails to recognize the crucial need to provide students with multiple opportunities to develop a meaningful understanding of different artistic and cultural traditions.  If innovative thinking is truly the engine of American economic progress, we cannot simply transmit existing scientific knowledge and expect innovation to mysteriously transpire.  We need to recognize the advantages that inherent diversity can offer, and promote the acquisition of diverse talents through a renewed commitment to the liberal and fine arts.

[1] http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why-diversity-matters

[2] http://faculty.insead.edu/william-maddux/documents/AP-culture-creativity.pdf

[3] https://hbr.org/2013/12/how-diversity-can-drive-innovation

Graduation Season – Can There be the Predicted Unbundling when there Really is no Integration? http://21stcenturyscholar.org/2016/06/03/graduation-season-can-there-be-the-predicted-unbundling-when-there-really-is-no-integration/ Fri, 03 Jun 2016 08:00:29 +0000 http://21stcenturyscholar.org/?p=11672 learnIt is graduation season again.  Around the country, families are celebrating their young men and women who parade in colors of the ancient regalia signifying academic achievement.  This regalia and the degrees and diplomas which accompany them signal to the community at large certain qualities and skills obtained by the recent graduate.  There has been many arguments recently that the unbundling of these skills and abilities might prove an undermining of the university as the single institution largely untouched by change for centuries.  However, before we look at this unbundling, perhaps it is time to consider that the meaning of degrees are not such clear signals and could mean a variety of different things, most of which remain unclear even to consumers who go into great debt obtaining them.

For centuries, the conferring of the Baccalaureate degree signaled a completion of study that yielded a “learned man” (until recently, universities were accessed only by men).  Initially, the Baccalaureate degree was intended for the training of clerics, and even America’s most prestigious colleges started to train sons of farmers to become ministers.  Initially the study was a four to 7 year journey to get the basics of what a preacher would use – commonly called the trivium.  This formed the basis for the liberal arts.  The trivium included the study of Latin grammar (including literature), rhetoric (which was largely the study of Aristotle – and  also included law [prominently canon law]) and logic (and the study of the dialectic or how to thoughtfully argue).  This Baccalaureate was regarded to be largely a preliminary step to the Mastership (often called the Magisterium) which allowed the holder to later teach.  This trivium was later followed by the quadrivium which included  arithmetic, geometry  (which included geography and natural history), music (mostly church music), and  astronomy.  This was normally followed by Hebrew and Greek philosophy and history which allowed the Master to consider source documents.

This trivium and quadrivium comprised the basis of the curriculum and became the foundations for the seven liberal arts.  They were taught not merely because they were useful or practical.  These studies were thought to be the knowledge required for the development of intellectual and  moral excellence –  namely  what was required to become a Learned Man.

Following this preparation, the Baccalaureate holder prepared for professions:  Divinity, Law, Medicine,  Music.  The Baccalaureate was never intended to prepare a Learned Man for a job;  he later became a man of letters which proved his chops for professions –  a separate undertaking.

As this model moved to the US, a comprehensive study of the liberal arts gave rise to the notion that while available to families of means, the world was becoming more complex and required different kinds of study to prepare for different professions. In many states, the Land Grant College Act of 1862, more commonly referred to as the Morrill  Act provided grants of land to state to finance the establishment of Specialized  Colleges –  Colleges specializing in the skills required of the day  – Agriculture and Mechanical Arts.  There also began a pattern of Normal schools in many states established specifically for the training of  teachers.  Often time considered less prestigious that the private elite colleges, many of these new forms took centuries old models of instruction and curriculum from elite universities and tried to  fit this pedagogy into their own developing of skills required in this new  world.

Universities became an integration of many of these specialties. Some, like the University of California, did not allow the training for the professions during the undergraduate study claiming that such “training” would interrupt the process of becoming a Learned Person.  Some colleges within Universities provided only minimal background in the seven liberal arts.  Colleges like Engineering and Arts (Fine and Performing) became glorified trade schools preparing their graduates for careers.  Military Academies prepared the degree holders to be officers in the armed  services and all boasted about how  well their curricula compared to “classic” education of elite institutions.

High schools sending their students off to college often had varying levels of excellence, so colleges and Universities, in order to assure better quality students enlisted a Carnegie unit to standardize and compare one school from another.  Developed by industrialist Andrew Carnegie, this was a first attempt to provide standards for real comparison.  To qualify for participation in the Carnegie pension system, higher education institutions were required to adopt a set of basic standards around courses of instruction, facilities, staffing, and admissions criteria. The Carnegie Unit, also known as the credit hour, became the basic unit  of  measurement both for determining students’ readiness for college  and  their  progress  through  an  acceptable program of study.  Over  time, the Carnegie Unit became the building block of modern American education, serving as the foundation for everything from daily school schedules to graduation requirements, faculty workloads, and eligibility for federal  financial aid.  Initially it provided a standard for secondary schools –  It is 120 hours of class time or contact with an instructor over the course of a year.  To calculate, it breaks down to a single one hour meeting on each of five days a week for a total of 24 weeks a year (less than half the year because it was  designed over a century ago when a good portion of the student body was still required for farming).  Coincidentally, the typical Bachelor’s degree in this country is ALSO 120 units.  College students in a semester system typically earn 3 units for classes that receive 3 hours of instruction for 15 weeks of a semester (more than the 24 weeks of high school but still with substantial down time).  Thus the Bachelor’s degree is  a collection of five 3 unit course a semester (15 unit/semester) for 8 semesters.  Because many colleges and Universities have upwards of hundreds of degree programs which 40 classes a student takes in order to earn her degree is nearly impossible to know.  Even with a detailed transcript of coursework it is difficult to ascertain what skills were imparted in each of the 45 hours of instruction.  Said shortly, it is impossible to compare if 120 units of nursing has equivalent skills and knowledge to 120 units of architecture or music.  At the end of the day the college degree is not a very good signal of what a person knows nor is it really a good indication of whether the graduate is a Learned Person.

For over a hundred years we have depended on the Carnegie Unit to tell us about standardization and to compare quality. A measurement that was designed as our country moved from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy is outdated.  It tells us nothing more in the current age than a basic notion that a graduate was strong-willed enough to last 4 years in college and was able to learn enough to be measured favorably by a professor who might have any number of ways to evaluate.

In a world that moves at the speed of electrons, new skills and new evaluations are in order:  The ability to think critically and possess broad analytical skills (to break notions down and evaluate); to be able to categorize and differentiate a broad range of phenomena, many of which have never been seen before, to form abstract concepts and understand complex phenomena, not simply by simplistic heuristics, but by a deep understanding; to  evaluate evidence and be able to revise theory when new data suggests such alteration; to be able to  articulate and conceptualize so others can understand; to think independently; to learn how to learn as knowledge turns over so rapidly; to be able to consider the views of  others with empathy; to allow  knowledge to lead confidence and not fake confidence to hint knowledge; and to understand a broad notion of the joys and accomplishment of what it means to be human.

Colleges, invented to train for one of the only professions at the time, the clergy, is now being asked to evaluate for a multitude of professions.  Old measures do a completely inadequate job.

All Bachelors are not created equally.  A Unit is not really a Unit.

Congratulations to all the graduates of 2016.  You have achieved a great accomplishment.  We are not exactly sure what it is.


Notes from an Active Shooter Training http://21stcenturyscholar.org/2016/06/02/notes-from-an-active-shooter-training/ Thu, 02 Jun 2016 20:06:44 +0000 http://21stcenturyscholar.org/?p=11664 safetyA few months ago, staff at USC Rossier was asked to attend an active shooter training–what should we do if a gunman (or woman) came to campus and started shooting at people.  The instructor of the training said this scenario is not a question of “if” but “when.”

With the shooting at UCLA yesterday, the question of “when” hit way too close to home.  We have friends and colleagues at UCLA, and it was more than disconcerting to read on social media that they were barricading themselves in classrooms and offices to stay safe.

In the last 24 hours, UCLA’s Chancellor Block sent several emails updating the community about the situation.  The psychological repercussions will be great, I’m sure.  On my Facebook feed, I’d read several posts of colleagues who want to leave teaching because, well, it’s too dangerous.

School shootings is something I’ve written about before.  Last fall, I asked the question: Where will the next school shooting be?  Unfortunately, I got my answer.

As news of this shooting continues to make headlines, we have to understand that schools are not the only places where shooters go.  It was just 7 months ago when San Bernadino was devastated by a mass shooting. Whether people stay in education or not, a shooting scenario can happen anywhere.

At my active shooter training, there were many helpful tips.  The formula to go with is: Run, Hide, Fight.


If you’re aware of a shooter in your building or area, run.  But keep calm.  Be aware of your surroundings. Look for exit signs. When you get outside, run with your hands up in the air. This will help identify you to police officers that you’re trying to get away and you’re not the actual shooter.  Yes, you can be mistaken as the suspect–read here.


If you’re trapped in a room or building with no visible exit, hide.  Lock or barricade your door.  Turn off the lights, hide, and make it look like the place is empty. The shooter is looking for signs of life, so if it looks empty they’ll leave. If a door is locked or jammed, they’ll leave.

If the door doesn’t lock and you have nothing to barricade, take a belt or some kind of strap, wrap it around the doorknob, stand to the side of the door and pull the strap tight, forcing the door closed.  (see picture). You want to stand at the side of the door because standing behind the door to barricade it, puts you in danger. Unless the door is made of metal or thick wood, the gunman can shoot through the door and kill you.

Turn off all phones. Turn off your cellphone and disconnect land lines. Remember the shooter is looking for signs of life. If he hears a phone ringing, he’ll think someone is there.

(On the same note, don’t call someone if you think they’re near the shooting area. You don’t want your ring to alert the shooter that your relative or friend is nearby. In an ideal situation, those caught in the melee will know to turn off their phones.  However, even in calm situations, people don’t turn off their phones, even when instructed–those who have heard a phone go off in a theatre, know this.  Chances are those fleeing or hiding for their lives, won’t be thinking of silencing their phones. Call when the police say that it’s safe and the area has been secured with no threat of danger.)


If you are in a situation where you can’t run or hide, fight.  In my active shooter training, we were asked if any of us had been in an actual physical, all-out fight.  Only a few of us raised our hands.  I was expecting this.  Most of us who enter higher education, don’t expect to fight physically.  However, this might be your last option.

Look for weapons in your area.  Look for things to throw or attack with. Pens, keys, scissors, high heal shoes, furniture, bottles, fire extinguisher.  If none of these are available, use your fists.  Punch, scratch, kick like hell.  Aim for vulnerable areas like the face and groin.

I had friends who used to say, “If I go down, I’m taking some with me.”

Fully concentrate on taking down the shooter.

If you’re trapped with a group of people, make a commitment as a group to fight hard.

Hopefully, we may never experience something like this, but let’s be prepared.

What Happens After Community College? http://21stcenturyscholar.org/2016/06/01/what-happens-after-community-college/ Wed, 01 Jun 2016 08:00:30 +0000 http://21stcenturyscholar.org/?p=11656 College_Street_ReutersIn my previous post, I summarized that community colleges are non-selective institutions that serve students with various educational goals. I also cited a few statistics, one of which was about how three out of five students begin their community college journey in developmental education. I also added that this rate is higher in California.

Upon reading my previous blog post, a friend and colleague asked me a series of great follow-up questions, most of which I didn’t have an answer for readily. Her questions prompted me to go digging for the answers.

Below are some of my thoughts and responses to the questions she raised.

Do you have studies on where these community college students end up? For example, if they transfer to a 4 year university do they finish?

This is a great question. One study that immediately came to mind is a 2010 study conducted by Mary Perry, Peter Bahr, Matthew Rosin, and Kathryn Woodward on the course-taking patterns in the California Community Colleges[1]. Students who started off at the higher levels of the developmental (also referred to as remedial) sequence tend to enroll full time, were of traditional college age and transferred at a higher rate. Other studies found similar results as students who place higher in the developmental sequence tend to pass and enroll at a higher rate[2]. Perry et al. found that about half of the students in their Fall 2002 cohort sample enrolled in a remedial course during a seven year period, and about a third of these students completed a credential or a degree and/or transferred.

These studies suggest that certain “factors,” such as starting off at the higher levels of the sequence, younger in age, and enrolling full-time are correlated with higher success rates—if success is defined as completing a credential/degree or transferring to a four year institution. Few caveats worth mentioning here are: 1) these factors are not deterministic, meaning students who are older, attend school part-time, and/or start off lower in the sequence may perform just as well depending on the student; and 2) some authors argue that success for community college students should be measured not by whether they transferred or have obtained an Associate’s degree, but by the level of personal development and enrichment gained from higher education[3].

Bridget Terry Long and Michal Kurleander in 2009[4] conducted a study using administrative data from Ohio to see whether students who started off at community colleges fare better or worse than similar students who start at four year colleges. These authors found that students who started at community colleges compared with 4-year nonselective institutions, were significantly less likely to have completed baccalaureate degrees during the time frame[5]. Students who started off their 4-year journey at a community college were slightly less likely to complete bachelor’s degrees than students who began at non-selective 4-year colleges.

Upon looking into more recent studies, I came across a 2016 study by the Campaign for College Opportunity that looked at the six year progress of the Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT) program established in 2010 under Senate Bill 1440[6]. This bill allowed students with 60 community college transfer-applicable semester units[7] to receive guaranteed admission with junior standing into the California State Universities (CSU). The report concluded that the number of students granted ADT doubled every year since the implementation of SB 1440. Unfortunately, the report notes a caveat to this statistic. The report notes that while students are utilizing the ADT program, 92% of the students who transfer are doing so without necessarily the help of the Associate Degree for Transfer program. Also, while the students receiving the ADT has increased, the total number of students transferring to the CSU system hasn’t increased. This report provides a first look at the ADT articulation agreement between two higher education systems. This is a work in progress, however. As of January 2016, only 20 community colleges are fully compliant with the ADT pathway program. Because the CSU system and the California Community College system are continuously working out the degree alignment, the report presents a progress update, but not a conclusive picture.

All this to say … well, it’s complicated. But, there are a few things we know from research. Students who attend school part-time, are older in age, and/or who start off at the lower end of the developmental sequence at community colleges may need additional support, guidance and resources from the institution. Also, it will be interesting to see the outcomes of more recent efforts to increase alignment (e.g., ADT), and how the results square with prior studies.

More thoughts on placements, student support, and cost-benefit implications at community colleges will be offered later, in part II of the this post. In the meantime, I welcome any constructive feedback.


[1] http://edsource.org/wp-content/publications/FULL-CC-DevelopmentalCoursetaking.pdf

[2] Fong, K., Melguizo, T., & Prather, G. (2015). Increasing success rates in developmental math: The complementary role of individual and institutional characteristics. Research in Higher Education, DOI: 10.1007/s11162-015-9368-9.

[3] Bahr, P. R. (2014). The labor market return in earnings to community to college credits and credentials in California. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education, School of Education, University of Michigan. Retrieved from: http://www.soe.umich.edu/people/profile/peter_riley_bahr/

[4] Long, B. and Kurleander, M. (2009). Do community colleges provide a viable pathway to a Baccalaureate Degree? Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 33(1): 30-53. DOI: 10.3102/0162373708327756.

[5] The authors looked at 9-year, 6-year and 4-year graduation rates.

[6] http://collegecampaign.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/2016-Keeping-the-Promise_Full-Report-FINAL.pdf

[7] ADT applies to students with 60 semester or 90 quarter units.