Where others see conspiracy theories, I see badly thought-out plans. The Law of Unintended Consequences is, after all, a modern restatement of the old proverb, “The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions”.
This is especially applicable to US Education policy.
About a decade ago, the powers that be finally realized that their comfortable lives relied on technology, which in turn relied on a large contingent of well-educated people to create and maintain it. It also became clear that we were not training enough of those individuals, and had imported those brains for decades. They decided that we should produce more, and like Captain Picard on the bridge of the Enterprise, said, “Make it so”.
Departments of Education throughout the country increased the number of Mathematics and Science courses which students had to pass to graduate from high school. People became aware that there was a lot of scholarship money in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines, and also that those majors got productive jobs, while the Liberal Arts majors all too often moved back home after graduation. The diligent middle-class parents forced their children to take even more material, and do better at it, just like the armies of tots forced into gymnastics after each Olympics.
In turn, this meant that teachers in public and private education were faced with legions of students with neither talent nor motivation. Yet, they were expected to succeed in teaching them. The result could have been easily predicted. There was massive grade inflation and a lowering of standards, plus extra punitive measures against teachers.
We in higher education in those STEM disciplines are now faced with two large groups of ‘problem’ students.
The first have been told that they have mastered material which they have not, and deeply resent us for dropping them into lower-level courses. They then spend years repeating courses, until they run out of student loans, or finally pass.
The second have a great deal of talent, but have not been stretched to their capacity. They were the success stories, who expect A’s on everything. It is really sad, but many cannot emotionally handle their first failure (or even a C). We see eating disorders, suicides, and too many drop-outs from this group. The knee-jerk reaction in the popular media is that these students are too stressed from the expectations placed on them. I claim that it is because they have been given unrealistic feedback, and this is strongly supported by international studies on such things.
Of course, some universities and colleges have lowered their standards, and Mathematics and Science departments in those which have not are now being referred to as ‘roadblocks’. Any guesses as to what will happen next?
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