e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


The Limits of 'Access'

I'm becoming re-accustomed to teaching at a U.S. commuter university after teaching "traditional" students in Lebanon for a year. I have two summer classes and I like getting to know the students and learning about their interests through their writing. Students with families and full-time jobs, as well as transfer students, are heavily represented in these two classes. In Lebanon, success at university was the number one priority of my students, who largely focused on doing their families proud by making good grades and preparing for a profession like medicine.

At UM-Dearborn, earning a living and caring for one's family often take priority over school--for obvious, good reasons. Campuses like mine that market themselves as accessible and flexible have made accommodations: more summer classes, more online classes, more evening and weekend classes, easier transfer process. While I fully support these moves toward accessibility, I also think that students learn more and learn better when university work takes a more central role in their lives. Taking eighteen credit hours while working two jobs is admirable, and necessary for some students. For some students, though, this type of lifestyle leads to the need to miss a few classes, come late to a few more, and miss out on the time to reflect and make new knowledge part of their consciousness.

I hesitate to say this because I in no way want to imply that I don't like working with our student body or that I regret my post-Fulbright re-entry into the UM-Dearborn community. Nor do I mean to put the students in Lebanon (nor "traditional" American students) on a pedestal. And I hope I'm not (only) speaking from a place of ego and insult (you mean taking care of your sick daughter is more important than this article I've given you?). I just wonder if we do enough to balance the moves toward access with a fostering of certain core academic habits, some of which demand that we slow down, take time, and make time to think.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As both a student and keen observer at UM-Dearborn, I have to say that everything you articulate is entirely true. Too often I find here that there's a certain disconnect between students and their education, in that they only seem interested in learning insofar as that it serves as an unavoidable means for justifying a nominal end (a career, status, etc). What's more, it seems that this isn't a problem that is isolated to our campus; in fact, it seems to be a rather pervasive trend throughout the higher education system. In a very palpable sense through empirical study, I have found that throngs of students across the nation are disenchanted by the idea of intense study, noting that they simply would not be invested in higher education if it were not for the projected benefits. What this means for posterity is difficult to say, but as a student of learning, I can say that it really upsets me. I mean, If I'm truly devoted to my studies, why shouldn't the comrade sitting next to me at graduation be just as committed? It kind of makes you wonder if the college education is becoming something less of ascribed achievement and more of a free gimme. As the late George Carlin once remarked, "Got a pencil? Get in there! It's F****** Physics!"