This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth entries are a collection of comments on my views of academia.
I’ll first clarify that in my experience professors generally have some amount of ability to teach otherwise they would have gone into some other research occupation, for the federal government or the private sector.
Even where teacher student ratios are not 1:1, an enthusiastic instructor/professor can have a lot of the same qualities as an individual teacher. Obviously they can’t have some qualities, like tailoring a class to fit one student, but they can redirect energies when the entire class is deficient in an area. Imagine for a second if you had Richard Feynman teaching a class, that would be a lot of fun. Practically, there aren’t enough teachers for everyone to have that kind of one on one time with every student. Would it probably be the best way for everyone to learn? Yes, but it isn’t possible. Education has turned into a mass production line. We are tying to get as many people the highest education as humanly possible. This is a commendable goal, but that goal is getting away from the ideal. It isn’t enough to simply have an education – it must be a good education.
Grading is also an issue, and it’s one I’ve had to start dealing with since I starting teaching classes myself within the last couple of years. The thing is that while grading is anonymous to some point, the teacher, being human, will remember that you are a good student or a bad student. When I get tests back, I feel like I’m making the professor proud because they will usually give a nod of approval or comment on how I did. Grading isn’t completely anonymous. I, too, when grading become disappointed in one of my ‘A’ students when they make too low a score. Conversely, I’m also very proud when one of my poorer students does very well. It shows me that I’ve been doing a good job of teaching.
Student opinion in the selection of professors:
I’ve been privy to several professor searches. Each of the candidates had to give a lecture in a respective course their position would end up teaching. At the end of the lecture the students and current professors would rate the professor on how he/she did. I ended up sitting through most of the lectures, and quite a few of what were otherwise solid candidates were rejected based on the student’s opinion. Obviously a process like this doesn’t happen everywhere, but I found it very refreshing and eye opening. Additionally while I was working on my music minor a couple of years ago, they hired a new professor, and they had a process very much like this. And student opinion was again taken seriously. While State isn’t known for its great research in music, it is very well known for its meteorology department. What I am glad for is that the ability to teach is just as important to MSU as is the ability to bring in research dollars.