Why thinkpieces on STEM education are dangerous

So, I got this stupid piece on STEM education shared several hundred times on my timelines this weekend, and while it was something of a respite from the seventeen gazillion hot takes on religious liberty, it’s still an elite thinker decrying our national emphasis on STEM and saluting the liberal arts and I needed it like the proverbial hole in the head.

Can I tell you what I’m sick and tired of? I’m sick and tired of people telling me that I have to make a choice between work-ready STEM education and deep, reflective humanities learning. [1]

I have a novel proposal: why not both?

Why not serious, intense learning in mathematics and physical science HAND IN HAND with reading both the “great books” AND great books from other cultures? Why not promote better numerical literacy AND historical literacy (and, dare I say it, religious literacy) among the populace? Why not get our engineers better education in sociology? Why not get our writers better education in physical science?

My own undergraduate education was at what we’d call now a STEM-centered institution. But a funny thing was written into the academic requirements at Rose-Hulman: ten courses in the humanities and social sciences, what we derisively called “hummers” back in the day. And one of those “hummers” had to be in a “non-Western” discipline, so we wouldn’t stay locked into cultures that were our own.

Here’s the thing that I didn’t expect when I started my education: that I would wind up with a history minor despite myself. I took Western Civ with Bill Myers because I had to fill up that first-term schedule, and even before I had my first cut at Lit & Writ (the required freshman comp course at Rose), here’s this historian taking my writing and telling me it was good writing on the one hand but it had no specific examples and was terribly weak on the other. And then I had the moment of realizing that it was because in skimming all the books I was assigned, I wasn’t actually READING them and getting those specifics that Myers needed in the first place.

I thought I’d beat that “non-Western” requirement by taking Russia in the 20th Century, because of course I’d been taught about the Red Menace in high school and I could totally ace that one. But William Pickett at once captured us with the reality of the day’s headlines (this was ’91, remember, the end of the Soviet Union was very real) and at the same time drove us to explore how the history set up the present, and not to just read facts but to explore causes and debate interpretations.

(Hey VI honors students – when you got a question in class that started “affirm or deny”? That was all Pickett. I am nothing if not unoriginal.)

And all of this was happening at an engineering school where I was getting one whale of an education in physics. And every time I work to explain an idea like freefall or magnetism or the structure of the atom, and I lapse into a story about the imagination of men to see the workings of the universe that others couldn’t see, I’m drawing on the challenges that Myers and Pickett put in front of me when I was an undergraduate myself.

To give in to the lie that STEM education puts the liberal arts under threat is to give in to low expectations. Using a thinkpiece like Zakaria’s as a bludgeon to try to rally one more effort to save all that was good, right and 60’s in education is missing the point.

We treat the term “liberal arts” as if it’s MERELY the humanities, maybe with sociology thrown in for balance. We NEVER address the natural sciences or mathematics as if THEY are liberal arts as well, that the study of the foundations of STEM are ALSO necessary for the living of a balanced, whole life. And by so doing, we create conflict where no conflict is necessary; we create an excuse to dial back one form of education or another.

We need better education, across the board. We need better math education. We need better social science education. We need better engineering education. We need better fine arts education. We need better biology education. We need better humanities education. And yes, of course, we need better physical science education.

We need more impact, more effective communication, more outreach, more of everything, across the board.

The short-sighted among us will continue to remind us that money is limited, and resources is limited, and we have to conserve everything. Bluntly, they have decided that their money isn’t worth spending on doing better by those they consider to be unworthy. We need to tell a different story – that this time in history demands an increase of investment, not a decrease, and to keep our wallets in our pockets while people put false choices in front of us is to submit to our decline.

I’m not ready for decline. If you are, get out of my way.

[1] Okay, Zakaria probably doesn’t believe in that false choice either, and I’m potentially knocking down a straw man. But let me be plain: the headline set up the straw man, and the way this thing got shared on social media enhanced it. And in the times we live in, where everybody is searching for every last excuse to cut funding from every last educational practice, for my money, enabling the straw man is sin enough.

Clearing Ferguson out of my brain

There have been so many words spilled about the past two weeks’ disaster in Ferguson, Missouri that the only reason for me to write this is simply to get my thoughts out of my head before I start focusing on algebra-based physics on Monday. Thanks for reading my efforts to have a clear head and do right by my students.

I’m teaching physics at a new place, and so I had to go through human resources this month. Human resources is always concerned with documentation, always concerned with process, always concerned with the rules. The rules exist for good reasons. The rules ensure that the institution has made its best efforts to create a good work environment – or, at the very least, they ensure that the institution can document that they have made their best efforts.

Our state and federal governments, in their infinite wisdom (insert sarcasm where appropriate), have laws about equitable treatment of all students, and part of an HR process is going through the training on those laws. Title IX of the Higher Education Amendments of 1972 deals with discrimination on the basis of sex in educational opportunities. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act deals with availability of programs funded by the federal government to people of every race, color, and national origin. There are good reasons for these laws to exist. As far as it concerns me, the goal is ensuring that every person who comes through the doors of an educational institution, both students and employees, is treated fairly, so that the mission of the institution can be accomplished.

Now, as anybody who has been through a human resources office can attest, the training that you have to go through so that the HR office can check off that you have been trained (and therefore be legally free and clear should anybody file a lawsuit) is dull and only intermittently enlightening in the best of times, and random and intelligence-insulting in the worst. You survive it by reminding yourself, repeatedly, that the most important thing that comes out of this process is legal cover for the institution. The HR staff probably wants you to understand the Higher Education Amendments of 1972 and the Civil Rights Act, and probably puts the process in place with the absolute best of intentions – but their good intentions aren’t going to be what keeps them employed. What their bosses want is nothing more and nothing less than the documentation that says all of their faculty have been trained and therefore understand all of their obligations under the law. The game must be played, and if the game is played successfully, the institution keeps lawyers at bay.

It’s all well and good until actual violations of the Civil Rights Act play out on your Twitter stream, and it becomes abundantly clear just how many people don’t understand that the Civil Rights Act is actually standing law.

For me, it’s not about the law, and it never has been. I figured out at a very early age that white people lived in one place, and black people lived in another, and there was a dance that people engaged in to keep the white people and black people apart, and that dance looked stupid. I don’t say that to pat myself on the back, or to claim enlightenment. I just have never wanted to live apart from the people who don’t look like me. They’re different. They have interesting things to say. I enjoy listening to them. They make life fun. To be brutally honest, I’m kind of selfish for diversity in that way.

What has become maddening as the aftermath of Michael Brown’s shooting death has played out is the number of people who want to shut their ears to the voices of people who don’t look like them. They make statements and quote sources and cocoon themselves in the voices of people who look like them, act like them, and think like them.

Those attitudes are devastating to me. Maybe there was a time in my life when I could be casual about such things. But I’m a white dude teaching physics. I recognize the issues of representation across the STEM disciplines, but especially in the physical sciences, where African-Americans even applying for faculty jobs is something to be celebrated. At the point in time when an African-American student comes into my classroom, the color of my skin does create a barrier between us, and I want that barrier torn down so I can not merely satisfy the letter of the laws assuring equal educational opportunities for all, but the spirit of those laws as well.

The climate that I find in August of 2014 isn’t conducive to equality. It’s conducive to more people making more judgmental statements; sowing more fear, uncertainty, and doubt; erecting more barriers. It’s reaching a point where the reflexive venom can’t be ignored among people of faith, on both sides of the issue. (If you haven’t read this comment from no greater an arch-conservative than Erick Erickson, you should. It made me rethink a couple of things.) As if there weren’t enough things for me to be stressed out over (70 students in a single lecture section of PHYS 2010, hello), I’m fearful as being seen as just another white dude who doesn’t know how good he has it and doesn’t care about those who don’t.

The only thing I want right now is help. And by “help”, I mean fewer words that make statements of good guys and bad guys, fewer words that dehumanize, fewer words that hurt. I want more people to simply listen to people who don’t look like them and consider that they might not have all the answers to a problem that predates Michael Brown, that predates Barack Obama, that predates Rodney King, that predates Martin Luther King, that predates the founding of this nation – a problem that the word “problem” doesn’t even do justice.

That’s enough. Come Monday, it will be time to get to work.

University System of Georgia to STEM education: Drop dead

I wish I had the time to write out a detailed and patient analysis about the latest round of University System of Georgia pig-headedness, also known as the decision to fold Southern Polytechnic State University into Kennesaw State and, for all practical purposes, end Southern Poly’s independent existence. I’m afraid I’m only going to rant about it instead.

The word “merger” is completely inappropriate to apply to this. Mergers take two old things and make them into one new thing. Mergers blend communities. At the very least, you might expect both institutions to have participated in the discussions on how the merger would move forward, and on how the merger would benefit both institutions.

You would NOT expect this news to emerge:

Rossbacher, who was been president since 1998, stood in the sunshine and repeatedly told students, “there are a lot of things we don’t know.”

When the two schools merge, the president of KSU, Dan Papp, will be taking over as president of the school, a decision Rossbacher said surprised her.

“I was not consulted on this, I found out yesterday,” she said.

(And, by the way: a full rant would reserve a special disdain, possibly expletive-laden, concerning the state of higher education journalism in America broadly, and Georgia in particular. It is crystal clear that the ledes of EVERY article have been pulled from the spin of the Board of Regents; those quotes from Southern’s president are from the middle of a secondary article on the “merger” from the MARIETTA DAILY JOURNAL. The supposed flagship newspaper in Georgia, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has been nowhere on this as far as actual reporting is concerned. You have two institutions coming together, and one of the presidents – who has served her institution for fourteen years – isn’t consulted on the details of the merger? This isn’t a major part of the reporting why? If what Lisa Rossbacher is saying is true – and politically, I have no reason to doubt it – what confidence should ANYBODY working for Southern Poly have about what’s next for them?)

Southern Polytechinic State University has a unique culture. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s because it’s been small and student-focused for a very long time, and it’s not been focused on constructing a brand. Other institutions in the state have been concerned with growth and public profile. Southern Poly has simply been educating students, frequently students who can’t access or don’t want the “elite” levels of education offered by the name-brand institutions in the state, and preparing them for serious technological, engineering, and scientific work. They’ve done it in an environment where students can be engaged with their professors.

I’ve taught a great many students who either transferred to Southern Poly deliberately to complete their undergraduate education or went to Southern Poly to get a graduate degree. I’ve never heard a single complaint about what they do.  Let me repeat that: I’ve never had a single student I’ve taught, who moved to Southern Polytechnic State University afterwards, complain about anything Southern Poly does. I’ve only heard affirmation of the welcoming environment, as opposed to the competitive environment that an elite science and engineering education can be.  As prone as students are to complaint, that’s something in and of itself.

That’s why Kennesaw State’s takeover of Southern Poly feels like a kick in the teeth. For me, it’s not a condemnation of Kennesaw State or its role in and of itself. There is a place for a large, regional state university in the climate of higher education. There are students who do well in such places, and there is a cost-effectiveness to what they do.

But in the STEM fields, where there is still a massive amount of inequity and where there is a genuine need for MORE student-centered institutions like Southern Poly, for the University System of Georgia to strip Southern Poly of its very identity is a crystal-clear message. An individual campus mission does not matter. Student-centered education does not matter. Effective student service does not matter. The brand names of the institutions are the only thing, and if your brand is not sufficiently strong, we’ll slap somebody else’s brand on you and make you fit.

The University System has already alienated darn near the entire city of Augusta through the process of merging the Medical College of Georgia/Georgia Health Sciences University with Augusta State University, choosing the self-congratulatory name Georgia Regents University over a name that affirms Augusta’s identity. It’s still anybody’s guess how well that merger will pan out. This “merger” is potentially even worse, in how it takes a institution with an important role to play and strips it of its identity.

There is a petition process underway. I wish I had a lick of confidence that anyone would listen to it. Ultimately, this is a process being driven by money – or, more accurately, the state of Georgia’s lack of willingness to give its higher education institutions any. That’s a political situation, and it only gets corrected when elected officials decide to stop the continuous bleeding of funding away from public institutions and stop forcing them to behave like bottom-line centered businesses instead of behaving in the broadest possible public interest. And since there is a substantial population that isn’t willing to pay a dime more in taxes and doesn’t think that public funding has been cut enough (and since the University System’s chancellor was formerly a member of a legislative majority that championed such things, and continues to champion them), it’s safe to assume that smaller state colleges will continue to be targeted for these “mergers”.

But even in this climate, there is a right way and a wrong way to proceed. There is a way to genuinely merge administrative functions at two nearby schools and maintain both schools’ identities, and to ensure that the public good is maintained. There is a way to promote the importance of this:

Through a fusion of technology with the liberal arts and sciences, we create a learning community that encourages thoughtful inquiry, diverse perspectives, and strong preparation of our graduates to be leaders in an increasingly technological world.

The university – faculty, staff, students, and graduates – aspires to be the best in the world at finding creative, practical, and sustainable solutions to real-world problems and improving the quality of life for people around the globe.

I haven’t heard a single word of respect given to that vision in the aftermath of this whole “merger.” Practical STEM education that serves to lift up individuals to positions of leadership is something that should be at the forefront of the public discussion of education, not administrative efficiencies, regional identity, or optimal institutional enrollment characteristics.

But all the talking points come from a political document for consolidation of institutions, not from the actual vision for the STEM institution targeted for consolidation.

It’s as if the University System doesn’t believe in the mission of Southern Polytechnic State University at all. And if that’s true, this action makes perfect sense.

Edited on 4 November to add the link to the University System’s “Principles for Consolidation of Institutions.”

Facebook status rant, September 10, 2013

This is an important story, and you should read it. If you have ANY concern about American medical education at all, you need to know about how the Caribbean medical schools operate, how they buy up residency seats that would otherwise go to (more-deserving?) stateside medical students, and how for those students who fail to win residencies, the American taxpayer winds up footing the bill for the almost inevitable default on debt. (If you don’t know about these things, click on the article and read it. I’ll wait.)

Here’s the thing: I don’t blame the for-profit schools that run these schools. At all.

The OVERWHELMING majority of students who choose to study medicine in the Caribbean would choose an American school – ANY American school – first. They would be retained by American schools better, because it’s HARD to live in a Caribbean nation studying medicine (ask anybody who studied at St. George’s who lived through the Grenada invasion). The reason they study in the Caribbean is because that’s the school that’s willing to give them a shot. The Caribbean schools (particularly St. George’s, which isn’t linked with DeVry, and Ross, which is) know this, educate students who are academically weaker but willing to work harder, and turn out a LOT of very good doctors as a result.

If American colleges and universities (and the public who funds them) actually believe that this is a bad thing, and that students should NOT take the bad deal of pursuing their medical education abroad, then they should put their money where their mouth is. There are not enough medical school seats for the students who would make good doctors, and there are CERTAINLY not enough medical school seats for the doctors we will need serving in primary care. You want to keep money out of for-profit hands? Empower the public sector to serve the people who want to become doctors, particularly those who want to be primary-care providers. (Central Michigan University is the example the article mentions that is actually stepping up, but that’s one example. We need more – a LOT more.)

Until then, even the bad actors in this field will be able to provide seats, and will find MORE than enough students competing for those seats – and the privilege to take on hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt in a third-world country in hopes of being able to take on a career where there is genuine demand for workers. Good job, America. Good job, good effort.

In the case of Kiera Wilmot

Originally posted on Facebook on May 2, 2013.

Okay. I’m going to write this up and try to be even-handed with it, both from the perspective of being something of a science advocate and from the perspective for someone who’s essentially responsible for chemical safety and has been educated far better than he wants to be on what the lawyers can do given a little space.

What I’m providing a link to is a police report, published in The Ledger of Lakeland, Florida on April 23rd, concerning a small “explosion” and arrest of a student on the grounds of Bartow High School:

No one was hurt in the morning explosion, nor was school property damaged, said Principal Ron Pritchard.

Kiera Roslyn Wilmot, of *address redacted*, was charged with making, possessing or discharging a destructive device and with possessing or discharging weapons on school grounds. Both charges are felonies.

The girl told authorities she was conducting a science experiment, according to Bartow police, but science teachers at the school said they knew nothing about it. She also said she thought the materials would produce only smoke, not an explosion, police said.

Pritchard said he was standing nearby when the student left the drink bottle behind the cafeteria, near the lake on the school’s east side.

“It was next to the gazebo by the lake,” he said. “I wasn’t standing too far away when it happened. I just heard the pop, and I turned around. I thought it was a firecracker at first.”

Household materials were used to create the explosion, said Bartow police Lt. Gary McLin. He declined to say what those materials were, but said the information is available through the Internet.

Pritchard said the girl didn’t leave the area after the bottle exploded.

“She left it on the ground, and she stayed there,” he said. “We went over to where she was. She saw that we saw her, so she didn’t take off.”

He said she was taken to the school’s office, where police took her into custody.

Now, let’s be plain: it was published as a police report, so that’s why an address appears in the piece in the newspaper; that’s standard operating procedure, and we can bicker about how proper that procedure is another time. This also bears noting: no further articles were published about this event in either the local Lakeland paper immediately, or in the three major newspapers in the cities surrounding Bartow (the Orlando Sentinel, the Tampa Tribune, and the Tampa Bay Times).

As near as I can tell, the thing that actually moved the story was a news report on WTSP-TV yesterday at the midday (the publish time is 12:32 PM, May 1), where the principal was almost concilatory about the circumstances (“she has never been in trouble before, ever”) but where the school district made very clear that it was holding the line on calling for discipline (“Anytime a student makes a bad choice it is disappointing to us. Unfortunately, the incident that occurred at Bartow High School yesterday was a serious breach of conduct. In order to maintain a safe and orderly learning environment, we simply must uphold our code of conduct rules”). A blogger at CNET got a hold of the story with appropriately snarky commentary, and congratulations, we’re off to the viral-story races, with most of the commentary coming from scientific and liberal media of the “America hates science” variety (not hyperbole, the actual headline Salon.com slapped on a Scientific American reprint).

After the fact, the Miami New Times got feedback from the district and the Bartow police on the event, and pretty much gets a standard party line along with the full details of the police report. Clearly the kid wasn’t trying to hurt anybody. But the “common household chemicals” she mixed, and sealing off the plastic bottle, created an explosive device. It’s a clear violation of the district’s student code of conduct. There is only one penalty for that violation, and that’s expulsion.

Now, given my position (the sole guy responsible for chemistry laboratories at a small college, who was quite happy to be a grunt teacher/theory jock and ignore all the reality about being responsible for laboratories in a previous existence), I am probably just a bit more sensitive to the reality of Bartow High School’s situation than the average bear, and I am CERTAINLY more sensitive than I was two years ago. And I just went to hideous pains above this to make sure I had the facts – both of the event AND of the reporting – so that I was certain I wasn’t coming out of left field with this take.

But: given the realities of 2013, I cannot blame anybody at Bartow High School or the police for doing what they have done thus far.

I have to say up front that not only am I not a lawyer, actual lawyers laugh up-front at anything I say. But put yourself in the principal’s shoes. Loud “POP” goes off on school grounds. Your first thought is “oh, dear God, it’s happened here, and now I have to find out how many student casualties I have.” When you find the explosive, you find it’s a classic metal-and-acid experiment, and the student confesses “I only thought it would smoke, I didn’t know it would explode” – she wasn’t aware of the risk of the “experiment” she had done.

Oh, what she’s done – only make hydrogen gas, in a closed container, under high pressure. There was pretty clear risk of somebody, most likely that student, getting hurt.

So that relief that you felt when you discovered it wasn’t malicious turns into “oh crap – if anybody had been hurt, this was done on school grounds – we’re the liable party.” That’s why ANY proper laboratory agreement a student enters into when that student starts taking ANY chemistry laboratory at ANY school forbids them from doing experiments that the instructor doesn’t know about – if something goes wrong, even if it’s a rogue experiment, the instructor STILL takes on duty of care, and the instructor (and the institution – that means you, Mr. Principal) see the lawyers first.

Therefore the moment this happens, not only to be fair and evenhanded, but to ACTIVELY play defense against any lawsuit that somebody might file in the future if something goes wrong, you have to demonstrate that you’re following your policies concerning possession and discharge of a destructive device on school property, and you have to do that now. What do the policies say? Explusion. Oh, and we have to refer this to the police to ensure they take action. That’s it. That’s all you can do. Sorry, Ms. Wilmot. I know it was just a bad decision. But rules are rules.

This is how a litigious society turns completely stupid. Again: Ron Pritchard, the principal of Bartow High School, did his job, and I would daresay he did his job well. He has done what is necessary to protect his school and the Polk County School District from future liability. That does not change the fact that the task he had to carry out was absolutely moronic, that the moment he saw the circumstances and the individual impacted he should have had the capacity to administer mercy, and that given the substantial social obstacles already facing a black woman with any curiosity whatsoever, to slap the words “felony charges” next to the name of Kiera Wilmot for this is a caliber of injustice I just can’t quite deal with.

(Yeah, the racial angle. The moment you actually read any of the stories about this, the fact that this is a young black woman smacks you upside the head. It sucks beyond belief that in 2013, a person even needs to mention this. However, please understand that the moment I read this story, I got this little knot in my stomach and it will not go away – and I can’t imagine that I don’t have more than a few colleagues for whom the same thing happened. I love all my students, and I want them all to succeed – but I also see the track records, and I see too few minority students get through ANY science major, and I see too few of THEM actually pursue science as a vocation. And I’ve also heard too many tales of the confident white guys who blow things up for fun, and too few consequences from far more dangerous behavior than this. For the central character of this story to be a young black woman DEVASTATES ME. Seeing the video of her young friends being so confused and upset by the response is HORRIBLE. I hope there aren’t a ton of black kids who take this as confirmation that the people in charge don’t want them to learn stuff. But I worry.)

This is what I believe: We don’t live in a society that hates science, or education, or anything of that sort. We live in a society that hates risk, of any sort, and will ruthlessly punish anyone who creates risk for anyone else, and if science and education are collateral damage then so be it but please understand it’s the risk we oppose – especially if that risk even raises half a chance of lawyers on our tail chasing after millions of dollars from us that we don’t have anyway.

Rage against the stupidity of Bartow High School and the Polk County School District (and the whole stinkin’ state of Florida while you’re at it – I was raised there, I give you permission) if you must. But rage also at policies upon policies, inspired by decades of lawsuits upon lawsuits, that force educators to cover their rears at every last turn. And understand why so many of us in education hear a certain line Shakespeare wrote in Henry VI, about the first thing the revolutionaries must do, and we take sad pleasure from its speaking.

College where they need it the worst

From the Moveable Type chuck-pearson.org blog, April 4, 2008.

It is absolutely essential for me, in times like these, to remember how good I have it.

After an up-and-down week, where I still can’t find a way to make the highs anywhere near as high as the lows, my random bouncing around the internets brought me to desperately needed perspective, in the form of two stories from Bunker Hill Community College written by Wick Sloane.

The first, written last year this time, is a piece mourning the death of a 19-year-old student named Cedirick Steele and how this impacted the English class he had been taking. The second, written today, is a broader picture of the experience at BHCC, captured in single snapshots, nothing terribly coherent because “these pages keep spinning out in rage and gibberish. I can’t circle longer, looking for the perfect storyline on this problem ‘too big to be seen.'”

Here’s the part of the second piece that absolutely killed me (edited so that Baptist-college-stylee SonicWall doesn’t start hating my guts – go back to InsideHigherEd for the unedited version):

Slide Five: A Thursday last spring. A textbook publisher has brought lunch for two students whose essays she wants to buy for a new book. On Tuesday, one student had e-mailed his lunch order. Thursday morning, he canceled. He had to quit school. No explanation.

Slide Six: The final paragraph of his essay.

“My stomach begins to churn as I start the last phase of my pilgrimage. The last phase consists of walking out of the train station, down the walkway and into BHCC. I compare this walk to the walk death row inmates take before they are executed. As I take this walk I begin to ask myself, “What the f___ am I doing here?” Within seconds my sensible half answers, “You’re here so that you don’t have to live like the rest of your family. The rest of your friends are in school, and lord knows half of them aren’t half as smart as you. Lastly, we already paid for this s___ so get it done, lil’ n___a.” With BHCC right in front me, I take a deep breath and end this pilgrimage by entering the Mecca that will start me on the path of reaching my pinnacle.”

Why is it that the people who need education the most desperately – and who know it, and are hungriest for it – are the very same people who find it the hardest to get?

(And, of course, this is “first in a series.” I’ll be reading this some more.)


And just to make my point…

From the Moveable Type chuck-pearson.org blog, October 3, 2007; edited to compensate for Chicago Sun-Times linkrot. (Thank God for the Wayback Machine.)

…and further pound it into my skull that I am, in fact, part of a dying vocation, and the vast majority of America thinks I’m completely useless to the world.

Ladies and gentlemen, the mayor of Chicago, Richard M. Daley.

Education cannot get so costly that it takes 80 percent, 90 percent of Americans out of the reach of college. If that happens, God help America…They should cut half the courses. It would cut the cost down tremendously. What are the basic courses that you need in college? Cut some of the unnecessary courses out.

Wow. Just wow.

Of course, this is horribly out of context, and I’d like to see the actual full-text of the comments. (It bears mentioning that Daley has been pounding on the idea that American public education is horrible for some time, and just yesterday was addressing school kids and teachers at a “Science In The City” festival and saying that “the United States is at risk of falling behind other nations in science and technology…we have the responsibility to make a career in science available to any children here in Chicago.”) But to say something as stupid as “They should cut half the courses”…

I mean, you want to alienate every person in higher education immediately? There you go. Run, don’t walk, to you nearest two-year college or small private school and say “Yeah, you’re an overpriced bunch of twats because you offer too many courses. You could surely run things on half the people you’re employing right now.”

The problem is, I absolutely guarantee you that Daley’s Q-rating just went up, not down, because of that comment. Note its context – cost of higher ed. Which is, in fact soaring. Which is, in fact, beginning to exceed the reach of the lower class, even elements of the middle class. And which is beginning to deal with financial realities – from health care for an aging faculty to competition for PhD’s from industry to paying for programs to deal with underprepared students…and we could go on for hours. The number of courses an institution teaches? That’s the tip of the dang iceberg.

But the populace doesn’t see it that way. The populace sees it as a question of pampered faculty taking their money and giving their kids an overpriced piece of paper in return.

So yeah, those of you who were so kind and commented on my “Grade D Culture” post…thanks. And know that you’ve just placed yourself in the 1% or so of the population who actually gets it. Right now, that 1% is not a happy place.

(HT: Dean Dad.)