Congratulations to The Red Fez! Websites, especially literary ones, can often be ephemeral, but The Fez has managed to publish 100 issues. They publish one a month generally, almost working like a print publication. I'm not quite sure why they opted for that approach considering they are an online publication and could publish continually, but it's their shtick and it seems to be working for them. They have published a few poems by me over the years, and if they keep going, perhaps they will publish a few more! Congratulations on a milestone, Fezzers!
Every year when I can, I travel to Kent, Ohio USA for the May 4, 1970 commemorations. For those of you unfamiliar with the event, basically the military occupied a college campus and shot and killed some students during a protest against the Vietnam War. It's a bizarre tale, best told by James Michener in his book about the incident (not the most factual of the Kent State books but the one that is best written). This year was a rainy day, so instead of the commemoration being held outside, it was held inside at the student center. It was the usual gathering of old hippies and curious students. The speeches were well-meaning and boring, but that's ok, as the point of remembering the event is to put pressure, however small, on authority figures not to repeat it. The students killed that day would be retiring from the careers they never had and probably be grandparents. Instead, they were killed, some just walking by and having nothing to do with the protest. You can see pictures of the four students who were killed above (I like how Jeff Miller's cleancut picture from high school has been taped over with his rock and roll drummer picture, which is closer to how he looked when he died). Other students were shot as well; one was paralyzed. It was as if the senselessness of the Vietnam War (or, as the Vietnamese call it, the American War) came to the homeland for a day. It's sad how much life was stolen that day. People should stop shooting people.
So not as good a commemoration when it's outside and the daffodils are blooming on the hill. The last one I went to, which had Dick Gregory as a speaker, was much better. Kent the city seems to be growing more corporate with every visit; it also looks as if the university is eating the town. It extends much further into downtown than it used to with the result that downtown Kent feels a bit more like a fake town shopping mall than a real downtown. It isn't all bad though. I parked on one of the old streets I used to live in and walked to campus. The city has made a nice walkway along the river, and even if Starbucks has replaced the grungy coffee shop called Brady's Cafe, the town still has its charming quirks such as the sign I saw advising dogs to make sure their owners were attached to the leash.
Now if the citizens of this country could keep powermad politicians on their leashes stuff like May 4, 1970 wouldn't happen.
Apparently, higher education has rediscovered that it is involved with students. The result has been a new mantra of "students first". On first glance, this seems like a sensible enough if banal strategy, but it likely leads to trouble.
Here's why. Treating students first inevitable means catering to their desires and some of those desires such as getting an easy A and not having to work hard are not desirable. Already, an A is the most common grade on campus. Despite the Flynn effect, which suggests that as a result of living in a more complex society people today have higher I.Q.s than people had in the past, it is unlikely that today's American college students are so much smarter than past generations of college students that they earn more As than their forerunners.
What likely has happened is that As have become easier to get for a variety of reasons. To cite one cause, if an instructor is an adjunct instructor, getting rehired from semester to semester is often dependent on getting good student evaluations. What's an easy way to get student evaluations? Give out As like candy.
Grades are sort of stupid anyway, but they can certainly can serve as a spur for learning for those less inclined to view learning as intrinsically valuable. Not surprisingly, the result of catering to students has been that fewer students seem to get much out of college. They view it as jumping through hoops to get their ticket punched, so they can get a college degree and become eligible for middle-class jobs. The diploma is what is valuable; the knowledge and skills the diploma is a symbol of is viewed as less relevant.
Obviously, this is a backwards approach. Let us hope that colleges rediscover learning and make that first. A learning first approach would avoid many of the problems that come when students, ultimately the products of a university and not its customers (society is the customer, which is why higher education is subsidized in so many ways by the larger society), are placed at the center of education instead of placing at the center what the enterprise is all about: learning.
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