Thoughts on Improving College Education

As a professor, here is my humble take:

The K-12 system needs to improve; too many students arrive in college without the skills needed to complete college work.

Both primary and secondary educational advisers need to do a much better job of helping students find a college track that makes sense for them. Schools spend too little time and money on advising programs and too many students are lost not knowing what classes or major to take. It doesn’t just hurt the students’ college years, it hampers their career and earning potential for years to come.

Colleges have de-emphasized learning and academic standards in favor of a “get their money and keep them in school” mentality. Students should be required to perform or lose their place not coddled to keep the tuition dollars flowing.

The other problem in secondary education today is not the professor-student ratio, it’s the administrator-student ratio. Two decades ago there was one administrator for every 125 students, now it is one administrator for every 78 students. Meanwhile administrator salaries are significantly increasing. It is now typical for a college to pay its president the equivalent of what they pay adjunct faculty for 80-90 course sections. Yes, that’s right, the average adjunct professor would have to work 20 years to make what a college president makes in one year. The proliferation of administrators and their inflated salaries is driving tuition costs up while providing little benefit to the schools and their students.

Finally, college should be free for students who can demonstrate academic ability and can fulfill academic requirements once they are in college. That’s the system most other nations have – the ones passing us in level of education. It will also make college like the business world – perform and you get compensated – a much better preparation for real life than out current system.

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The New Alchemists

There are some who claim they can read tea leaves. You can’t of course, not unless you have the proper training and years of experience; at least that’s the story. But though that detritus at the bottom of cup means nothing to you the tea leaf readers will tell you what they mean and you can’t tell if they are full of crap or not–just trust them, they tell you.

The New Hadron Collider has been smashing subatomic particles together along with the usual promises that this time physicists will reveal untold insights into the mysteries of the cosmos. See, they have these computer monitors with a bunch of lines and smudges on them that they claim they can read. You can’t of course, not unless you have the proper training and years of experience; at least that’s the story. At the NHC press conferences about the chatter is that they are reading the “tea leaves” searching for the “God Particle.”

And so another era of alchemy/scholasticsm begins… shadowy scientists chasing phantoms and making up nonsense about nothing arguing over how many bosons can dance on the head of a pin and all the while these priests of science telling us “trust us, even though you can’t read our language, we can.”

The “language” I refer to is the “results” of the experiments–the “tea leaves” on their monitors–which by their very nature are putative. Understanding this “language” is not a matter of training or intelligence, not a matter solvable by physics or mathematics, and no amount of hard work resolves the issue. An example of what I mean: Show me a quark; not what your theory speculates you can produce on a detector if you create a particular set of circumstances; show me an actual quark in a natural state. If you can’t, you are just chasing shadows….

The “God Particle” is the Higgs boson–an imagined particle that has never actually been detected, just “indications” that it exists. Physicists have spent several decades and billions of dollars looking for it. And when the “indications” never go beyond “tantalizing hints?” Then what? Will they admit that the “God Particle” doesn’t exist, or will they do what they’ve done before when they couldn’t find it with all of the previous colliders, say we need to build an even more powerful collider–which is why they built the New Hadron Collider. At what point do they admit there is no such thing? Or will they be like The Believer in Anthony Flew’s parable of the mythical gardener–always adding yet another qualification of why we can’t detect it? Or perhaps they will go back to their rooms like medieval monks and return to speculate on chimera.

We ridicule the excesses of medieval alchemy yet today we hail the same thought processes as cutting edge science, just as the medievals hailed their “science.” Centuries from now what will they say about today’s physics?

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What Atheists do NOT Know About the Study of Religion

A solid article by a philosopher on hypocritical atheists who make comments on matters on which they are ignorant.

What Atheists do NOT Know About the Study of Religion

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Symbolic Thinking

Interesting story from National Public Radio that argues that our ability to engage in symbolic thinking is what truly makes us human. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129082962. I agree with the basic premise that our ability to intellectually create and manipulate symbols is crucial to all aspects of what makes us human and lies at the foundation of all culture, science, and philosophy.

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You + Information

The information is available to you. The real question: are you available to the information.

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