Harry Potter and the pandering of Higher Ed



Admin: “You want to offer that course, you need to have ‘Women’ in the title.”

–why “Women and The Works of Steinbeck”, “Women in Shakespeare”, and “Women in Western Civilization” are college courses, among many examples.

One of the many problems with higher education is the “student as customer” paradigm that has really warped what goes on in our schools. No longer are courses designed in terms of “this course has things students need to know”. Instead, courses are designed in terms of “this is a course students will sign up for.”

Yes, in times past, professors built courses around student involvement, but it was so different. For example, when I wanted to learn about coding theory, the professor built a course around it, and put it on me to get four other students together to make a formal class. Why 4? Because that’s what the minimum class size was like in “the olden days” of the late 20th century, unlike classes today with hundreds of students.

The pandering towards the student/customers just seems to get more and more blatant. It started with courses with “And Women” stuck onto the title, with an obligatory few weeks spent pandering to the current fad in societal norms. Yes, those might well have been wasted weeks, but at least there was reason to believe the “normal” part of the course still met the usual requirements of being education.

Then there were courses on Lady Gaga’s social impact. While I certainly have my doubts about such courses, I know that it’s possible to take methods of analysis and apply them to new things. There’s plenty of analysis of Shakespeare; I can accept that maybe changing to a more topical subject might keep students’ attention long enough to help refine their critical thinking skills. Or so I tell myself.

Then came the flurry of sex courses. I’ve written before of the wildly popular “Deviant Sex” courses…which went too far only in the sense that administration got afraid that someone might get offended. It’s tough to find a campus nowadays that doesn’t have half a dozen courses with “sex” in the title. Even a tiny community college I know had several courses, probably one per hundred students…literally the whole campus taking the classes. No, not much education in those (as the well below 5% graduation rate of that campus can attest).

So, we have courses based around popular media, and courses based around sex, all in the name of finding something that will help the students part with their sweet, sweet, student loan money.

Why not combine popular media AND sex? Yeah, it takes a lot of creativity to come up with that, I know. And, here we go:

\’How To Snog Without Getting Hogwarts\’: Boston University Offers \’Harry Potter\’-Themed Sex-Ed Class

Now, don’t get me wrong, Harry Potter is decent enough mental bubble gum, but I found one of the better highlights of the Harry Potter phenomenon was the LACK of sexuality. Seriously, I’m so tired of the cliché “young female uses sexual assets to distract ridiculously stupid male guard while her associates do something” scene that I’m rather impressed that Rowling managed to have characters do more clever things than abuse sexuality (even if it often took polyjuice or magical spells).

“We\’ll be casting some sensual spells in CAS room 313. Hope you can apparate there.”
–“apparate” is Harry Potter-ese for “teleport”

Now, I am glad that this isn’t a formal course for credit hours, just a workshop to teach students about safe sex…but wait a minute here.

These students are adults, high school graduates at the very least. They’ve already had sex-ed in school whether they wanted it or not, in formal classes that did take weeks to go over every detail (whether their parents wanted that, or not).

During World War II, we taught our soldiers about safe sex pretty easily, it really only takes a few minutes at absolute most to explain how to use a condom, after all.

“…at the university’s Wellness and Prevention Services program…”

And here we have the university fiefdom, Wellness and Prevention Services, responsible for this foolishness. When people finally start waking up and looking into why higher education is so bloody expensive, they’re going to see that universities are overrun with fiefdoms, populated with highly paid administrators doing things that are completely irrelevant to higher education.

These kids may not be adults in every sense of the word, but seriously now. They’ve already been told about this sort of thing many times, and even if they haven’t, you could hand ‘em a 25 cent brochure with all the relevant information…rather than hire a dozen or more $100,000 a year Vice Presidents of Wellness and Prevention to help plan once-a-year “Harry Potter and Deathly Burning of the Venereal Phoenix of Azkaban” parties.

it’s definitely a subject matter J.K. Rowling ignored in a major way,”
–or maybe the author deliberately chose not to associate sex with her characters? The fan fiction is bad enough…

I’ll grant that this isn’t the worst sexual-themed attraction administration has put on campus (I won’t even link to the worst of it), but realize, if a great number of students showed up at this Harry Potter-themed Sex Ed class, it wouldn’t take long for administration to think “Hey, this will sell…”.

And then yet another bottle of academic snake oil will be for sale on campus, at $3,000 a semester. Thanks to completely bogus accreditation, the Federal government has no choice but to provide those sweet, sweet, student loan checks so students can drink this crud down. It’s a shame accreditation can’t force the cancellation of “courses which are obviously straight pandering to students, and of minimal educational value”, but accreditation doesn’t care about education any more than administration.


Posted by R Doom at 5:04 PM
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Saturday, April 4, 2015
Students Revolt Against Debt. Finally.

By Professor Doom

Much of higher education is a fraud, and much of the reason higher education is such a huge fraud is the structure of the student loan scam. It’s a three step process. First, students take out loans for educations, not knowing the educations are bogus. Next, the students spend years in bogus schools, getting “educated”. Finally, the students leave the schools…only once they’re many thousands of dollars in debt do they know how they’ve been scammed, and they’re in no position to do anything about it.

Meanwhile, the schools, and the people running those schools, both for-profit and state, rake in a fortune in student loan money.

In a rare, rare, break, the Federal government is shutting down a bogus for-profit school: Corinthian, and all the fake schools that were surreptitiously operated by Corinthian, but by a different name (any legitimate businesses feel the need to advertise and operate under multiple names while selling the same product?).
So the scam has been interrupted: the students are finding out they’re getting indebted for a bogus education sooner than usual. The students are revolting:

\’We won\’t pay\’: students in debt take on for-profit college institution

This has been a LONG time coming. Some day, the immense frauds going on at state schools, especially community colleges, will also be common knowledge, and we’ll see revolts there as well. Unfortunately, I suspect the government won’t be quite so forthcoming when it comes time to shut down government schools:

Corinthian is being dismantled and its students given debt relief on their private loans – the institution is under federal and state investigations and is the target of multiple lawsuits alleging predatory lending practices. But Hornes and the “Corinthian 15” are demanding relief for their federal student loans, too.

So, the private loans are voided, and that’s a start. But why not the Federal loans? The reason those Federal loans were approved was because the bogus school was granted (bogus) accreditation. That’s not the students’ fault—the government should take responsibility for letting a completely bogus and ineffectual “regulatory” system like accreditation be the gatekeeper for the student loan scam.

The students feel, quite rightfully, if the bogus education means the private loans should be dissolved, that the Federal loans should also be so dissolved.

When he asked how he was supposed to take a final for a class with three instructors, he says he was told not to worry, that he’d be given an A anyway.

I feel bad for the kid being cheated like this in a for profit schools, but realize many community colleges work the same say, with empirical evidence that at least 1/3 of the community college coursework is “you don’t even have to show up to get an A”. Is the Federal Government paying attention?

Natasha finished her two-year paralegal program in 2012 and after having no luck finding a job in her field in southern California moved back to Missouri, where she is working at a local grocery store. She has some $50,000 in debt.

“My degree is worth nothing,” she says. “Other colleges laugh.”

When I was at a community college, many of my graduating students came to let me know that they, too, were getting laughed at for their degree. Best they could hope for was to have me help them transfer a few individual courses (i.e., the ones I taught, personally; it’s no fun convincing a registrar at a university that knows your school is bogus, to accept coursework, I promise you).

It isn’t just the tuition/loan money that I wish could be returned to the students, I wish the years of their lives that were stolen this way could also be given back.

“Nathan completed the associate’s degree program in 2012, and got his bachelor’s degree from Everest in 2014. He’s still working at Smashburger, now with about $68,000 in student loans to pay off. It’s hard to push forward with a music career when he’s pulling double shifts.
“I did not get the education that I was promised, I did not receive any knowledge that I could use in my day-to-day life, to get a career,” he says. “

Coursework at bogus schools is usually worthless, because no legitimate school will accept it…students can’t transfer out. Students get trapped at the for-profits…but the degrees aren’t worth anything, either.

The DOE stepped in to supervise the sale of 85 Corinthian campuses to the Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC), a private nonprofit that the education department uses to ensure student debtors pay their loans back – using what have been called “dubious” and “aggressive” collection tactics at times.

Wow, 85 campuses…are there any state schools with so many sites/franchises? What exactly is legitimately gained by having a school on practically every street corner? Do people really take college classes the same way they buy hamburgers? I digress.

It really strikes me as a conflict of interest for the Federal government to shut down a school, and then hire the company to extract the loan money from the students that were trapped at the school. Sort of like a fire department that sets fires on homes, then charges the residents to put the fires out.

If students want to transfer out of a Corinthian school, they may find themselves with a different problem: many of their credits are not accepted at more traditional colleges, whether public or private.

I really want to hammer this point home. The whole point of accreditation was to allow students to transfer between accredited, legitimate, schools. Not only has accreditation failed to keep schools legitimate, it’s failed to enforce even a tiny level of transferability between schools. So, students are trapped into bogus schools…once they’re in, they’re stuck. Yeah, they can walk away from the years they’ve spent, but they can’t get rid of the tens of thousands of dollars of debt.

Lueck, the corporate finance manager who left Corinthian in 2012, found the group on Facebook and offered to help. She has since testified before the Department of Education about its practices. She created a workshop for the striking students called Know Your Debt, taking them through the details of their loans, making sure that they were well-informed.

It’s nice that, after leaving the school, this administrator was willing to finally let the students know how they’ve been screwed. But I feel the need to point out: administrators at ALL schools know full well they’re screwing over young people in a way that they’ll never recover from, financially. And these administrators Just. Don’t. Care.

Accreditation asserts that these schools act with integrity…but how is knowingly cheating young people out of their future acting with “integrity”? It would be so simple to fix the problems with higher education, just by actually enforcing even the crude and limited rules of modern accreditation.

But that’s not going to happen…and what is going to happen, unfortunately, is the students trapped in this horrific scam will not receive relief. I hope the students succeed in their revolt on their own, because they sure won’t get help from a government that profits from their suffering.


Posted by R Doom at 7:54 AM
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Friday, April 3, 2015
Failing College?

Across the country Spring Break is just about starting, or ending. If you\’re failing your classes, this is the last real chance you have to turn your grades around.

Higher education today is, for most institutions, a fraud on many levels. The first year or so of posts on my blog covers it all, and I encourage the interested reader to start from the beginning. If you want a full discussion of the massive fraud that is higher education today, please consider getting Why Johnny Can\’t Read, Write, or Do \’Rithmetic Even With A College Degree, which also includes dozens of references to reports and documentation showing exactly how it is that a college graduate can easily leave college with no measurable gain in any skill or ability, but many thousands of dollars of debt.

If you\’re heading back to college next week, and starting to have doubts about the system based on you learning nothing relevant so far, I strongly encourage you to get that book, or, if $8 is too much, just start reading this blog from the beginning.

If I can\’t dissuade you from what is the best choice for most people in higher education today, and you are determined to get a degree, any degree, as simply as possible, as cheaply as possible (and, for cheap, nothing beats University of the People, with $1,000 a year costs), with the least chance of failure, allow me to present a Plan B:

My book, What To Do If You Are Failing in College covers all the pitfalls administration has set up, and shows how to avoid the traps that have been set, traps that will prolong you or your child\’s stay in college much longer than could possibly do any good.

You can already buy books on how to study, how to take notes, and my book only has a little to add to all the \”study and work hard\” advice already out there. Instead, I focus on the reality of college…what you should be doing the first week of classes, the first month, by mid-terms, by finals. What you need to have done before you even sign up for your 5th semester of classes. What your 4th year of coursework should look like, regardless of your major.

In short, I cover how to really play the \”get a degree\” game, in a way that no other book addresses. If you really want to go to college and get a degree, this book has far more real information than you\’ll get from any administrator, who for the most part is highly motivated to trick you into any number of traps administration has set up to prolong your stay as long as possible.

A new post will be up soon.
Posted by R Doom at 8:18 AM
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Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Food Banks Rescuing College Professors

By Professor Doom

Few outside my blog realize that the typical college professor is an “adjunct”, a minimally paid, no-benefits, “temporary” worker that can easily be temporary for a decade or more. Even with college tuition rising, and rising, and rising, college administrators, when asked about the abuse they give to educators, are told that “budget considerations” just don’t allow them to pay the educators much.

Then the administrators get in their new BMWs, and drive back to their 6 bedroom, 4 bath, homes before flying to exotic locations for weekend, “leadership building” corporate retreats.

My college will not approve unemployment benefits for adjunct professors between semesters; I’ve tried to get it. Although I teach the same, or more, number of classes per year as “full-time” faculty, giving more than a decade of top-notch service to the college, and I am scheduled to teach my classes every semester, year-round, I’m classified as part-time faculty. Like the earnings of countless other adjunct professors, my annual earnings are below the poverty level.

–most adjuncts cannot apply for unemployment benefits between semesters, even though they are receiving no checks and are in all ways unemployed.

In Colorado, the adjunct situation is particularly bad. The adjuncts there were not even allowed to participate in national Adjunct Walkout Day (last February 25; anyone see this on the news? I try to follow higher education, and saw not a tiny blurb…), because of their job classification.

Adjuncts are paid so little that local food banks are helping them specifically:

To meet a pressing need, our FRCC AAUP chapter has begun weekly visits to area food banks along Colorado\’s front range. It\’s been remarkable to discover that staff at some food banks are already aware of the situation with Colorado\’s community college faculty majority. We placed the displays shown above in adjunct workrooms to inform adjunct faculty who may not yet know about our visits, but who need food.

What exactly is going on in higher education that the workers now have to rely on food banks just to get by? These people have advanced degrees, were told all their lives that “education is key” to prosperity…and can’t even feed themselves, even though they’re in the exact career their education is for.

…the annual average wage for FRCC adjunct faculty remains thousands below the minimum living wage* for Colorado’s front-range communities. This low wage qualifies many FRCC adjunct teachers for food stamps, food-banks, indigent health-care cards and other resources. **

Join our food bank visits.
Get some groceries.
Meet with colleagues.

Yeah, maybe some questions need to be asked about how higher education is being run. When “meet with colleagues” means “go to the food bank”, you know it has to be bad. It really is system-wide:

“…adjunct (part-time) faculty teach 70 -85% of all the courses offered within the Colorado Community College System.”

The largely impotent American Association of University Professors is trying to do something for the adjuncts, and is helping with flyers and such. Too bad they can’t make edible flyers, I’m sure the adjuncts would get some use out of those.

Much like I’ve said before, the problem is higher education is no longer run by educators, instead it’s run by an administrative caste that simply cares nothing for education, and is primarily involved in feathering its own nest as comfortably as possible. If we’d just go back to the “old” system, where administrators were drawn from, and returned to, faculty, then this level of administrative abuse would no longer be possible (and, hey, the students could get an education, which is deeply unlikely in community college today, as the previous link addresses in some detail).

Anyway, the AAUP can’t do much. An Adjunct Cookbook helps a little:
“…Included are recipe categories such as “The Frappes of Wrath” and “Nobucks Coffee Drinks.” Recipes calling for beef scraps, bruised tomatoes, orange peelings and chicken bones point to a workforce living on the edge. “Cracked Windshield” is a mint drink based on cracked Lifesaver candies. “If Only” is a gin-and-tonic sans gin. “Sliding-Toward-Despair Asian Sliders” are, perforce, small and inexpensive to make….”

–the cookbook also gives the real facts on just how abusive the adjunct situation is, and how it happened:

“…Most of those facts are public information, albeit well-hidden information, about a bloated administration consuming most of the $576 million in CCCS annual revenues…”

–the faculty really do know what the problem is in higher education, we’re just in no position to do anything about it anymore.

As I stood in a line at the county human services office before Christmas, I realized that, in order to keep the administrative class afloat, this is the reality for me and for my peers. Our college system, for example, has hired two new administrators per day for the past three years, and has grown from 13 to now 41 campuses/centers. Its financial profile is rated at the top of the scale by the metrics of Standard and Poor’s or Moody’s, as a revealed in a recent analysis of CCCS finances conducted by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

But adjuncts just can’t get benefits, or even unemployment checks. No money in the system, you see. Too bad.

Now, daylong strikes, flyers, and cookbooks are all well and good, but I’m just a little too cynical to believe admin will stop eating their truffle-stuffed-steak-stuffed-Dodo-bird-stuffed-lobsters long enough to even notice things like that.

I’m not wild about laws, either, but I at least appreciate a law might make a difference:

HB 1154: Fair pay for adjunct instructors at Colorado community colleges

The above link is from last year. Too bad the law failed to pass. Oh well. I guess no chance someone will take my advice for just changing the system so that administrators and faculty are the same people, like it was before the student loan scam warped everything? No?

Thank goodness for those food banks, so our most educated people won’t starve while they help our children get the education they need to get good jobs…where, apparently, they’ll need food banks just to get by.


Posted by R Doom at 5:15 PM
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Sunday, March 29, 2015
Another Top Teacher Resigns

By Professor Doom

I’m hardly alone in suspecting something has gone terribly wrong in education. John Taylor Gatto has done an amazing job of explaining what’s going on, identifying that our current system is designed to keep people ignorant, through a process of enstupidation. Beyond his excellent writing, I find what he has to say important because he has important credentials: he wasn’t just a teacher, he received big awards for being an excellent teacher.

This is important to me, because it was something I noticed in graduate school, and in the years immediately following grad school: the smart people were getting the heck out of academia. I noticed it at the time, but my sagaciousness fused with my stupidity, preventing me from connecting the dots: I figured I’d look better on the curve if there were less geniuses to compete with me.

Now, of course, I realize I should have taken the hint, and followed in the footsteps of the smarter people. That said, I don’t regret continuing my studies of mathematics, climbing upon the shoulders of the giants of mathematical thought that have come before me, and seen things only those few who also struggled through the climb have ever seen.

“Yo, teach!”

“Excuse me, professor.”

—one of these is the greeting I received many times when at a school of ill repute that mostly just ripped off students that didn’t know better. The other is from a more respectable school. I’ve leave the gentle reader to ponder, and guess which came from which.

I also don’t regret teaching; it’s honorable work, and when I’m at a legitimate school, I know I’m actually helping people to achieve their goals, or at least there’s a chance I’m helping. Sometimes I even get people to climb up with me and see the wonders of mathematics, though I’m content if I only help them to achieve their goals, if not also my own.

So, it worries me greatly when a teacher, one of obvious passion and ability, decides to leave the profession, not because of a higher calling, but because the teacher no longer feels there’s honor in the profession.

Much like police officers against the drug war, or psychiatric practitioners against psychiatry, it worries me quite a bit when there’s a movement within a profession to give up (or reduce) their paychecks, because they realize the profession is doing harm.
John Taylor Gatto is not a movement, of course…but it’s happened again:

Nation\’s Top Teacher Drops Resignation Bomb: \”I Can\’t Drill \’em and Kill \’em\”

So, once again, we’ve got a top teacher who has had enough. While Gatto left because he had learned that public/government education was harming students, this top teacher’s reasons are a bit different:

What is even more insidious, is that special needs students have been left out of the mix to fall by the wayside. By that I mean, while they are normally allowed to have helps for their disability (like having the test read aloud), they are not allowed any such thing with PARCC. Which means that PARCC is acting outside and above the law with a \”survival of the fittest\” standard. Starr demonstrates the irony of all the children becoming \”left behind\” in this new system.

Her issues aren’t merely with the insane standardized testing that is much of government education today, but also with the bizarre Common Core “standards” that honestly seem designed to (further) debilitate the ability of our children to think, to understand information they receive, and to distinguish the occasional glimmer of truth from the tsunami of lies. I’ve certainly written of some of the critical problems of Common Core, myself, so I understand her valid concerns.

One of her reasons for quitting, however, I can’t entirely get behind:

“I can’t do it anymore, not in this ‘drill ‘em and kill ‘em’ atmosphere,” adding, “I don’t think anyone understands that in this environment if your child cannot quickly grasp material, study like a robot and pass all of these tests, they will not survive.”

I certainly agree the “one size fits all” pace is a bad idea to apply to every child in the country (doesn’t that seem, well, obvious?), but what’s so wrong with “drill ‘em and kill ‘em”?

Students are flooding onto campuses with literally no measurable knowledge, no noticeable skills. More importantly, they don’t have a clue how to gain knowledge, how to gain skills. Google is great for looking up information, mind you, but honest, after 12 years of even government education, students should know something without having to look it up. How many “man on the street” interviews with people that obviously don’t know even basic facts must we all laugh at, before realizing that these ignorant people are products of the modern school system?

In addition to some actual skills and knowledge, our students should also have some memory of how to learn things, how to learn skills. Unfortunately, skills are only gained through practice. Yes, it’s dull. Yes, it takes time and concentration (and that means turning the cell phone off for a bit).

And no, we don’t do that in schools any more, and our top teachers are quitting the profession at the thought having students do what it takes, what it has always taken since the dawn of civilization, to gain skills.

So, I’m sorry to see a top teacher leave, and I worry that it will start a movement where we lose all the best people.

But what worries me more? Nobody in the comments asked “how are our children supposed to learn skills if they don’t actually do any drills?” I ask the gentle reader to consider an 8th grade exam from a century ago, and realize that everything on that exam is learned through drill, study, and practice…activities that no longer exist in our schools, and that our teachers would quit rather than perform.

Realize also that almost nobody can do any part of that exam today. The valuable skills of a century ago are not valued today, but most people escape school with no skills comparable to anything on that old test that would be of value today. Ask yourself if maybe, indeed, something has gone horribly wrong in education.

Our best teachers are asking themselves that question, and deciding to do something else.