January 07, 2007
Ivy League Professors Undermining Education?
Should professors be good teachers? In Universities and colleges across the United States research always takes precedence over teaching so much that a well published professor does not really care about his performance as a teacher and simply concentrates on producing cutting edge research. Understandably so because cutting edge research brings in money and fame both to the academician and to his university, but at a cost. At the cost of permanently thwarting and stunting bright and fertile minds poised on the brink of academic and scientific breakthroughs.
A freshman in a college of some decent standing is but waiting for that slight prod, a nudge in the right direction, a word of encouragement from a renowned entity, to set off into a world of discovery and exploration, that if brought to fruition could impact humanity for centuries. Alas, that is not happening in many of our prestigious colleges and universities. Ivy League Universities for instance have Field Medalists and Nobel Laureates teaching undergraduate classes. These individuals are star attractions for a student wanting to study at that university; who wouldn't want a Toni Morrison, or an Andrew Wiles, or an Orhan Pamuk as a teacher! However, this euphoria is short lived; the starry-eyed student walks into his first lecture class to find another fifty students, like him, all agog to be taught by the eminent personality. That is but the first disappointment, and also the least painful. By the time this student is into the second lecture he figures out that the professor is really not interested in teaching, and is in the room going through the motions of presenting information, and would do the same if there were fifty empty chairs facing him instead of the fifty focused faces that eagerly await the words that are yet to come out of his mouth. Nonchalantly and with the ease of a maestro, he presents his piece as he sees fit and presumes you understand it because, after all, you did make the cut to get into an Ivy League, then you opted to be in his class, and finally there is always the option of switching to another class, another major, another university, or then dropping out for the semester.
The Professor of course is oblivious of the struggling students' predicament as also to the 'i + 1' teaching model. He does not care that the students coming out of high school come with a limited data base of knowledge ( i ), and as a good teacher he has to present his content using the ' i + 1' strategy so that the students start with what is familiar to them (the 'i') and then build upon it as they go along. They have some firm ground to stand on before they venture into the next/higher level of knowledge. In complete disregard of the needs of his students and in spite of his own displeasure, the 'star' professor proceeds to lecture the class, wincing at any interruptions. He has his Ph.D students conduct tutorial sessions apparently to offer help in doing the complex assignments he gives at the end of each lecture, but more likely to appease his own conscience that berates him for his neglect of duty as a teacher. Of course, he finally hands out the much dreaded exam at the end of the course for the few students, who out of sheer resilience, did not drop out of his course despite his apathy.
These killing 'Ivy' fields are sounding the death knell for academic excellence. What is the above but a slow and sure thwarting of a brilliant young mind unkindly reproached, obviously and repeatedly ignored by those in position of power. It is an intimidation and a consequent subduing of young scholarly minds by those deemed intellectually superior because of their publications and awards. In places such as Princeton and Harvard this is a common scenario, but one that is seldom talked about and almost never written about. It's a disgrace that renowned places of learning such as these are guilty of stunting and amputating minds for no other reason but that these minds are mere learners in an environment charged with academic brilliance and home to Nobel Laureates and Field Medalists who, unfortunately, believe that the benefits of research outweigh the benefits of educating the human mind.