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Bewildering Stories

Special Challenge 870
and Response

Students First

Putting Students First” appears in this issue.

In Prof. Douglas Young’s “Putting Students First,” the author says: “[Students] need to question everything — including their professors — and always think analytically for themselves.” This Special Challenge will try to do just that. Let’s see if we can open doors to discussions on many topics.

  1. “there has been a huge increase in campuses with constipated “hate speech” codes or climates hostile to free inquiry.” — Can our readers supply examples?

    “too many higher education administrators restrict basic speech rights and, often, invoking “social justice” — Who is really behind those restrictions? How does Mickey J. Corrigan’s “Trigger Warnings” illustrate the motivation leading to them?

  2. “too many professors substitute their political bias for teaching many sides of issues.” — Can our readers supply examples? How might a history course examine the causes of fascism in Europe in the first half of the 20th century? Might it include an analysis of the divergences in U.S. public opinion prior to December 7, 1941? Or would the topic be too controversial?

  3. “In ever more freshman and sophomore classes, administrators make professors give the same assignments using the same ‘rubric’ to grade papers, a la high school.” — Are “the same assignments” prescribed in all courses, ranging from history to chemistry? Can our readers supply examples?

    “But so many bureaucrats crave the very standardization which has so stifled innovation and achievement in k-12 schools.” — Can our readers supply examples of standardization and stifling?

  4. “Education should help students learn, mature, and achieve the most meaningful lives possible.” — What is a meaningful life? Who should decide what it is?

  5. “all college and university workers should recall who pays our salaries.” — What happens to students and institutions when administrators neglect finances? What happens to caretakers who take no care?

  6. “Alas, the biggest lessons I learned as a graduate student at a large ‘prestigious’ — i.e. ‘publish or perish’ — university were how not to teach and never to treat people.” — Does academic research cause character flaws that would not appear otherwise? Is scholarship in any field motivated entirely by avarice? What would happen to research if it were controlled by private interests?

  7. “U.S. Secretary of State and Harvard University professor Dr. Henry Kissinger concluded that ‘university politics are vicious’.” — Dr. Kissinger did give a reason; how did he complete his sentence? And did his experience affect his career in international politics for good or ill? Did he say anything that doesn’t apply to any political environment?

  8. “But too many universities covet the prestige (U.S. News & World Report rankings!)” — Cui bono? What does any news magazine stand to gain by publishing such “rankings”? What could they possibly mean? Who’s the audience?

  9. “The surge in on-line courses further compromises instruction since posting lessons on a computer is a poor stand-in for in-person lectures and real-time discussions” — Is this assertion true?

    In the 1990’s, the University of Guelph, for example, added on-line discussion forums in some courses. Such forums are taken for granted now but were a radical innovation in those days. Students who didn’t have the opportunity or were too shy to speak up in the traditional classroom flourished on line. And everyone benefited from the extra time provided to formulate ideas and questions and to return to the subject between the previous classroom session and the next.

  10. “There’s also far more cheating with on-line tests.” — How do you know? The assumption isn’t obvious.

    In on-line courses — again, at the University of Guelph — at the turn of the century, a class of 30 or even more students could take a one-hour on-line exam at a fixed time. Each topic had sets of randomized questions. Thus, all the students had similar exams, but no two had exactly the same one. Were the exams “open book”? So much the better, but students had too little time to catch up on what they hadn’t learned.

  11. “Yet many schools covet on-line classes to make more money since they don’t need buildings. One day a salary-free computer might “teach” 100 such classes.” — Non sequitur. Do on-line courses necessarily dispense with existing architectural structures? Who creates on-line courses? Who manages them? A computer might be “salary-free,” but could it be maintenance-free? How likely is it that a computer can do everything? Do we have here a hidden assumption that artificial intelligence will make human existence pointless? That passes for humor in science fiction these days.

  12. “may all educators be Good Samaritans who make a special effort to see no student is lost due to institutional neglect.” — Does “Good Samaritan” apply merely to anyone who does a good deed? What point does the parable actually make? Taken literally, what does the analogy imply about the relative social status of teachers and students? Can our readers find a more suitable term? Also, “institutional neglect” can be seen in many areas of society besides education. What can individuals do to combat systemic neglect?

[Editor’s note] In answer to the very last question in #12 we have Bewildering Stories itself. It was inspired by an early form of on-line university courses, which were termed “distance education.” We’ve adapted some features of communication from them, especially our personalized editorial reviews of submissions. We also have the Readers’ Guides, the Challenges, The Critics’ Corner, and the welcome messages to new contributors as well as extensive discussions of style and grammar. Facebook might even serve as a forum if readers felt like using it as one.

Would Bewildering Stories be better done in person? A gathering of hundreds or even thousands of participants would resemble an annual convention of, say, the Modern Language Association. Not only would such a meeting be impossible, it would be depressingly impersonal except at parties — and in hotel rooms after hours, of course.

Is Bewildering Stories the best that can be? What is? At least we can say it’s much more open to participation than the traditional literary environment that preceded it, which was limited to magazines in print.

And now that we have Bewildering Stories, we can think out loud, so to speak, and everybody can hear us. We can say, for example, “Beware of ‘bumper stickers’; they only provoke questions like ‘What are you talking about?’” And we can say, “Don’t fall into the ‘all or nothing’ fallacy. That’s where thinking stops.”

Copyright © 2020 by Don Webb

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