Monday, January 9, 2012

Teaching those pesky early college kids

     An early college program, whereby groups of high school kids assemble, at their high school, to be taught college courses by instructors imported from the college down the road, is prima facie a bad idea. The atmosphere of a high school class, you’ll recall, is distinctly different than that of a college class. A typical high school kid’s default setting seems to be a kind of writhing accompanied by endless, happy, purposeless chatter—which adjusts, in a flash, to tacit forms, entailing eyes and smiles and pouts. That stuff can be stopped, on any given occasion, only through forceful and repeated intrusion with a rolled up newspaper. In college, meanwhile, business-like sobriety is the norm, and it will persist, yielding a communal seriousness, with very little encouragement from the instructor.
It’s a difference in culture, and it’s a difference that makes a difference. I don’t know why, but philosophy—to choose one college subject—just isn’t taught effectively in the course of the on-going party that prevails inside the high schooler’s merry head. Put a bunch of these party heads in one room and philosophy just ain’t gonna happen, brother.
As it happens, this morning, I had a chance to see the problem first hand. Last week, one of our history instructors found that he could not make the first session of spring semester’s History 2 course (World Civilizations Since 1500) at Beckman High in Irvine. I volunteered to fill in.
So, this morning, at 7:45, I arrived at Beckman, bleary eyed, ready to teach my first “early college” class. To make a long story short, I was led to our room, whereupon I saw the 40 or so kids of the class, waiting outside the door, beaming at me.
They’re tiny, they are, mostly. No one would confuse these kids with a class of college students.
I could tell that they were nice kids, good kids. They generally aimed to please. But they’re not used to someone really and truly staunching the flow of their customary writhing and blathering.
“If I could have everyone’s attention….”—that’s how I gave ‘em the cue to settle down and shut up. It didn’t work.
“I’m Roy Bauer, and I’m here today to….”—it still wasn’t working. They’re sweet kids, it seems, but it would take more than I was doing to break through. I gave ‘em a particularly subtle version of the old stink eye—the communication of glacial impassivity and icy ruthlessness, more or less.
Still nothing.
I tried a gesture of mild exasperation. That did it. Some of ‘em hushed the others, and then, for a moment, there was silence.
It didn’t last.
You know the rest. They’re kids, and so you’ve gotta stay on ‘em. You can’t let up. It’s like, if you let ‘em, they’d all just giggle and writhe at ever higher frequencies until the room roars and pulsates with a single, monstrous chuckle-spasm from hell.
The problem isn’t just the challenge to continuity from the never-ending periodic yuckitudinal outbreaks. Under these conditions—i.e., wall-to-wall teen-aged buzzage—there just isn’t the sort of mental gravity in the room for a sustained thought or thought cycle. I mean, getting a bunch of yappy kids to stop and think about the goddam Copernican Revolution is like getting a bunch of puppies to go to the corner and sit still. Ain't gonna happen.
I didn’t expect to like these kids as much as I did, but I am now more convinced than ever that this early college idea is a real stinker, at least for courses in the Humanities.


Anonymous said...

You need to bring them treats.

Anonymous said...

I don't blame the kids - I blame the parents and the administration.

Anonymous said...

IVC needs to get out of a business we never should have been in. Saddleback learned that lesson years ago with its offering of courses in local HSs.

Anonymous said...

The Early College Program at IVC has always been promoted by Glenn despite faculty indifference or opposition. Faculty were not consulted, were not part of the decision to go forward. When problems arose, right away, administration seemed to work at protecting the program instead of honestly dealing with the apparent nonviability of the concept.

David Dugger said...

As the Director of the Early College Alliance @ Eastern Michigan University, former Dean/Principal of the Washtenaw Technical Middle College and President of Middle College Consultants I must whole heartedly agree with the post and the associated comments.

This is not an Early / Middle College Model, but a Direct Credit Model. Often Direct Credit Models are "packaged" as Early / Middle Colleges, but their design, structure and pedagogy are rarely, if ever, consistent with the tenets of Early / Middle College programs.

Direct Credit models have some value and they should be evaluated as such, but to market them as Early Colleges does a grave disservice to the students and the Early / Middle College movement.

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