‘Academically Adrift’

It is probably no surprise to a lot of us in higher education that “45 percent of students show no significant improvement in the key measures of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing by the end of their sophomore years.

(Lest I be accused of America-bashing, in talking with international students, I got an even worse impression of universities in some other countries, e.g. Italy and France.)

Not much is asked of students, either. Half did not take a single course requiring 20 pages of writing during their prior semester, and one-third did not take a single course requiring even 40 pages of reading per week.

An awful lot of students in university classrooms simply should not be there. They are not prepared—academically, psychologically, or both.

(“Psychologically unprepared” would have applied to me as a freshman too. I struggled along and “woke up” midway through my second year.)

These students are there because they are told to “get a college degree,” whereupon they will be magic somehow.

Now we hear more and more about a higher education bubble on the point of bursting, just like the real estate market.

Get a degree, have thousands of dollars in student-loan debt, and work at Starbucks. It’s not a viable model of higher education if the cost keeps rising but the benefits of paying them do not seem to be there.

If this realization reaches a tipping point, it won’t be good for academic employment for us professors.

The fiscal conservative in me says, “Go ahead, shut down a few state schools. All but about three states are running budget deficits and need to save money.”

And then I wonder if any of my academic friends would lose jobs or be unable to find jobs if that happened. But it might happen anyway.

Erin O’Connor comments too and has a more clever headline.

And Vanity Fair delivers the snark.

Wendy Griffin Named Cherry Hill Dean

Cherry Hill Seminary has named Wendy Griffin of California State University, LWendy Griffinong Beach as its new academic dean.

They made a good choice.

I have worked with Wendy for several years on  the American Academy of Religion’s Contemporary Pagan Studies steering committee, which she co-chaired from 2005-10.

She and I also worked as co-editors of the Pagan Studies book series when it was at Rowman & Littlefield, before CSULB made her chair of women’s studies and she felt that she had too much on her plate.

She is not only a scholar and mentor, but she knows the “business” of academia—how to get things done. I would not have accepted the position of Pagan Studies co-chair this year had she not agreed to remain “of counsel,” as the lawyers say, and tell me and Jone Salomonsen how to work the system.

From the Cherry Hill news release:

“I am thrilled, simply thrilled, that Wendy is coming aboard as our new Academic Dean!  I cannot think of a better person to lead Cherry Hill Seminary towards accreditation,” said Aline O’Brien, chair of the board of directors.  “At precisely the right time in the Seminary’s growth, Wendy brings her unique combination of academic rigor and priestesshood to serve our maturing Pagan movement.”

Wendy Griffin, Ph.D., is an academic by profession, and a sociologist by training, with a Ph.D. in the interdisciplinary social sciences. She is professor emerita and chair of the Department of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies at California State University, Long Beach, where she has taught for 26 years.

Perhaps the first American academic to be openly Pagan, Wendy has published numerous academic articles on Pagan women’s groups and is the editor of Daughters of the Goddess: Studies of Healing, Identity and Empowerment, a 13-essay survey of contemporary Feminist Witchcraft and Goddess Spirituality by British and American writers.  She is a founding co-chair of the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group in the American Academy of Religion, and serves on the editorial board of Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies.

Griffin said of her appointment, “I am excited about being part of Cherry Hill Seminary and making a contribution to the growing reputation and professionalization of the Seminary. When I entered the academic world as a brand new Ph.D. 26 years ago, I had no idea I would be able to end my career helping to build an institution that would serve such a diverse and committed international community.”

As academic dean, Griffin will guide and direct the academic life of Cherry Hill Seminary, including work towards eventual accreditation of the institution.  “Wendy’s lifelong career experience will be invaluable as Cherry Hill Seminary continues to build and strengthen our program,” said Holli Emore, executive director.

Don’t Teach My Kid Greek Mythology

From a report on the school-board meeting from our county’s weekly newspaper:

Sheri Shreve was upset that fourth graders were learning Greek mythology and seeing pictures she felt were inappropriate for children.

Yes, your fourth-grader might end up at a liberal arts college like Bryn Mawr and join the Pagan Club.

Another Reason that I am Glad I Stopped Teaching

Evanthia O. Rosati was in the English-teaching racket longer than I was, and she has heard it all.

Whenever I am at a party or first introduced to anyone, I pray no one will mention my line of work. The party could be at full swing, music loud and the bass shaking the walls. I might be enjoying myself. Then someone says I teach English. All speaking stops as partiers adjust their vocabulary to English teacher level. The gentleman with the chip dip hanging off his cheek is now saying, “From whence I came….” . . . . Playful people become anxious adults once they become aware of the dreaded English teacher in their midst. In desperation, I yell out, “I don’t have a shrine to Shakespeare in my backyard.” (It’s in the side yard; why give away all my secrets?) It’s no use. The area clears anyway.

So true. These days I say I am a freelance book editor, which is at least partly true, and most people have no preconception about what I do.

Learning on the Ground

This is what online “learning” cannot do.

A writer from the Guardian accompanies some British secondary students on a field trip to Glastonbury. (I happen to know the teacher.)

The object, for Jamison, is not to deconstruct the stories and myths of Glastonbury. “The point is for them to experience the story, but not say if it is true,” he says. “That is not what is important in [Religious Education]. I cannot say the Christian stories are authentic and the New Age worshippers and pagans are weirdos, especially as in the UK traditional religious groups are on the decline and people doing their own spiritual thing are on the increase.

Students have to learn that the place itself is a primary source.