my first post

In this, my first post, let me say two controversial things.

1.) An open note to sociologists: Dear Sociologists (particularly my fellow ethnographers) – Please stop writing the same book. The year was 1943, and with “Cornerville” we learn that downtrodden communities were not normless. They had social organization like everyone else. In many ways they were just like you and me Thank you Mr. Whyte. But now we get it. Why do we keep packing our bags for a trip we are never going to take? Do we really need another book telling us that the ghetto is socially organized like other social spaces? That poor people are just like you and me (only poor)?

2.) I now teach at a fancy school. And I’ve gotta say, there is a downside to having a very competitive admissions process (we accepted around 8-9% last year). And that downside is this: our students are boring. Or least mine are. They’ve all “bought in”. They are very hard working. They are very good at telling me what I’ve told them. This is all very nice. But they’re not interested in much other than what I want them to tell me on evaluations. I don’t want to say that they’re just a group of people who have “sold out” for a steep career trajectory. But they are. Yeah yeah, it’s not their fault. They’re just working within the structure of rewards set-up for them. And they all have to work like crazy to get in (even the privileged ones). Getting good grades, running the school paper, spoon feeding sick kittens.But the perverse effect of all this “total candidate” requirement is that students don’t develop interests, they learn to meet requirements. So I can’t really blame them for doing what they had to to get in. But there’s something sad about it.

Maybe competition breeds efficiency. I’m sure they’ll all be great at their jobs. They certainly are better students than I ever was. But I’ve never felt so like a meat grinder in my life: creating a uniform mass. So I say, away with competition! Or perhaps I am beginning to support Karabel’s idea that some percentage of each class should be made up of a randomly selected group of people who simply have to meet a minimum requirement (assuming that if you meet this requirement, you can perform reasonably well in the school – and given that we give out 50% A’s, anyone can do reasonably well!).

6 thoughts on “my first post”

  1. Of course, I wonder what slang term would arise in colleges to describe the kids who were selected at random. Maybe “random.” As in, “Billy was so totally a random, I bet.” Maybe “randtard.”


  2. Indeed. We’d have kids saying, “I didn’t get into Harvard because some less qualified random took my spot” (instead of say, minority). There would be two nice things about it: (1) no one would know if *they* were a random; (2) it would be much easier to teach students about the concept “random”. This would make my methods classes less work. Especially if the random assignment was weighted!


  3. Are you teaching freshman classes, Shakha? We don’t have as competitive an admissions process here (particularly for our famed football team), but it’s still relatively selective and my students suffer from the same evaluation focus. However, the freshman, particularly first semester freshman, are fabulous. You have to get them when they’re still trying to figure out what college is and how to succeed. Many of them still have the idealistic notions and are more willing to think outside the box and explore their interests, however far-removed from med school they might be, than those that have been around longer.


  4. I attended a small, somewhat random, non-selective, Quaker college that had a much broader focus than achievement for achievement’s sake. I was, as much as anyone else, a random. I think I came away as a much more well-rounded person because of that experience.


  5. I don’t know Shakha, I teach across the street and I get a fair share of yours. I heard a professional children’s storyteller say once that when talking to kids, adults make the mistake of expecting the kids to be interesting enough to entertain them. Instead, she suggests that adults be more interesting to kids…


  6. I’m a Columbia student, and I’m not boring! (Ok, maybe I am. A little.) Seriously, though: I was a preceptor at CU for three years, and working with the undergraduates in that setting made me realize the real challenge of being interesting was on me, not them.


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