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Elana Levin

Letter to the Editor of the Week

Apparently the folks that brought you No Child Left Un-multiple-guess tested and "fill in the bubble" poetry analysis tests want to turn college in to an extension of the factory schools that made kids think learning was dull. There was an op-ed earlier this week in the New York Times, No Undergrad Left Behind by Heritage Institute Fellow Eugene Hickok criticizing colleges for having "a culture that cherishes independence and freedom. And it is a culture seriously out of touch with much of America."

the hulk origin.jpg One of the other sins he criticizes colleges for committing is teaching pop cultural history-- a subject that among other things would give students a historical context for understanding the American cultural imagination -- a way to look at past constructions of American identity, heroism, war and gender, concepts that are key to understanding America today. Ok. He was criticizing a college course on analyzing Comic Books. But if you want to understand any culture you've got to know its myths and in the case of America, a course on comics seems like a pretty good place to start. Plus, the course is one out of many a student would take.

Anyway, an associate professor of education from Montclair State University wrote a wonderful letter in response to the op-ed as did associate professor of history at Northwestern, Melissa Macauley (actually all of the letters were good). Eric J. Weiner and Melissa Macauley, I salute you.

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To the Editor:

Eugene Hickok writes as though the No Child Left Behind Act has solved the basic problems of K-12 education. All he needs is the banner shouting "Mission Accomplished."

No Child Left Behind has never been seriously financed, and K-12 education remains in a deplorable state because the boomer generation has abandoned the World War II generation's willingness to tax itself and create the best educational system in the world.

Poor and working-class people pour out of this rickety system unprepared for college and, indeed, for life. Conversely, students who end up at the better universities can pass those civics exams and graduate on time. They've taken so many Advanced Placement courses they're sophomores before the flowers of their freshman year bloom.

The America the tax revolt has spawned is not pretty. It's two economic worlds, separate and unequal. Excellence costs money; mediocrity is cheap. It is time to get back to basics, though not the basics conservatives imagine.

Melissa Macauley
Evanston, Ill., Oct. 11, 2006
The writer is an associate professor of history at Northwestern University.

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TheGoldenAge_sidebar.pngTo the Editor:

In arguing for reform in higher education, Eugene Hickok makes a telling comment. He writes that higher education "is a culture that cherishes independence and freedom" but one that is "seriously out of touch with much of America."

Maybe what needs reforming are those institutions that no longer cherish independence and freedom, rather than those that do.

Why is the right wing so fearful of independence and freedom? Indeed, those who speak in the service of conservative interests want to "reform" cultures of freedom and independence into cultures of policing and surveillance. This turns the notion of reform on its head.

If it is true that the culture of higher education is out of touch with much of America, how and why did America lose touch with its culture of freedom and independence and what can we do to get it back?

Eric J. Weiner
West Orange, N.J., Oct. 11, 2006
The writer is an associate professor of education at Montclair State University.
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I would also point out that Mr. Hickok laments in his piece that 66% of students don't graduate from college in 4 years. Unfortunate to be sure but he doesn't mention a fact that even his pals at the College Board wrote that:

Only a fraction of undergraduates fit the traditional model of students between the ages of 18 and 24 who are enrolled full-time in college classrooms. Almost 40 percent of undergraduates are over the age of 24. About 40 percent of undergraduate students are enrolled part-time.

And the fact that many students are only part time may have something to do with needing to work countless hours at day jobs while attending college just to get by. And as DMI Fellow Maureen Lane has explained countless times, the poorest students are forced by welfare reform to do 32 hours of make-work a week on top of their college classes. That makes it impossible to take a full course load while meeting the requirements of the program that puts food on their table. But hey Heritage Foundation, let's not acknowledge that crisis.

Elana Levin: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 7:30 AM, Oct 14, 2006 in Education | Letter To The Editor of the Week | Media | Politics | The Media
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