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I have two points of disagreement with John Wong's
representations of college education.
 
First, the McDonald's analogy only holds on the surface.  If
the corporation next door to our franchise were helping to
finance our operation with the agreement that their
employees were to be fed by us at a discount, and the
employees were either (a) going back and complaining that
they were still hungry or (b) going back and announcing to
their bosses that they had eaten the required lunch when in
fact they hadn't, it's certain that the corporation would
hold us in some way responsible.  As Marty points out, even
private colleges (and most certainly public institutions)
are much more intimately involved in the workings of the
world around them than your average McDonalds.  Making all
learning student-directed would require entirely changing
the public perception of what a college degree meant, and
I'm not sure the public is ready for that large a change,
even if we think they should be.
 
But (secondly) *I* don't think they should be.  The "teach
the students who are willing to learn what they are willing
to learn when they are willing to learn it, and leave the
rest (students/topics) be" argument struck me as being
entirely an abdication of societal responsibility when I
read it in Pirsig's _Zen & the Art..._ as a high school
student; it strikes me that way even more now.  We don't
inoculate only the children who want to get shots; we don't
license drivers who choose not to answer half of the
questions on the test.  We allow some flexibility (nobody
has to take a license test until he/she feels prepared) and
continue to modify actions based on progress and cultural
changes (adding or subtracting vaccines), and we as a
society err as often as individual humans do -- but we keep
trying.  There is a delicate give-and-take, a partnership:
we cannot inoculate (or teach) children who don't take at
least a first step in asking to be a participant.  I agree
that as teachers/higher ed institutions we can't take full
responsibility for the non-learning of a student who doesn't
want to or isn't ready to learn.  But neither can we make
less than a concerted effort and then place all
responsibility on the student.
 
I agree that students should have *some* say in the
structure and focus of their education, and try to give my
students that opportunity -- but that too is an extended
negotiation between multiple participants, with the students
and I alternately representing ourselves, our families,
business & industry, unknown taxpayers, past and future
generations, the college/university, other professors, and
the various voices of contemporary American culture.  And
it, too, is a part of the learning process.
 
Shelley Reid <[log in to unmask]>
English Department
University of Wyoming