Daily Archives: December 11, 2012

home schooling

I realized that I should’ve probably talked about this when everyone else was discussing their schooling experiences. Even though this is still in the US, there is a lot about it that is different from the average American childhood schooling.

I attended private school from k-3rd grade, homeschooled from 4-8th grade, went to a public high school in a specialty program for math and science. This drastically changed my opinions on American education. I was homeschooled because my parents were/are more religious, but more than that, my dad is a PhD chemist and my mother has a MPA degree herself. They believed they could teach my brother and I better than paying for in the private school. The public schools in our area were really good, so I still don’t quite understand why they didn’t send us there, but either way, it resulted in us being homeschooled. We had a group of other families who I was homeschooled “with.” I had friends and a normal set of friends, but I was definitely proselytized by this group in a way that I had not expected. When I got to public high school, I had a really hard time assimilating and making friends because they were so different from the homeschooling families. In that environment, my family was considered rebellious because I was allowed to wear skirts above my knee, the music we listened to wasn’t read over word for word by my parents, and a few kids had heard my mom say “damn.” In public school, I’d figured I’d fit in alright, but I was pretty wrong – I had no idea how to react to the new environment. Eventually, I figured it out, but it was difficult and lonely for a long time.

In terms of academics though, homeschooling was what really allowed me to explore how much I liked math. I could do whatever I wanted, I had a teacher and I spent time with my dad on it. I saw that I was excelling at it, and I liked it. The other subjects were all covered too. A lot of people have generalized homeschoolers as really good or really bad. I’m not sure how I feel about this, but it is an environment in which students can get individual attention for whatever the reason.

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tenure

We’ve been discussing tenure a lot in class, so I decided maybe I should look up a little bit more about the statistics. In a 12/10/12 article, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the proportion of college instructors who are tenured or on the tenure track dropped from 57 percent in 1975 to 31 percent in 2007 – woah!? That’s a lot, but is a good thing or a bad thing?

The pros of tenure are generally include protection for free intellectual inquiry – the ability to follow truth wherever it may lead.  It protects faculty who hold and espouse unpopular opinion from retribution by those who disagree with those opinions.  Tenure enables distinguished scholars to continue to teach long after others their age have retired. The cons are that it protects free intellectual inquiry, protects faculty who hold unpopular views from retribution, and enables old guys to work after they should have retired – which is exactly what we talked about today (yes, I’m writing this one in real time).

Some academic researchers have concluded that the work required to obtain tenure drives away talented young people.  The data does indicate the percentage of Ph.D. candidates aspiring to become tenure track university faculty declines while these students are in graduate school. A vast literature on this subject exists in the peer reviewed journals.  A Google Scholar search on the issue resulted in 245,000 hits.  A quick review of few abstracts indicated results all over the map, so I’m not really sure what to believe. I do know that I’m nervous about it though! I plan on doing academia a little later on in life, but still, it’s a daunting task. I see how hard the new professor in my lab works. If academia is where I want to be though, I’ll figure it out, I’m sure.

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Tuition hikes the north face…

As tuition rises at universities, one would expect admission or the opportunities to attend for students from the lower socioeconomic classes to be affected.   Elite universities in the United States have claimed for many years that is not the case for students who are good enough to attend them.  These universities claim that admission is “need-blind”.  This means that students are admitted irrespective of their ability to pay the cost of attendance.

Dean Michael D. Smith of Harvard said “need‑blind admissions, supported by generous financial aid, is the bedrock of Harvard’s effort to attract the most talented undergraduates in America and across the globe, regardless of their ability to pay.  A student’s economic circumstances should never be a barrier to attending Harvard College.”  Stanford says “Students are admitted on a need‑blind basis, and the university ensures that no admitted student is unable to attend.”

The New York Times wrote on 11/30/2012, “some colleges have begun revising their financial aid formulas, raising concerns about how campus diversity — both economic and racial — might be affected.”  The NYT noted that Dartmouth, Brown, and Wesleyan have begun to back off need blind admissions and that bodes ill for diversity, the poor, and the otherwise disadvantaged.

This is concerning given what we’d talked about earlier in the class regarding the benefits of diversity in different schools. I also recently found this video that talks about why higher education is so expensive. There are a lot of problems associated with increased debt for students and their families. Though I’m not sure that I know enough about subsidies and how all of this works to trust all of what is in this video, I’d need to do some of my own research. However, I do hope that de-stigmatizing other forms of less expensive education catches on soon so that people do not have to pay as much, but still receive a well-paying job with benefits – at least something that puts the individual at a living wage without being under the weight of thousands in debt.

 

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Undergraduate research

The other day in class, we were talking about what we’d change about higher education. My comment was that I would want there to be more sort of undefined credit hours you could take. As I was talking, I realized, duh! That’s just undergraduate research! So, shortly after starting school, most undergraduate students become aware of the existence of undergraduate research.  What is undergraduate research all about? It’s an opportunity for a student to find out more about a subject in which he/she is interested, as well as to learn more about him or herself. Undergraduate research opportunities arise throughout the university, but many of the opportunities are in the sciences/engineering.

At UVA, there was this program interested in the Chesapeake Bay preservation. If you’re a biology or chemistry major, this research project might allow you to explore water quality problems in select areas of the Bay watershed or the population density of an endangered species present in that watershed. The research experience will likely allow you to determine whether you would be a good candidate for a graduate degree or if that topic really interested you. It can also help you find an area to focus your research in further. Undergraduate research in the area of alternative energy helped me decide to do power for graduate school. It’s not exactly alternative energy, but without my work, alternative energy can’t be introduced the grid viably.

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