Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Why I love teaching Fine Arts

...because, contrary to the UCLA students surveyed by the NYT, mine have mostly already accepted that feeling fulfilled in your profession (music) creates more long-term satisfaction and personal joy than money:

A 2006 survey of college freshman at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that about 74 percent of men and 70 percent of women say that the primary reason they attend college is to make more money. Students reflect this attitude in they way they approach their schoolwork. Most college professors have probably observed at least one of these traits in today’s students:

ENTITLED TO A DO-OVER It has become common for students to ask to retake tests or to rewrite papers in order to get a better grade. Usually the students who make this request are not failing the course but want to push their grade to an A- from a B+.

While the apparent desire for self-improvement is admirable, usually the higher grade is what really matters. Sometimes a student’s second try is not much better than the first, but he or she still expects a better grade for the effort. This attitude leads to the second problem.

CLOCK PUNCHING Students tend to take an industrial view of work. They commonly contest a grade by saying they deserve a higher one because they put so much time into studying or writing a paper. Such students see grades as pay for the time spent on the job, not the quality of the product.

THE LAKE EFFECT Like the children in Garrison Keillor’s fictitious town of Lake Wobegon, many college students believe that they are above average. This is not entirely their fault, as grade inflation runs rampant in many universities. When professors inflate grades, they give students a misleading picture of how their work stacks up against others, and they deprive students of the feedback they need to improve.[Emphasis added]

All three of the above-cited syndromes I've seen confirmed by my own observation and experience. Thankfully, it's less true of arts majors--and it's even less true of general undergraduate students when they're taking arts courses.

[I would interpolate here that I do not believe that grade-inflation is the only cause of students' inflated sense of their own academic calibre. In fact, I would argue that many students, even if they will claim to believe they are above average, are so unfamiliar with qualitative assessment that, deep in their hearts, they are actually unwontedly afraid that they might be below average. Standardized testing at the secondary school level is at least as significant a cause for self-inflation or -distortion.]

There's a line in every one of our syllabi here, which speaks directly to the typical student's presumptions about "makeup" work and "why I should get an exception to the rules," and which I'm seriously considering having engraved on a plaque above my desk (though if I did, I'd know that I had irrevocably entered Andy Rooney "cranky old fart" territory):

Choices have consequences.

1 comment:

Mistykalia said...

Thank you for the link to that article.
In reading it, and your comments, it brings to light an important side of what I teach in the middle school classroom, which I'd never named before: (To borrow Joanne Ciulla's words) Teaching students to value "learning for its own sake" over "external rewards." To further add to that, because art definitely brings "external rewards,” to learn to recognize rewards which are not always of direct material value.
There's a strong reason to advocate arts education at a younger age!
And, further to THAT, underlines, again, why I'd never want to be a classroom teacher (teacher of an area which is taught primarily behind a desk). Not only are they expected to adhere to No Child Left Behind in pushing students into the state and federal boxes of academic success, but as adult role models are reduced to the school environment, funding for arts education dwindles (and when there IS funding there, it's becoming increasingly difficult to find qualified teachers of the arts - a soapbox for another day) classroom teachers are expected to teach all of those life lessons which fall so easily in the arts areas (for example: listening, observing, appreciating of beauty (and finding their own definition of it), learning for it's own sake, and the importance and veracity of non-external rewards – all of those things that make up a person’s identity!
I’ve digressed.
Thanks again for the article. I find it especially relevant as I’m transitioning between schools (and between worlds).