As a parent of two college students, I would like to think that every class the offspring take contributes something to their future - not just checking off an elective box and putting them closer a couple of hours closer to a piece of paper that certifies that they are now wise and completed human beings.
It may come as a shock to a student that the parents' priority, especially if they are helping to foot the bill, is not to get junior signed up for a rigorous spring break class studying rides at an amusement park, or to plunk them in some useless pop culture class for easy credits.
I probably speak for most parents when I say that education of your children may be the best investment you can ever make. A good teacher or professor, combined with rigorous work in a subject that can actually be used in the world, can be priceless. College is a bargain when your child is learning and growing, and it's just damn expensive if they are not.
For the book, "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses," researchers studied more than 2,300 college undergrads and found that nearly half showed no improvement in the key measures of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing by the end of their sophomore years. After four years, 36 percent of students still did not demonstrate significant improvement.
In other words, according to the book, they just aren't being required to do much. Half of students weren't taking a single course that required 20 pages of writing to be turned in during the semester. A third weren't taking a single course that even requires 40 pages of reading through a semester.
Experts who claim a "dumbing down" of college say that universities are being forced to abandon rigor as job one becomes retention of students and their tuition checks, not maximizing their learning potential. They say a lot of high schools aren't doing a great job preparing their students for challenging higher education classes, and colleges are relaxing standards to meet the limited academic ability of the students.
I'm not buying the "dumbing down" theory, at least not entirely. I've see my own kids dealing with some pretty intense classes and workloads, which no doubt makes me happier than it does them. I want them to have to work and push themselves. I'd rather have them struggle for a B-minus in a challenging course and actually learn something than get a laugher A in a toss-away class.
I've had a chance to see some innovative and topical classes going on at BVU. When I hear students grumbling about too much homework and research, I figure things are just about right.
So not every college, every elective class and every professor is "easy," not by a long shot.
Still, I can't help but feel there is a growing issue in our society that "work" is supposed to be more fun than effort, that everything exists only to entertain us.
And I'm not talking just about academia. In every element of our lives, you name it, we expect every day to be some sort of playtime celebration, an excursion, a multimedia experience, an early out, an invitation to do an absolute minimum of work and still expect a maximum of praise and reward.
There is something to be said for challenge, be it in the classroom, the workplace or your weekend recreation. Something that's easy usually isn't worth doing.
Speaking of easy, here's a list of some recent classes being offered by various colleges. Any parent who has ever written a check to help with tuition should cringe; they would have been better off using the cash for toilet paper.
* "What If Harry Potter Is Real?" (Appalachian State University). Hmm... what if the credit card we paid your lofty tuition with, wasn't?
* "God, Sex, Chocolate: Desire and the Spiritual Path" (UC San Diego). Poor chocolate, never getting top billing.
* "GaGa for Gaga: Sex, Gender, and Identity" (The University Of Virginia). Believe it or not, this one is a graduate level course "establish an engaging framework for critical analysis" by listening to songs like "Eh Eh" and "Beautiful Dirty Rich." Right.
* "Philosophy And Star Trek" (Georgetown) -- Don't tell me the Freudian phallic symbolism of the USS Enterprise never occurred to you...
* "The Science Of Superheroes" (UC Irvine) -- "Have you ever wondered if Superman could really bend steel bars? Would a 'gamma ray' accident turn you into the Hulk? What is a 'spidey-sense'? This is what you get when you order a curriculum director out of a comic book ad.
* "Learning From YouTube" (Pitzer College) -- "Students meet in a classroom but work mostly online, where they view YouTube content and post their comments." We used to have another term for that before we knew it was learning. We called it "wasting time."
* "Elvis As Anthology" (The University Of Iowa). Please professor, when you grade us, don't be cruel.
* "Zombies In Popular Media" (Columbia College). As opposed to zombies after nickle draw night in campustown?
* "Interrogating Gender: Centuries of Dramatic Cross-Dressing" (Swarthmore). I would have taken this, but the textbook color clashed with my favorite bustier.
* "Oh, Look, a Chicken!" Embracing Distraction as a Way of Knowing (Belmont University). What was the person smoking who thought of that one?
* "Getting Dressed" (Princeton). Really need instruction to work a zipper? Maybe you're not ready for college.
* "How To Watch Television" (Montclair). Finally - something worthwhile! It should come with a companion course for parents: "How to Sue Montclair for Your Money Back."