Monday, October 21, 2013

The CUNY Remedial Education Debate

[See also, at WEJB/NSU: “Q: Should colleges offer remedial-education programs for students?”]

By Nicholas Stix

Back in the mid-to-late 1990s, I wrote mostly about religion and education. Certain editors and functionaries at non-profits were after me to write for them, but had no interest in paying me for my work. But that was during the period between the failure of my magazine, A Different Drummer, and my writing for the Internet, and it was really hard getting published in New York, at least it was for someone unwilling to write racial socialist propaganda. Much of my paid work in those days was for out-of-state outlets like Chronicles, Insight on the News, and Middle American News.

However, I did manage to get at least 10 articles, mostly on the City University of New York, published in local dailies, all of them pseudonymously.

I wrote the second of the following two articles for the Daily News, which was then moderate to conservative on education, just like its neocon rival, the New York Post. The News has since moved way to the left, with the Post hot on its heels.

I don’t recall that I knew my article would be part of a debate, but in any event, I didn’t get to see “Dennis Walcott’s” opposing piece in advance. The scare quotes are because Walcott didn’t write his piece. As head of the New York Urban League, he was one of the city’s biggest racist poverty pimps. Those kinds of people never write their own copy. That’s what staffers are for. And yet, even his staffer showed no knowledge of remedial college education, neither on the scholarly nor on the practical level.

At that point, I’d been teaching college remediation for six years.

The News published my piece first. That was necessary, because if you read Walcott’s piece first, it looks as though I’d been given it to read in advance, and was responding to it. (I switched the order.) The reason my piece reads like a response to “Walcott” is because remedialistas, as I called them, were talking points machines, and always used the same ones, which insinuated that critics were the enemies of “mothers,” “immigrants,” “the poor,” “minorities,” “working students,” “part-timers,” etc. Thus, I could have written “Walcott’s” piece for his staffer.

While reading Walcott’s staffer’s piece, ask yourself the following questions:

• Does the staffer offer actual arguments in favor of remedial education, as opposed to special pleading for why certain groups should be exempted from having to meet academic standards?; and

• Does the staffer indicate the existence of a remedial method that would accelerate the intellectual and literary abilities of unqualified applicants, up to the point of catching up to qualified applicants, and how the method would work?

End remedial ed at CUNY?
March 24, 1998
Daily News

No, let’s help kids in need
By Dennis M. Walcott

THE TRUSTEES of City University of New York have postponed until next month a vote on a proposal to virtually dismantle remedial education at CUNY. The delay is good—if it gives them time to reconsider this misguided idea.

There’s a simple reality, and we should not kid ourselves about it: Some of today’s CUNY students need remedial assistance to bring them up to college level in some subjects. So do some of the students in private colleges and universities—even elite ones.

And so did some of CUNY’s students from the romanticized good old days.

[That’s a lie. What were the future Nobel Prize winners at the City College of New York, which was academically the toughest undergraduate school in America getting remediation in—Quantum Theory? Number Theory? Gimme a break! Then again, CUNY wasn’t even founded until 1961. The Golden Age Walcott is talking about was circa 1915-1965. The founding of the CUNY system in 1961 was the death knell for excellence in public education in New York City.]

The Legislature created CUNY to “maintain and expand its commitment to academic excellence” and to provide “equal access and opportunity for students, faculty and staff from all ethnic and racial groups and from both sexes.” These goals are not mutually exclusive. [The hell, they aren’t! “Equal access” and “equal opportunity” have very different meanings.] And remedial courses don’t drive these goals further apart – it brings them closer together. [Only if opposites are identical.]

Consider the average CUNY student: nearly one-third support children; nearly half the freshman were born outside the U.S. mainland; most are from poor families; two-thirds are members of minority groups; two-thirds work while attending college, and 70% will need to attend on a part-time basis at some point.

Many of these young people have to struggle mightily to achieve their [radically dumbed-down] degree. For a majority, there is no alternative—they want and need a college education and can’t afford to go elsewhere.

Persistence, sacrifice and fortitude seem like powerful indicators of future academic excellence to me. [Without academic ability?]

Remediation is not a dirty word. CUNY-wide, only one student in five requires remedial work [he pulled that number out of a hat]; at the senior colleges, it’s less than 10%. Yet in the public debate, the entire system is vilified.

Certainly, there should be improvements in remedial education [like what?], and there are positive aspects to Interim Chancellor Christoph Kimmich’s proposal for upgrading it. [Like how?] CUNY needs collaboration with public schools, expanded pre-freshman summer school programs, language immersion courses and special courses for returning adults. [How would those things improve remediation?]

But if wholesale restrictions are imposed, a door to a better future will be unfairly closed for countless thousands of people. All New York will suffer for it: The fastest growth in the job market will be for men and women with college degrees. [Only because New York has chased almost all blue-collar industry away, and devalued a high school diploma to the point of being worthless.] Discourage students now, and New York’s homegrown labor force will be uncompetitive, we will be less likely to attract new industries, and our economy will suffer. [What new industries can a city of dunces attract?]

If CUNY students need remediation or take longer to complete their college education, we should be encouraging them to keep at it instead of adding to the burdens they carry of balancing study with work and raising a family.

I’d much rather have young people—and adults, for that matter—in college and slowly working toward their degrees than have them shut out from a college education. In fact, we should be urging the state to expand the tuition Assistance Program to part-time students. [More wasted billions of taxpayer dollars!]

The effort to end remediation and open admissions is, at heart, an attempt to build a more exclusive world for the privileged few. [Ridiculous. The privileged few never attended CUNY; they attend NYU and Columbia, just as in the past. He’s calling brilliant but penniless whites and Asians “the privileged few.”] It ignores the fact that the programs we are talking about for a small fraction [the majority] of CUNY students are no different than the helping hand each of us has received at sometime in our lives. [That is exactly what “Obama” would say about 14 years later, as a rationalization for socialism!]

Our goal should be to build a more inclusive society that supports everyone who wants to compete. [But he is speaking against competition, and for a free ride for certain groups.] Let us not romanticize the past in an attempt to raise standards – and in so doing, make the future blanker for so many New Yorkers. [He is lying about and demonizing the past.]

Walcott is the president and chief executive officer of the New York Urban league and adjunct lecturer at CUNY’s York College. [N.S.: He is now New York City Schools Chancellor!]

[N.S.: There are no arguments, and no facts. Just talking points, which are all reducible either to special pleading or pure fiction.]

Yes, to raise standards
By Robert Berman

I HAVE TWO WORDS to contribute to the debate on remediation in higher education: palatable mansion.

The phrase was in a student’s sociology paper. When her remedial instructor had the temerity to correct the countless errors in one of her English essays, the outraged student whipped out the sociology paper, which untouched by corrections, had received an A. “They take it personally,” noted the instructor.

The trustees of the City University of New York are expected to vote next month on a comprehensive plan that seeks to curtail remedial classes. Remediation’s defenders say that only “racists” who seek to “whiten” CUNY would consider limiting remediation. This conflict must be understood in context.

Context: I’ve spent six years teaching remedial and college-level courses in New York (including at CUNY) and New Jersey, and I’ve seen firsthand the leveling of the two. Remedial classes have remained at the childish level of students’ public school work, while college-level classes have been recalibrated downward to match the remedial classes. Too often, both classes are targeted to unmotivated students who are indifferent, baffled by, or downright hostile to the written word.

Context: More than 80% of the city’s public school teachers are CUNY grads and themselves the products of this watered-down system. Many are semi-literate.

Context: Many CUNY students have drifted through 13 years of public schooling that required little or no work, progressing only through social promotion. They’ve suffered the ill-effects of self-esteem pedagogy and English-free (meaning bilingual) education.

CUNY’s expense and capital budgets total $4.45 billion—about $21,000 per student, or more than the cost of many private universities. Yet only 9% of senior college students graduate in four years, and only 1.3% of community college students graduate in two years. And most students at Remedial U never do attain college-level standards.

CUNY’s defenders say you can’t expect blacks, Hispanics, single mothers and immigrants to do college-level work without help. They claim CUNY’s “golden age” was a product of privilege (read: whiteness).

But the students who made CUNY great, beginning in the 1910s, were often poorer than their contemporary counterparts, and virtually all worked to help support their families. They received no remediation.

Moreover, the giants of the black educational tradition—men like Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, and Carter G. Woodson—endured the darkest days of American racism, yet they set Olympian standards of conduct and scholarship.

Limited remediation might achieve modest success. But such success requires heroic educators and obsessively perfectionist students. Some immigrant strivers fit this profile; American-born students rarely do. And few instructors are willing to put in the necessarily painstaking work, especially when it comes to correcting work.

Remedialistas insist CUNY students are not at fault for having been underserved by the public schools. They’re right; CUNY’s professors and the city’s public school teachers are responsible. These so-called educators make taxpayers pay for a high school education again and again and…

[P.S. October 21, 2013: More accurately, an elementary school education.]

That’s why, like Mayor Giuliani and many others, I recommend that all CUNY remedial classes be eliminated. That would force high school teachers to work harder, decelerate the dumbing down of college-level classes, and slow the flood of semi-literates into the teaching profession.

Granted, that is still not enough to restore CUNY’s lost luster. But it would go a long way toward building more “palatable mansions.”

Berman is working on a book on higher education in America.

1 comment:

stephenx100 said...

I am a graduate of CCNY engineering school in 1946. CCNY was a predecessor of CUNY) In my time, there were academic standards for either being admitted to CCNY and in the engineering school about 75% of those admitted flunked out in the first year because of the more difficult academic standards in Math, Physics, and chemistry. By the 1970s, CCNY removed all pre-admission academic standards and the colleges were overrun with a new barbarian class. Indeed, CCNY became a national center of excellence for REMEDIAL READING. I was too embarrassed to acknowledge any connection with that travesty of an institution and have since identified only with the Universities associated with my graduate degrees. THERE IS SOME EVIDENCE THAT THE ARRIVSAL OF European AND ASIAN IMMIGRANTS AT THESE SCHOOLS ARE POSSIBLY RESCUING THAT INSTITUTION FROM THE POLLUTION RESULTING FROM MASSIVE ADMITTANCE OF SO-CALLED MINORITIES.