Re: Undermatching

1

I undermatched to avoid crazy debt. Well, actually to avoid spending my college fund on undergraduate education. Assets are just negative debt.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 6:41 AM
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The most common "undermatching" choice is public vs. private, isn't it? In general private are more selective although obviously plenty of overlap, but no one thinks going to a high end public school for financial reasons is ruining your life.
The parallel construction of the last sentence has the oddity of mixing two meanings of should. Students should go to more selective schools as in take personal action/do something different, plus they should graduate at higher rates as in it is something that is expected to happen.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 6:57 AM
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I think you're adding parentheses wrong to the last sentence. It took me a while, but I think it's intended to be read:

Research also shows that (high/higher achieving students of any socio-economic group should go to the most selective school that will admit them) and that, once there, (graduate at higher rates).

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:05 AM
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Mathematical parentheses, of course, not grammatical ones.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:06 AM
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The fact that students who "undermatch" (gah) are less likely to graduate (with a four year degree at least) doesn't necessarily mean that choosing to go to a less selective college is a bad idea. The factors they list for why students choose to go to, or to apply to, colleges that are less selective than they could get into look like a bunch of things that would also influence the chances of graduating with a four year degree - financial resources; family experience in higher education; etc. So I'm thinking "undermatching" is just an epiphenomenon here.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:07 AM
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Research shows that if you go to college, you should graduate from college? Controversial.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:08 AM
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The factors they list for why students choose to go to, or to apply to, colleges that are less selective than they could get into look like a bunch of things that would also influence the chances of graduating with a four year degree - financial resources; family experience in higher education;

I assume they held constant those other influencing factors, and tried to compare similar students who solely varied on the selectivity of the college they chose.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:11 AM
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Is this the opposite of what they concluded in Paying For the Party? My impression (from reviews, I haven't read the book yet) was that the women in that study who moved back home and attended a less prestigious local school had better outcomes than the ones that stayed at the higher ranked flagship campuses.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:12 AM
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I don't see how the retention and graduation rates at "open access" institutions tells us much about undermatching in general, or small degrees of undermatching. Does going to a fairly selective institution for free rather than paying full-freight at quite selective institution make one less likely to graduate? And how much? And is that difference outweighed by the options one has afterward, where one can live a little better or take on fewer loans overall in order to attend professional school.

I wouldn't reconsider the advice (which is advice I also give) until you have a sense of just what the correlation is.

Also, there's some evidence that students from working-class backgrounds may do better at regional state universities than at flagships. See discussion at http://crookedtimber.org/2014/03/23/paying-for-the-party/

And, as MHPH says at 5, it's not clear if "undermatching" is doing the causal work here.


Posted by: phred | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:15 AM
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10

9 pwned by 8


Posted by: phred | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:16 AM
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I see a lot of talk about how unfortunate it is that students think they can't afford to go to a small liberal arts college just because the tuition is $49,000, when in fact if they just fill out some voluminous and baffling paperwork the tuition for them would be much less than that. But the colleges rely on people's lack of awareness of "sticker price" versus "actual price", right? They would change their policies if 90% of the students they admitted suddenly wised up and got a 75% discount.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:24 AM
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I don't think 11 is entirely right. As in, at Heebie U, I think around 10% are paying sticker price and 90% are paying some discount. It's still marketing games, but the ploy is more "everyone gets a bargain!" not "fool those full-price payin' fools."

Anyway, recent legislation requires schools to disclose the sticker price and the discount price both, and ours at least is very easy to find on the website, so I think some of those mind games must be decreasing.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:27 AM
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The admissions office still goes to the backroom to talk to his "manager" about the financial aid package after suggesting that if you pre-pay for the undercoating on your diploma, you'll save in the long run.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:30 AM
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Maybe, but my impression has always been that "trick the poors" was usually a secondary benefit to the sticker price that almost no one pays. The main advantage was that it gives you the chance to really soak the rich.

The college I went did end up with the problem of too many people getting admitted who needed large amounts of financial aid. Their response was to change the percent of students admitted "need-blind" from "all" to "most". (Quotas! And yet I suspect that the Supreme Court would somehow have no problem with that kind of affirmative action.)


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:32 AM
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14 -> 11.

Also as far as 7: I'm sure they controlled for things like income or first generation stuff. But most of the reasons I can think for "undermatching" aside from "scared by dollar amounts" are the sorts of things I'd expect to also influence graduation rates: lack of family support; need to stay close to family to support them; valuing a fancy degree less than staying in a particular region (for family, cultural, other relationship type reasons); and so on. I'm not sure you could easily control for that kind of thing.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:37 AM
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Oh, maybe.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:41 AM
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I'm surprised that undermatching still shows up as a negative at levels above decent state schools. Unselective private institutions, I believe it, community colleges or particularly low quality four year state schools. But I'm kind of surprised that, say, someone who got into Harvard and Rutgers and went to Rutgers for financial reasons would be likely to have a significantly better outcome at Harvard.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:47 AM
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17, Maybe nowadays good and stable jobs are so hard to come by that "who you know" matters more than everything else put together.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:49 AM
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17: I was thinking the same thing, that once you get above a certain quality threshold "undermatching" shouldn't matter that much.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:53 AM
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Picking at my impression, I guess I'm thinking that big state schools are internally divided -- that at someplace like Rutgers or Penn State, you could take four years worth of very easy classes full of dopey teenagers who aren't focused on academics (which would tend to lead to worse outcomes overall), but you could also get a very good education and spend most of your time with serious students, depending on which classes you picked, and that a kid who got into Harvard would probably find her level and get a good education.

But I'm not sure what I'm basing any of that on.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:07 AM
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You could spent Monday through Thursday with the serious students and Thursday through Sunday with people who didn't care much about academics. Or so I've heard.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:17 AM
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That's sort of what I assumed - that at a second-tier place, a great education/connections/recommendations are available but not guaranteed. The student has to hustle a bit to get it.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:18 AM
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Every Harvard grad is the same, but state school dropouts drop out in their own way.


Posted by: LeoTolst | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:19 AM
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I had a great and rigorous undergraduate education at OSU in the early 70s, mostly by taking challenging courses and getting recognized.

The academic social critic Murray Sperber, whose most famous statement is Beer and Circus, worries that this pattern, which he describes as his own path, from would-be fratboy to serious student, at Purdue a few years before me, is increasingly less likely.

He feels that the tendency to create academic and honors sub-colleges, with separate dorms and where the academically talented are earmarked from the beginning means that general classes taught to students not earmarked are inferior, less challenging, less likely to awaken the student who might once have been reachable.


Posted by: idp | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:23 AM
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Here's what I think is a fair summary of the state of research on this 10 years ago. Basically: at the elite level (gets into Harvard and Rutgers), kids from poor families are helped a lot by going to Harvard. For the non-poor, maybe it doesn't matter at all (one famous study), maybe Harvard helps by 10-20%.

This doesn't really contradict the "Paying for the Party" thesis, though, which seemed to be about average students at moderately selective (72% admissions rate) school, Indiana U.


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:25 AM
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As somebody who has attended colleges covering pretty much the entire spectrum of quality/selectiveness/cost, I presumably have a lot to contribute to this discussion.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:27 AM
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What I meant by my first sentence there was "the article's 10 years old, and fits what I remember being taught on the subject 14 (!!! gah) years ago in a labor market econ class."


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:27 AM
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I think it distorts the discussion a bit to include Harvard, Stanford, and other places where massive name recognition and mad connections with the 0.01% are the most salient benefits.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:29 AM
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I had a great and rigorous undergraduate education at OSU in the early 70s, mostly by taking challenging courses and getting recognized.

Does that mean you were at Larry's?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:30 AM
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22: Yeah. One of the things I think we were disagreeing about the last time we talked about this (I don't know if I said this explicitly, and my only basis for it is impressionistic) is that I think there's an important difference between small and homogenous mediocre to lousy colleges, and big diverse state schools, that may not be any more selective on average, but are going to have more good students and more good classes. In a homogenous school, it seems as if it'd be more difficult (not absolutely impossible, but more difficult) to scramble your way to a significantly different educational experience than most of your classmates were getting.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:42 AM
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I didn't have that distinction in mind, because Heebie U probably has 90% of the same spread as UT, although our average student is definitely weaker. So we're not particularly homogeneous, and I have no clue about other schools.

I'd speculate that it's hard for any middling school to feel "homogeneous" inside the classroom because, outside of the Ivy Leagues and the truly underprepared students, most students have sizable strengths and weaknesses. So any school is teaching both fantastic math students and terribly weak math students who shine elsewhere, more or less, generally in the same class at the same time.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:48 AM
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There is a pretty big benefit to going to elite schools. That Krueger study does not say what everyone thinks it says:

http://www.overcomingbias.com/2009/03/college-prestige-matters.html


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:53 AM
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It's the 'inside the same classroom' thing. (And again, this is impressionistic, I don't have a strong basis for it.) While there's going to be a spread of abilities anywhere, there's going to be a real difference in student experiences between a school where more of the spread is in the same room, and a school where there's more of a separation between the classes that weak students take and the classes that strong students take.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:54 AM
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So you mean more, "large enough to support tracking by skill level"? Maybe so.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:57 AM
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I don't know how much tracking by skill level is done in other departments. At UT or UMichigan, the Honors component is not entirely segregated in all their classes, so math classes would generally still have a large spread. The de facto tracking is just whether you start in 300 level classes and end up in grad courses, or start in 100 level classes and end up in 400 level courses.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:59 AM
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36

Pretty much, with the addition that some of the tracking is informal -- not just honors calc v. regular calc, but classes known to be hard or easy that the students self-select into.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 9:00 AM
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37

30 was true of the three public universities I attended -- in that in all three cases I sought out upper-division classes that were small and weird and taught by highly engaged, highly expert faculty -- but in a way that's not really consonant with getting a degree in a prompt fashion. That is, all three had significant degree requirements (enough that they would fill up most of a normally full schedule) that could only be filled by large classes full of students who didn't really give a shit.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 9:00 AM
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36 crossed with 35, but pretty much addressing the same point.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 9:00 AM
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Yeah, I feel terrible when our best students run out of math classes to take, which happens to 1-2 majors every year. Generally we encourage them early on to pick up a second major - physics or CS or whatever - to keep them busy.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 9:03 AM
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So any school is teaching both fantastic math students and terribly weak math students who shine elsewhere, more or less, generally in the same class at the same time.

Wouldn't brilliant math students be taking different math courses than the bad ones who are merely filling a requirement? Many/most brilliant math students, frex, take AP Calc in HS, and so, even if they have additional math requirements in college, they're starting at a higher level, and never take the lowest level math classes. I mean, you're the prof, so I must be wrong, but how am I wrong?

Plus, at a larger school (say, above 4k enrollment; not just huge state schools, but anything that isn't pretty damn small), wouldn't they have explicit levels of courses? As I mentioned recently, CMU had 4 levels of basic programming course, and IIRC there were at least 2 versions of Physics 101 (in that case I think it was one for physics majors, and another for everyone else). And once you get beyond Intro courses, I think there tends to be fairly clear distinctions between harder and easier courses within a given topic - frex, a survey course in mythology and a seminar on modern poetry might both be 2nd or 3rd year courses, but the seminar is likely to be more challenging to a poor writer.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 9:07 AM
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37 cont'd: also, I never found a class where the students were as universally engaged and rigorous as they are in the upper division courses for majors I've taught at my current institution. Everybody does the reading. That was definitely not true in any class I took at any of the various state schools.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 9:07 AM
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And 40 is preƫmpted by almost every comment between 31 and itself.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 9:10 AM
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32: Good point, and I take it back. Go to Harvard, everybody!


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 9:26 AM
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Big enough to allow tracking by interest as well - probably the biggest reason UCB worked so well for me was the ease of taking virtually only weird ass courses that only other maniacs would ever be into and then being able to segue easily into upper division seminars/self study/grad classes.


Posted by: dairy queen | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 9:46 AM
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Ugh, this is bringing back my recurring regret at choosing Cornell over Columbia. Although in my case it's not so much the connections/academics as it is the (perhaps mistaken) belief that at Columbia it would have been harder to socially isolate myself / avoid growing as I actually did.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 9:51 AM
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Thanks for saying that, Minivet. I don't know what to think about my college choices. A lot of things went badly, many went well, and I am who I am now, and what do I do with all that? Beyond having a stressed-out ugh response to all this, anyway.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 10:10 AM
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The meritocracy doesn't exist anywhere, including in colleges, and pretending it does is a fool's game everywhere. The benefits of elite colleges are basically (a) socialization into elite values and (b) generating contacts for employment, including graduate and professional schools. It's completely unsurprising that these benefits would be paricularly significant for kids who weren't born into them, though the elite colleges can continue to provide these benefits only by continuing to admit a lot of kids who were born into them.

Academic learning in college, just defined as learning the subject matter well, is widely available at a huge array of post-secondary institutions, but so what, that's not why you'd go to an elite institution anyway. It's telling that in the one area where undergrad education directly relates to a job, engineering, prestige names mean a lot less -- if you're trained in the right subfield, it doesn't matter if you went to Harvard or the Colorado School of Mines. The people who get most screwed are the ones in the "paying for the party" situation -- their school isn't elite enough to provide them with benefits no matter what a la Harvard, but they are encouraged to hang out with rich kids in bullshitty majors and learn zero of value.

Under Halfordismo we'd just tear the whole structure down and set up colleges as public learning institutions with narrowly defined academic missions, not vehicles of socialization and especially not as a screening system for the fake meritocrats. Basically there should be no higher education except open-access universities on the community college model; if you do great, great, but nobody gives a shit where you went to college and you get no prestige at all out of college except what you put into it in a strictly academic sense. The current version where we pretend it's about meritoracy but actually it's about elite socialization and professional contact generation is the worst.


Posted by: TRO | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 10:14 AM
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48

Who is going to do the research to fix the arthritis you get from doing crossfit?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 10:17 AM
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Academic learning in college, just defined as learning the subject matter well, is widely available at a huge array of post-secondary institutions

You know how I can tell you didn't go to a giant state school with an (at the time) indifferent attitude towards the liberal arts?


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 10:19 AM
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Pretty sure that even at child-rape fraternity-urniation U you could have gotten a decent English lit class in the mid-1990s, though the seminar discussion was less likely to have people with that (not at all class bound) mental whateverness than it would be at John Harvard's college. What you couldn't have gotten from child-rape fraternity-urination U was the assurance that by taking the English lit class you'd be surrounded in a cozy seminar by smart people with bright professional prospects, regardless of the fact that you were studying English lit.


Posted by: TRO | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 10:34 AM
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46: Yes, very similar here.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 10:38 AM
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Many/most brilliant math students, frex, take AP Calc in HS, [...] but how am I wrong?

Not all high schools have AP classes. Why, some don't even offer calculus at all!


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 11:31 AM
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50: I was in the honors college and took classes a) taught by full profs when most other undergrads were being taught by TAs and b) not open to the general student population. (I also lived in the honors dorm.) They were decent, but talking to people who went to better schools ever since has made it clear that even the best classes I took were unremarkable by their standards.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 12:52 PM
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Well here's something that probably doesn't happen as often at lower tier schools, your senior executive parent tries to get you into a particular class. I expect fiddling around with admissions, but having your parents try to influence your course schedule? And I assume in some instances, although nothing revealed here confirming, wealthy powerful parents try to adjust your grades too.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 12:54 PM
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Without having read most of the thread; My daughter undermatched big time but got a full free ride and admission to the honors program. Did super well academically and has gone on to do her graduate work at a much more prestigious institution. Anecdotal but I don't see why that strategy wouldn't wok for a lot of not very rich students.


Posted by: OutOfTheBlue | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 1:46 PM
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Not sure where I first read the advice that the last institution you attend should be prestigious, and before that, it doesn't matter so much.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 1:54 PM
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56 - true, but she did experience difficulties catching up because, believe it or not, her peers from Oxford and Harvard and such like had a much more broad based grounding in the humanities. Who knew?


Posted by: OutOfTheBlue | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 2:35 PM
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undergrad education directly relates to a job, engineering, prestige names mean a lot less -- if you're trained in the right subfield, it doesn't matter if you went to Harvard or the Colorado School of Mines

That just means that the prestigious engineering schools are the same as the overall prestigious schools.

Don't people differentiate by department?


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 2:54 PM
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...aren't the same...


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 2:57 PM
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57 to 47. Really not true. Daughter went to a very well respected High School, took all the AP classes and then didn't get the kind of education that her current peers did at the lower tier University she attended for her undergraduate work. There is a difference in the quality of instruction between Stanford and Southern Louisiana Community College (no, she didn't go there.) The social networking benefits exist alongside the superior pedagogy.


Posted by: OutOfTheBlue | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 3:02 PM
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Doesn't surprise me, I think the gap between the reasonably good state flagship I'm at now and Harvard is much larger in terms of humanities rigor than it is for math and science rigor. The math and science classes are basically the same. The students here aren't as good at it and so the grades are both lower on average and off by about half a grade, but an A- student here is basically getting the same training in math and science as a B+ student at Harvard. But most students, even plenty who major in the humanities, get through college here without doing serious reading and writing at the level of a low-level gen ed class at Harvard.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 3:03 PM
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I've wondered about 61, or the more narcissistic version, "could I have hacked it as a math major at a top tier school?"


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 3:11 PM
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I've wondered about 61, or the more narcissistic version, "could I have hacked it as a math major at a top tier school?"

I'm glad to hear somebody else say that. Every time this discussion about top colleges comes up I do have that worry in the back of my head.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 3:16 PM
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Until you get to the graduate or advanced undergrad level, humanities instruction is basically (a) can you write somewhat clearly and (b) can you bullshit confidently with somewhat plausible citations to the reading. Not surprising that colleges that select for and emphasize those skills (which are also closely linked to class) have students who are better at them, or that the gap in those areas are greater than the math/science gaps.


Posted by: TRO | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 3:19 PM
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62: Probably.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 3:19 PM
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I am increasingly comforted that I'm not the smartest person, because now I feel that much less guilty at our various impending dooms. I'm still embarrassed that I spend little time on barricades, but I used to feel awful that I hadn't just outsmarted everyone into being better for their own good.

For a sense of the unrealistic scale of this, I felt guilty after the 9/11 bombings because they weren't all that surprising, so I should have done something about it.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 3:23 PM
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That is, I think there really is a difference, even in the technical fields. There was a real difference between the honors and regular math courses (even for majors) where I went, and I'm sure my CS education was more rigorous than the norm. But I think it's not an insurmountable difference, especially for a motivated student. I was motivated but not in a well-directed way.

It does seem like technical/engineering subjects should have a smaller gap, but I don't have enough experience in all four quadrants of elite/non-elite x liberal-arts/technical to have a well-formed opinion.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 3:26 PM
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53

I totally disagree. My classes and research experience in math and science at the very same honors college was really not significantly inferior to those offered at the H-bomb school. The only difference was the connections (both with fellow students and with access to more prestigious professors).


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 3:32 PM
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I'd be willing to bet that there's a significant gap between fancy private high schools and even very good general-population public high schools in the humanities, even though there's less of a gap (or maybe even a gap going the other direction) in math-science subjects. The humanities (or, more precisely, the things that teachers grade on in the humanities, which are (a) clear writing and (b) confident bullshit based on semi-plausible citation to the reading) are just a lot more class-bound than math/science.

It seems to me that one can improve how one does in the humanities just by elite socialization, and indeed that doing humanities is itself part of elite socialization (e.g., learning how to bullshit in a class-discussion seminar with other confident bullshitters). That's pretty different than other subjects.


Posted by: TRO | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 3:34 PM
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I don't think 64 is true at all. The point of a good seminar is that the prof, and eventually the other students, will call you on your bullshit.

I've been thinking about the I??? Proposal that students be able to fire their professors. How about credentialling exams and peer-reviewed publication handled by professional societies, and teaching and 'student life' handled by one or two student-run or commercial entities? The latter might hire experts from the former with enough firewalling. I've had Bologna described to me this wY, and the amount of institutional operation managed by Davis students was pretty impressive.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 3:35 PM
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My opinion, based on extensive advice at the time, was if you knew you wanted to go to grad school in math/science, you could get an equivalent education to what you get at an elite school if you worked hard at a mid- to high-tier state school, provided you weren't someone who needed the individual attention of a small school. I think this was largely true at that time. I sometimes wonder if it is still true.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 3:36 PM
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Hmmm I had a pretty close in time comparison btwn my undergrad at UCB and stepchild's experience at Re/ed, found them comparable. Both straight up humanities, both required significant writing in foreign tongue.


Posted by: dairy queen | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 3:37 PM
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I don't know about elite colleges, but I was in the honors program at a large state university and the honors classes were so very much more work/learning than the non-honors classes it was as if they were hardly in the same school. The senior-level honors classes were often graduate seminars where undergrads had a lesser writing assignment but the same reading.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 3:37 PM
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I have to admit, I am not providing the same quality humanities education at Last Chance Community College that I was able to provide at Stuffwhitepeople Like University. That's just the difference between teaching 150-200 students a semester and teaching 75-100 students a semester. The fact that I don't have to research only helps so much.

You also lose a lot of peer learning at the lower prestige institutions. Students learn a lot from being around other smart students. We've got a lot of smart students here, but we don't have the kind of critical mass it takes to create an intellectual student culture.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 3:39 PM
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One potential difference was being surrounded by genius type-A strivers did push me to try harder. Not necessarily great for my mental health or happiness, but I think it did improve my education.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 3:39 PM
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76

I totally disagree. My classes and research experience in math and science at the very same honors college was really not significantly inferior to those offered at the H-bomb school.

Yeah, I was going to make it more explicit that I was talking exclusively about liberal arts. OTOH our alma mater has had a good reputation for a long time wrt STEM disciplines.

(When were you there, BTW? Do we know each other?)


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 3:41 PM
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Also, we just canceled the honors program for budget reasons.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 3:41 PM
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Somebody has to keep the best students who can't leave the state focused OSU.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 3:43 PM
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It's too bad we didn't all go to college together. Wouldn't that have been fun? Some sort of Unfogged U where no one does any work but everyone is extremely smart and motivated to understand arcane topics as long as it's definitely, definitely not what they were told to do.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 3:49 PM
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It would be at the geographic midpoint between the U of C and like Evergreen or something.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 4:01 PM
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Years later we'd all wonder why none of us had followed through on the sexual innuendos and flirting with actual sex.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 4:16 PM
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Actually, both my undergrad experiences were a lot like that.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 4:17 PM
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82 to 79. Not so much to 81.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 4:17 PM
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I don't think I learned a damn thing related to course content from any fellow student.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 4:20 PM
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But maybe 80!


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 4:21 PM
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I can think of one guy who had interesting things to say ... there were probably others, he just stands out. There wasn't a ton of value flowing from my fellow students that's for sure.


Posted by: dairy queen | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 4:31 PM
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81: based on the evidence, I'd say "none" is not entirely accurate.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 4:33 PM
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I'd be willing to bet that there's a significant gap between fancy private high schools and even very good general-population public high schools in the humanities, even though there's less of a gap (or maybe even a gap going the other direction) in math-science subjects.

I'm willing to believe this but am simultaneously currently skeptical. I went to a very good general-population public high school and my sister went (for the second half of high school, anyway) to a fancy private school and I'm not sure that she did better than I did, humanistically speaking. (It's possible that if she had been so inclined she could have done much better than I did, certainly—now that I think of it the people I knew in college who'd gone to fancy private high schools in NYC seemed to have gotten pretty excellent educations.)


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 4:36 PM
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86 I learned a ton from fellow students at Cal, it just wasn't course relevant. Hell, I even learned some stuff in class.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 4:36 PM
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||

I am reading Amber-lookalike Anna Kendrick's twitter feed (someone on MeFi linked it, ok) and several "tweets" are devoted to ogling Katy Perry's bqqbs.

|>


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 4:38 PM
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I also don't think 64 is true, and cite as evidence the very first humanities course I took as an undergrad (I admit that I can't be certain it was, to be precise, the course I took in my first quarter that actually met before any of the others, but am willing to overlook that), which was … taught by someone who has commented here, albeit infrequently.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 4:40 PM
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88 -- yeah, I'm not sure. The reason I emphasized fancy private high schools is that everyone knows that the selection process for fancy high schools isn't super-rigorous (even when selective) and draws necessarily from a pool of almost exclusively the rich or the near-rich; my thesis is that this matters a lot more for the humanities than it does for math/science, and has a lot more to do with the socialization of the incoming students than whether the student body is "smart."


Posted by: TRO | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 4:44 PM
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91 -- I maintain that competent writing and competent bullshitting with citations to the reading will get you at least a B+/A- in any intro-level humanities class in America. "Competent" bullshitting of course has to be competent enough to impress the teacher and fellow students, but it's still at a real level bullshitting, i.e. talking for the sake of showing off your ability to talk without deep knowledge.


Posted by: TRO | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 4:47 PM
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I maintain that "competent bullshitting with citations" is oxymoronic.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 4:50 PM
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Have you even seen the internet?


Posted by: TRO | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 4:52 PM
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You should have a cite for 93 then.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 4:56 PM
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I think there is something in what you are arguing TRO but it only goes so far. Do undergrads in non-humanities intro courses speak from deep knowledge? Virtually all undergrads in all fields start from a pretty basic level, setting aside well only music that I can think of at the moment, where a certain level of performance skill is required.


Posted by: dairy queen | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 4:57 PM
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Knowing how and when to cite points in making an argument is an actual, valuable skill.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 4:59 PM
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76

Graduated in 1995. I don't know if we have met.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:00 PM
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98 -- sure, so is writing, and so is bullshitting. They are indeed actually valuable skills. People will pay you money for them. But they're not deeply connected to mastery of an academic subject matter in the same way as a science or math class, and my thesis is that they are skills much more closely linked to the socialization/class background of the incoming students than they are to either innate ability (whatever that is) or subject-matter mastery of a particular topic. Which in turn makes it unsurprising that the gap between elite institutions that focus primarily on elite socialization will be much bigger in the humanities than in a subject like, say, engineering.


Posted by: TRO | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:07 PM
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99: You were a year ahead of me. So unless you lived in Ath/erton the entire time like I did, we probably never really crossed paths.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:09 PM
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90: Anna Kendrick's awesome on Twitter. No reason to feel ashamed over that.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:11 PM
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Further to 102: I mean.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:12 PM
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I lived there just one year and hung out there some (Imperial/A7 mostly), but you don't look familiar.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:15 PM
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104: I had more hair then.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:18 PM
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A friend of mine recently wrote a defense of Katy Perry's boobs in (a blog post on a blog at) the NYT, here.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:19 PM
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105: you'd almost have to have.


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:20 PM
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TRO is basically making Larry Summer's argument about the humanities: that its use is to make you a better cocktail conversationalist.

I've graded approximately a fuckton of intro level and gen ed humanities papers. The ones that truly are just bullshitting are pretty easy to distinguish from the ones that are engaging with the materials and methods of the class.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:24 PM
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100: I don't think I buy the divide between deep mastery and socialization. I've been working in a mathy-sciencey field for years now. Everybody looks up the science stuff. It's all on the internet anyway. But socialization, if being trained to think in certain patterns counts as socialization (because it does), is what lets you know how to search and what the answer will look like when you find it.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:25 PM
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107: they're a public service. Mobys with me. So is mimismartypants. And Anna Kendrick.


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:26 PM
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I still have plenty of hair, even not-back hair.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:27 PM
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No, I'm fond of the humanities and think that they, done seriously, do serious work. I'm making a point about the way skill in intro-level humanities is thought about and assessed. "Engaging with the materials and methods of the class" is indeed a component, but the fundamental skills being assessed are (a) competent writing and (b) can I come up with something semi-plausible to say about the topic that's engaged with it, aka competent bullshitting. Part of the goal is to teach people how to be better bullshitters, which as I say is a real skill, but let's be clear about the skills that are being assessed.


Posted by: TRO | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:28 PM
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I still don't understand how (b) is somehow something the humanities do and science doesn't.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:29 PM
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I think 109 is right on. I am very frequently struck by the quite shocking differences in the degree to which people are capable of searching for technical information productively.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:30 PM
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TRO, Matriculating as an undergraduate at Harvard will provide a student with a more in depth humanities education than someone who goes to Cal State - yes or no?


Posted by: OutOfTheBlue | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:31 PM
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105

Me too.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:32 PM
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112 to 108. I'm not sure that I even disagree much with 109 as stated, but I'd say that kind of socialization that benefits humanities-thinking is a particular kind of elite socialization that's more closely related to incoming class background than whatever "socialization" you need for math/science work, which is more directly and specifically limited to the academic work that you're doing.


Posted by: TRO | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:32 PM
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115 -- yes, but the "in depth humanities education" has more to do with the social structure of the institution and its student body than anything actually taught in class, or anything much to do with the inherent intelligence of the student body.


Posted by: TRO | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:34 PM
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I think 117 is really overestimating how much the actual elite values something other than repeating back whatever the elites just said.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:34 PM
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I responded to an email from a colleague this weekend -- an urgently worded email, sent to a group, about a technical question -- with a response that is about as close to LMGTFY as I'm willing to go in a professional context. Not sure said colleague noticed. This is a person working on a second PhD!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:35 PM
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We were a lot meaner to each other in my group/department: nobody would have hesitated to write "Google $foo"


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:39 PM
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the fundamental skills being assessed are (a) competent writing and (b) can I come up with something semi-plausible to say about the topic that's engaged with it, aka competent bullshitting.

I give you a B+ based on the thread so far.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:39 PM
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Student to student. Many might bcc their advisor to earn quatloos.


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:39 PM
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121: my response was "on cursory googling, I can tell you $foo."


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:40 PM
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124: Mansplainer.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:41 PM
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Heh. Well that's just as good then!


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:41 PM
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118 - So? Seems like there is value to attending an elite school beyond social networking. The yonkers could actually come out a more complete person due to the (unfair) advantages inherent in the institution. Some schools are objectively better than others.


Posted by: OutOfTheBlue | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:41 PM
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Right now, I'm googling SAS codes to see if I can figure out how do to something I would know if I had a deep mastery of programming. Because fuck programming.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:43 PM
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Seems like TRO is just adding a cynical spin (not inappropriate) to the argument usually used in favor of the humanities: these are the things that make us the people we are and lay the foundations of community. If the people in question are assholes, and their community is fucked up and bullshit, well...


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:46 PM
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the bad argument usually used in favor of the humanities


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:47 PM
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128 - Poor boy. You remind me how wonderful it is to be retired. The problem with the advent of Google/Internet is that it makes it so much harder to say "That isn't possible".


Posted by: OutOfTheBlue | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:50 PM
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I think the answer to 115 is that it depends on the student. You can more or less get as much or as little education as you want wherever you are.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:55 PM
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127 -- I don't know why you seem to think that I'm arguing otherwise. Sure, if you have a chance to go to a super-elite school, it can be a great choice. What I said above was "The meritocracy doesn't exist anywhere, including in colleges, and pretending it does is a fool's game everywhere. The benefits of elite colleges are basically (a) socialization into elite values and (b) generating contacts for employment, including graduate and professional schools. It's completely unsurprising that these benefits would be paricularly significant for kids who weren't born into them, though the elite colleges can continue to provide these benefits only by continuing to admit a lot of kids who were born into them."

If you believe that some schools are "objectively better" along those two axes, I totally agree with you, and from the perspective of any given individual, those are really really useful things and good reasons to go to an elite school.


Posted by: TRO | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:58 PM
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||

I went to flip on the Orioles game and its been postponed. I guess the last thing Baltimore needs right now is drunken sports fans downtown.

|>


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 5:59 PM
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They scored enough yesterday for the next four games; they've earned a day off.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 6:03 PM
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133 - Comity! Just add that it is possible that (C) the education provided in the elite institution is more comprehensive than what the poor raggedy state public school can provide. How hard is it to admit that some schools are better at doing their jobs than others?


Posted by: OutOfTheBlue | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 6:07 PM
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112: Part of the goal is to teach people how to be better bullshitters, which as I say is a real skill, but let's be clear about the skills that are being assessed.

Now I'm resisting the framing of this as "bullshitting." Part of what's being assessed is the ability to learn the language, the idiom of discussion. There's a lot of vocabulary, conceptual and historical framework, to be learned when discussing, oh, let's say, the Faustian legend over time in literature. You can't really bullshit endlessly, unless your teachers are bad enough that they can't tell the difference.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 6:10 PM
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I'm concerned its going to fuck with their momentum. They finally turn around five game skid, about to get back to .500, and bam, the revolution finally comes.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 6:12 PM
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136 -- I wouldn't put (C) that way at all, for at least two reasons. First, because I don't think that, certainly at the university level, comparing large state universities to fancy private universities, one is more "comprehensive" than the other. If you want to, you will find professors who will give you reading lists just as long, classes just as comprehensive, etc., at e.g. UC Riverside as at Harvard, even in the humanities. Books and knowledge are available. What you lose is the socialization -- arguing with other confident assholes in seminars, confidence about what does/doesn't sound "right," etc. The being super-secure in one's knowledge that you've mastered the bullshitting part. But that's not the same thing as having a more or less "comprehensive" education available.

Second, the difference is not at all that one school is "better at doing [its] job[]" than another. It just means that a different student body is admitted and time, emphasis, and resources are spent convincing people lucky enough to get into a particular institution that they are elite, which then has (unfair) large secondary benefits and helps them actually become elite. In fact, to the extent that we think academics actually matter for improving people beyond their immediate social situation, it's precisely the non-elite institutions that do get some kids through with excellent educations that are better at doing their jobs.


Posted by: TRO | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 6:21 PM
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I really worry about Berkeley's hollowing out into the future but damn I never felt like there was any need to skimp on substance and quality when I was there. You could slack in the humanities if you wanted to but perfectly confident the same was and is true of elite private schools then now and yea unto eternity. If you wanted to get down and dirty with it, tho, there wasn't really a limit.


Posted by: dairy queen | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 6:23 PM
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134: Yeah, trouble in the city.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 6:24 PM
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If you want to, you will find professors who will give you reading lists just as long, classes just as comprehensive, etc., at e.g. UC Riverside as at Harvard, even in the humanities. Books and knowledge are available. What you lose is the socialization -- arguing with other confident assholes in seminars, confidence about what does/doesn't sound "right," etc.

What this utterly misses is the other part of the socialization: the attitude that you should seek out those reading lists and comprehensive classes! If your peers aren't pushing to do that sort of thing, it's the rare student who's going to put in the energy on their own; not to mention that at a giant state school the students who might do that if given the encouragement from faculty are far less likely to get the chance to develop the kind of relationship that would let it happen.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 6:31 PM
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Since it ties to the issue of blaming past selves or not, I won't bother pause-playing that I just got a shingles diagnosis tonight and teared up when the doctor asked if I've been unusually stressed lately even though it feels victim-blaming to be upset with myself for bringing it on myself. Blech.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 6:44 PM
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140 -- I kind of think of the UCs (and other great public universities) as uniquely great places for these kinds of issues. Able to offer full-on limitless great classes, sufficiently amazing faculty and committed students to provide the socialization you'd need to kick ass in a graduate seminar anywhere, while at the same time not relying only on admitting already-elite rich kids and having a genuinely diverse population. Able to socialize kids into elite values without themselves being elitist institutions. So, that's the ideal. But the fuckers at private institutions have been dominant and increasingly so for my entire lifetime, and everyone involved with actually funding flagship public universities seems intent on making them into ever-more second-tier institutions, which is why we need full Halfordismo.

Abolish all private universities, give existing research universities much more open admissions policies, set tuition to zero, make the prestige attaching to universities matter only on the Canadian/continental European model (where it might matter what department you were affiliated with but there's not much prestige difference at all between any given research university), have fairly open admissions to all universities to a wide range of qualifying students, abolish almost all university-sponsored student life stuff and squarely focus the campuses on academics.

142 -- I didn't think I missed that, I thought that was part of what "socialization" means.


Posted by: TRO | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 6:46 PM
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I didn't think I missed that, I thought that was part of what "socialization" means.

Well at least based on your examples it sounded like you were making socialization out to be rather more superficial than that.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 6:48 PM
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I think Parsimon has it in 137: the word "bullshit" is being used equivocally, either to support a strong claim (what the elite schools "teach" is how to be a member of the elite, which involves faking competence) or a weak claim (aside from a certain type of socialization, what you get at elite schools as a matter of course is available to a very motivated student who seeks it out).


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 6:58 PM
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I think I've been making a bunch of different points, in a kind of confused way, but to sum up:
(a) I think the "strong" claim is true but limited -- that is, elite schools are elite in large part because they are able to very successfully train kids to fake competence well (and select for elitist kids), but
(b) that's not at all the only thing that the elite schools teach, there's of course real education too, and
(c) a sufficiently motivated student at a non-elite school can get most or all of the actual academic content provided at the elite school school, with the caveat that the student at the non-elite school has to be motivated to do so, which is hard without socialization, and will miss out on the how to fake competence well part of the elite education, and finally
(d) that it's on average easier for kids at non-elite schools to get all or most of the actual academic content of the elite school in math/science/engineering, and harder to do so in the humanities, because success in the humanities is more intimately tied into socialization into other elite values.

I think that sums it up, except for the affirmative advocacy for Halfordismo which I'm happy to discuss with you at length. In conclusion, I am right.


Posted by: TRO | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:11 PM
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The belief that there's nothing to the humanities except the beliefcthat one is elite gives aid comfort and cover to exactly the "fuckers at private institutions".

New work does actually get made, some of it survives long enough to be exonerated of mere fashion. Bullshitting can't provide anything new, so all is not bullshit.


(All this wrongs actual bullshit, which is innocent of intent and eventually useful.)


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:14 PM
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The belief that there's nothing to the humanities except the beliefcthat one is elite is not held by me.


Posted by: TRO | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:16 PM
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I think I got my elite socialization at home and in graduate school. Almost nobody I met as an undergrad was better at elite norms than my dad.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:16 PM
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143: Ouch. I've heard that's like extra painful chickenpox.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:20 PM
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I more or less agree with 147 -- and, while I staked the extreme claim above, would caveat that a bit: someone motivated enough to get a high quality humanities education at Chico is probably also motivated enough to find a way to a UC.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:21 PM
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Oh lord shingles totally and completely suck, I got them in a nerve pathway headed towards my left eye, no fun! If you can find a solidly good acupuncturist consider going - shingles extremely common in China. Could help shorten the run and lessen the symptoms. The pain! Ouch!


Posted by: dairy queen | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:26 PM
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I genuinely think I learned a lot about how to read and write in my freshman composition class. And I don't think "bullshitting" is anything close to what I learned. I was 18 and a smart ass and so could already bullshit perfectly well. I think I really did learn how to read closely and write about it.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:29 PM
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I got shingles a couple years ago and the vaccine stopped them cold, in the middle of an active outbreak. I did have to avoid school because a surprising number of labnates had no chickenpox resistance - not intentional antivaxxers, but it hadn't come up.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:29 PM
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You can't really bullshit endlessly, unless your teachers are bad enough that they can't tell the difference.

Right. Unless you think that "bullshitting" and "writing about a humanities topic" are pretty much the same thing, as Halford seems to.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:31 PM
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I didn't get the vaccine yet, just a targeted antiviral, but I havecread tgat tye vaccine often has that effect. The pain part is only starting tonight after tenderness and a small lesion over the weekend. It is not helping the matter that the affected nerve is in my neck and up through the right side of my face and my feelings about necks are much like Smearcase's on air travel. Mostly I'm worried and grossed-out more than actively sick at this point, as well as not thrilled that Lee decided to deal with how stressful she finds this by making me do dinner and bedtime while she went to the bar, though she just offered to grab something for me from the Taco Bell drivethrough if I want.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:38 PM
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OK, I'm going to give this one shot. Learning how to write and support your writing with argument is a real skill, that can genuinely be taught. Most entry-level college humanities work is focused on teaching that skill. It is a real skill. It is not pretend. However, the use that skill is put to in most entry-level humanities classes is not to master, in any very serious way, any given set of material, but to train people in how to make reasonably-supported assertions with decent writing. An ideal early-humanities undergrad would be, for example, Matthew Yglesias or McMegan. Wafer-thin, glib, but reasoned and supported arguments (McMegan sometimes out-and-out lies, but that's not what I'm talking about). Figuring out something to say about a topic (for the sake of saying it) that will likely please/impress a professor, and then saying it. I think that can be fairly but tendentiously called bullshitting. The deeper understandings of the topics come in more advanced-level courses or in graduate school, and indeed a big part of graduate education in the humanities is training people out of some of their more bullshitty undergrad habits. You may not like the word "bullshit" to describe this but it is precisely the reason why the skill set taught has significant value outside of more narrow academic disciplines, it's a way of teaching people to argue in favor of a range of positions. Doesn't mean it's not a real skill.


Posted by: TRO | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:40 PM
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Maybe if you went to a better school that would be more convincing.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:53 PM
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And, the reason this matters for what I've been saying is that (a) if you've mastered this skill, I think you're likely to be able to earn at least an A-/B+ at any college in the country; (b) mastering this skill is much more likely to come to people who already are socialized as elites and/or are surrounded by such people at elite schools, meaning (c) this is one reason why it's on average easier for kids at non-elite schools to get all or most of the actual academic content of the elite school in math/science/engineering, and harder to do so in the humanities. Calling the skill at issue "bullshitting" is a little tendentious, since I don't just mean brazenly lying, but it calls out why this is a skill that is largely linked to elite sociailzation.


Posted by: TRO | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 7:53 PM
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||

Holy shit, I just realized how the Republicans can win in 2016 even with a decent economy: Law and Order. I suspect white America is getting very close to fed up with the seemingly endless series of protests, and that if rock throwing and looting become the defining characteristics of them, there will be a huge wave of reaction. Lord knows the press will join in (they love their Republican daddies).

Who knows, of course, but it just came to me, and is alarming as hell.

|>


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:03 PM
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The press? Cover protests in a way unsympathetic to the protesters?? You've gotta be kidding me.

/me vomits


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:04 PM
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If I may be presumptuous, I think this is what you're trying to get at, Ripper: the key to success in much of undergrad humanities, and also in the business world, is in knowing the rules, specifically, in knowing what will be seen by those judging you as competent or successful efforts. This can be married to a real engagement with the material, but it often doesn't have to be, so it can seem bullshitty, but, as you also say, this knowing/enacting of the rules is actually the point of the education.

(And not knowing the rules in this sense is a huge obstacle: imagine getting an assignment about something that seems rote to us, for example, compare and contrast Montaigne and Descartes's arguments about knowledge. Holy shit! What if you didn't know that you just take a couple of examples the prof mentioned, and a couple of vaguely related things from the texts, and throw them all together in a plausible way? Where would you even start if you thought you actually had to figure it out?)


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:09 PM
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Yes. 163 makes the point way better than I did


Posted by: TRO | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:12 PM
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However, the use that skill is put to in most entry-level humanities classes is not to master, in any very serious way, any given set of material, but to train people in how to make reasonably-supported assertions with decent writing.

I think it's this sentence which is problematic. There are certainly intro humanities classes whose whole purpose is to teach people how to write persuasively and marshal texts, arguments, etc., and which prosecute that purpose using texts or topics that are also, elsewhere, studied in their own right. But not every first-year humanities class is a composition class. Where you slip, I think, is in going from the fact (which, sure, I'll grand arguendo despite rfts and Blume's contrary opinions above) that even in an intro class whose purpose is to study, in a serious albeit introductory way, normative ethics (e.g.), a student can do pretty well using the art of glibness rather than by engaging in deep study. So for instance when you go from "the use that skill is put to … is not to master" the material (that's something the student does, put that skill to use) "but to train people in how to make" reasonable-seeming if superficial arguments (that's a goal the instructor would have), you're going to lose, well, me.

It might also be true that despite the earnestness of the instructors the effect is to train people to be glib in the McArdleian way; that doesn't seem totally implausible if you postulate a sufficiently cynical, harried, or uninterested student. (For a set of interesting and somewhat related concerns, see Kieran He^H^HSetiya, "Does Ethical Theory Corrupt Youth?".)


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:12 PM
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See, 163 is much more explicitly student-oriented than much of what you've been saying. Ogged, with his humanist training (even if he was a continental type), was able to see to the core of the issue.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:14 PM
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161: alternately, the protests and riots could be presaging a level of engagement from non-honky segments of the electorate that will counterbalance any backlash.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:14 PM
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167: they've got that covered with their various disenfranchisement moves, though.

I also wonder how moved the non-honky segments of the electorate will be by the possibility of voting for Hillary, who is not, I mean, how inspired can anyone be to vote for her?


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:15 PM
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Maybe if I'd gone to a better undergrad institution I'd have learned how to write without sounding so fucking pretentious.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:16 PM
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169: nobody noticed, man. We're all socialized.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:18 PM
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168: not that I want to give anyone reason for optimism here, but I do recall reading that voter disenfranchisement efforts have actually been counterproductive, since they piss people off so much they have more incentive to vote than they would otherwise.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:19 PM
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I choose to believe that 169 is not in reference to any of my recent comments.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:21 PM
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Baltimore Police twitter feed refers to any gathered group as a group of criminals.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:23 PM
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172: no, it was in reference to 167. Unless you think that by "I" I meant "you".


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:24 PM
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Apparently I never learned to read.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:28 PM
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Stupid good-for-nothing college.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:29 PM
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165 -- ah. I meant to be student-centered, then. I certainly don't think that the bullshitty aspect is a goal the instructor has. It is absolutely not an intentional plan of the instructor. Indeed, one of the rules as to which you are being tested is surely that you cannot allow the instructor to believe that you (the student) are bullshitting him or her.

Nonetheless, the core thing that, at least in the non-advanced humanities classes, one is being tested on is compliance with the argumentative rules, and a college undergrad humanities student can (and, in my cynical but I believe accurate opinion, very often, does) comply with the rules while being basically indifferent to whether the position held about the underlying material is, in fact, true. Thus "bullshit" in the limited sense of indifference to whether the statement is true or false.


Posted by: TRO | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:30 PM
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Hey, TRO, could we talk about the fucking business students tomorrow? Because I'm going to bed now, but I have thoughts (sort of, maybe) about some of the things worse even than humanities.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:33 PM
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a college undergrad humanities student can (and, in my cynical but I believe accurate opinion, very often, does) comply with the rules while being basically indifferent to whether the position held about the underlying material is, in fact, true

A college undergrad humanities student like Zora in On Beauty!


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:34 PM
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158: why don't you mention learning how to read? (The first day of my freedom....) There are students who expect everything they need to know to have been outlined for them twice, but even my freshman humanities course required reading stuff we hadn't touched in lectures. And I wasn't even at St John's.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:37 PM
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I tried a Moscow Mule tonight. It was good despite the lack of a copper mug.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:45 PM
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154 I genuinely think I learned a lot about how to read and write in my freshman composition class. And I don't think "bullshitting" is anything close to what I learned. I was 18 and a smart ass and so could already bullshit perfectly well. I think I really did learn how to read closely and write about it.

My junior year high school AP English class really did this for me. It probably had a bigger impact on me than just about any other class I ever took. I had always breezed through assignments without really thinking much and that class forced me to actually think about what I was reading instead of just registering it as a collection of facts to be stored in memory and retrieved later. I'm not sure if any of my college classes would have served the same purpose if I hadn't taken the high school class.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 8:57 PM
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My junior-year non-AP English class in high school was one of the first classes where I had to basically stop myself and tell myself that I actually needed to think and pay attention and work hard or I wouldn't do well. (I had, in fact, not done particularly well in classes previously, but for whatever reason it hadn't bothered me overmuch.)


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 9:00 PM
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163 very much gets the mindset of the current crop of students, which has a much more mixed track record of success when it comes to the sciences. Still, they dutifully attempt to figure out what the professor wants and robotically give it to them. This even works in some science classes. But, boy, are most of my classes arms races.

The students want more practice problems in the hope that they can rote train themselves to please the professor. The professors give more practice problems in the hope that more practice will help students learn to analyze and synthesize the material. The when the professor gives exam problems that are not like the practice problems, the students feel betrayed because they had successfully learned the tricks to generating correct answers to those types of problems. What the hell is this new shit?


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 04-27-15 9:05 PM
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As a double humanities/science major, I can endorse a weak version of TRO's thesis.

Yglesias style glib overconfidence will get you through most first year humanities courses just fine, but will do nothing for you in intro chemistry or physics.

While humanities courses do teach "bullshitting" as TRO defines it, that's not all they teach. The folks who choose majors like literature or classics or philosophy & etc. generally are interested enough to really want to "master" (whatever that means) the material, especially once you get into the upper level courses.

In humanities seminars, the quality of the other students in the class plays a bigger role in determining how much is learned than in science classes. Not that it's irrelevant in sciences classes, but it's not as big a factor.

I think it's true that the gap between elite and mediocre schools will be more evident in humanities classes than in something like chemistry or physics.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 04-28-15 5:25 AM
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Should take this to the new thread, but:

161: alternately, the protests and riots could be presaging a level of engagement from non-honky segments of the electorate that will counterbalance any backlash.

I absolutely agree this is possible, and would be the best case scenario. But this is going to be (one of?) the very last election(s) with a majority white voting age population, and a really riled up law & order vote could swamp everyone else. Fox News was basically created for this purpose.

That said, alternative media (very much including social) is growing so pervasive that I'm not sure it can't pretty powerfully countervail. Already my FB feed is full of eyewitness accounts of drunk white baseball fans taunting, provoking, and attacking nonviolent protesters. I doubt that will make it into the NPR narrative, let alone CNN or the networks, but it might be enough to keep on-the-fence whites from buying into a L&O narrative.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 04-28-15 6:13 AM
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Would it help to characterize what Halford's talking about as 'rhetoric' rather than bullshit? Making convincing, if not necessarily true, arguments, and supporting them with cogent reasons. Where 'convincing' and 'cogent' are very context/field dependent.


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 04-28-15 6:50 AM
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Or rather--and this is what Halford is getting at--rhetoric is only somewhat context dependent; hence McMegan and Yggles and the scourge of Oxford PPE.


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 04-28-15 6:52 AM
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I think "rhetoric" is fine, and also ties into reasons why the skill is significantly class and position-based through the link to classical rhetoric, which literally was the art of teaching elites to bullshit in a way that separated them out from non-elites.


Posted by: TRO | Link to this comment | 04-28-15 8:59 AM
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I believe "sophistry" is the traditional term for this particular type of rhetoric.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 04-28-15 11:52 PM
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