Category Archives: Education

Four Decades of College Degrees in One Graph

When you look at the dynamic graph on the page linked below you’ll notice that business degrees have been consistently popular since 1970, the popularity of education has declined rapidly in the same time frame and my major, English, has been consistently unpopular.

West Forsyth High School Receives Accolades

The high school that all three of my kids attended (youngest is about to graduate) is one of the best in NC and in the top 400 in the nation according to US News & World Report:

West Forsyth High School ranks #2 and Lucy Ragsdale High ranks #6 in North Carolina, according to the publication.

In the 2014 rankings, 34 North Carolina schools received silver medals and 61 received bronze medals. The only two schools that earned gold medals were Green Hope High in Cary and West Forsyth High in Clemmons.

According to the publication, at West Forsyth High School “students have the opportunity to take Advanced Placement® course work and exams. The AP participation rate at West Forsyth High is 61 percent. The student body makeup is 51 percent male and 49 percent female, and the total minority enrollment is 32 percent. West Forsyth High is 1 of 15 high schools in the Forsyth County Schools.”

A Teacher Walks Away

Man, this is some incredible writing:

I resigned from my middle school job last month. Looking back, the only thing more difficult than leaving my students was the job itself. On my first day of teaching – an exhilarating, uplifting nine-hour whirlwind of joy – I wondered where this job had been all my life. On my last day, I sat fell into my chair wondering how I lasted so long…

When people asked me what I did for a living I gave them what they wanted to hear: “I’m a teacher,” I’d say.

What I wanted to say is, “What do I do for a living? Every day I walk into a classroom and discover worlds I never knew existed.”

Like CJ’s world, in which his mother keeps him home whenever she’s feeling lonely and depressed. Like Remy’s world, in which he came to this country after watching a warlord shoot his father to death back in Africa. Like Tyra’s world, in which she writes letters every week in class to her father in jail. She’s still waiting on him to write back. Like Angel’s world, in which he has a perfect attendance and regularly stays after school for tutoring – if only to escape going home to Mom and Dad’s arguing. Like Justin’s world, in which he and his two brothers and cousin take turns sleeping on a single bed each night.

A teacher is more than just someone who fills your child with knowledge and makes them “globally competitive,” whatever in the hell that means. They make many of their students happy, well-adjusted human beings and instill in them the audacity to believe they can be more then what they ever dreamed they could be.

Maya Angelou, whose stories we read in class this year, once wrote “of all the needs a lonely child has … the one that must be satisfied, if there is going to be hope and a hope of wholeness, is the unshaking need for an unshakable God.”

I’ll count those 19 months in a classroom a success if just one of my students thought I was their Kingdom Come.

Should Colleges Teach Religion?

Marshall Poe makes an interesting argument for colleges to use religion to teach their students how to live:

Upon reflection, it occurred to me that all religions, if seriously practiced, do precisely what this “religion” had done for me: They teach you how to live. It is true, of course, that clerics often tell their flocks to believe things that are frankly unbelievable. And some even tell the faithful that if they don’t believe these incredible things they will suffer some harsh penalty, like going to hell. But most clerics of my acquaintance are not very interested in fire and brimstone. Rather, they are interested in making sure those in their care are spiritually fit. The way they do this—and, so far as I know, always have—is to give people a higher purpose and a set of guidelines necessary to pursue that purpose. They bring order to the thoughts and actions of people whose thoughts and actions are naturally disordered. They give people a way of life.

It was in this way that I became convinced that college classes in religious practice might help suffering undergraduates learn to live successfully. The classes would at the very least introduce undergraduates to the idea that there were practical ways to alleviate their suffering. They would plant the seed. Even if the students chose not to follow the practice they had learned, their recollection of it would remain in store for the day they would need it. The day would inevitably come and when it did, they would have someplace to turn for help.

This promise—that teaching religious practice might help students now and in the future—is, I think, reason enough try it. Before it can be tried, however, we have to address several objections to putting religious practice into the curriculum…

American higher education has, however, one glaring deficiency: it does not teach its undergraduates how to live. It teaches them when the French Revolution was, what the carbon cycle is, and how to solve for X. It does not teach them what to do when they feel confused, alone, and scared. When they break down after a break-up. When they are so depressed they cannot get out of bed. When they drink themselves into unconsciousness every night. When find themselves living on someone’s couch. When they decide to go off their meds. When they flunk a class or even flunk out of school. When they get fired. When a sibling dies. When they don’t make the team. When they get pregnant. When their divorced parents just won’t stop fighting. When they are too sick to get to the hospital. When they lose their scholarship. When they’ve been arrested for vandalism. When they hate themselves so much that they begin self-mutilating. When they’re thinking about suicide. When they force themselves to throw up after every meal. When they turn to drugs for relief from their pain. When they’ve been assaulted or raped. When their mind is racing and cannot stop. When they wonder about the meaning of it all. When they are terrified by the question “What do I do next?”


I love college basketball and really like pretty much all college sports. It's fun watching these kids compete and, especially with the "big" sports like basketball and football, it's great seeing the excitement the teams produce for the students, alumni and the rest of the school's community. All that said the current state of college sports is absurd and hopefully something is soon to be done about it. First let's highlight the absurdity of the NCAA:

Exhibit 1: Walk-ons, aka non-scholarship players, are allowed to participate in team meals but they have to pay for them. "Walk-ons, by NCAA rules, are free to eat team dinners, but they have to pay. It comes out to roughly $15 per meal, which Auslander figured wasn’t fruitful, because that could buy two meals at Chipotle."

Exhibit 2: Everyone but the players is making an absurb amount of money. Sure the kids get a "free" education, but is that really a fair trade when you consider what everyone else is getting out of the deal? Hell, the men's basketball tournament alone brings has a 14 year, $10.8 billion TV deal attached to it. How is it then that a walk on, who isn't even getting a free education, has to pay for his own team dinner?

The absurdity that is the NCAA is obvious, and has been for years, but until now there hasn't been a whole lot done about it. Thanks to a potential class-action lawsuit that might soon change:

Sports labor attorney Jeffrey Kessler has filed suit against the NCAA and five power conferences, alleging that capping player compensation at the cost of a scholarship is an antitrust violation. Unlike previous suits, this one does not seek damages. It wants to tear down the NCAA. "We're looking to change the system," Kessler said. "That's the main goal."

The suit names as defendants the NCAA, the ACC, the Big 12, the Big Ten, The Pac-12, and the SEC. The plaintiffs are Rutgers forward J.J. Moore, Clemson DB Martin Jenkins, UTEP TE Kevin Perry, and Cal tight end William Tyndall, though as a class action claim, it hopes to represent all FBS football players and D-I basketball players.

Don't get me wrong, I would love to see college sports stick around, but not in their current form. Hopefully the reform that is most definitely coming will change the system for the better and we'll end up with a something that is fair to all concerned, especially the players, and can be a continuing source of pride for the schools they represent.


Owning Up

The University of North Carolina is a proud institution, but how its administration has handled the "Fake Classes Scandal" has brought shame on the institution. If nothing else they've provided a case study in how not to do governance and public relations. From the article about the treatment of Mary Willingham, the tutor who blew the whistle on this thing:

In January, CNN broadcast a national investigation entitled “Some College Athletes Play Like Adults, Read Like 5th-Graders.” Among its findings, CNN featured Willingham and her 183-athlete study. In the glare of the media spotlight, she got carried away, saying at one point: “I mean, we may as well just go over to Glenwood Elementary up the street and just let all the fourth graders in here.” Stephen Colbert amplified the furor when he satirized athlete education in a segment on his Comedy Central show. After playing a clip of Willingham’s quip about admitting fourth graders, the comedian asked: “Why? How fast can they run the 40? Can they really take a hit?”

Many in Chapel Hill took offense. Tar Heel basketball coach Roy Williams suggested at a press conference that Willingham had impugned the moral character of his players. “Every one of the kids that we’ve recruited in 10 years you’d take home and let guard your grandchildren,” he said. Smith, the French history scholar, observes that “getting criticized by the basketball coach in Chapel Hill is a scary thing.” The wave of hostile e-mail Willingham has received included several death threats.

In this volatile atmosphere, Folt convened her faculty on Jan. 17 to hear what amounted to an indictment of Willingham led by Dean. The defendant was tried in absentia for defaming the university. Pointing to slides projected on a large screen, Dean, a scholar of organizational behavior, accused Willingham of making slanderous statements about the academic abilities of Carolina football and basketball players. Her assessments “are virtually meaningless and grossly unfair to our students and the university that admitted them,” he said. “Using this data set to say that our students can’t read is a travesty and unworthy of this university.” The verdict, recorded on videotape, was swift: The assembled scholars erupted in applause.

“In 25 years of faculty meetings, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Smith said later. “It was a public conviction and an intellectual execution.”

At Dean’s order, Willingham turned over her data on the 183 athletes to him. He declared that the diagnostic test she used, the Scholastic Abilities Test for Adults (SATA), assesses vocabulary and isn’t recommended for judging literacy levels. She further muddled her results, he added, by miscalculating grade-equivalent levels.

After Dean’s presentation elicited applause, Frank Baumgartner, a political science professor, got to his feet. He mused aloud about the university’s focusing on Willingham as a form of coverup. “President Nixon went down for denial,” he told his colleagues. In an interview later, he elaborated: “What I heard was stonewalling,” he said. “The university is trying to distract us by going after Mary Willingham when there are much bigger issues here about sports and academics, and they’re not unique to North Carolina.”

There's much more in the article you should read for the proper context, and towards the end of it there is mention that it does appear the university administration is finally taking appropriate steps to address the situation, but this account seems to make it clear that the University's powers-that-be finally woke up and decided that shooting the messenger wasn't the best idea. Of course they'd still like to see the messenger dead on the field, but that's just the cost of doing battle in the intercollegiate athletics war isn't it?

Why Teach

After winning the Nobel Prize for Literature Albert Camus wrote the following letter to his teacher, a letter that I think any teacher would find as validation for their day-to-day struggles.

19 November 1957

Dear Monsieur Germain,

I let the commotion around me these days subside a bit before speaking to you from the bottom of my heart. I have just been given far too great an honour, one I neither sought nor solicited.

But when I heard the news, my first thought, after my mother, was of you. Without you, without the affectionate hand you extended to the small poor child that I was, without your teaching and example, none of all this would have happened.

I don't make too much of this sort of honour. But at least it gives me the opportunity to tell you what you have been and still are for me, and to assure you that your efforts, your work, and the generous heart you put into it still live in one of your little schoolboys who, despite the years, has never stopped being your grateful pupil. I embrace you with all my heart.

Albert Camus 

Yet another reason to love Letters of Note. You should definitely visit the site to get the backstory on the letter.