Profs accountable for all students

In his October 19 response to a student letter, John Rouse reveals some disturbing convictions about his moral accountability as a college professor. It would seem that Dr. Rouse wishes to be exclusively a scholar, and not have to concern himself with messy pedagogical issues.

A scholar is morally accountable only to his own conscience, to "seeking knowledge" and "notions of expertise, competence, and clarity" (I am assuming he is speaking of his own expertise and competence, and not that of his students, since to judge these elements, he would need to be aware of student learning). Teachers are indeed accountable to their students and make themselves responsible for the learning that transpires in their classrooms.

And this means all students, even the ones whom Dr. Rouse wishes had never been admitted to the university. In an article entitled "Mediocrity at Middletown U" (1997) Rouse proclaims: "Let the junior colleges absorb the unprepared." In a reaction against the consumerist system of higher education, some professors aim for the easy target: their own students. They may not be able to affect change in a corrupt system, but they can enforce "tougher standards" in their own classes by crafting instruction just over the heads of the "marginal" students, thereby weeding out the ones who should be in junior college, anyway.

Dr. Rouse is a willing participant in consumerist education. He uses rhetoric that displays his own consumerist perceptions of education: he describes learning as a "task" that is "assigned" and later warns that if students fail to "produce" in the classroom, their grades will suffer. Since he defines learning as a one-way street, he seems to subscribe to the banking model of education, whereby students are seen as mere receptacles to be filled with knowledge that is the exclusive domain of the scholar.

Academe values scholarship over teaching, and Dr. Rouse has been an active participant in this consumerist system. Universities consume the publications of their scholars, and he has fed his institution well, with at least three books and dozens of articles. Has Dr. Rouse, who longs for the intrinsic value of education, devoted any research to an analysis of his own teaching practices and of his students' learning? If he would argue that he does value teaching, when was the last time he was evaluated, and given feedback, by a superior?

As a former teacher in the public schools, I have seen first-hand how a college education is marketed as something that is to be traded for money, security and a career. The message is simple and pervasive, and my guess is that students are utterly baffled when they finally arrive and encounter dissenting voices. I agree with Dr. Rouse that bewilderment is often a sign of learning about to happen, but I believe he misunderstands Daniel Haake's bewilderment, which in fact seems to arise from an encounter with a faculty member who abhors the system (with which he has a parasitic relationship) and who publicly scorns the students.

In my experience teaching basic writing (a course that Dr. Rouse would love do away with), the students were incredibly invested in learning. Their writing for a community service project contained critical analyses of the societal issues they encountered and deep inquiry into solutions. These students would have never made Dr. Rouse's admissions cut in his quest to escape the "abysmal standards at Ball State."

Change needs to be made on a macro-level in education. Faculty needs to demand tougher standards by getting rid of the banking model that prizes information-dump followed by regurgitation on multiple-choice tests, not by an elitist exclusion of students who do not fit Dr. Rouse's conception of the idealized college student who has no worldly concerns.

Students need to be inquiring, writing, collaborating, presenting, and questioning at every level. Teachers need to realize that they do have something to learn from their students; if nothing else, they must learn how to better teach them. The young men and women at Ball State are extraordinary, and when they have the opportunity to collaborate with committed teachers, they come to value learning for its own sake.


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