Disclaimer: The following is the opinion of William H. Hsu only, and should not be construed as representative of Kansas State University. That said, I think I'm qualified to wibble and rant about some of these subjects. I ran the gamut of educational backgrounds:
- Catholic preschool (in Maryland)
- Protestant primary school (Arlington Baptist Elementary School in Baltimore, MD and Temple Christian Scool in Lakeland, FL)
- Public elementary school (Hillsborough Elementary School in Hillsborough, NJ; Scott Lake Elementary in Lakeland, FL)
- Public middle school (Severna Park Middle School in Severna Park, MD)
- Private high school (Severn School, a preparatory school in Severna Park, MD; the CTY program run by Johns Hopkins University - Homewood Su86, Fa86, Su87)
- Private university undergraduate (Johns Hopkins University, B.S. CS/MathSci 1993)
- Private university postgraduate school (Johns Hopkins University, M.S.Eng. CS 1993)
- State university postgraduate program (UIUC, Ph.D. CS 1998)
So, that's me.
Now let's look at What Is Happening To
Here are some causes of educational standards erosion that I have postulated over the last two years.
- 06 Feb 2004, publisher greed. zengeneral may disagree, or aver that Greed is Good, but as we all know, he's evil. ;-)
Seriously, textbook price gouging has long since reached usurious levels, and it needs to swing back. People should be made to pay for textbooks, if only so they will cherish and value them, but they don't need to pay through the nose. "Through the nose" causes inequities between foreign and domestic students, and it means different things to poorer and richer students. The more spoiled students will lack appreciation whether they are wealthy or not, while those who pay their own way will appreciate books whether they cost a lot or a reasonable amount. More important, it's very bad when not all the students have the textbook, and sharing leads to an inability to do all the homework in a timely way. This last bit is a particular pet peeve of mine, because it falls to us as instructors to "lay down the law" and say "if you don't buy the textbook, it's your tough luck". Enforcing that statement consistently is a tremendous nuisance: some people almost always slip through, and someone gets short-changed when they do. In computer science, this is also true of computer hardware, software, and - to an extent - internet service.
- 12 Feb 2004, the Virtuosity Dichotomy. Just as we sometimes mollycoddle students, we (that is, teachers as a whole, especially college and university instructors) sometimes quell ambition and tout innate talent over training and discipline. IMO, training has at least equal importance as talent, past a certain minimum level that is not too hard for most university students to meet. I think discipline and attitude are more important.
The problem is: what does "intelligent" mean? Are students who grew up on the utter pablum of the last 10-15 years doomed? I'd like to think not, but I can't agree that we are getting better, or maintaining past levels of competence, by any measurable standard.
- 09 Oct 2004, vocationalization and a commensurate decline in prestige. Yes, my friends, computer science educational has become a vo-tech industry, and to quote the horse from Ren and Stimpy, "no sir, I don't like it!" As Dave Schmidt wrote in the letter I quoted, "Computer Science has an image problem: it is no longer as prestigious to be a computing person, and worse still, there doesn't appear to be job security. This is an endemic problem in CS and IT". As he said more recently, "You seldom hear an eighteen year-old kid say to his parents, `Mom and Dad, I want to go to university because I want to become a philosopher; I don't know how much I can make, but I really love it in my soul.'"
- 11 Nov 2004, changes in the fundamental mission of children's educational TV. Sic transit gloria mundi. Boohbah is a different brand of brain rot than even Saturday morning cartoons of the 1970s and 1980s. `First a purple dinosaur; then semi-humanoid kewpie doll-faced creatures with tuner antennae on their heads; and now semisentient dancing blobs... It's one thing to be politically sensitive or even "politically correct"; it's quite another to divorce our children's learning minds from any rational awareness of human society or reality.' Whatever happened to Square One TV with MathNet and MathMan, or to Bill Nye the Science Guy?
- 08 Dec 2004, erosion of self-sufficiency, durability, flexibility, confidence, and diligence. There was a time not long ago when students saw difficult exam and homework problems as a challenge and rose to meet it. It is not a legendary time, nor was it "back in my day". I'm only 32, so my day isn't over (shaddap, zengeneral). I think it's quite recent that the serious erosion has occurred: perhaps in the last 5-10 years.
As you can see from my rant last fall, I think a lot of it has to do with personal accountability. Some students have become somewhat spoiled in certain areas. As rsmit212 said around the time I posted this, some of it is a side effect of overcommercialization of the academic sector, particularly university education.
I say: bring back self-sufficiency! Once students begin (again) to set and meet goals for themselves, it will help us, their instructors. Of course, we are already in the valley now, so there's a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem here. Ideas are always welcome.
- 30 Apr 2005, decline in the prestige of systems knowledge. You didn't think this was all about theoretical CS and "esoterica", did you? Indeed not.
I call the love of systems the Sysadmin Club for Users ("I'm not only the UNIX sysadmin; I'm also a user"), and in my User-Centric Manifesto, I documented some of the ways in which the love of the craft has eroded.
Opinions, as always, are welcome - I am interested in both the supporting and dissenting variety, or anything in between. Feel free to expound on the correlation between educational standards and the number of pirates, if you like!