Supplemental: Tough courses first, then on to Brown!


History happens again:
We share the old school system tie with the Washington Post's Jay Mathews.

We've never met Jay, but we've always liked the cut of his jib. We admire people who went to Hillsdale High School back in the day, but refused to let the experience discourage, jade or defeat them.

This morning, Jay's column concerns the alleged profusion of college courses which aren't sufficiently challenging. We can't evaluate the frequency with which such courses are offered. We'll admit that we chuckled at this:
MATHEWS (12/7/15): I have spent the past three decades reporting on how few high school courses challenge students. Almost no public schools require long research papers. Only about half of U.S. students headed to college take college-level courses while in high school.

That may be one reason why so many are reluctant to challenge themselves in college. They are frightened by what might happen, so the colleges accommodate them with the frothiest academic fare.
We chuckled at the highlighted statement. Why should students take college-level courses while they're still in high school? Should they have taken their high school courses while they were in junior high?

Don't get us wrong! We strongly favor challenging students, but only in ways which are appropriate. Our years of teaching fifth grade in Baltimore taught us a second lesson—we oppose asking students to do academic work for which they're unprepared.

More on that next week, we hope, when we hope to discuss this front-page report by Emma Brown from Saturday's Washington Post. Brown discusses a type of problem which low-income schools allegedly face. With no disrespect intended toward Brown, her piece struck us as the type of report big newspapers sometimes publish to convey the impression that they're covering low-income schools.

What really happens in low-income schools? Have you ever read a news report about that topic which actually went where the rubber was meeting the road?

The most challenging course we ever took was second-semester freshman English back at Aragon High, Hillsdale's more accomplished "rival." By then, the "advanced" English class for our grade had been assembled based on first-semester work and, for reasons we've never fathomed, the late Jim Price decided to give us freshmen a snootful.

If memory serves, the first book we had to read was H.D.F. Kitto's classic, The Greeks. As you almost surely know, The Greeks is still in print. A few years ago, we perused it in a local bookstore.

The book was still too hard!

At some point in the semester, we each had to select a classic anthropology text from a star-studded list we'd been handed. Keeping Ruth Benedict's Patterns of Culture for another day, we picked David Riesman's The Lonely Crowd. We recall reading it over and over and over again, trying, largely unsuccessfully, to puzzle its multitudes out.

By any rational standard, we shouldn't have been assigned such challenging texts. But, for whatever reason, we loved the challenge. We recall the semester as a watershed for life between our ears. It was all downhill from there!

(That same year, our own freshman Marxist was talking us out of religion. To examine the tribute he built to his remarkable, daunting father, you can just click here. Don't forget to click to see the paintings. To see him painting after the polio struck, you can just click here. Nothing dissuaded that man.)

Not that many years later, as a fifth grade teacher, we came to see how much harm can be done by asking kids to do work for which they simply aren't prepared. Ever since then, we've wondered what other kids in Mr. Price's class thought about those objectively crazy assignments.

Mathews starts his column today with a recollection of a "gut" he took in college. When we were in our junior year, we became one of the last students saved by Professor Brinton's famous "roaring" gut, Intellectual History of Europe from some year to some other year.

How would we know what years were involved? We transferred into the course so late that coursework was already over. We never set eyes on Professor Brinton, but we did get a B-plus for the course, after earning a generous standing ovation by leaving the optional make-up hour exam after maybe three minutes. To a standing ovation!

The crowd went wild as we left Lowell Lecture Hall. We shook hands on our way to the door and offered a generous wave as we left. The 60s had begun.

(Yes, you read that description correctly; it was the optional make-up hour exam. If you took it and failed in October, you could take it again in December. If you took it and failed it then, you could hand in a paper instead. For what it's worth, we strongly favor the Price experience to the later experience without Brinton. We typed our Nietzsche paper again and thoughtfully handed it in.)

Almost fifty years later, the 60s are very much back, making a pitch perfect return. For the latest sad and peculiar adventures being reported from inside the lines at Brown, we strongly recommend this piece from The Daily Beast.

Once again, some young people seem to be deeply stressed. In fairness to us, we had Vietnam, and worst of all the draft.

A thoughtful eighth grade speech: For unknown reasons, we gave a speech at eighth grade graduation. Our eighth grade Marxist came to us with some feedback.

"That kid has a lot to learn," he quoted his mother saying. Where the heck did that family get off?


  1. The level of challenge of a course cannot be determined by reading its title. Someone could create a challenging course called "The importance of Disney in the 20th Century" and a non-challenging course called "Advanced Calculus".

    One factor causing college level courses to be designed to be less challenging is that many more students are working outside of class. Some work 30+ hours per week while taking a full course load. That has been made necessary by tuition increases and because lower income students are attending college. Even if they receive scholarships and loans these may not fully cover living expenses and books.

    Professors know that if you require more of the students than they can do, they simply don't do it. They cannot fail large percentages of their students without administration getting on their case, so they have to adjust grading to fit what students will do. You can assign the reading and the papers, but what students will turn in doesn't meet standards. At that point, education becomes a farce if you don't fail the students and it becomes cruel if you do. So most professors and most departments adjust to what their students are capable of achieving. Professors do this by emphasizing core competences, basics, and not insisting on frills. Someone can learn to write a meaningful paper on Disney as well as on the Greeks, in my opinion. Those writing skills will pay off in later life either way.

    If we want college to be more challenging, we need to stop charging so much for it so students can devote full time to study.

  2. Hillary Clinton announced her plan for reining in Wall Street, to almost complete silence. People would rather talk about how Fox insulted the President.

  3. OK. That was something.

  4. Hi everyone,
    I'm short of words, i don't know how to express my happiness to the world..
    My name is Tiffany Wilson From California, after Five years of marriage, My Husband divorces me off no reason, I cried all through and try all the possible best I could to make everything work out for good and to get him back but to no avail, I was confused and frustrated until I crossed a site of Dr Frank Ojo, I read everything completely on the site, it was talking about Love spells and reunion marriage spells and different types of spells, I was more confused on what to do because I don’t believe on spell casters mostly on Love spells, though I decided to give a try out, I contacted Dr Frank Ojo and explained everything completely to him on what I am passing through to my own greatest surprise, Dr Frank Ojo told me that my husband is going to call me back to come home after two days he has finished casted the spell. I have believed on him and so surprising really my husband calls me back home and ask for forgiveness and he promised to Love me only and forever be with me only. All great thanks to Dr Frank Ojo for his marvelous spell work, contact him today by his Email: ,website info: , If you have any problem contact him, I give you 100% guarantee that he will help you, Thanks to Dr Frank Ojo.