College Should Be More Like Prison
The inmates I teach are serious, disciplined, hard-working students, eager to engage with ideas.
Never have I been more grateful to teach where I do: at a men’s maximum-security prison. My students there, enrolled in a for-credit college program, provide a sharp contrast with contemporary undergraduates. These men are highly motivated and hard-working. They tend to read each assignment two or three times before coming to class and take notes as well. Some of them have been incarcerated for 20 or 30 years and have been reading books all that time. They would hold their own in any graduate seminar. That they have had rough experiences out in the real world means they are less liable to fall prey to facile ideologies. A large proportion of them are black and Latino, and while they may not like David Hume’s or Thomas Jefferson’s ideas on race, they want to read those authors anyway. They want, in short, to be a part of the centuries-long conversation that makes up our civilization. The classes are often the most interesting part of these men’s prison lives. In some cases, they are the only interesting part.
Best of all from my selfish point of view as an educator, these students have no access to cellphones or the internet. Cyber-cheating, even assuming they wanted to indulge in it, is impossible. But more important, they have retained their attention spans, while those of modern college students have been destroyed by their dependence on smartphones. My friends who teach at Harvard tell me administrators have advised them to change topics or activities several times in each class meeting because the students simply can’t focus for that long.
If prison inmates, many of whom have committed violent crimes, can pay close attention for a couple of hours, put aside their political and personal differences, support one another’s academic efforts, write eloquent essays without the aid of technology and get through a school year without cheating, is it too much to ask university students to do the same?
Most of them, yes. They won’t, because they can’t. Never having been subject to much in the way of self-discipline or respect for any sort of authority, up to and including parental; possessed of little to no interest in actual education or self-betterment; born, weaned, and raised sucking down the bitter milk of self-indulgence, unearned praise, overentitlement, and low expectations—it is indeed too much to ask. They have been spared the rod, yielding the results predicted by the old biblical homily. That shouldn’t come as any big surprise, to any parent worthy of the name.
If you’re going to do that, the price would drop commensurately for the students as well. They should be locked in behind walls the entire term, wear striped jumpsuits, and do hard labor every week.
And risk getting bitchslapped or beat down in the yard between classes if they act like jackasses.
But let’s talk turkey:
1) Require the actual Ph.D. professors to actually teach their own damned classes. No TAs, grad students, and all the other bullshit that lets them screw off rather than do <i>their</i> jobs. Students don’t take it seriously, because the profs don’t either.
2) Ban any electronic devices in college during class except calculators or voice recorders. No laptops, no cellphones, nothing. Bring one to class, your final grade drops a letter. If you’re in a pass-fail class, bummer for you, huh?
3) Three strikes on absences. Miss three classes, you’ve just drop-failed.
4) Ditch the bullshit. No soft majors. No touchy-feely horseshit. No safe spaces. Anyone complaining their feelings were hurt gets dropped a final grade. A second instance gets’ them drop-failed, and they aren’t allowed to return until they complete a year in the infantry or the Army or Marines, or a year on the streets as a first responder. Nobody gives a shit about your feelings. Open your ears, and your mind, and STFU. Call it Karen’s Law.
5) Disrupt the educational process in any way, and you’re expelled for a year; no tuition refund. Do it again, and you’re expelled for life. Teachers and students alike.
6) If the professor wanders off the reservation to expound on topics in no way related to the course’s subject matter, they go on half-pay for that year. Twice, and they’re suspended for a year. Three times? Fired and blackballed. Ditto for any socio-political rants of any stripe on class time. Three times in a career, and you’re an ex-professor. You’re there to instruct, not to indoctrinate.
The students aren’t the entire problem.
Then can tell they’ve been bullshitted when they see what passes for instruction on a topic, and they’re paying professors, and their underlings, exactly the attention they deserve.