“To Pamper Excessively”: Posh Amenities in College

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The finer things?

If posh amenities top your list of desires in a prospective college, you may have mixed-up priorities.

That’s because college is supposed to be about academics first and foremost, and if you’re not ready for that, you should hold off on enrolling until you are . . . for the sake of yourself, your benefactors or personal bank account, and your professors. I’ll explain why momentarily.

First, witness the January article in Inside Higher Ed, “The Customer Is Always Right?”, which explains (according to research from the National Bureau of Economic Research) that students’ “consumption preferences” are driving some universities’ spending patterns in ways that (I think) don’t really further the purpose and mission of an institution of higher learning (other than getting students in the door). This manifestation of an attitude of entitlement seems, frankly, silly.

I assume most of these students haven’t been to college, haven’t graduated college, cannot look back on college or reflect on the worth of their degrees – in other words, even the brightest among them can’t fully understand an experience they haven’t had. The fact that these prospective students seem to value “amenities” so tells me their priorities aren’t so much academic as social or even a bit self-indulgent. They might consider while social life is important and nice things are nice, fancy amenities are very much immediate concerns (that don’t appreciate in value) and a college education is laying groundwork for the future: a future that will demand flexible and creative problem solvers, personable people with a good work ethic and yes, humility to recognize one’s own mistakes and shortcomings.

Speaking very generally, I don’t believe someone who, even before earning a degree, feels entitled to luxury (and maybe high grades) would have the depth of character to be that flexible, creative, hard-working, humble person. It’s worth noting the Concise Oxford Dictionary’s definition of “spoil” is “injure the character of (esp. a child, pet, etc.) by excessive indulgence”; Merriam-Webster online defines “spoil” as “to impair the disposition or character of by overindulgence or excessive praise” and “to pamper excessively.”

Character development is an important part of higher learning; it should follow from studying and from enriching the environment of one’s own mind. Ben Franklin said, “If a man empties his purse into his head, no one can take it from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the highest return.”

That’s knowledge, not opulent stuff, that we should seek in the place where learning is the objective. It’s knowledge, not country club surroundings, that you’ll empty into your head.

Image via mrg.bz / matthew_hull

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Khan Academy, Comprehension, and Why Attitude Matters

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English: Salman Khan, famous for the Khan Acad...

Salman Khan of Khan Academy (Image via Wikipedia)

In “The Problem Solvers,” Steve Kolowich (Inside Higher Ed) discusses Salman Khan’s very popular learning website that offers tutorials and exercises to students. The whole IHE article is a worthwhile read; first, it’s exciting to learn about the ongoing engineering research behind Khan Academy’s academic exercise platform. Most intriguing to me, though, are Khan’s own views on the state of education in general. (He is, after all, referred to straightaway as “a fledgling voice of reform in higher education.”)

For one thing, Khan believes students have trouble retaining concepts, and sees this as a significant problem. Kolowich’s article explains Khan’s contention: that “completion [of academic programs] means nothing . . . without comprehension – a command of crucial skills that stick around long after the test, and the course, are over.”

This belief is manifested in Khan’s exercise and analytics project. But I’m happy to hear it wherever it’s spoken – for I believe it ties in closely with a student’s academic attitude. I’ve seen students of all ages who undervalue the prospect of an education; they seem to believe their classes are merely hoops to jump through for that diploma (“pay your fee, get your degree”), and seem disinclined to internalize that what they’re learning can have a real impact on their lives. This particular attitude can poison individual students, and sometimes the toxins spread through entire classrooms. If students see the class as a pesky hurdle, those students are more likely to view their prof as an unfriendly roadblock; to see no good reason to try their best; and perhaps, even, to have cavalier attitudes about academic dishonesty.

If students, on the other hand, truly understand that comprehension is critically important for their futures, those students also will understand the professors to be helpful, valuable resources (likewise tutors, librarians, and advisors); they’ll work hard to learn the maximum; and they will know that cheating is utterly pointless (as the saying goes, cheating in school is only cheating yourself).

I appreciate and celebrate Mr. Khan’s focus on comprehension. A student at any level will do well to keep the goal of comprehension and understanding as his or her personal learning lodestar.

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