I came across this website called "Course Hero" awhile ago. While it reports itself as a "tutoring" site, it's really a place where you can buy essays and pay people to answer your math questions. You can sell your work too, or sell the work of others as one of my teaching colleagues discovered upon finding his entire set of lesson plans.
Cheating kids. Looking for answers.
We hear about them all the time. We hear about how lazy they are. How they're raised by parents who give them everything and ask for nothing in return.
Yes, I have had students who cheat. There are many ways to cheat these days. That doesn't make it right. I have taught far more who don't cheat and would never consider it.
But so much rides on "success". Being a student today is a whole lot different than it was when I was a kid.
In his March 18 2016 Walrus article, Pass.Fail, University of PEI Religious Studies professor Ron Srigley discusses students at one of Canada's modern universities. He describes them as "...mostly bored youth who find themselves doing something they neither value nor desire...shrewd managers of their own careers, forced to compromise what is best in themselves—their honesty or character—in order to “make it” in the world we’ve created for them."
I wonder how true that is and why we have a system that asks students to make such compromises.
I started my post secondary education 40 years ago. You needed a 65% average to get into an arts programme. Tuition was $525 a year. I rented a three bedroom house - walking distance from campus- for $415 a month. When I graduated with a four year degree and middling marks, I was offered jobs at places where I hadn't even applied.
Today the mean admission grade for an arts degree is 82%. Government funding for post secondary education has dropped from 84% in 1982 to just over 50% today- resulting in tuition that has increased tenfold since my day while minimum wage has just tripled. It's impossible to find an apartment to rent that doesn't require a full year lease. In my daughter's geophysics graduating class, two people got jobs. She worked her tail off to be one of them.
I loved university life. I made many friends. I joined cool organizations. I had a lot of laughs. When my own kids were ready to start university, I was excited at what it would offer them. They loved learning. They were bright and hopeful and full of potential. Their reality turned out to be something quite different.
Social life on campus has changed drastically since my time and the time of their grandparents. Nana wistfully asks, "Are you going to Sadie Hawkins? Have you joined the womens' association?" "Oh Nana," my kids think. "It's not like that any more." I ask about residence socials and events. My husband asks about the university bar. "Oh Mom and Dad," they say. "It's not like that any more." With residence government, social events, dances and alcohol all but banned on campus, the sense of university as a community no longer exists. University is a factory to churn out grads, not a fellowship of human beings.
Students sit in classes of 500 where professors cannot hear students speak. Office hours are so limited there are lineups down the hall so kids can ask the questions they could not ask in the lecture. In fact, between 1990 and 2006, the pupil:instructor ratio has increased by 40%. Full time professors are increasingly replaced by sessional instructors, perhaps resulting in the unacceptable way some behave, such as announcing the name of a failing student in front of an entire class or refusing help in humiliating ways. You're not a person, you're a number and a grade.
|University of Alberta CSIS lecture hall|
My two oldest will tell you that they spent the last years of their initial degrees recovering from their first year which they spent in student dorms where the furniture hadn't been replaced since I lived there in the 1970s (deferred maintenance at Canadian universities now stands at 5 billion dollars), where students no longer socialize over dinner but instead pay for meal cards so they can buy overpriced and non-nutritious food. Where students suffering from GI infections were told to go to their rooms and not come out until they were better, where fruit-fly and cockroach infestations were not uncommon, where garbage piled up, where broken bathroom stalls were never fixed. When they moved into rental houses with people they didn't know, it was a relief.
Over the past 10 years, a good $500,000 has been spent on the education of my three children. They lived in crappy shared houses. They ate chickpeas and Subway and cookies from mom. They did not own vehicles. They did not expect to live a luxurious lifestyle. University was a choice and now all three hold good jobs because of their education. But they did not choose the unconscionable treatment they received.
When my eldest was finishing up her first degree, she was asked if she would give back to her alma mater. This was her response
This is not an institution that cares about my education. This is an institution that treats me as a means to an end. If they think they can get something from me, they’ll pry it from me. Are you a great student?’ Here’s some money – keep coming to school here and make sure you do something that will allow us to mention your name in one of our glossy brochures.’ Are you not a great student? ‘Let’s make this whole process of education harder on you by putting you in debt.'At Canadian universities, more than half of all students report feeling of hopelessness and despair, while 8.5 % have suicidal thoughts. Universities don't ;like to talk about how many suicides take place on their campuses. There were three reported suicides on the U of A in 2015- how many go unreported, we will never know. The response of the institution is more mental health support and even then, students report a six week waiting period to get an assessment. But mental health issues are caused, at least in part, by a broken system. Treatment is a stopgap, not a solution. We can treat the symptoms but until we address the root cause of the disease, the poor mental health of our students will continue. What are our schools, both secondary and post-secondary, FOR? 'The uplifting of the whole people'? as Henry Marshall Tory wrote. Or to produce cogs in the wheels of our economic machine?
|"Whatsoever things are true" Motto of the University of Alberta|
They are growing up in a world of unprecedented inequality.
A world where there are clear winners and losers.
And no one wants to be a loser. But...
"You said this was going to be the time of my life," a friend's kid said. "You lied."That is not how it should be. As a teacher and a parent, I have to ask. Who is being cheated?