Friday, January 8, 2010

My number one complaint

Something has bothered me for a number of years. And during the past week my bothersome thoughts came back to upset me. I saw an article on the web about the list of the best colleges and universities in the country. Who was number one? Two? I read the article and now I'm mad at myself for reading it for I knew before I read it how I would respond. So WHO was number one? Let's get it on the table for all of us--Harvard and Princeton tied for the top spot on the list. Ticks me off! Really frosts my cupcakes.

Before I loose my cool, let me explain some of my thinking. And to be sure my thinking has not yet come to fruition on this subject, in fact I don't know where I am going with it. When I was a kid myself, I tried to do well in school but there was always someone else, mostly girls, that were better in the academic line. I was probably last in physical skills until I got to college. But I remember some of my teachers listing the students on a bulletin board with someone on the top until it got to the bottom. And yes, someone in my class had to occupy the bottom slot. Most of the time I was in the upper third of the class but I wanted to be number one. The top kid. Never made it. And I can remember a number of times sitting at my desk feeling out of sorts cause I wasn't better then I was.

So when I started to teach fifth grade I tried not to "pick" a top kid in any subject. Yes, I did do grades and sent out report cards to parents but I remember telling my students they were to take them home first before showing them around....I doubt seriously if they followed my instructions but I tried. I also tried not to recognize a child in my class as being the best. It seem to me at the time that child, whoever it was already knew they were doing good work and telling the rest of the class wasn't going to motivate the rest of them. Indeed, if a child was having problems know that another was doing well would probably just make them feel worse. Yeah, I'm back to my "success breeds success" theory. I would have loved to have a fifth grade class where all the kids got "A" grades. It didn't happen.

I have been in grade school classrooms where the teacher would say something like, "I see that Tommy is sitting nicely at his desk with his hands folded--can you do the same?" OR, "Mary has put his books away and is waiting for the rest of the class to catch up." I am sure this did not endure either Tommy or Mary in the friendship category in that class. Had I been a kid in such a class I would have made sure I was not the first to do whatever it was the teacher wanted. Once I got into the Army I was damn sure I was not first.

So I was upset when I read the list of top universities. Now to be sure had I bought the magazine I am positive that the university that I taught at for thirty two years was listed somewheres--we had been number two in a category, I think "state schools" for a number of years. The university that I received my doctoral degree from eons ago was listed number seven in this list that I was perusing.

Why oh why do we need to label who is first and indirectly who is last? I don't understand it. If a person goes to a school listed in the upper decile, will that person be that much smarter? Will they end up in the upper decile of our society? What this magazine has done was set up some criteria and then looked at the statistics to see who fits their criteria. If one of the criterium is how much money is endowed in a foundation, then Harvard is going to win boo-quo points. Then I worry about a bias. Most of the writers and editors are from eastern schools. So when the criteria was selected they were thinking about their school. It stands to reason to list who is number one without listing all the categories of measurements is not valuable.

I have been to some of the east coast schools. I have interviewed some of the faculty. There were some I could agree were excellent schools but only with the condition that a student going to that school could appreciate and use those qualities that I thought made that school excellent in my mind. As an example, I think M.I.T. in Boston is an excellent school for a person who like to learn on their own, knows how to make use of laboratories, likes to talk a lot to other students, wants to day dream, has their own drummer, and is highly expectant. I prefer M.I.T. over Harvard.

There is a little college in a town called, Walla Walla. The town is named Walla Walla--sorry. It is in a corner of my state, wonderful people and also home of one of the state's state prisons. However Walla Walla is also home to a wonderful institute of higher education, Whitman College. Expensive however it has excellent faculty who have the time to sit down and work with individual students. I do not feel that a Whitman undergraduate student would feel at home at M.I.T. but they would do as well, maybe even better for having graduated from Whitman. I keep hearing good things about this college. But I doubt if you will see in on any list of top colleges. Maybe they are but I haven't seen it as yet. Pity.

I suspect there are colleges and universities in every state that get overlooked and it bothers me. If for this reason alone I don't like making a list of which university outranks other universities. It is not fair. If I had a category that I would want it would be how much does the university in question motivate a student to look around and at themselves. I want a student who questions my lectures. I want a student who says, "I can do that better."

If you remember, I wrote about a first grade teacher who would not give any tests to her students. She wanted her children to look at learning as a fun thing--as something that is enjoyable to do. And she didn't want them comparing themselves to each other. I applaud that teacher. Thank you, Mrs. Gibson, for teaching not only your students but me as well.

Have you thanked a teacher lately? It doesn't have to be your number one teacher--any teacher will do.


  1. If aspiring for the winners and losers is the most important thing, you lose ..