Wednesday, June 26, 2013

20 Ridiculous Courses

Now that accumulated student loan debt stands at approximately $1 trillion, it’s time to take stock of what students have been learning over the years. While their technical expertise is undoubtedly surpasses that of previous generations, there are some courses that can only be described as a waste of time and money, according to Education Watch International, which recently published a list of “20 Ridiculous Courses.”
Among the most outrageous are:

1. “What If Harry Potter Is Real?” (Appalachian State University) – A course that explores how and if fantasy can reshape the way we look at history. “Students will examine issues of race, class, gender, time, place, the uses of space and movement, the role of multiculturalism in history.”

2. “God, Sex, Chocolate: Desire and the Spiritual Path” (UC San Diego) –

4. “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame” (The University Of South Carolina) –

7. “The Science Of Superheroes” (UC Irvine) – Have you ever wondered if Superman could really bend steel bars? Would a “gamma ray” accident turn you into the Hulk? What is a “spidey-sense?”

8. “Learning From YouTube” (Pitzer College) – Students post comments about YouTube and also post their own videos. One class member “posted a 1:36-minute video of himself juggling.”

9. “Arguing with Judge Judy” (UC Berkeley) –

10. “Elvis As Anthology” (The University Of Iowa) – The class “focuses on Presley’s relationship to African American history, social change, and aesthetics.”

12. “Zombies In Popular Media” (Columbia College) – “This course explores the history, significance, and representation of the zombie as a figure in horror and fantasy texts.”

13. “Far Side Entomology” (Oregon State) – “A scientist at Oregon State University has used Gary Larson’s cartoons as a teaching tool — about insects.”

14. “Interrogating Gender: Centuries of Dramatic Cross-Dressing” (Swarthmore) – Do clothes make the man? Or the woman? Do men make better women? Or women better men? Is gender a costume we put on and take off? Are we really all always in drag?
15. “Oh, Look, a Chicken!” Embracing Distraction as a Way of Knowing (Belmont University) – The professor “reads aloud illustrated books The Simple People and Toby’s Toe to teach lessons about what to value by being alive. Students listen to music while doodling in class.”

17. “Cyberporn And Society” (State University of New York at Buffalo) Undergraduates taking Cyberporn and Society at the State University of New York at Buffalo survey Internet porn sites.

19. “Getting Dressed” (Princeton) Chart the major moments of your lives through clothes. “If you pop open your closet, can you recall your lives?”

20. “How To Watch Television” (Montclair) – “The aim is for students to critically evaluate the role and impact of television in their lives as well as in the life of the culture. The means to achieve this aim is an approach that combines media theory and criticism with media education.”

“Are you starting to understand why our college graduates can’t function effectively when they graduate and go out into the real world?”


Gun paranoia: How could this happen in schools of a conservative county?

By Rick Manning

People across the nation can learn from the wake-up call that residents of Calvert County, Maryland received in the last month — ignore your local elections at your own risk.

In the past month, two separate faux gun incidents have rocked this small Washington, D.C. exurban community that features a tobacco leaf on the county flag.  Ranked as the 13th wealthiest county in the nation as measured by median household income, Calvert’s population is under 100,000, and holds the distinction of having Republicans hold all five of its county commission seats.

This relatively conservative bastion in the midst of a state known for liberal extremism was hit hard when it became national news that a kindergarten boy, whose mom is a school teacher in Calvert County schools, was held for two hours, questioned intensely by his school principal, all because he brought a cap gun to school.  The school principal was later reported to have said that if the five year old had brought caps for the gun, he would have been punished all the more severely.

The follow up news that the child’s ten day suspension was not being lifted by the school district administrators at a time when cooler heads should have prevailed, has put the issue squarely in the laps of the elected school board.

Another similar issue erupted at the same time, as a fifth grader in Calvert County was suspended because he had the audacity to say that if someone were to attack his school, he would like to have a gun with him so he could save everyone.

Horrors! One kid disobeys his parents and takes an obvious toy to school and gets terrorized by the principal to such a degree that he pees his pants.  Do the administrators call the parents immediately, like any person with a lick of common sense would do?  No, they hold and traumatize the kid like a criminal for two hours with zero parental notification.

The other kid engages in a standard superhero fantasy, resulting in a county sheriff at their door demanding to know if they have any guns in the house.

How did a small, rural community where hunting and fishing are common, and motorcycles and tattoos even more common, end up with school administrators who are so far out of touch?

As a resident of Calvert County, this question is vexing and troubling.

The problem lies in the nature of elected school boards.  People know their kids’ teachers, and probably the principal at the school, but most don’t get too worked up over who gets elected to the school board.  In fact, in Calvert County, in spite of its heavily Republican leaning, the school board is dominated by Democrats, and it has been difficult to even find a Republican willing to run.

The painful lesson for everyone across the nation who believes that “it can’t happen here” is that it can.  It can if people ignore the importance of their local governance as they fight for limited government on the state and national levels.

If someone believes in local control, it becomes all the more important that they focus their efforts on making certain that the control in their localities reflects their own beliefs and standards.

The cruel lesson being taught through the tears of a five year old, and the fear imposed on an idealistic fifth grader is that eternal vigilance must start with city hall, the county administration building and yes, the local board of education.  Otherwise, you might find that one day you wake up, and no longer recognize the place you call home.


Cult of the school uniform

The weirder a school uniform is, the more loyalty it seems to inspire, says Janette Wallis

Christ's Hospital Tudor-style uniforms have stayed more or less the same since 1552

It may seem quintessentially Govian, but the cult of the school uniform long preceded the current government. Both Charles Clarke and Ed Balls have spoken warmly of the virtues of a smart school uniform. And now everyone’s at it. Even the Maharishi Free School has a tidy blue uniform – a good colour for transcendental meditation.

On the whole, today’s uniforms tend towards the undemanding – a polo shirt and crested sweatshirt usually suffices. But in our many years visiting schools for The Good Schools Guide we have discovered The Paradox of the School Uniform – the weirder it is, the more loyalty it inspires.

There is a long and active thread on the Student Room website – running since 2005 – where former pupils compete, with touching bravado, on how they survived their school uniforms.

Few schools now want to venture into the dystopian no-man’s-land of the uniform-free school. But we know we’re wading in the deep end when we encounter the following:

Cloaks: Innocence, mystery and drama all wrapped into one useless garment. Yes, they still exist, from windswept Wuthering Heights cloaks for the girls at Lancing College to Falkner House London’s more urbane four-panel flared cape with contrasting collar.

Long blue coats: Don’t you just hate it when schools change their uniform too often? Never a problem at Christ’s Hospital School where the Tudor-style uniforms, with ankle-length blue coat, breeches and knee-length yellow socks have stayed more or less the same since 1552. Some of the other Blue Coat schools, like Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital in Bristol, still bring out the glad rags for high days and holidays.

Period costume: Waistcoats. Boaters. Wing Collars. Tails. Pin-striped trousers. Cravats. Fewer top hats and monocles these days, but Eton, Harrow and King’s Canterbury are among the firm adherents of the Brideshead Revisited look.

Kilts: The 50-strong pipes and drums band at Gordon’s, a state boarding school near Woking, is a sight to behold in its full regalia; the whole school parades in the Gordon’s tartan on Sundays. Boys at Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh wear their own individual kilts on special occasions.

The Bizarre: Is there a touch of cruelty in Hill House International School dressing thirteen year old boys in rust coloured corduroy breeches and mustard cable knit jumpers? Or teenage girls wearing floor-length kilts at St Mary’s School, Shaftesbury? Incidentally, the easiest way to kill a fashion stone dead is to co-opt it into an official school uniform (anyone remember the skort?) We have yet to see a uniform onesie, harem trousers or ugg boots but, pray god, some school will see to it.

Should these schools change to polo shirts? Perhaps. But the big question is, do uniforms maketh the scholar?

No. But they maketh the school run a bit earlier, the quarrel with the 15-year-old daughter over wearing pyjama bottoms to school a bit shorter, and the laundry a bit quicker. Count us in.


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