By Amanda Hunt
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Students in freshman composition classes took time out on Friday to spout off about the quality of their education at a forum titled "Whose Education is This Anyhow?"
The forum was second in a three-part series of discussions with visiting professors Ira Shor and Gerald Graff called "Professing Literacy." The freshman composition final this year will include two writings by the professors, around which the conversation was designed to center.
To the surprise of the speakers, however, only a handful of the 350 students attending had read the selections. Shor began by asking the students to write down questions pertaining to the two articles, but soon realized that many students were not writing anything down. So he "changed the process" and asked the students to write down positives and negatives about their undergraduate educational experience.
Shor said it was more worthwhile for the students to discuss something they had real feelings about rather than carrying on a false conversation about the articles. The bulk of the conversation centered on experiences students had at the University of Arizona and what they would like to change.
The students were asked what teachers could do to better serve their students. Tom Peeper, electrical engineering junior, said "They should make sure everyone understands the goals of the class and the academic as well as the real rewards."
"It seems we are on our own to find solutions to problems and our research is often unrewarded ... we don't ever find the answers," Peeper said. He also said teachers should not be vague or always politically correct.
Some students faulted other students for having "a lack of passion" for their studies, which makes their education less rewarding. Others felt that it is the teacher's responsibility to make topics interesting.
"I lose interest when a topic is boring," said Shireen Foroohar, psychology freshman. She added that teachers are often so "stuck to what they have to teach" that the class becomes uninteresting.
"It's the teacher's job to find a way to make it interesting," said Amanda Abramson, fine arts sophomore. She said the students and teacher both have a job to do, but most of the burden is on the teacher.
"It's hard to learn from somebody who is not willing to learn from you," said Dawn Landis, sociology freshman.
"If the teacher is interested in the material, it makes it interesting to me," said Melissa Meister, molecular and cellular biology freshman.
Christine Krikliwy, nutrition sophomore, wondered why teachers who have a "negative attitude" toward teaching continue to teach. "I dropped out of a class because of that reason," she said.
Shor said it is important for students to voice such concerns, especially if many students are
struggling in a particular class.
He praised Bryan Cash, a freshman studying Russian, for handling such a problem in one of his classes. Cash and others successfully confronted a teacher when they had difficulty with material in an honors class. The professor altered his methods due to the complaints.
Other students argued that large classes make learning difficult and questioned the value of general education classes.
"There's a common belief in education that small is beautiful," Graff said. "No one says a concert is bad because 80,000 people attended it." He said large classes are not necessarily bad, but that educators should "learn from the media" in finding better ways to serve such large audiences of students.
Students also criticized English composition classes, saying they were not learning anything different than what they had learned in high school.
"I haven't learned anything (in composition classes). We're learning the same thing we did in high school," said Niraj Shah, computer engineering freshman.
"I already learned to write. I don't care about learning that anymore. Right now I want to learn about engineering," said David Ory, civil engineering freshman. "High school was for learning about the real world. College is for preparing for a career."
Craig Tagler, marketing sophomore, and others disagreed. Tagler said it is important for students to have basic skills in other areas. Other students said single-focussed degrees should be reserved for trade schools not a university.
Roderick Rawlings, engineering freshman, said he already had single-focus experience and did not like it. "I don't understand why students are not hungry today. There are people on the street who want to be where you and I are," he said.
Rawlings added that a liberal arts education is going to be beneficial no matter what you are studying. "Whatever they want to give to you, eat it," he said.
Several composition teachers and teaching assistants attended the forum to find out what students want from their English education. Teaching assistants Nancy Johnson and Steve Ryberg both said they are truly interested in hearing from students and encourage student involvement in what is being taught and in what way.
Shor closed the discussion by encouraging students to be "stakeholders" in their education, not "customers."
The first part of the series on Thursday, titled "Teaching the Conflicts: Two Cases in Point," included a discussion by Graff about political reading and Shakespeare's "Tempest" and a workshop led by Shor on the teaching of writing. The last was a panel discussion about new directions in literary and cultural studies, called "What's Left to Work On?" Saturday.
The freshman final will be based on Shor's "The First Day of Class" from his book, Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change and Graff's "Disliking Books at an Early Age" from his book, Beyond the Culture Wars: How Teaching the Conflicts Can Revitalize American Education.
The series was sponsored by the Composition Program, the Comparative Cultural and Literary Studies Program, the Department of English, the College of Humanities and the Department of Language, Reading and Culture.
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