October 22, 2008

Palin is more typical than you think

Robin Abcarian's L.A. Times story yesterday about Sarah Palin's college career tries to establish a contrast with the three other major-party nominees:

Sen. John McCain is remembered as a passionate contrarian... Sen. Barack Obama... is remembered as a daunting scholar and calming influence. Sen. Joe Biden... is remembered fondly by professors who found him charming. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, however, is barely remembered at all.

"Looking at this dynamic personality now, it mystifies me that I wouldn't remember her," said Jim Fisher, Palin's journalism instructor at the University of Idaho, where she graduated with a bachelor of science degree in journalism in 1987. Palin, he said, took his public affairs reporting class, an upper-division course limited to 15 students. "It's the funniest damn thing," Fisher said. "No one can recall her."

It's not "the funniest damn thing" at all. It's all too typical of American colleges.

In a world where the majority of college students are either at community colleges or at public universities and colleges, anonymity is too often the norm. At huge places students can find niches, but if the various surveys of student engagement are any indication, it's all too easy to graduate from college without talking with a faculty member outside class, without having the same faculty member twice, and without the type of engagement with either faculty or classmates that people would remember years later.

I should know: I've had well over 2000 students at USF, and I have only had a handful for more than a single course, 15 weeks (or 10, in the summer), in, out, and often halfway out the door at the end of class, rushing to the next class, or to work, or somewhere. I struggle against the anonymity and my own bad memory for names and faces; and at least in the context of a single class, I can use Mnemosyne to learn names. But a few months after the end of a semester? If I've only talked with them a handful of times, and never in office hours or about interesting subjects, I really don't know them. The few who have kept in contact after that one semester? I'll remember them for years.

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Posted in Higher education on October 22, 2008 1:45 PM |