Tuesday, November 07, 2006

No ivory in those towers

People often speak of academics as living in an "ivory tower". I am writing this as a reaction to this claim. Of course, I cannot speak about every academic, just the many who have taught me.

Today, I am due to meet with my thesis supervisor. As it is a public holiday, except at universities, he has agreed to meet with me in my local area, where he also lives. He sent me an email today, which I am including with slight modifications:
I am still happy to meet this afternoon. I am presently taking part in a telelink conference with Europe from 2 am until 1 pm - so I will need a couple of hours sleep after that. What about if we make it 4:30 pm? Would that suit you? Maybe confirm by email and then phone [number omitted] at 4:15 pm, just to make sure that I am awake. Hope to see you then.
Like us school teachers, university staff work weekends, nights and are constantly bullied by law makers. Unlike us, however, they do not get frequent holidays to recover. During their students' breaks, Australian academics are expected to travel and speak at conferences. This usually leaves them out of pocket, as the university covers a small part of their expenses.

What about the fat salaries they are on? A beginning academic, an associate lecturer, earns around $50,000 a year. That's equivalent to a 3rd or 4th year school teacher in Victoria. Why would a practitioner of many years go through acquiring a PHD to take a pay cut at the end of it, I do not know. What is even more baffling is that they would do it knowing how society will disrespect them.

Note to overseas readers: First year students call their professors by first name. This is called egalitarianism, mate!


Monday, November 06, 2006

Do they need to walk before they fly?

Two weeks ago, a colleague of mine said something to me which has been playing on my mind ever since. We mentioned the students' difficulties with spelling and grammar. As an English teacher, he said that there were two schools of thought: one which insisted on correctness and one which preferred to engage the students in high-level thinking. He was of the second school, and said "you cannot do both".

I tend to agree that you have to favour (blogger does not like my non-US spelling of this word!) one approach over the other, due to lack of time. As we are asked to engage the students in higher-order thinking and as we are encouraged to deliver the curriculum using multiple media, should we let go of the rigours of the past?

One model I would like to present for your consideration is the French education system. Everything I say here may have changed of late, so feel free to correct me. French grammar, with its difficulty, is taught to the nth degree until grade 9 (troisième). In the last three grades, everyone is assumed to know the rules of the language and studies literature and themes.

What do you think? Should we build a solid foundation and then let them fly, or would we be holding them back for the sake of an ideal that is no longer important?