Helicopter Teachers

We just spent over an hour discussing whether we should award free 8 credits to students who claim to have taken Spanish (French, German, etc.) somewhere sometime but refuse to prove their competency by passing a short free proficiency test. Because they claim to have forgotten Spanish (French, German, etc.) completely but still want the free credit. For forgetting the language completely. Got it?

Some people suggested that students should be required to take the proficiency test or take a hike if they refuse.

Other people countered with, “But poor little kiddies, they will suffer so much, this is an unfair burden.”

And now I will let you guess which of the two groups was constituted by foreigners and which by Americans.

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36 comments on “Helicopter Teachers

  1. If you intend to study a foreign language at a university, don’t they require you to take a competency test? Otherwise you’d end up with lazy native speakers going for an easy 100%.

    • We are trying to require people to take proficiency tests but there are some students who refuse because they know they will fail. Now the issue is whether to award them credit anyway.

      As for native speakers, they do get free credit for just existing. If they agree to take the test. But at least there is evidence that they do speak the language.

      • You might check with the state for rules on this. State of Louisiana quality control, for instance, does not allow native speakers credit for lower level language courses. Neither does it exempt them from the language requirement. Not all students and secretaries comprehend or accept this, and there is academic staff that gets bamboozled into doing it sometimes, but it is against Board of Regents rules and these can be cited and enforced.

        I still fail to see why you are even considering students with no transfer credit and who are not willing to take a credit exam. Do English and Math also hand out credit if students simply say they want it?

      • “Do English and Math also hand out credit if students simply say they want it?”

        - That would depend on the percentage of helicopter Mommies and Daddies they have among their faculty members, I guess. :-)

        “You might check with the state for rules on this. State of Louisiana quality control, for instance, does not allow native speakers credit for lower level language courses. ”

        - In our case, that would prevent native speakers from completing a Major in Spanish (or other languages.) That is hardly productive. The alternative is to remove 201, 202, and 301 courses from the Major but then we would have no non-native majors.

      • By the way, both the Depts of English and Math have at least one “will fuck for a job” person. Our department does not have a single one. And how many departments like that do you know?

  2. If I take German my first year of school, and remain in the same university, I don’t have to prove my proficiency in the German I learned, or failed to learn, when I graduate. The same goes for any subject matter. We never require that one retain that knowledge, except in subsquent classes in the same subject.

    Of course, with transfer credit the issue is the quality of the instruction, and the lapse time since the instruction was given.

    And, obviously, the Europeans would be in favor of requiring the prof. exam.

      • If there is no record of them taking the courses, then don’t give them proficiency tests at all. Make them take the courses.

      • Dare I suggest even my 14-year-olds would largely adopt the view that being required to take the classes should be the default — and that allowing a way to test out of them at all is something nice?

  3. I’d guess that the foreigners were in favor of requiring the proficiency exam.

    My guess is based on a very similar situation in my own department, where there has been an on-going debate on whether we need to “dumb down” our undergraduate curriculum. The faculty is been divided on the issue, and strangely enough, the Americans are on one side, and the foreigners on the other. :-)

      • It’s not “American,” it is being at a substandard place and having colleagues with substandard training. Sorry to be so blunt, and sorry to sound so allegedly arrogant when I am not a superstar. We have the same problem here.

      • According to this logic, helicoptering parents should only appear in specific “substandard” areas of the country. I have the feeling, though, that they are evenly spread around. :-) :-)

        After the Ivies, the place where I am is absolute paradise. Those were the really substandard places. And McGill? What has become of it?

      • It is not the Americans! It is the Central Americans and the Caribbeans who are the worst at this … Europeans are next but in a different way (they aren’t softies like the Central Americans and Caribbeans, but they believe in rote learning and allege Americans are not capable of more).

        Or put in another way: it is not the Americans, it is the people without Ph.Ds!

        Or in another way: it is not the Americans, it is the people who themselves are not capable of teaching to a high level, and are masking this by saying students are not capable!

        Or in another way: it is not the Americans, it is native speakers of any nationality who are invested in their own authority but have no basis for such authority other than being native speakers — so of course they need to make sure the students remain incompetent.

        But as I say, it also IS the Americans, the ones who are trying so hard to turn college into K-12.

  4. Wait.

    You’re saying that in order to receive credit for mastering certain subject matter, they should at some point have to demonstrate that they have mastered the subject matter?

    That is so cruel.

    [ / sarcasm]

      • “I almost felt like I was advocating some form of child abuse when I supported the proficiency test policy.”

        –There is something missing: they have no transfer credit and cannot pass an exam, yet your university is considering placing credit on their transcripts without having them sit for a credit exam? This really is substandard. I do not know what the accreditation agency would say about this but it could be a problem and I would really check before doing it even if there is some advantage to your department in doing this. It makes no financial sense, though, to be handing out free SCHs.

        After the Ivies, the place where I am is absolute paradise. Those were the really substandard places. And McGill? What has become of it?

        – These are babysitting places, or have many aspects of this. I sure bet they are not handing out free course credit, though.

      • “These are babysitting places, or have many aspects of this. I sure bet they are not handing out free course credit, though.”

        - Really? Does the word “legacy” tell you anything? Or “football team”? I have seen people get awarded PhDs in Spanish Lit when they wouldn’t have passed a SPAN 201 final exam. At McGill, a person bought an MA, just bought it for money, right in front of everybody. At Cornell, a person got a tenure-track job with zero qualifications, almost no language skills, and outside of any hiring process. I can also tell you many similar or probably worse stories about Columbia and NYU.

        As for us, we voted down the free credit proposal yesterday. And we do not hire people based on who they sleep with, unlike most other universities in this country.

      • I think everyone should have the requirement of taking a proficiency test if their major requires a foreign language.* I cannot imagine that a beginning Spanish, German, or whatever language teacher would find it easy to deal with a student who had near native fluency in a langiage who was being forced to take a beginning course. Would such a student fit in at all??

        *Quite a few of the majors we offer, sadly, do not have a foreign language requirement at all. The students who are excused, for whatever reason, must take other courses to make up the total credit hour requirements. I don’t know what restrictions there are on such courses.

  5. My former boss frequently countered student complaints about things being difficult with: “We are not at a university in order to do things that are easy”.

    My proposal: If they don’t want to take the proficiency test then they can write a 10 page essay (by hand under supervision) on the topic “How a creeping sense of entitlement is jeapardizing our national education standards”.

    Alternately I’d offer to give them exactly the same credit they received from their previous course.

  6. If you don’t teach kids there’s no such thing as a free lunch, they won’t understand the concept when they are thrown out into the big nasty world, and then there’d be trouble.

    Might as well let them down right from the start by refusing free credits then it won’t come as such a shock when they meet it in the working world. Mollycoddling never does any good and I would suggest it’s only losers who believe it might.

  7. When I was a member of our University Faculty Senate twenty or so years ago, there was a heated debate wherein some faculty argued that some people are unable to learn a foreign language, and that some were unable to learn mathematics. I am skeptical on both counts, but a student can now, as I understand it, opt out of taking either math or a second language if a psychologist certifies that they are incapable of learning such a subject.

    • A psychologist?? Seriously? I don’t know if I should laugh or cry. Any psychologist who is even minimally qualified is supposed to know that any “incapacity” to master a subject is something people convince themselves of. Why a psychologist would want to contribute to maintaining such an erroneous conviction in a patient is a mystery to me.

      • Any psychologist who is even minimally qualified is supposed to know that any “incapacity” to master a subject is something people convince themselves of.

        This is simply not true. Some people have strong abilities in some areas and weaker abilities in others. I myself have a fiendishly difficult time learning my students’ names, for example. I work on it, and if the class is small (15 or fewer, say) I may get everyone’s name by the end of the term. Another example is that in spite of about seven years of ballet classes, I have had to face the fact that my brain has no sense of rythym. Every ballet teacher I have ever had has been exasperated when I thought I was dancing exactly in time with the music and I was apparently not, but could not sense it myself at all. I have since learned that my father had the same problem. It seems to be a neurological defect as severe as being born blind is a defect.

        I also hope that not many blind people who believe the statement you made try to learn to drive a car or fly an airplane.

      • “I also hope that not many blind people who believe the statement you made try to learn to drive a car or fly an airplane.”

        - These are not subjects but skills.

        ” I myself have a fiendishly difficult time learning my students’ names, for example. I work on it, and if the class is small (15 or fewer, say) I may get everyone’s name by the end of the term. Another example is that in spite of about seven years of ballet classes, I have had to face the fact that my brain has no sense of rythym.”

        - Please note that I have been discussing academic subjects that are suggested for study to the students at the most basic level.

  8. “- In our case, that would prevent native speakers from completing a Major in Spanish (or other languages.) That is hardly productive. The alternative is to remove 201, 202, and 301 courses from the Major but then we would have no non-native majors.”

    Can’t you treat native speakers and language learners differently? At my uni we had two different paths: One for people with previous knowledge of Spanish and another one for those without.

    • “Can’t you treat native speakers and language learners differently?”

      - We are a state university. If we discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, we open ourselves to lawsuits. Imagine saying that “A person called Garcia cannot take the same courses as the person called McCoy.”

    • “One for people with previous knowledge of Spanish and another one for those without.”

      - The problem is, how do you determine previous knowledge. There are students who have taken 6 years of Spanish at a high school and can literally say nothing in the language. And there are people who never took any courses but speak well because they grew up in Florida and they best friends were Cubans.

  9. At my university (IIRC) first year language courses (for the 10 credit FL requirement) couldn’t be used toward a major. I forget if second year courses could count or not (or it may have varied by language). I’m pretty sure that the bulk of FL majors’ courses were supposed to be at the third and fourth year levels.

  10. “In our case, that would prevent native speakers from completing a Major in Spanish (or other languages.) That is hardly productive. The alternative is to remove 201, 202, and 301 courses from the Major but then we would have no non-native majors.”

    –I would check with UIUC or even UIC to see what they do, as there are lots of ways around this. We used to define the major differently for native speakers: same number of credit hours, but more upper level courses. Now the major is defined as the upper division, i.e. the courses that were always open to native speakers anyway; we don’t care how you gain the skills gained in the lower division.

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