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Weeks like these are when I most miss teaching Introduction to American Government.  I’d bet that students are coming in with all manner of questions.


That happened in the fall of 2000, when the election wasn’t decided for a while.  Students actually came in asking about the electoral college.  Until then, the electoral college discussion was usually pretty flat; that semester, it was the highlight of the course.  


A week featuring the indictment of a former President would certainly lend itself to discussions of the separation of powers, the criminal justice system, and/or the idea of equality before the law.  


Here’s hoping both students and professors are able to take the long view.  This is when professionalism matters most.




Elizabeth Meza and Ivy Love, from New America, have issued a worthwhile report on the state of community college bachelor’s degrees.


Right now, about half of the states allow community colleges to offer four-year degrees, though they range from relatively widespread (Florida) to a specialized few (Michigan).  Generally, when they’re offered, they’re offered in applied occupational fields where the existing four-year schools aren’t meeting demand.  Perhaps as a result, Meza and Love report that where they exist, they don’t cannibalize enrollments from four-year public colleges.  To the extent that they draw from competitors, they draw students away from for-profits.  


The report doesn’t really address this, but I’m struck by the relative lack of CCB programs in the Northeast.  It’s probably due to a combination of the political strength of the four-year sector here and the relatively short distances for most people to at least one campus.  Geographic isolation is a more persuasive argument in the upper peninsula of Michigan than in, say, central Jersey.  But if Meza and Love are correct, geographic isolation shouldn’t be the critical factor.  Unmet workforce needs should be.  And those can happen anywhere.


The CCB movement strikes me as ripe for further research and experimentation.  A tip of the cap to Meza, Love, and New America for offering an accessible summary of where we stand now.



Once again, I have the best readers ever.  Thank you to everyone who wrote in with suggestions on ways to foster the academic version of “critical thinking” in students.  A few highlights:


  • One reader recommended Joseph Harris’s book How to Do Things with Texts.  She reports that it nudges students to look for the uses and limits of a text before evaluating it.  I don’t know that book, but the recommendation sounds enticing.


  • A physicist offered that tutorials in his class often involve three hypothetical students offering three different explanations for a given phenomenon.  Students have to figure out which ones they can support, if any.  The hypothetical student answers are drawn from common student misunderstandings or partial understandings, as well as “correct” answers to the extent that term makes sense.  I like this one a lot.  Part of the appeal is that there’s often a difference between an answer that’s plausible-but-wrong and one that’s just wildly off-base.  Having students grapple with the plausible-but-wrong responses can help them identify their own areas of fuzzy understanding.  It also pushes against the narrative that you either “get” science or you don’t; I suspect that narrative has done tremendous damage over time.  


  • An English professor explained critical reading to students through the metaphor of a building inspector.  A good inspector doesn’t just take one look at the outside of a building and decide that it’s good or bad.  Inspection involves moving slowly through, looking closely at how the building is built, where the cracks are, and what is or isn’t working.  Only after doing that does an evaluation make sense.  


  • Another English professor, borrowing from Peter Elbow, introduced students to “the believing game” and “the doubting game.”  The believing game involves trying an idea or text on for size before judging it.  To me, this is where fear of peer disapproval can really get in the way.  It can be instructive to try ideas on for size, even when they usually wind up on the fitting room floor.  (Of course, as the saying goes, you don’t want to be so open-minded that your brains fall out.)  The loss of that freedom can deprive students of the chance to see how a given idea actually works.  When The Girl was on her school’s debate team, she didn’t know until right before a given debate which side she was assigned; accordingly, she had to know arguments for both.  As a learning exercise, there’s much to be said for that.


  • Finally, a law professor wrote to mention that he gives students a template with which to analyze the reasoning in a given case before they evaluate it.  Again, this strikes me as good practice.  Sometimes a counterintuitive result is a valid outcome of solid reasoning, but if you don’t follow the trail, you won’t see it.


Thanks again to everyone who wrote.  And keep ‘em coming!  The battle for thoughtfulness is never entirely won, but progress towards it is always welcome.


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