The Contrarian View: ‘Higher Education Isn’t for Everyone’

To the Editor:

In the 40 or more years that I’ve been reading The Chronicle, no article has appalled me more than “The Second-Chance Club” (March 11). Perhaps it was intended to explain the problems in teaching a remedial-English class, generate sympathy for deprived students, or remind the rest of us how fortunate we are. In any case, the article failed on all counts. Instead it reveals what an utter mockery the Montgomery Community College professor, Greg Wahl, and his “enrollees” in English 002 have made of the college classroom.

How can any instructor even purport to teach people who habitually walk in 15 to 30 minutes late, miss several weeks of a semester and still pass, turn in assignments long past their due dates, play solitaire in class, text and talk on their cellphones, and even do each other’s hair while he is trying to explain the difference between “witch” and “which”? Sadly, the list of Mr. Wahl’s students’ despicable behavior does not end here.

Certainly anybody who has taught at the postsecondary level has had students who regard school as an inconvenience and lead soap-opera lives, but fortunately those students are not the norm. However, for Mr. Wahl they are the norm. How he could even try to teach so many academic bottom feeders is beyond me. The classroom barbarism he suffers daily turns the meanest scenes in Blackboard Jungle and To Sir With Love into pink vignettes of a prep school for aspiring dilettantes.

Even with the utmost allowances for compassion and understanding, are any of Mr. Wahl’s students really capable of genuine college work? Too, at least to some extent, isn’t post-secondary education supposed to prepare students for the work place? What employer would want to hire any of Mr. Wahl’s wards? Imagine the difficulties in constantly covering for an employee who regularly misses work because she chooses to babysit her sister’s children, generous though that act might be. And, how long should an employer tolerate a worker who bolts from a meeting and returns moments later munching a handful of cookies?

Academics, and really Americans in general, have to recognize that it’s not heartless to believe that higher education isn’t for everyone. It’s bad enough that recent studies consistently show how ill-prepared and unfit modern students are for college, but Mr. Wahl’s “enrollees” have to be among the worst. It’s pathetic when he wishes some of his ringleaders’ misdeeds were sufficient to justify kicking them out of class. What’s he waiting for, a classroom murder?

Frank P. Vazzano
Professor Emeritus
Walsh University
North Canton, Ohio

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